Several years ago, after devoting many years to the study of the gender gap in STEM fields using nationwide data on first-year college students, it became clear to me that the study of STEM in the “aggregate” was no longer a realistic or useful way to examine women’s progress in these fields. Not only does women’s representation in undergraduate STEM vary dramatically by field (constituting as many as 58% of bachelor’s degree earners in the biological sciences and only 18% of degree earners in computer science and engineering [NCES, 2015]), but STEM fields are distinct from each other in many other ways, including curriculum, career paths, and the types of students they attract.
Computing Research News
“Expanding the Pipeline” is a regular column in Computing Research News. The column serves both as a vehicle for describing projects and issues related to women and underrepresented groups in computing. The column is guest-authored by individuals who share their insight and experiences from their active participation in programs designed to involve women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in education and research. Patty Lopez is the column editor.
The 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) was held October 19-21, 2016, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas and broke last year’s attendance record with over 15,000 participants this year. For the 8th year in a row, CRA-W presented career mentoring content for GHC attendees interested in research. CRA-W Board Member Tracy Camp (Colorado School of Mines) designed this year’s program, organizing the mentoring program into three tracks for early-career academic researchers, graduate students, and undergraduates. Brand new for 2016 was the CRA-W GHC Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, spearheaded by CRA-W Co-Chair Nancy Amato (Texas A&M University) and CRA-W Board Member Andrea Danyluk (Williams College), which provided funding for undergraduates to attend the conference, and guidance for finding and navigating the research content at GHC.
The 10th annual ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (hashtag #Tapia2016) was held in Austin, Texas, on September 14-17. This year’s conference had a record-breaking 965 attendees, achieving 20 percent growth over 2015. Eighty sponsors and 150 colleges and universities were represented. With the theme “Diversity Matters,” the Tapia conference brought together students, faculty, researchers, and professionals from all backgrounds and ethnicities in computing, and is the premier venue to promote and celebrate diversity in the field. The Tapia conference was sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and presented by the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT (CMD-IT).
Graduate students in STEM fields can find their M.S. and doctoral experiences to be both isolating and academically challenging. Loneliness can be particularly poignant when the graduate student is a member of an underrepresented group; has had an undergraduate experience that was connected by school spirit, such as collectively rooting for the college’s sports teams; or has participated in group-based academic student success initiatives, such as the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, which primarily connect to undergraduate students.
To combat isolation, PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, hosts the annual Summer Success Institute (SSI), a pre-semester weekend conference in August for graduate students. The SSI features professional development activities that directly cater to the needs of graduate students in STEM, and peripherally to “postdoctoral fellows, professors, and career professionals (PP&P).”
GEM is a network of leading corporations, government laboratories, universities, and research institutions that enables qualified students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate education in applied science and engineering. Its mission is to enhance the value of the nation’s human capital by increasing the participation of underrepresented groups—namely, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans—at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science. GEM recruits high-quality underrepresented students seeking to pursue advanced degrees in applied science and engineering, and matches their specific skills to the specific technical needs of GEM employer members.
The Latinas in Computing (LiC) community was established with the help of The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI) at the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC). Recognizing the status of Latinas as a double minority in North America, this community defines and implements strategies to improve the participation of the current and next generations of Latinas in technology. These dual strategies complement the work done by the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) that focused on the recruitment and retention of minority students in computing-based fields in North America, and the work done by the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) to grow the research pipeline of women in computing. National Science Foundation (NSF) data shows Hispanic or Latino enrollment increased from 7.2% in 2002 to 9.9% in 2012, but the hiring of underrepresented minorities seems to be “stuck in neutral.”
In an era when the media talks about higher education in unique ways—such as focusing on the need for universities to display high post-graduation job placement rates and higher starting salaries to justify increasing tuition, and the need for college students to be well trained for the available opportunities in our national labor force—computing is perfectly positioned for recruiting prospective students. Indeed, for some groups and universities, growth in the area of computing has been strong and continues to grow (Zweben & Bizot, 2015). One fact sometimes cited by programs looking to encourage prospective students to matriculate in their major is to say that workers in STEM disciplines command higher wages, earning 26% more than their non-STEM peers. Another message focuses on the fact that workers with STEM degrees earn more even when they do not work in a STEM occupation (Langdon, McKittrick, Beede, Khan, & Doms, 2010). Despite the fact that these messages are well received by some individuals, for others, these messages are not sufficient to recruit them into a computing program.
In the U.S., both the Hispanic population and the number of computing and STEM-related jobs are exponentially on the rise. By 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor expects 1.1 million computing-related job openings, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics reports that currently one in five women in the U.S. are Hispanic, and by 2060, nearly one in three women will be Hispanic.
Yet, in 2015, only one percent of the jobs in the computing workforce were occupied by Latinas. Furthermore, in 2014, Hispanic women received 2 percent of doctoral degrees in computer and information sciences.
Our country’s global economic power and influence greatly depend on our innovation competitiveness, but we’re not taking advantage of our diverse population. Latinas represent a vastly untapped talent pool, and the current representation of Latina girls and women in tech is dismal, both in the workforce and in education. Developing Latinas as qualified, technical job candidates is vital in not only increasing the bottom line of the U.S. economy and creating diversity in the computing workforce, but also for improving the economic outlook of the Hispanic community.
In August 2014, Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College (HMC), and Telle Whitney, President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI), jointly established Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID). The BRAID initiative, with support from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Intel, involves 15 computer science departments across the U.S. that are committed to implementing changes to their introductory computer science courses, pathways into the major, departmental climate, and outreach efforts in hopes of increasing the recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minority (URM) students in the computer science major.
Pursuing scientific or engineering careers in industry, government, or private research after getting a Ph.D. once was considered a one-way ticket out of academia. However, in 2008, the University of Washington’s ADVANCE program received a National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE called “On-Ramps into Academia” to counter this belief. The goal of On-Ramps was to increase the pool of female faculty in STEM available to all universities by providing professional development to Ph.D.-level women in industry or research laboratories who wanted to transition into faculty positions. A popular strategy for increasing women faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) departments is to hire from other universities, but this strategy fails to increase the number of women faculty nationally.