Thursday, April 18, 2013

Let me tell you what I know about gender and CS

I was very excited when one of the CS professors in my department, who had admitted he wasn't sure about the causes of gender disparity in CS, accepted my offer to share what I knew. Studying this topic has been my hobby since I stepped into my first core major CS classes and wondered where all the women went.

I've found that professors and others often want to talk about or implement their idea for a partial solution, like a mentoring program or curriculum changes, right away, without taking time to look over the root causes. It was encouraging that this professor was open to learning about the research in the field before taking action.

I based the main arc of my presentation on a book chapter by Whitecraft and Williams that Greg Wilson of Software Carpentry was kind enough to forward to me. It's an evenhanded look at much of the research in this area, including theories that are often out of favor in most places I frequent. It served as a great overview, though I felt it could have focused more on issues involving differences in prior programming experience pre-college and intimidation brought on by "nerdy strutting". (Update: I just discovered a fantastic 2012 report by NCWIT that can also serve as a great overview. It covers cultural issues more comprehensively, with more recent research and more focus on the pre-college years.)

I printed resources from NCWIT for the meeting as well. They have made the process so straightforward with their workbooks on how to increase diversity in a CS department, I can't figure out why they aren't more widely known!

The experience also reminded me how much I don't know. I ran across all the women in computing posts on Mark Guzdial's rather comprehensive blog, and realized there are so many more details to this complex problem! And I really need to read Jane Margolis's books themselves instead of everyone else's excerpts of her books.

Here is the presentation I shared with the professor, plus several slides I added afterwards. It's a bit UofA-centric, but maybe it can be useful to someone. I'm open to discussion, so let me know if you have comments :)

(Here's a link to the presentation if the viewer doesn't show up)

My hope is that this meeting will prove useful for my department.