Posts tagged ‘women in computing’

It’s not about “fixing women”! How Lucy Sanders tackles gender inequity: Data, research, humor

Lucy Sanders is one of my heroes, so I’m always happy to link to articles about her.  The point she’s making below is particularly interesting, and relates to previous posts about “grit” (see link here), and to the “lean in” phenomenon.

NCWIT isn’t just about getting women into tech jobs. It’s about getting women to share their perspective and knowledge. It’s about making sure women are not avoiding those leadership jobs or shirking from innovation because of something called unconscious bias.”There’s a big conversation going on now with what we call ‘fixing women.’ You hear things like ‘If women were just more confident.’ Or ‘If women were only better risk takers.’ We don’t subscribe to that. And we don’t subscribe to men being the biased, evil ones because research shows that all of us have this bias about who does technology,” Sanders said. “The ultimate goal, of course, is to make sure women and men are innovating equally in technology.”

Source: How Lucy Sanders tackles gender inequity: Data, research, humor – The Denver Post

November 23, 2015 at 8:46 am Leave a comment

You Don’t Have to Be Good at Math to Learn to Code – The Atlantic

It’s an interesting and open question.  Nathan Ensmenger suggests that we have no evidence that computer scientists need a lot of mathematics (math background has been correlated with success in CS classes, not in success in a CS career), but the emphasis on mathematics helped computing a male field (see discussion here).  Mathematics has both been found to correlate with success in CS classes, and not correlate with success in object-oriented programming (excellent discussion of these pre-requisite skill studies in Michael Caspersen’s dissertation).  It may be true that you don’t have to be good at mathematics to learn to code, but you may have to be good at mathematics to succeed in CS classes and to get along with others in a CS culture who assume a strong math background.

People who program video games probably need more math than the average web designer. But if you just want to code some stuff that appears on the Internet, you got all the math you’ll need when you completed the final level of Math Blaster. (Here’s a good overview of the math skills required for entry-level coding. The hardest thing appears to be the Pythagorean theorem.)

Source: You Don’t Have to Be Good at Math to Learn to Code – The Atlantic

November 16, 2015 at 8:10 am 16 comments

Barbara Ericson’s 2015 AP CS demographics analysis: Still No African-Americans Taking the AP CS Exam in 9 States


Normally, this is the time of the year when Barb writes her guest post about the AP CS exam-taker demographics.  She did the analysis, and you can get the overview at this web page and the demographics details at this web page.

But before we got a chance to put together a blog post, Liana Heitin of EdWeek called her for an interview.  They did a nice job summarizing the results (including interactive graphs) at the article linked below.

Some of the more interesting points (from Liana’s article):

No girls took the exam in Mississippi, Montana, or Wyoming. (Though Montana had no test-takers at all, male included, this year. Wyoming, which previously had no students take the test, had three boys take the exam in 2015).

Hawaii had the largest percentage of female test-takers, with 33 percent.

The overall female pass rate went up 3 percentage points, to 61 percent, from the year before.

Twenty-four girls took the test in Iowa, and 100 percent of them passed.”You don’t usually see 100 percent passing with numbers that big,” said Ericson. “Maybe five out of five pass. But 24 out of 24 is pretty cool.”

No African-American students took the exam in nine states: Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. That’s better than last year, though, when 13 states had no African-American test-takers.

Notably, Mississippi has the highest population of African-Americans—about half of the state’s high school graduates last year were black, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Yet of the five AP computer science test-takers, all were white or Asian and male.

Source: Still No African-Americans Taking the AP Computer Science Exam in Nine States – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

November 9, 2015 at 7:28 am 6 comments

What can I do today to create a more inclusive community in CS? Guest Post from Cynthia Lee

In July, Cynthia Lee, Leo Porter, Beth Simon, and I held a workshop (funded by the NSF IUSE program) for new faculty at research-intensive universities, to help them to be more effective and efficient teachers. We had eight new faculty attend. We taught them about peer instruction, worked examples, how to create a syllabus, techniques for dealing with plagiarism, how to make time for teaching, and how to create a more inclusive classroom. The response was terrific. As one participant told us, “I can’t believe how much actionable knowledge I picked up about teaching in just a day and a half!”

We’ll be inviting new faculty from research-intensive universities again in Summer 2016.

The below list was created by Cynthia Lee for the workshop participants. I loved it and asked if I could offer it here as a guest post. I’m grateful that she agreed.


