By Ruthe Farmer & Dr. Leigh Ann DeLyser, CSforALL – Sunday March 3, at the start of Women’s History Month, 60 Minutes aired a segment on changing the rates at which girls pursue computer science and technology degrees and careers. The segment put a spotlight on Code.org, Microsoft and startup company LittleBits–whose work should be celebrated, but the narrative and framing missed the mark, ignoring the complexity of inclusion of women and girls in a traditionally male dominated field.
60 Minutes omitted ALL of the lead organizations directly focused on women and girls, many of whose work precedes and laid the foundation for the success of organizations like Code.org, resulting in a segment that, rather than moving the community forward, caused outcry and disappointment that the voices of and contributions of women in the CSforALL movement were not only ignored, but erased.
Erasing the contributions of women is unacceptable. Though today’s news cycle and our attention span is short, the stories told by leading media outlets like CBS become codified in the history books as true, though they only illustrate a piece of the truth.
Even more jarring, is that in a segment on women and girls in tech, on the second day of Women’s History Month, 60 Minutes left out key groups working on this issue that are in fact founded and led by women, like:
- The National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), a change leader community of over 1100 organizations working from K-workforce and led by Lucy Sanders, a Bell Labs Fellow and eight-time patent holder;
- Black Girls Code led by software engineer and parent Kimberly Bryant;
- Girls Scouts of the USA, led by Latina rocket scientist Sylvia Acevedo, who recently launched a 70M dollar STEM education pledge and updated their offerings to include computer programming, cyber security and robotics starting at age 4;
- Girls Who Code, led by advocate and author Reshma Saujani;
- 22 year old women in tech organization AnitaB.org, led by Black technologist and K-12 CS education pioneer Brenda Darden Wilkerson;
- CSforALL, the national hub for the CS education community with Leigh Ann DeLyser at the helm and Ruthe Farmer serving at Chief Evangelist.
- Or the efforts of Google, the Geena Davis Institute, Disney’s Julie Ann Crommett, supermodel Karlie Kloss, and former US CTO Megan Smith to change the portrayal of technical women and girls in media, TV shows and movies that shape the aspirations of girls.
We could go on. In fact, this has happened before. In 2017, inspired by multiple national outlets misattributing work done by women to recently launched male-led organizations, we penned an article titled Hidden Figures of Computer Science for ALL, highlighting a short list of the key women who’ve led the modern computer science education and equity movement over the last two decades. Why is the work of women still being hidden more than 50 years after Katherine Johnson suffered that indignity?
The 60 Minutes piece seemed to offer a single solution to an extremely complex challenge–one that has been studied, researched, invested in by the National Science Foundation among many other funders, and, addressed by a large number of organizations and leaders both local and national for nearly two decades.
According to CSforALL managing partner and CS education researcher Dr. Leigh Ann DeLyser, collective impact is key, “Every young person goes through a journey as they grow and learn. On that journey, they will encounter many opportunities in their lives to learn, to engage, to be excited, and perhaps to be told this is ‘not for them’. From Pre-K to PhD, the people they meet along the way contribute to their decision making, their choices. Attributing success to just one contributor to that journey diminishes the importance of the collective impact of everyone in a student’s life.”
In fact, those missing from the 60 Minutes story, the cohort of organizations and advocates focused squarely on addressing the many challenges girls and underrepresented students experience on the journey to a career in technology, is so vast, that we’ve launched a crowdsourced list to help surface and highlight those efforts as a resource for the media. Today this list details the work of more than 80 organizations and advocates and continues to grow.
And that is a beautiful thing–this collective impact powerhouse of local organizations, advocates, community leaders, educators, policy makers, corporations and champions that make up the movement we call CSforALL. All of us have a critical and ongoing role to play, and many of us have been doing this critical work for many years. Ignoring the collective impact narrative of education, gives a free pass to those who most need to be inclusive of others.
Moreover, the nuances of equity for young women of color and those with disabilities is even more complicated. Fortunately, organizations and advocates like BlackComputeHer, TECHNOLOChicas, AccessCSforALL, Dr. Nicki Washington and the SMASH Academy are stepping up to address the unique challenges those communities experience.
CSforALL is just that – for ALL, and also by ALL. Not just the students, but the educators, institutions, curriculum providers, advocates and even media. Getting to ALL students is going to take ALL of us.C
About the contributors
Ruthe Farmer, Chief Evangelist, CSforALL (left), is a national advocate for gender equity and diversity in technology, and has focused her efforts on diversity in technology and engineering since 2001. At CSforALL, she serves as Chief Evangelist, working to invite new stakeholders to the CSforALL table – and make the table bigger. Prior to joining CSforALL, Ruthe served as Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy focusing on President Obama’s call to action for Computer Science for All, led strategy and K-12 programs at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), and implemented national tech and engineering programs at Girl Scouts of the USA. She has launched multiple national inclusion programs including Aspirations in Computing, TECHNOLOchicas, the AspireIT outreach program, Lego Robotics for Girl Scouts, Intel Design & Discovery and more. She served as 2012 Chair of CSEDWeek, was named a White House Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion in 2013, received the Anita Borg Institute Award for Social Impact in 2014, and the UK Alumni Award for Social Impact in 2015. Ruthe holds a BA from Lewis & Clark College and an MBA in Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Oxford.
Dr. Leigh Ann DeLyser Managing Partner, CSforALL (right), has spent her career building the K-12 computer science (CS) field. As a managing partner of CSforALL (csforall.org), she oversees programs and strategic planning and supervises research to build support for high quality CS education at all levels. A former high school and university CS educator, Leigh Ann understands challenges faced by teachers, administrators, and students developing their competency in the field and accessing high-quality learning opportunities and resources. Her influential “Running on Empty” report guides policies and research that support high-quality program implementation. Previously, Leigh Ann was Director of Research and Education at CSNYC, which built a foundation for CS in New York City public schools. She received a PhD in Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology, with a focus on CS education, from Carnegie Mellon University.
Lead image by Carey Wagner, Girls Who Code