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Microsoft has made its second million-dollar grant to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to support the advancement of women in IT.

Founded in 2004, NCWIT is a coalition of over 170 corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits working to expand women's participation in IT. Members include Apple, AT&T, the Bank of America, Carnegie Mellon, Google, HP, Intel, MIT, Motorola, Pfizer, Princeton, Qualcomm, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, Wal-Mart, and others.

In a statement, NCWIT's CEO Lucy Sanders said "Women make up half the world’s population, they use technology as much as men, and they are innovative technical thinkers. If we want the best technology we can get, then we need women at the design table."

There aren't many women seated at that table today, as even a cursory survey of most corporate IT departments, industry confabs, and academic departments will show.

NCWIT cites a number of statistics (PDF) to support its assertion that women are underrepresented in IT:

  • Although 57 per cent of US undergraduate degrees went to women 2008, only 18 per cent of computer and information sciences degrees were earned by women.
  • Only 24 per cent of IT positions in the US are held by women.
  • Although 57 per cent of US high-school advanced-placement (AP) tests were taken by women in 2008, only 17 per cent of AP computer science (CS) were female.

And the disparity is growing. In 1985, women earned 37 percent of CS degrees, but - as noted above - that number dropped to 18 per cent last year.

NCWIT argues that their work to advance women in IT isn't merely a matter of gender equity. As their mission statement contends, "We believe that inspiring more women to choose careers in IT isn't about parity; it's a compelling issue of innovation, competitiveness, and workforce sustainability. In a global economy, gender diversity in IT means a larger and more competitive workforce; in a world dependent on innovation, it means the ability to design technology that is as broad and creative as the people it serves."

Microsoft appears to agree. Their new grant is a follow-up to a million-dollar grant made in 2006 that has supported a number of NCWIT initiatives, including Academic Alliance Seed Fund start-up grants to universities to attract and retain women in IT and CS programs, and the Award for Aspirations in Computing, which recognizes high-school women for "computing-related achievements and interests."

At a time when the Meltdown is forcing academic institutions at all levels to suspend outreach programs, increase class sizes, and curtail such expensive investments as networking teaching labs, Microsoft's commitment to helping expand IT and CS opportunities for half the population is to be commended. ®

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