  • Email top performers on a recent homework or exam to congratulate them; be sure to include a diverse group.
  • Personally invite a woman or minority student who is doing well to major in CS, apply to an internship, or go to grad school. If your TAs work with small groups of students in a discussion section, have them do this as well.1
  • Review today’s lecture slides to make sure that your gender pronouns are varied, and not in ways that conform to stereotype.
  • Avoid heteronormative examples (e.g., bijective function between sets “boys” and “girls”).
  • When using arbitrary names in examples, choose a broader selection (Juan, Neha, Maria, Mohammed, instead of just Jane Doe and John Smith). To represent your school’s population, use a previous quarter roster for ideas.
  • At the beginning of the quarter, ask each student to email you to introduce themselves by naming one of their core values, and one way that CS relates to or could be used in service of that core value (or write it down in class, and/or share with a neighbor in class).2
  • Never say, “This UI is so easy your mom could use it” or “How would you explain this to your mom?” or other phrases that equate women with lack of tech savvy. 3
  • Review today’s lecture slides to make sure that stock photos and illustrations with people in them include diverse races and genders in non-stereotyped roles.
  • Believe that hard work and effective practice matters more than DNA. Your beliefs influence students’ beliefs and impact their performance. 4
  • Take a moment in class today to encourage students to focus on their “slope,” not their “y-intercept.” That is, in the long run it matters how fast you’re growing and learning, not advantages or deficiencies in where you started. 5
  • Start class today by telling the students you’re proud of them and how hard they are working. Tell them you are enjoying working with them this quarter.
  • Start class today by renewing your encouragement to students to come to office hours. Explicitly instruct them how to do it: “you don’t need to have a particular question-you’re welcome to just stop by for 5 minutes to introduce yourself” and “I’m not just here for homework questions-if you are considering changing your major to CS and want to talk about it, if you want to know what it’s like to work as a software engineer, if you are thinking about applying to grad school but don’t know where to begin, I’m happy to discuss that kind of thing as well.”
  • Have very clear written expectations for student work (coding style, project components, etc.). Where possible, show sample solutions exactly as you would want a student to write them (don’t just give a “sketch” of the solution).
  • Allow and encourage pair programming on assignments. 6
  • Provide students with clear and timely feedback, including class-wide distribution data. Women and minority students often fear the worst about their position relative to the class and can be reassured by data. 7
  • After a midterm exam, step through the math showing that they can still pass the course even if they did poorly. It’s just some multiplication, but take the time to talk about it. Be factual-no need to “sugar coat”-but provide facts that will help students who think things are worse than they really are.
  • When a student is speaking, wait for the student to finish then count “one one-thousand, two one-thousand” in your mind before responding. Both men and women are prone to prematurely cutting off women when they speak. You may do this unconsciously unless you consciously add that pause. 8
  • Occasionally choose a lecture to actually write a tally of how many times you’ve called on men vs women in the class. Both men and women are prone to calling on men more often. You may do this unconsciously unless you consciously do otherwise. 9
  • Actively mitigate when students may be intimidating each other. When a student uses jargon in a question (often one of those questions that is more of a boast than a real question), explicitly identify when you expect that most students will not be familiar with that jargon, and/or it is not something other students are expected to know for the class (“Thanks for your comment. For the rest of the class, I’m sure most of you aren’t familiar with some of those terms-don’t worry, you’re not alone. Those terms are outside the scope of this class and not necessary to know.”)
  • Ensure that you and your TAs call each student by their preferred name and gender pronoun-including allowing students to write their preferred name on homework and exams-even if these do not match their current legal and/or registrar records of name and sex. This issue deeply affects transgender students, and also many students who prefer to have an alternate anglicized name. Some institutions are good about allowing students to easily make these changes with the registrar so the preference will automatically show up on your roster. Find out about your school’s policies. You could also put a statement in your syllabus that you welcome students to email you about their preference.
  • Watch out for examples or anecdotes about your childhood or daily life that may cause students to feel excluded for economic reasons (e.g., talking about pricey gadgets or vacations in Hawaii as normal). Even if you know that you did not experience these things and are simply using them as an example, students don’t know that and can mistakenly assume you are referring to them in a normative way.
  • Mid-quarter, reach out to a student who has filed a disability accommodation form with you and ask them if their needs are being met in your class. Reaffirm your commitment to complying with their approved accommodations and your willingness to receive complaints if there is a problem.
  • Encourage your colleagues to do the items on this list. Advertise your good example by bringing up your performance of these items in conversations with other faculty.


