Are women really kicking butt in computer science (CS)? National statistics show little progress in the participation of women in computing; this in spite of numerous studies, reports and recommendations on the topic. Some might say the reasons for the situation remain a mystery. However, at Carnegie Mellon University we do not believe that the situation is either so mysterious or such an intractable problem. Nor do we believe you have to do anything “pink” or “female friendly” with the CS curriculum to enable women’s successful participation. In fact gender difference approaches have not provided satisfactory explanations for the low participation of women in CS and beliefs in a gender divide may actually be deterring women from seeing themselves in male dominated fields.
Carol Frieze gained her doctorate in the field of “Cultural Studies in Computer Science” from the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. Her thesis examined the role of culture and environment as determinants of women’s participation in computer science. She has worked on diversity issues in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science (SCS) for the past 15 years.
“For women to be successful in CS we needed to change the culture and environment, but, we did not need to change the curriculum to be “pink” in any way.”
“Our work thus far has shown that in some environments and cultures student attitudes to CS are not well represented when seen through the monocle of a gender-dichotomy. A fuller expression is revealed through a prism generating a spectrum of attitudes across genders.”
“We believe that changing the perception of CS, and of who can succeed and enjoy CS, will go a long way to determining who will participate. But, whether it is defined by its scientific aspects or by its engineering aspects or by its career potential we need to recognize that low enrollments in CS arise from cultural preconceptions that can limit anyone and changing cultural perceptions has the potential to help turn the situation around.”