Browsing articles tagged with " gender"

What a Woman Wants: Will Computer Science Programs Step Up?

Sep 18, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, WIT  //  9 Comments

For more than a decade I’ve worked on teams that accredit college and university programs in computer science, information systems, and technology.  For the most part the criteria we use for computer science programs has been traditional: algorithms, programming, math, software engineering, components and architectures, models of computation, analysis of algorithms, fundamentals of program specification and verification, computational complexity, automata, etc.  There are requirements for humanities and other subjects, but it is rare to see programs remain unaccredited if they were missing them.  A sample set of criteria can be found on the CIPS website.

One of the things that annoyed me during computer science accreditation visits were the all too common references to women not being able to succeed in CS programs.  When I’d ask why, I was usually given one of these types of answers:

  1. Women are incapable of thinking of complex topics
  2. Women just don’t want to learn computer science
  3. Women don’t want to study in programs where they are outnumbered
  4. We’d have to dumb down the programs too much (see point 1).

It took all my might to simply record their responses and not fight it out.  I figured their answers might be a reflection of their program administration and management than of the women they are running out of their programs.  For instance, a computer science program chair told me directly that if he had to dumb down his program enough to get women to stay, "no one would be able to log in".  Tell me what sort of rewarding student experiences the females in his classes have on a daily basis?

Applied vs. Research Programs in Computing

One of the issues computer science programs have is managing the fact that they often exist as a research program but many students are more interested in studying computing at an applied level.  In other professions, applied means just that – learning to apply sciences in a practical, real world environment.  Other professions produce professionals just that way: lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers. For the most part, they study in applied programs.  But in the research world, applied is the equivalent of dumbed down. So many computer science programs are designed to produce researchers even though the vast majority of students are there not to become researchers, but practitioners.  And yet most women are drawn to professions where they can see a direct link to studying and working on projects that will change the world.

I was thinking about this while speaking on the #SQLSat157 San Diego WIT panel this past weekend. When I got home, I found this great interview with Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College: Q&A What Women Want in the Communications of the ACM.  One of the questions was exactly what I experienced when choosing a program of study all those years ago:

You’ve talked before about the importance of teaching practical applications from the start, rather than waiting until students have mastered the building blocks.

We know from research that for women and minorities, the attraction of computer science is what you can do with it. It doesn’t mean they are not interested in complexity theory or other esoteric parts of the field, it just means that that tends to be the driving motivation. And in our experience, it’s not like women take one course or go to the Hopper conference and say, "I want to be a computer science major." It’s more like, you take one course or go to the Hopper conference, and you take the next course. And then you take the course after that, and by then you’ve taken three courses and you’re going, "Oh, I’m actually good at this, and it gets me summer jobs. Maybe I should be a CS major."

The curmudgeon computer science chair and his colleagues also had thoughts on programs that shifted their marketing and delivery, but not their content, to appeal more to women and minorities: it was cheating.  As an IT professional, I say "Let’s cheat, then".  Let’s ensure that computers science and other technology programs can step up their game to be more appealing.  As a business person and someone who interviews candidates for jobs, I want to see people who understand theory AND application of it all.  Cost, benefit , risk and all.  Saving the world.  Making a difference.

Information systems and technology programs are generally applied programs of study.  However, we tend to see them as lesser siblings of computer science.  Maybe we shouldn’t, especially as employers for organizations that don’t directly hire researchers.

Step Up

Do we need theoretical, research-only computer science programs?  ABSOLUTELY!  But we also need IT professionals who can fit solutions into a corporate environment.  One that can’t just think in terms of theory.  And I want a more diverse, educated workforce available to hire from.  Not just for the numbers, but because we get better solutions.  But in order to get this, our programs of study need to step up.

I’m Hiring This Girl One Day…#WIT

Dec 25, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Generations, Professional Development, Snark  //  2 Comments

I’m so blown away by how well this girl rants against the onslaught of PINK on girls and females.  For us grown-up girls, the concept of "shrink it and pink" as a marketing approach makes me want to run screaming out of the store.  I had an exhibitor take a nice 16GB USB drive I was picking up out out of my hand and replace it with a blinged out pink 2GB one, saying "Oh, you want this one instead".  No, I didn’t.  And the fact that this vendor thought I did spoke volumes for how they felt about their female customers.

Sure, I cart around Barbies and have my fair share of girlie toys, but my Barbies are working girls – Technical Barbies that have job.  Astronauts, School teachers, FBI agents, Computer Engineers.  Action figures, I call them, because they do something other than look pretty. Most Barbies look like some type of working girl that involves being pretty, but I’ll keep that discussion for later.

Anyway, this video of Riley on Marketing gives me new hope that someday we’ll raise girls to have good analytical thinking.

 

Riley, You Go Girl!

 

In fairness to retailers, they stock and display merchandise in a manner that sells best.  Parents (and Aunties and Uncles), they do this because you like it.  Stop liking it.  Don’t just buy for your little girl from an aisle with big sign that says "Girls" over it.  Think about where you want your darling girl to be at age 18 – still trying to find a Prince to make her a Princess…or readying to enter post-secondary education so that she never has to rely on anyone but herself.  Sure, buy her a Laundry Barbie and a all that princess stuff.  Tell her that she is your princess.  Let her have her truly silly girlie moments. But please don’t let that be her only professional development plan from age 5-25. 

All I know is that when I hire people, I want a hell of lot more Rileys than I do princesses.

Are You Sitting at the Table: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Aug 3, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Speaking, WIT  //  No Comments

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  I first saw Sheryl talk on a Women in IT (WIT) panel that happened during the recent Facebook Townhall.  Steve Jones (blog | Twitter) sent me this link as he knows I have a passion for WIT topics and discussions. I found myself nodding with agreement to what Ms. Sandberg addresses in this 15 minute video.  In one of the points, she shares stories of women who don’t "sit at the table".  I noticed behaviour throughout my career.  You’ve all been to large meetings where there weren’t enough seats at the conference table, so some people have to sit along the wall or at the back of the room.  In most cases, women will choose to sit away from the table in one of the "wallflower" seats.  I’m not sure why this happens.  I suspect it’s how we were raised to be nice, take the burnt cookie, choose the least comfortable chair, or otherwise put someone else’s needs ahead of our own.  There’s nothing wrong with giving up your seat for someone who needs it more than you do, but we ladies need to stop deferring our power to others because we aren’t thinking like the men are. 

I’ve heard that the most powerful seat in a room is one that faces the main entrance.  I almost never see my female co-workers take that seat.  Maybe they don’t know where the power seats are.  Maybe they don’t care to play the game.  Maybe they don’t feel they are worthy of it.  I can assure you that there are people in the room playing that game and they are keeping score.  It’s not just this one small behaviour, either.  We females spend too much time as wallflowers in all kinds of situations:  not submitting to speak at events and conferences, giving others credit for our own work, letting people in meetings shut down our comments.  I’ve seen all of them. 

In the Facebook Townhall, President Obama first spoke with Mark Zuckerberg, then after all that was done, a panel of women in tech discussed diversity and gender issues. What I found odd about this set up was that it almost sent the same message that Sheryl addresses in the above TED Talk: Sitting at the table. When I first read the agenda for the townhall, I was thrilled that the President of the United States was going to discuss a topic that was near and dear to my heart. Instead, the WIT panel was held as separate event on a different set. I was thrilled that such a high profile event covered the topic of gender issues in technology, though, and I look forward to future events where this issue can be addressed with the widest possible audiences.

Watch the video.  In 15 minutes Sheryl gives 3 pieces of advice that can benefit you in your career.  Keep asking yourself, "am I sitting at the table"? 

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