DOI: 10.1145/2816937 Moshe Y. Vardi
THE 2015 GRACE HOPPER Cel- ebration of Women in Com- puting (GHC, for short) will take place October 14–16 in Houston, TX. GHC is an annual conference designed to bring the
research and career interests of women
in computing to the forefront. It is the
world’s largest gathering of women
in computing. GHC is organized by
the Anita Borg Institute for Women in
Technology in partnership with ACM.
This year’s event is expected to bring
together more than 12,000—mostly female—computer scientists!
But this impressive number should
not be taken to mean all is well on
the gender-diversity front. Far from
it! According to the most recent Taul-bee Survey (covering academic year
2013–2014), conducted by the Computing Research Association in North
America, only 14.7% of CS bachelor’s
degrees went to women. The U.S. Department of Education’s data shows
the female participation level in computing peaked at about 35% in 1984,
more than twice as high as it is today.
The low participation of women in
computer science has been, indeed, a
matter of concern for many years. The
Anita Borg Institute was founded in
1997 “to recruit, retain, and advance
women in technology.” (GHC is the Institute’s most prominent program.) The
National Center for Women & Information Technology, founded in 2004,
is another organization that works to
increase the meaningful participation
of girls and women in computing. And
yet, we seem to be regressing rather
than progressing on this issue.
The gender-diversity issue received
a fair amount of attention over the past
year, when several major technology
companies released workforce-diversity
data, showing, no surprise, a significant
underrepresentation of women in tech-
nical jobs. Tech companies point, of
course, to the narrow pipeline of women
with computing degrees to explain this
underrepresentation, but the culture
inside some of these companies also
seems to be a major factor. In fact, the
male-dominated tech culture gave rise
to the phrase “brogramming,” a slang
term used to refer to computer code pro-
duced by “bros” (slang for male friends).
A magazine article on the subject, titled:
“Brogramming—The Disturbing Rise of
Frat Culture in Silicon Valley,” was circulated widely a few years ago.
But amid the deluge of bad news, one
can find some points of light. Carnegie
Mellon University decided in the late 1990s
to take decisive action on gender diversity
and was able to increase the percentage
of women entering its computer science
program to 40%. A similar outcome was
recently reported by Harvey Mudd College. The Anita Borg Institute, together
with Harvey Mudd College, launched the
BRAID Initiative (http://anitaborg.
org/braid-building-recruiting-and-inclusion-for-diversity/) in 2014 to increase the percentage of women and
students of color majoring in computer
science in the U.S.
At my own institution, Rice University, we were able to raise the percentage of declared female majors (Rice
students declare their major toward
the end of the second year of study)
from 14% in 2007 to 30% in 2014. What
distinguishes Rice from Carnegie Mel-
lon and Harvey Mudd is that computer
science at Rice has no control whatso-
ever of the undergraduate-admission
pipeline. To raise the level of participa-
tion of women in computer science at
Rice required a departmental decision
that we cannot simply blame the situa-
tion on the narrow pipeline of female
high school graduates with interest in
CS. Several measures were adopted:
˲ Changing CS1 from a course about
programming techniques to a course
about computational thinking. The latter course is more popular with both
male and female students, and also
puts students with widely varied high
school computing experiences on a
more level playing field.
˲ Creating a club for female computer science students. There are a
fair number of female students who
desire the camaraderie of an all-wom-en computing group on campus, given
that the CS student body is still very
much male dominated.
˲Having faculty members, male
and female, develop mentoring relationships with female students to motivate and encourage them, including
offering opportunities for interaction
beyond the classroom, for example,
undergraduate research opportunities.
˲Continually dispel myths about
the preparedness and ability of women
for technical jobs.
˲ Last, but not least, sending female
students to GHC. Especially given
Rice’s small size, this allows students
to see there are many successful women in the field.
The bottom line is that while the gender-diversity problem is a very challenging one, it is not hopeless. Indeed, the
pipeline is narrow, but it can be expanded, one student at a time, one program
at a time, one company at a time. Institutional and personal commitments
can make a significant difference!
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Moshe Y. Vardi, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Copyright held by author.
What Can Be Done about Gender
Diversity in Computing? A Lot!