Thursday, January 15, 2015

Day 15: Where are the Girls? Carnegie Mellon is tops in number of girls in computer science

Everyone is talking about how few women there are in computer science and how se need to change this. Everyone agrees that its a complex issue and hard ‘nut to crack’.  As a matter of fact there have been lots of smart people working on bridging the gender gap in computer science for many years.

And one group of ‘smart people’  who is getting it right AGAIN  are folks at Carnegie Mellon.  As a matter of fact, in 2014 they announced  that a record number of women “make up 40 percent of the incoming class of undergraduates this fall in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science (SCS).”

Photo credit:  Women@SCS Roadshow
But this is not the first time that Carnegie Mellon has hit a 40% mark in the number of women in their Computer Science program.  Back in 2000, when I was doing my research on gender and technology, Carnegie Mellon was boasting 40% female. 

There might be circumstances that helped fuel those numbers (i.e. the dot com era of the late 90’s) and the ‘current’ attention and efforts being put towards increased participation in STEM careers by schools and industry.  But the truth of the matter is that Carnegie Mellon’s numbers are still higher than other universities (who operate under the same circumstances).   

So what’s working at CMU?  Probably lots of things are making the difference, but the one thing that was true in 2000 and that is true today is the CMU's EXPLICIT focus on  providing women with the same opportunities that are available to men who study computer science “mentors, networks and role models, as well as friends who are also computer science majors”.  

Instead of focusing on the differences between men and women to find the solution to bridging the gender gap,   computer science professor,  Lenore Blum, focused her efforts on being EXPLICIT in providing women who enter the program,  the same opportunities  as their male counterparts in a program called Women@SCS.  

"What we have shown is that making these opportunities explicit for the minority in a population ends up working to the advantage of everybody," she said. "We see that women and men exhibit similar spectra of interests, ranging from coding to designing computer systems to developing applications of computer science."    

So when we want to fuel change,  we can do lots of research on the what might be causing the problem or we could go research the “bright spots”.  In their book “Switch, How to Change when Change is Hard”. the Heath brothers advise that  taking a look at those having success and trying to replicate the conditions that yield that success, is a strategy that yields results.   Carnegie Mellon is obviously a bright spot!

Source: Press Release: Women Comprise 40 Percent of Computer Science Majors Among Carnegie Mellon's Incoming First-Year Class 

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