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Archives

(I'll explain this a little bit later, but I wanted to get this into the blog before I forgot.) MIT CSAIL CIS talk: Joe Silverman, 2 October 2009:
  • Total audience: 31
  • Men in audience: 27
  • Women in attendance: 4
  • Women missing: 23 (85%)
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No, really. Where are they? Now that I've noticed, I can't help but see a conspicuous absence of female computer scientists at every CS event I attend. So where are they?*


Looks like I'm not the only person to be writing about women in computer science. My friend Andromeda has some thoughts on the matter, talking about why she didn't enter CS.

  • Number of men in audience: 16
  • Number of women in audience: 4
  • Number of women missing: 12 (75%)
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  • Men present: 20
  • Women present: 1
  • Women missing: 19 (95%)
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To return to a former topic: I've collected a number of interesting links regarding women in computer science, and while none have individually warranted a blog post on their own the aggregation is now large enough to post.

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Though I can only wish that I had the energy to fully participate in this worthwhile celebration (things have been crazy-busy) I cannot let the day pass without noting that it is Ada Lovelace Day. I can get behind the concept: instead of talking even more about the women who are not in science and technology, let's celebrate the ones who are! But though I can think of a dozen women (easily) who deserve the honor, I have only the energy to point at the current list before collapsing.

I lie. I also take the opportunity to link to the best biography of Ada Lovelace ever written. (For those of you who are not computer scientists yourselves, take it from me: this is exactly what life is like as a computer scientist. Especially the end. Be sure to poke around that site for other Lovelace-related goodies.)

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This paper made a bit of a splash when it was first published last year. To quote the MSNBC article:

The stereotype of computer scientists as geeks who memorize Star Trek lines and never leave the lab may be driving women away from the field, a new study suggests. And women can be turned off by just the physical environment, say, of a computer-science classroom or office that's strewn with objects considered "masculine geeky," such as video games and science-fiction stuff.

I decided, however, to hold off blogging about it until I actually had the chance to read it. I'm glad I did, as it actually contains a little more nuance than makes it into the popular press.

  • Men present: 12 (not including the speaker)
  • Women present: 8
  • Women missing: 4 (33%)

Apologies for the long absence, gentle readers. My two-year-old has been waking us up two to four times per night for for the past few months, making it nigh-impossible for me to string two coherent sentences together. But he now seems to be sleeping through more often than not, which goes a long way to explaining my new-found energy and good mood.

The gender count above helps, too. It's better than I've seen in a while. Of course, the 'women' count was heavily skewed toward students (i.e., five) while the 'men' count actually skewed toward senior faculty, but hey. It still makes me hopeful.

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I was sent this paper (by Amanda B. Diekman, Elizabeth R. Brown, Amanda M. Johnston and Emily K. Clark; behind a paywall-- sorry) in response to my earlier post about research into the gender disparity in computer science. This particular paper more broadly considers all of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but seems applicable to CS in specific. It can very much be seen as a complement to the Cheryan et al. paper we discussed before. That paper focused on a mechanism which women are prevented from joining CS. This paper focuses on one possible underlying reason this mechanism works. As I know that was of interest to some of my readers, and it will also give me a platform on which to explain why I care about this issue so much, let's see what this paper says.

I did not actually set out to create a 'women in computer science' blog, and I do, in fact, do interesting technical work at my day job. But I can't talk about my day job, and people keep sending me interesting papers like this one (by Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams). One sentence summary: the reason women are under-represented in math intensive fields is not due to biology or 'hard' discrimination (my term, not theirs) but because of 'choices' made by, and preferences held by, women as a whole. I put the work 'choice' in quotes because I get the feeling that they are using the word 'choice' in some technical sense, and not one that that implies 'conscious thought' or 'good options.' But let's don our asbestos blogging suit and delve into the paper.

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I'm giving this its own top-level post as I suspect it would otherwise escape most people's attention:

Remember our previous discussion of the 'ambient belonging' study? The one about how environmental cues alone (Star Trek poster, comics, video-game boxes, pizza boxes, etc.) can influence how much people (don't) want to pursue computer science? In a stunning display of generosity, the contact author for that study (Prof. Sapna Cheryan) took the time to answer some of our questions on it. I've posted my mail to her, and her response (with permission) in the comment-thread to that post:

http://jonathanherzog.com/comment/1242#comment-1242

If anything, it looks like the published paper understated how much of an effect these environmental cues had...

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Via Sociological Images (who in turn got it from Kieran Healy) I stumbled across the eye-opening chart below:

Why do I blog about the gender gap in computer science? I am not a research psychologist, and so don't care about the underlying mechanisms for their own sake. Likewise, I do not think of being a computer scientist as a privilege and so do not care about the social justice issues. No, my interest is pragmatic: more computer scientists means more technological progress, which means a better standard of living for me and my children. So to me, everything in this topic boils down to two questions:

  1. Are we losing potential computer scientists to other fields?
  2. If so, what can we do about it?

The answer to question (1) seems fairly settled by now: yes. In particular, we're losing women.1 Now, most of my posts on the topic have focused on a question not on the list above: why? This is not because I find the question of 'why' interesting in its own right (I don't) but because it might help me answer question (2). So, I'm very happy to report I've found a glimmer of hope in a paper that verifies the effectiveness of a specific, easily-implemented strategy to keep women in CS.

  • 1. We might also be losing other minorities, such as racial minorities. In fact, I'm pretty sure we are, but I haven't found any good papers on the topic yet.