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.
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 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.
CRA-W Receives National Science Board Award
Gender differences in computer science tend to dissolve—that is, the spectrum of interests, motivation, and personality types of men and of women becomes more alike than different—as the computing environment becomes more balanced. This finding is emerging from our ongoing studies of the evolving culture of computing at Carnegie Mellon as our undergraduate computer science (CS) environment becomes more balanced in three critical domains: gender, the mix of students and breadth of their interests, and the professional experiences afforded all students.
Congratulations to CRA-W which was recently selected by the National Science Board to receive its NSB 2005 Public Service Award (Group).
On May 16, 2005, Richard Ladner, Boeing Professor of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) at the University of Washington, was one of nine individuals to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) at a White House ceremony. Ladner, who is well known for his work in computer science theory, was recognized for his long-time support of women and people with disabilities in computer science.
The fact that women, minorities, and persons with disabilities remain significantly underrepresented in CISE-related disciplines diminishes us all in our research and education activities, to say nothing of our personal lives. NSF and CISE have long worked to change this situation, but we believe new and strengthened efforts are essential and we are now focusing our attention on doing that.
As we are all aware, the percentage of women in computer science and computing engineering is declining. Often faculty shrug off this disparity as lack of aptitude by women students. Computer science, however, is the only scientific discipline that is not increasing the percentage of women students. Mathematics, for example, has almost reached parity at the undergraduate level. With overall declining enrollments, we need to reach out to make computing and computing research an attractive discipline to be pursued by the brightest students. This is everyone’s responsibility.