As we know, women are a minority in the computer science community. Several organizations, such as CRA-W, ACM-W, the Anita Borg Institute, and the National Center for Women in Technology, have diverse efforts underway to increase the number of women in all fields of computer science. In addition to these field-wide efforts, we should assist women in finding female role models, female mentors, and/or female peers within their particular research discipline in order to reduce the isolation that many women researchers feel. This can best be achieved through communities that connect women in the same discipline, and several recent efforts have been underway to stimulate such discipline-specific communities. For example, CRA-W and CDC have, with NSF support, sponsored workshops targeted at women and under-represented minorities in computer architecture (July 2006) and in programming languages (May 2007).
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.
In January 1993, Elaine Weyuker wrote an article for this column in CRN titled “Childcare an Issue for Conference Attendees,” making a powerful case for support for childcare at conferences (see: 1993 Article). Almost fifteen years later, that article remains relevant. The original article focused on on-site childcare, but similar observations apply for caregiver support for other needs, such as those of the physically disabled.
This October 14-17, more than 400 students, professors, and researchers will gather at the Disney Hilton in Orlando, Florida for the fourth Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Held every two years, the Tapia Conference provides a welcoming and supportive setting for all participants and particularly for students from under-represented groups. This year’s theme is “Passion in Computing—Diversity in Innovation.”
Last year, a colleague in my department approached me with the following quandary: Why did his female student have difficulty working independently on her senior project, despite her demonstrated ability in his class? When we delved further, we discovered it was merely fear of failure and the need for reassurance, not a lack of ability, that caused her to give this impression. This led me to two questions—had she not been in his class, how would he have recognized her potential? How can he develop in her the confidence and independence necessary to succeed at competitive levels in academia?
National discussions on global competitiveness often overlook the role that diversity must play: we cannot expect our nation’s IT workforce to meet its goals if we fail to fully engage most of our population in that effort. By failing to attract women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to IT, we are ceding our global position in innovation. Women make up the largest of these groups, and they are underrepresented in the workforce as a whole and at the highest ranks in particular. Women hold just 27 percent of professional computing-related positions and only 15 percent of board and executive officer positions in the top IT-related companies.
On July 19-21, 2006, CRA-W and CDC jointly offered a summer school workshop on Computer Architecture at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ. The workshop was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation’s program on Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC), as well as generous donations from Intel Corp, IBM Research, and ACM SIGARCH (ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture). This funding supported the participation of more than 40 attendees, including undergraduates, master’s students, Ph.D. students, research faculty, and lecturers—all interested in computer architecture. In addition, we were able to support the travel costs of the roughly 20 panelists—leading computer systems researchers from academia, industry, and government—who participated in the workshop discussions and presentations.
Almost 20 years ago, in 1987, seven women met at SOSP (Symposium on Operating Systems Principles). As the only women at the conference they all felt like outsiders, so they banded together to be less isolated. At a dinner meeting, they discovered that they had many experiences in common. Anita Borg, one of those original seven, offered to host a mailing list for the group to continue their interactions. The name chosen for the group was “systers,” a wordplay on sisters and systems. As the systers list approaches its twentieth anniversary, it seems timely to reflect on its history and its current goals.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has always been a major source of support for activities aimed at diversifying science and engineering fields. So when NSF launched a visionary new program aimed specifically at increasing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in computing, CRA’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) partnered with the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) to submit a proposal.
Last spring, three of my women friends compared life stories at our 20th college reunion. They had all chosen the academic path in mathematics and computer science. While seemingly successful, it turned out that each felt unsatisfied to some degree. The first had left her tenured position because she hated the atmosphere; a tenured position at another university requires a move, so she has settled for being an independent researcher and consultant. The second had an exhausting commute; she was pessimistically contemplating her options in finding work closer to home. The third was happy in her job at a prestigious department, but she had yet to get tenure; and, as the tenure-track rat race took precedence over her biological clock, she was still childless in her early forties.
The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology’s TechLeaders tackles issue of the under-representation of Women in CS by supporting and training those already there
My morning routine is to stop in the office early and see what has come in during the night. Then, over yogurt, cranberry juice, and The New York Times, I let issues sift and settle. Afterwards I reverse my commute—all thirty-four steps of it—and return to my study. I am a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems and I work from home.