I just finished watching a mini-documentary created by the team at She++
and immediately started to peruse their website http://www.sheplusplus.org/ discovering an amazing team of talented young women committed to creating a culture in computer science that is more appealing to women.
One thing that really struck me was the diversity amongst the women who have bonded together in carrying our the mission outlined on the she++ ABOUT page.
she++ seeks to dismantle the untrue stereotype that computer science is not a career for women. We work with the technology industry to create a culture that is more appealing to women, and we work with women to dismantle harmful perceptions that they cannot succeed in the technology industry.
A quick look at the names and faces of the women on their team speaks to the fact that it is possible to gather a room full of people interested in computer science that are not 'white' 'males'. What started as a conference of 250 attendees at Stanford has grown to a whole community looking to change the face of computer scientist.
Their description of what it was like for women enrolled in their first computer class was spot on. I have certainly felt many of the emotions that were described in the documentary and have watched young women that I have steered into computer science courses experience the same.
"I spent a lot of time thinking that I was not qualified for this.. I had not been coding since I was 12"
"I thought I was failing that class all the way through"
"There was an expectations was that if you are studying computer science you must have used this before, I had hardly touched a computer."
The women warned that part of this may have been due to the fact that the "Intro to CS class was a weeder class and a bit more difficult."
Obviously the women in the class were not the only ones who find Intro to Computer Science classes challenging. However, according to research conducted at Stanford, this plays out differently for women than it does for their male counterparts.
"When women don’t succeed at first, they blame themselves, and when a man does not succeed he blames the course and the test, when a women gets a B+ she blames herself.. when a man takes a B+ he thinks he is doing fine."This drives home the fact that not only must we create more opportunities to bridge the experience gap that exist between girls and boys with computers and engineering type tasks, but we must also include an increased awareness of that experience gap and an acceptance that "just because something is hard, does not mean its not fun or that you are not good at it".
This is sometime I try to do with each of the TechSavvy Girls events that I design.
I still remember one of my former students, Samantha, coming back from her first year of college saying to me
"Ms. deLaBruere, if you had not helped me understand the experience gap, I would have dropped out of my Intro to Civil Engineering class. The boys were already half way through the assignment by the time I had set up the tools I needed to start the project. Not being familiar with the tools, meant I had to find the tool and orient myself to it before I even started."
I have heard people complain that some of the information we put out perpetuates the image that girls as victims, but I disagree. If framed correctly, it can help girls prepare for that "Weeder" class experience and understand that having less experience does not mean you don't belong. Congrats to t the team from Stanford, for helping raise awareness.