Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “A Cultural Approach”

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “A Cultural Approach”:

So, what do we mean by culture and what does it mean to take a cultural
approach? Our working definition of culture is derived from British cultural
theorist and historian Raymond Williams (1958) who tells us “Culture
is ordinary, in every society and in every mind” (p. 6). Williams
brought a new way of thinking about culture that did not confine it to
“high art” or the prerogative of the privileged requiring specialized
knowledge and understanding. Williams showed that culture belonged
to everyone. It is part of our everyday experiences and being “made and
remade” by us on both the personal and the societal levels: “a culture is
a whole way of life.”

This definition allows us to see culture as dynamic; shaping and being shaped
by those who occupy it, in a synergistic diffusive process.

When Williams refers to the “ordinariness” of culture he was claiming it
for us all, as part of the lived experiences of ordinary as well as extra-ordinary
people. But it is also the potential “ordinariness” of culture, rife
with what Virginia Valian (1999) calls “gender schemas” that can jeopardize
our gender perceptions. Gender-difference assumptions easily
become entrenched in our thinking and mistaken for deep-rooted characteristics
appearing to be completely natural while actually being
socially constructed in specific cultures.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Not a Universal Problem”

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Not a Universal Problem”:

As Carol’s investigations dug deeper into the literature, she came across
an ACM paper describing what was happening on the small island
nation of Mauritius where women were participating and graduating in
CS in numbers representative of the general population. This paper led
her to other studies of women in CS around the world. In 2002, she
met a professor from Israel who told her about findings from studies in
high schools in the Israeli and Arab-Israeli sectors of Israel. These crosscultural
investigations suggested, as the Mauritius study pointed out
“while the problem is wide-spread, the under representation of women
in CS is not a universal problem. It is a problem confined to specific
countries and cultures” (Adams et al., 2003, p. 59). Thus, factors relating
to different countries and cultures appeared to be playing a role in
women’s participation in this field, factors that were unrelated to deeprooted
gender differences or gendered attitudes to CS but rather relating
to different experiences of CS in different cultures and different
situations.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Challenging the Stereotypes”

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Challenging the Stereotypes”:

The more we read and worked with women in CS, the more we began to
question the assumptions and constraints of the prevailing research. Several
questions came to mind, which prompted continued discussions
and observations.

First, by default there are few women in CS, so most of the studies
explaining women’s low participation in the field are conducted in situations
where the numbers of women are low. Do such findings tell us
anything significant about the general attitudes of women towards CS?
Or, what seems more likely, do they tell us something about their attitudes
towards CS when they are few in number? So, could the ratio of
men to women be affecting the attitudes and experiences of students? By
2002 Carnegie Mellon certainly had better than average ratios of women
to men among undergraduates. Could this be making a difference?

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Changing the Field?”

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Changing the Field?”:

Many research papers on women in CS in the United States point to the
same reasons for women’s low participation in the field. In brief, it is
argued that there are strong gender differences in the way girls and boys,
or men and women, relate to the field; gender differences that work in
favor of men and against women. Women, we are told, want to do useful
things with computing, directing their skills to more socially conscious/
socially beneficial ends, while men are quite happy to focus on
programming and “playing” with the machines. Computing is defined
as a masculine field occupied by male geeks. The CS major, we are told,
generally supports this perception thus men find the field very attractive
while women do not. Furthermore, women may even be actively discouraged
from entering the field. To solve this problem and increase
women’s participation in CS it is suggested that we need to pay more
attention to women’s interests and attitudes and change CS accordingly.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Revealing the Women-CS Fit at Carnegie Mellon University”

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “Revealing the Women-CS Fit at Carnegie Mellon University”:

In the fall of 1999, Carnegie Mellon saw a striking increase in the percentage
of women entering the CS major. Lenore Blum joined the faculty
of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science (SCS) that
same year. Blum, a world-renowned CS professor and a long-time advocate
for women in math and science, was called on to ensure that the
overall experience of the new and dramatically increased numbers of
undergraduate female CS students would be positive for the women and
for the school as a whole. Working with graduate students who had
already started connecting women across all departments in the School
of Computer Science, they formed Women@SCS an organization of faculty
and students (mostly, but not all, women) led by a Student Advisory
Committee. In 2000, Carol Frieze was invited to join forces with
Women@SCS eventually serving as the organization’s director. Since that
time, she has coordinated the efforts and mission of the organization. In
2007, Jeria Quesenberry began a partnership with Carol to investigate
the role and value of Women@SCS and to look at the overall picture of
women in computing at Carnegie Mellon. The historical account of our
individual and collective paths has led us to the development of this
book.

The Book’s Outstanding Features – Part 2

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

The Book’s Outstanding Features – Part 2:

–The authors advise caution in using strategies based on the presumed interests of women, often known as “female-friendly” strategies, since they tend to be divisive and can serve to marginalize women further.

–The book pulls together some interesting case studies of cultures, micro-cultures and situations in which women are contributing to computer science. Such case studies, along with the Carnegie Mellon case studies, show that women’s low participation in CS is related to specific cultures and is not a universal situation.

–The book looks at a variety of cultural factors that impact participation in computer science including K-12 curriculum, images of computing, and the nature/nurture debates.

The Book’s Outstanding Features – Part 1

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

The Book’s Outstanding Features – Part 1:

–The story of the “Women-CS fit” women at Carnegie Mellon is a positive and encouraging story of women in computer science in contrast to the abundance of discouraging accounts of women’s experiences in the field in the USA and parts of the western world.

–The book presents a unique opportunity to examine changes in the micro-culture of a department. We have the opportunity to examine both a pre-1999 imbalanced environment and a post-1999 balanced environment; balanced in terms of gender, breadth of student personalities, and professional support for women. The book shows how in a balanced environment, perceived gender differences start to dissolve and we see men and women displaying a spectrum of attitudes, including many gender similarities, in how they relate to CS.

Questions for the Readers

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Questions for the Readers:

Although not the norm, by any means, studies have shown that in some countries, cultures and micro-cultures women are contributing to computer science in surprising numbers. What examples can you identify?

What is also surprising is that the lowest participation for women occurs in the “western developed nations.” Why might this be the case?

Special Quotes from the Book – Part 3

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Special Quotes from the Book – Part 3:

“We suggest that the different and/or similar ways in which students relate to computing, are in large part the product of a specific culture and environment, and are not produced by any intrinsic distinctions between men and women. This is good news in terms of working for change.”

“We have been able to show that a micro-culture can change; shaping and being shaped by students’ attitudes and actions. The School of Computer Science moved towards a more “balanced” environment: balanced in terms of gender (including a critical mass of women), in terms of the range of student personalities and interests, and in terms of increased opportunities for all – men and women. Most importantly we have shown that women can participate successfully in CS without resorting to traditional “female-friendly” strategies or curriculum changes to accommodate what are perceived to be the interests of women.”

Special Quotes from the Book – Part 2

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Special Quotes from the Book – Part 2:

“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.”

“Changes at Carnegie Mellon have made the culture of computing more inclusive of a broader population of participants. Our School of Computer Science story can contribute to re-defining the understanding of who can succeed in CS without appealing to the perceived stereotypical interests of women, or men for that matter.”