The New White House Tech Innovation Fellows: Only 2 of the 18 are Women. Suggestions for Improvement!
During this election season here in the United States little attention was paid to the announcement from the White House last week about the 18 new White House Tech Innovation Fellows. These 18 people will leave their jobs in Industry and Academia to relocate to Washington DC for 6 months to help solve 5 technological challenges in government. Looking through the list of names I noticed only 2 of the 18 fellows are women (zero were African American). Given Obama's commitment to girls in STEM, how did this happen?
The media made no mention of this discrepancy, after all, this is typical. 22% of computer science graduates are women, but the resulting fellow tally here is far worse at 11%, (half of the number). If the media noticed, they didn't say anything. It wasn't until Jennifer Martinez blogged on The Hill "Where are the Women"? quoting Micah Sifrey, co-founder of the Person. “A distinguished group, but only 2 of 18 are women?”
The White House had to address the issue last Thursday when the debate stirred on Twitter with Sifrey leading the conversation “11 percent [female representation] for something as visible and inspiring as this program, you'd think they could have done better,” Sifry told The Hill in an interview. “I'm sure there are plenty of qualified women who didn't get slots. I don't really know why this happened, but it seems worth pointing out."
White House spokesman Phil Larson responded “The 18 leading private-sector innovators that make up the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows are from a diverse set of backgrounds with an overwhelming collection of talents and expertise specifically suited to the tasks at hand." Larson goes on to say. "The Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to attract, retain, and support women and girls as they navigate careers in science and technology, and is dedicated to increasing the participation of women and girls — as well as other underrepresented groups — in those fields.”
This may be true Mr. Larson, but someone dropped the ball here. Larson mentions there were over 700 applicants but fails to be transparent - how many of them were women? What outreach was done to let women know about this? No answers. Another sign someone dropped the ball.
Mr Obama: Here are my ideas for making sure there are more women applicants for future Presidential Innovation Fellows:
1. Do a post mortem: Find out how outreach was done. How many women applied? How were the applications reviewed to determine if there was unconscious bias?
2. Create an Outreach Committee. Create a group of well-connected people in technology who can help focus outreach to make sure women and underrepresented minorities are aware of this program and encourage them to apply.
3. Revisit your application: Is the application process inclusive?
4. Be transparent about the review and selection process. I noticed there is no public information on this process. Being transparent is really important here and someone isn't following your principles. Make sure the selection committee is as diverse as the outcome you are trying to achieve.
5. Report back: Tell the public what you are planning to change this time and what the results were when the second group is announced. Enlist the public to help improve the selection.
By creating a group of diverse fellows, their innovation and creativity will increase collectively and that is what America needs right now. It's a win-win for you, for Americans and for society.
What do you think? What should change to increase diversity? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
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