Dr. Kimberly A. Scott is an Associate Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Arizona State University (ASU) and Executive Director of COMPUGIRLS, a culturally relevant computing program that offers adolescent girls from underserved communities exposure to the latest technologies. She is principal investigator of three National Science Foundation grants supporting her current work and research of COMPUGIRLS.

What is the benefit of offering a program like COMPUGIRLS to young women?

Today, regardless of an individual’s aspirations for a career, he or she has to be technologically savvy. A person’s savvy is not only about how adept he or she is at using a computer or digital media but rather a person’s success is more measured by how well he or she innovates with technology. Offering a program such as COMPUGIRLS is crucial to increasing our society’s position of having all individuals—particularly those who may not have access to the same opportunities—become technological innovators. A person has to have access to become the technologist we know is necessary for 21st-century success.

How well is the program meeting its objective? What sort of success stories have you seen?

The program has been in existence since 2007. We’ve had hundreds of girls go through the program, anywhere from 400 to 500. Some of these young ladies are now first-generation college students at ASU. There are some who are graduates with associates degrees. One of the girls—who was featured when we were on NBC News with Brian Williams—helped a preschool center develop its records management system. Another graduated from one of the most prestigious schools in the valley and is now at Duke University. There are lots of wonderful success stories.

What should IT organizations do to encourage women to apply for IT jobs, help them get hired, and enable their success?

Most IT organizations need to work with both formal and informal educational organizations that are focusing on IT. Professionals should work with girls who are 12 or 13, because that’s when kids in general start to have clearer ideas as to their future possibilities. This is when they engage in opportunities—for better or for worse—toward that trajectory. Companies should help develop local programs that work in a girl’s own space—in her community, in her school.

Professionals have to be honest when mentoring these girls. You have to tell them what your barriers were and how you overcame them. You can’t just say, “do it.” You have to show them how to do it.

I partner with some senior researchers at the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). Their research shows that some women aren’t hired, because they’re women—not because of their abilities and skills. A lot of IT companies are missing out on phenomenal candidates who are female and people of color because of unconscious bias. IT must take social science research seriously and strategize to recruit a more robust, diverse pool of candidates.  It’s not enough to have someone who’s committed to diversity in the HR department. Companies need to take a systemic approach, a hard look at the organization, and make a commitment to change the organization to be more responsive to the needs of growing communities.

For the women and women of color who are hired, mentoring should be a priority. Many of us are not necessarily privy to certain ideas of “capital,” whether it is social capital or cultural capital, which allows certain individuals to persist and to succeed. There are some phenomenal examples, not necessarily in IT, but in other organizations that have wonderful retention rates in fields where they’ve been underrepresented. Company leaders need to look at corporations that aren’t in IT, but are successful in retaining women, and have a dialogue with them about how they do it. One of the key ingredients to retention is mentoring. Mentoring has to go beyond showing someone how to deal with this software or hardware. It has to include the social skills, the soft concepts. How do you network? How do you interact with your colleagues? Where do you interact with them? This is all important, in addition to technical skills. 

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