Computing Profession

How Can We Foster Inclusiveness?


This blog post is a follow-up to the article "Achieving Gender Equity: ACM-W Can't Do It Alone," which appears in the February edition of Communications. If you have not yet read the article, doing so will provide relevant context.

The goal is to elicit thoughts on the question "What can an individual do on a day-to-day basis to ensure that her/his environment fosters inclusiveness?" When asking this question of the ACM-W Council members, I received a number of suggestions, some of which are of the "day-to-day" variety, and others which would require a bit more time and effort to enact.

Want to quickly achieve a better understanding of the issues faced by women in computing and contribute to more supportive environments for all computing professionals? You can:

  • Once a month reach out to a female colleague you don't know and ask them about the work that she does.  Then, introduce her to someone else they should know (or who should know her) within your organization.
  • Find an ACM article about equity and diversity, read it, and share it with peers, students, etc.
  • Talk with peers and at staff meetings about issues of diversity such as unconscious bias and stereotype threat.
  • Reach out to some colleagues you trust ask them to candidly assess if there are any gender or ethnic/minority biases in the current project.
  • Ensure that all members of a meeting, regardless of gender, have a chance to contribute to a discussion by explicitly inviting contributions from those who have been silent.
  • Make sure that original ideas are attributed to the person who generated them. It is frequently true that ideas offered up by women get remembered as coming from men.
  • Seek out a person that most likely has a background or culture different from your own. Ask them how they made their career choice and what persuaded them to stick with a computing career. Use this input to encourage young women you meet to consider computer science as a future pathway.
  • Invite a female colleague to give a presentation on their work at a weekly meeting or to a group of students.
  • Once a month, become familiar with at least one woman (professor and/or student) on your campus and recognize the work they do and the accomplishments they have made to their chosen STEM profession. Introduce them to your students, peers, coworkers, friends, etc.
  • Talk to people you meet from businesses/universities other than your own about issues of gender equity in their environments.  Take good ideas back and share them with your colleagues.

Actions that may require more time or effort to enact or may require the participation of others in your organization are:

  • Team up with two or three colleagues and adopt a local elementary, middle, or high school class. Visit 3 to 5 times a year and plan sessions & activities to sensitize/empower young men and women for inclusiveness.
  • Use available training resources to encourage young women to push back against the negative peer pressure, from both women and men, that tries to dissuade them from sticking with computing. 
  • Mentor a female high school or college student interested in computing.
  • Make sure that hiring, tenure, and promotion committees, as well as teaching faculty and managers, understand how unconscious bias can affect their decisions, and help those groups develop mechanisms to disrupt those biases.
  • Nominate a female colleague for a promotion/award/recognition.
  • Locate and attend a women in computing event (conference, support meeting, etc.). ACM Celebrations, ACM-W Student Chapters, and the Grace Hopper Celebration are options to consider.

Please contribute your ideas to this posting.  ACM-W will feature the ideas generated on our Web page and in other publications. This will help us empower all computing professionals to do their part in transforming ACM into the premier example of a professional organization committed to gender equity.

Jodi Tims is chair of ACM-W, ACM'S Council on Women in Computing, which supports, celebrates, and advocates internationally for the full engagement of women in all aspects of the computing field, providing a wide range of programs and services to ACM members and working in the larger community to advance the contributions of technical women.

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