Read an interesting article today in the NY Times on how Some Universities Crack Code in Drawing Women to Computer Science. The article discusses how Carnegie Mellon University, Harvey Mudd University and the University of Washington have been successful at attracting women to enter their Computer Science (CompSci) programs.
When I was more active in IEEE there was a an affinity group called Women In Engineering (WIE) that worked towards encouraging female students to go into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). I also attended a conference for school age girls interested in science and helped to get the word out about IEEE and its activities. WIE is still active encouraging girls to go into STEM fields.
However, as I visit startups around the Valley and elsewhere I see lots of coders which are male but very few that are female. On the other hand, the marketing and PR groups have almost a disproportionate representation of females although not nearly as skewed as the male to female ratio in engineering (5:6 in marketing/PR to 7:1 in engineering).
Some in the Valley are starting to report on diversity in their ranks and are saying that only 15 to 17% of their employees in technology are females.
On the other hand, bigger companies seem to do a little better than startups by encouraging more diversity in their technical ranks. But the problem is prevalent throughout the technical industry in the USA, at least.
Universities to the rescue
The article goes on to say that some universities have been more successful in recruiting females to CompSci than others and these have a number of attributes in common:
- They train female teachers at the high school level in how to teach science better.
- They host camps and activities where they invite girls to learn more about technology.
- They provide direct mentors to supply additional help to girls in computer science
- They directly market to females by changing brochures and other material to show women in science.
Some Universities eliminated programming experience as an entry criteria. They also broadened the appeal of the introductory courses in CompSci to show real world applications of doing technology figuring that this would appeal more to females. Another university re-framed some of their course work to focus on creative problem solving rather than pure coding.
Other universities are not changing their programs at all and finding with better marketing, more mentorship support and early training they can still attract more females to computer science.
The article did mention one other thing that is attracting more females to CompSci and that is the plentiful, high paying jobs that are currently available in the field.
From my perspective, more females in tech is a good thing and we as an industry should do all we can to encourage this.