The by-gender vs by-discipline view of women in STEM from Valerie Barr #CSEdWeek
Valerie Barr has written a Blog@CACM post (linked below) where she considers a by-gender view of women earning STEM or CS, vs the more traditional by-discipline view. She’s computing the number of degrees who go to women in CS over all the degrees that women earn. It’s an interesting argument and well-worth exploring.
My concern about this perspective is that it’s politically more complicated when arguing for resources to promote women in computing. You only grow the by-gender number by convincing women not to go into a different field — it’s a share of all women on-campus/graduating. That puts you in a tug of war with others on campus. In a by-discipline perspective, you can improve your share by drawing more women in (or by the number of men decreasing, as seems to have happened in our CM degree, see here).
While the by-discipline view of STEM degrees is far from rosy, this by-gender view of the data facilitates a more accurate assessment of the situation for women in STEM, and we can build on this to understand the ways in which the by-discipline view can mislead. If there were parity between men and women in STEM disciplines then they would graduate with degrees in those fields at the same rate relative to the size of their respective pools. We see this only in Biology where the graduation rate is almost equal (7% of women’s 2012 degrees were earned in Biology versus 6.77% of men’s 2012 degrees). In all other STEM fields men earned degrees at a higher rate and women are far from parity.