Women have achieved parity, or majority, in many previously male-dominated fields, including law, medicine, business, and biology, but not (yet) in computing and engineering. We know that women are just as capable as men at succeeding in these fields. At this point, young women often need individual encouragement to pursue computing. The National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT) is supporting women's entry and persistence in this field, while at the same time helping to create academic and work environments that are egalitarian and welcoming to them. One avenue NCWIT is pursuing is the Aspirations Computing program, which identifies and supports girls in their computing interests and includes an award honoring high school girls for their computing-related achievements. The program also includes a growing number of other components and activities, as described in this column.
Research shows that encouragement helps individuals persist in the face of adversity.2 Individual encouragement is essential to retention when girls and women express doubts about whether they belong in computing. Women report more often than men that they entered computer science because of a teacher, family member, or friend's encouragement.1 Support can make a big difference in a girl's belief that she is competent enough to succeed at computing tasks, which can lead to persistence in the field.