First RESPECT Conference: Differences between computing fields and enrollment for women of color

August 24, 2015 at 7:41 am 4 comments

I posted a few weeks about our two Georgia Tech papers at the first ever RESPECT conference (post on Miranda Parker’s paper and post on Barbara Ericson’s paper).  The conference itself was great — I expect to see a lot more good things coming out of that conference.  (The papers should show up in the IEEE Xplore library soon.)

What I liked about RESPECT was that the focus just on broadening participation in computing issues allowed for greater depth and nuance than at ICER or SIGCSE.  The first paper of the day was Representation of Women in Postsecondary Computing 1990-2013: Disciplines, Institutional, and Individual Characteristics Matter by Stuart Zweben and Betsy Bizot.  They dove into the differences between women in Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering vs. Software Engineering vs…  They all have a depressing downward trend — except for one. Interdisciplinary degrees (like our Computational Media major) are the ones in which representation of women is increasing. (The slide they presented with this graphic was easier to read than the one in the paper, but my picture of the slide is less clear.)


I also found fascinating the paper by Hodari, Ong, Ko, and Smith, Enabling Courage: Agentic Strategies of Women of Color in Computing.  They pointed out differences in the experiences of women of color. I was quite surprised at how different they are. (The below graph isn’t in the paper, so you’ll have to make do with my picture of the slide.)  That relatively flat red line at the bottom is the percentage of Hispanic or Latina Females in computer science.  I found the flatness of that line encouraging.  In the last few years, we’ve had a massive rise in enrollment.  The fact that the Hispanic/Latina women line is pretty steady means that we must have had a commensurate rise in the numbers of Hispanic/Latina women in CS.


There were a bunch of short papers and lightning talks that left me wanting more detail — which is exactly what they’re supposed to do.  The paper Encouraging Online Contributions in Underrepresented Populations by Nacu, Martin, Sandherr, and Pinkard got me thinking about the importance of co-design (involving the target student populations involved in the creation of the classes, like the participatory design methods that Betsy DiSalvo uses) to get buy-in and to insure that the interventions are culturally appropriate.

The RESPECT panels didn’t work as well for me — and I admit to being on one of the two panels.  They were more like a bunch of short presentations, and went on too long with little discussion.  It’s hard to get panels to work in a research conference.  Everybody wants to talk about their thing. Panels work best when there is some disagreement on the panel, and the discussion can help everyone to gain a new perspective.

RESPECT was popular which led to a minor problem.  The exemplary paper sessions were packed with all the RESPECT attendees and all the co-located STARS attendees who wanted to hear the great research results!  They’re going to need a bigger space next year.  That’s a good problem to have for a first time conference.


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Interesting Pushback Against Incentivizing Active Learning in CS Classes Want to change the demographics of CS PhDs? You only have to change a handful of schools

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  August 24, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I’m curious: how much of the “interdisciplinary” cluster is computer games, how much computational media, how much bioinformatics, how much computational linguistics, … ? How much are the interdisciplinary programs not specialized fields, but just CS-lite degrees for students who are double majoring in something else? It would help to know whether a strong concentration in a related field is what matters, or whether it is a reduction in the number of CS courses that matters for attracting and retaining students through to the BS.

    Locally, computer game design is the most gender-imbalanced engineering field (way worse than regular computer science), and bioengineering the closest to parity (but still awful at about 33% female). (Our bioinformatics program is too small for the fraction female to be a meaningful statistic.)

    The MCD bio degree (the closest non-engineering degrees to bioengineering here) is majority female—the biggest differences in the requirements are math, statistics, and programming requirements for the engineering degree.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  August 24, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Here’s what the paper says:

      In some cases we determined that the programs reporting a particular CIP code did not really appear to be computing programs at all but instead were programs in another discipline with little if any computing requirement, or codes that were used for certificate programs but not for baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate programs. In these cases we eliminated the code as a candidate for further analysis. For those codes that were not eliminated, but were not categorized into the five areas, we identified three other areas for separate analysis. These were “information science”, “security” and “interdisciplinary”. Information science was singled out from IT and IS at the recommendation of colleagues from the dean’s group of the Computing Research Association. Security was singled out as an area in which there currently is some active effort to identify possible program criteria for accreditation.

  • […] computing degrees are the only ones where the percentage of women majors are growing (see RESPECT report here).  We should value interdisciplinary courses and programs because it’s good for our students […]

  • […] Miranda’s paper on Privilege […]


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