  1. Holly Lord and Joanne McGrath Cohoon. “Recruiting and Retaining Women Graduate Students in Computer Science and Engineering,” 2006. ↩︎
  2. Research shows this intervention mitigates stereotype threat. Reduced racial gap by 30%. ↩︎
  3. This sexist trope is something women have been working to expunge from our vocabulary. Unfortunately, still often seen in discussion of UI design.,_your_mother_could_do_it ↩︎
  4. Carol Dweck. “The New Psychology of Success.” This research shows that minority students perform worse in classes where the professor believes in a “fixed mindset” (talent is innate) when compared to performance in classes where professor has a “growth mindset” (talent can be developed through effort). See also CS-specific work on mindsets: Laurie Murphy and Lynda Thomas. “Dangers of a fixed mindset: implications of self-theories research for computer science education.” ITiCSE 2008. ↩︎
  5. Articulating this idea as slope/y-intercept is from Professor John Ousterhout of Stanford. ↩︎
  6. Among other research showing benefits of pair programming: Leo Porter and Beth Simon. “Retaining nearly one-third more majors with a trio of instructional best practices in CS1,” SIGCSE ’13. ↩︎
  7. These fears are related to “Imposter Syndrome”-even highly talented students from under-represented groups fear that they are unskilled, and more unskilled than everyone else. Overview of Imposter Syndrome research: ↩︎
  8. Occasioned by a news item about a panel discussion in Silicon Valley, NYTimes reviews research on women being interrupted when speaking: ↩︎
  9. Jere Brophy and Thomas Good. “Teachers’ communication of differential expectations for children’s classroom performance,” 1970. ↩︎

September 28, 2015 at 8:50 am 4 comments

I Won’t Hire CS Majors: I just want rich boys

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article by an entrepreneur about why he doesn’t want to hire computer science majors at his start-up.  I was particularly struck by this line:

The thing I look for in a developer is a longtime love of coding—people who taught themselves to code in high school and still can’t get enough of it.

Source: Why I’m Not Looking to Hire Computer-Science Majors – WSJ

Allow me to translate: “I want rich boys. I want those boys who were in the 10% of schools that have CS teachers (which are all rich districts), or parents who knew enough to provide their boys instruction and access from their teen years on. (Nobody really ‘teaches themselves to code.’) The females who start coding in high school will be filtered out by the time I’d hire them. I want those boy to come to me with a decade of immersion in the existing male-dominant, defensive, homogeneous culture that pervades CS classes, so that my startup will be just as lacking in diversity and just as unwelcoming to women. Let’s hear it for the status quo!”

September 11, 2015 at 8:49 am 35 comments

When women were considered better programmers than men

Nathan Ensmenger has not only written a fascinating book about how computing became so male (see book link here), he also maintains a blog that updates the story.  The quote and picture below is from a recent post about a recently discovered source that describes women in computing from the 1960’s, back when women were considered better programmers than men.  The rhetoric about women being more “sensitive” reminds me of Karen Ashcraft’s plenary talk at NCWIT which I highly recommend (see link here). The story about the Miss USA winner who became a computer programmer is particularly striking.

The Bodony story is not an isolated  incident.  The book is full of stories from women, and in fact includes an entire chapter devoted to women in computing (“The Equal Sex”).   Seligsohn goes so far as to suggest that female programmers are not only equal in ability to men, but superior:

Given a complex customer problem, a female analyst/programmer will often handle the problem better than would her male colleagues with equivalent experience and ability.  Not because businessmen are more lenient or show favoritism toward the female of the species, but because the female is often more sensitive to the nuances of a problem and to the complex interpersonal relations that may be part of the problem.   In a very real sense, every computer problem with a customer is also a customer relations problem, and this is where feminine tact, insight, and intuition, combining with solid programming and analytical ability, can really pay off for the girl programmer.

via The Computer Boys Take Over | Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise.

August 31, 2015 at 7:57 am 9 comments

Want to change the demographics of CS PhDs? You only have to change a handful of schools

Terrific insight from my colleague Charles Isbell. Since school rankings matter so much in faculty hiring, you only have to change things at a few schools to change the field. We could broaden participation in CS PhD’s much more easily than you might think.

Professor Charles Isbell of Georgia Tech delivered an “aha moment” for me. More than 60 percent of the faculty at the top 4, 10, 20, and 25 computer science programs are graduates of one of these same programs. The ranking of one’s PhD institution is a huge factor in hiring—departments hire at their own rank or higher. This is common knowledge, but Charles connected it to diversity. If the very top programs would make a truly concerted effort to increase the participation of women and minorities in PhD programs, the effect would propagate throughout the entire computer science field. Only a few people, those who lead and serve on the PhD admissions committees, can make it happen.

via 2015 Faculty Summit informs and inspires – Microsoft Research Connections Blog – Site Home – MSDN Blogs.

August 26, 2015 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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