The Center for Information Technology Integration recruits students from a "high tech" pool that produces six times as many male students as females. This poses a challenge to CITI's ability to produce a diverse workplace and affects CITI's ability to meet the needs and goals of the University and society. We propose to develop a novel pilot program and associated measurement strategies that restructure CITI, making opportunities available to a broader pool of applicants, opening the door to effective affirmative action, and promoting gender diversity even in the face of a highly unbalanced applicant pool.
The Center for Information Technology Integration (CITI) is a research and development unit of the University of Michigan whose mission is to enhance the University's information technology environment, and whose strategy is to partner with external sponsors to fund the efforts. CITI has an annual budget exceeding $1M, $150K of which comes from general funds; the rest is provided by internal and external contract R&D. CITI's permanent staff consists of a (part-time) Director, a Scientific Director, and five technologists. CITI's deliverables consist mainly of experimental and production-quality software and research publications.
Students play an important role at CITI. In recent years they have consisted of a handful of doctoral students and about a dozen undergraduate interns, most of whom work part-time during the school year and either work full-time at CITI during the summer or intern at one of CITI's corporate partners. Led by faculty, CITI shares the University's core mission of training and educating students and preparing them for successful careers.
As a "high tech" organization, CITI draws the overwhelming majority of its students from the computer science curricula in the LS&A and Engineering colleges. Consequently, CITI is at the end of a pipeline that, over the last seven years, has consistently produced six times as many male graduates as females. Gender-neutral recruiting of undergraduate interns naturally results in a disparity in CITI's gender makeup, which poses a challenge to CITI's ability to produce a diverse workplace, affecting CITI's ability to meet the needs and goals of the University and society. CITI's partners in industry, who face the same imbalance in the recruiting pool, also confront this challenge.
In this project, we propose to study the dimensions of the problem and characterize the effect that this monoculture has on CITI and its partners. We then propose a course of study intended to reduce or eliminate the imbalance.
Unlike other projects of this sort, we do not focus on the imbalance in the pool of qualified students, as this tends to continually point the finger further and further upstream. Instead, we propose to design a pilot program that will transform CITI to make opportunities available to a broader pool of applicants. With this program in place, we intend to offer CITI (and similar organizations at the leading edge of information technology) opportunities to address gender diversity through affirmative action, even in the face of a highly unbalanced applicant pool.
In its recent arguments before the Supreme Court, the University made a powerful and ultimately successful case for the importance of a diverse student body in meeting its educational mission. Fundamental to that argument was Justice Powell's point in Bakke: "The nation's future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples." Justice Powell's point is just as apt when applied to gender diversity in engineering and information technology. CITI can best advance the interests of the University and the Nation by insuring that women are offered opportunities to participate directly in its research agenda.
Numerical dominance of one group leads to unhealthy and undesirable consequences for the minority group: members of the minority group can be saddled with the obligation to represent their group, even though any group has within itself tremendous diversity. Undergraduate interns reflect a variety of personality types, such as studious, extroverted, mindful, introspective, social, etc. Without representation of this intra-gender diversity, there is a tendency for a member of the minority to be asked to shoulder the task of representing her group as a whole, placing her in an impossible and uncomfortable role, and leading to unhealthy stereotyping.
Gender imbalance can also lead to a workplace pervaded by a "male culture" which, if left unchecked, could produce an environment that drives women away. CITI's "back row" is populated mostly by post adolescent men in their late teens and early twenties, often referred to as "geeks" and "code pigs", which suggests the potential for pinups and other images possibly offensive to women, coarse language, rude behavior, etc. Responsible management (and the occasional stern lecture) has prevented any serious incidents, but breaking the monoculture of the back row offers a prophylactic to unhealthy tendencies, even absent management vigilance.
CITI's strategy to date has been to hire female students at every possible opportunity: nearly every female student that inquires about internships at CITI is offered a position of one form or another. This is quite distinct from CITI's recruitment strategies for male interns, who face stringent criteria, and are often hand picked by CITI faculty from the courses they teach.
