It is not only important, but also fashionable, to talk about the dearth of women in science. Bring up the topic at a cocktail
party with the right perspective and
you can be the most popular person
in the room. But bring it up in the
wrong way and you can find yourself
backed into a corner, watching more
pleasant social interaction from afar.
Your cocktail party success matters to us. We have designed this issue to contribute to your arsenal of
primary sources and plausible solutions. Within are a variety of issues
related to diversity in computer science—addressing not only women,
but also other underrepresented
groups—as well as progress of the
field as a whole. From implicit bias
to concrete factors that contribute
to the inclusivity problem facing advanced computing, we have taken a
step back to consider how we all can
WHY DOES DIVERSITY MATTER?
When bringing up the topic of diversity, it is important to address concerns about whether it matters in the
first place. Diversity matters to me
because as a woman—and therefore a
minority—in computing I was almost
compelled to abandon computer science. This would have been a shame,
as I cannot imagine being happier in
any other field.
There was no major traumatic
event, but a steady stream of skepticism—skepticism that I am capable;
skepticism that I belong. This skepticism can come from well-meaning
people: For instance, family friends
concerned that a career in computer
Women, Hip-Hop, and Self-Teaching
The new diversity in computing
science would be a “waste of my femininity.” This skepticism can sometimes be aggressive: For instance,
people telling me, “You’ll never be as
good at math as the boys.” If several
undergraduate professors had not sat
me down to address my concerns, I
would be doing something completely different today.
However most people are not as
privileged as I was. The child of two
computer scientists, I grew up programming: first Logo, then Basic,
browsers existed. From elementary
school onward, my weekends and
summers were filled with math and
technology classes and projects. I
programmed robots; I programmed
software applications. Studying computer science should have been a no-brainer for me, but it was not.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Given the current numbers and the
“leaky pipeline”—the continuous decline of minorities advancing their
careers in science and technology—
it is clear improvements are needed.
My personal experience has taught
me the importance of empowering
people, both those who are personally affected and those who are bystanders, by educating them on the
problems and possible solutions.
The first step toward educating
people about problems and solutions
is to understand what is going on.
During my graduate school years, I
read quite a bit on subtle factors that
cause people to leave computer science, such as implicit bias and lack
of appropriate support infrastruc-
The Female Founders
Conference, the first purposefully gender-specific Y Combinator conference,
was held at the Computer History Museum earlier this year.