This strategy ultimately fails: instead of producing a diverse mix of male and female interns, CITI becomes stratified into a group of elite (mostly male) interns and a second group of (mostly female) less distinguished students. The former group reflects the unbalanced gender makeup of the recruitment pool, while the latter reflects CITI's attempts to achieve balance. In a way, gender comes to represent ability, an extremely unhealthy and potentially damaging tendency: this correlation does not go unnoticed by the female interns at CITI, who experience a reinforcement of societal attitudes that relegate them to the second tier in technical roles, affecting their self-esteem, and reinforces unhealthy sexist attitudes among male interns. Consequently, CITI has a sorry record of retaining female interns, notwithstanding its affirmative action in hiring. In fact, CITI makes a bad situation worse.
A program that acts affirmatively to correct the imbalance in gender diversity at CITI benefits the University by enhancing its reputation as a leader in devising strategies to promote equal opportunity. A successful program also offers CITI's partners a road map for strategies that make a difference, even when the recruiting pool is heavily weighted against them.
Plans and Goals
The goal of this project is to devise strategies that will promote balance in gender diversity at CITI and to design a pilot program to implement these strategies.
The nature of CITI's mission dictates that it contract with external and internal partners to produce technical products that meet their needs and the University's. For the most part, deliverables are narrowly drawn, relying on research and development activities appropriate to scientists and engineers. This limits CITI's recruiting needs to a single type of student internship, in which elite students make narrow technical contributions, and puts CITI at the mercy of the ability of the academic units that produce computer scientists to achieve gender balance.
Yet CITI's needs and the needs of its partners are often broader than the deliverables specified under contract and the products themselves can be improved if developed in an environment that extends beyond the talented scientists, engineers, and interns that produce them. By defining its deliverables to incorporate qualities such as usability, reliability, documentation, etc., CITI can produce a better product. Moreover, by restructuring CITI projects to include management and communication roles, the development process itself can be made more agile and responsive to the needs of partners.
Expanding the nature of the roles of interns at CITI also expands the sets of skills that are valued at CITI. Rather than focusing on one group of students - those with the highest GPA and the strongest programming skills - CITI is able to recruit out of several pools: students with exceptional organizational skills, good communicators, abstract thinkers, etc., and give them responsibilities that correspond with these skills. Partitioning the pool of potential recruits offers CITI the opportunity to recruit selectively out of each pool.
Even if these partitioned pools themselves reflect gender imbalance, each of them includes female students that would otherwise have no role at CITI. Selective recruiting out of these pools offers CITI the opportunity to identify and recruit highly qualified female students, averting the stratification that results from recruiting out of a single pool.
The strategy outlined constitutes a significant change to CITI's organization and the nature of its partnerships, which affects the budgets negotiated with its sponsors. Before implementing a pilot program based on this strategy, we intend to make precise the nature of the problem and the proposed solution.
As part of this project, we will study the impact of the unbalanced gender pool on similar organizations at other universities and in the commercial sector, with the goal of developing strategies, assessing their costs, and identifying ways to measure their effectiveness. The next step is to implement one or more strategies in a limited way, collecting data to help determine effectiveness.
The questions to be asked include:
(Woman Engineer, Spring 2003) Women Engineers Strive For Excellence [James Schneider]
(Science Magazine, 20 June 2003, v300 p. 1875) Women Scientists: 9.3 Minutes of Fame? [J.D. Wagner and S.R. Caudill]
(Network World, 29 Sept 2003) Female IT professionals cope in a male-dominated industry [Ellen Messmer]
(Science Magazine, 3 Oct 2003, v302 p. 33) Princeton Study Strikes Sad But Familiar Chord [Andrew Lawler]
Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing [Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher]
Creating the Multicultural Organization: A Strategy for Capturing the Power of Diversity [Taylor Cox Jr.]
Appendix: Evaluation Questions
The reasons a female student should choose to work at CITI should be no different than any other student's: CITI provides a great employment and research opportunity to any student.
Ideally, the overall work experience at CITI helps interns learn more about technology, gain work experience, and prepare a career in computing. An accommodating work environment can facilitate the process of achieving such goals.
Positions that are not focused on individual projects will have to be paid with pooled project funds, increasing the overhead to all projects. This requires careful planning and allocation of income.
Interviews and opportunities for unstructured or social time can help establish common goals and collegial support from CITI old-timers.