Computer science is for women too

There's a shortage of women pursuing careers in computer science, but new initiatives are finding innovative ways to address the issue.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor


A Web site created by a Skillcrush student

There's a shortage of women pursuing careers in computer science, but some grassroots initiatives are finding creative ways to address the issue using tactics including crowd funding and collaborative online learning.

This is an issue that I've tracked for several years. The Computer Research Association has found that women account for fewer than 13% of undergraduate CS majors, despite computer science skills being in high demand. Half the population is under represented in a major sector of the U.S. economy.

I've written at length in reports examining the root causes behind the glaring gender asymmetry in software development. It's well understood that women are more inclined than men to seek careers that seem socially relevant and meaningful, computer science is perceived as a solitary profession, and there's often a lack of mentoring available.

The latter topic is something that I've discussed with many friends and colleagues who have found themselves as the only woman attending a conference or the only woman in a leadership position among peers.

Truly, nobody really likes to feel that they are the "only one," and someone who is of a different gender or race may not as easily attract a peer group or mentors, Teresa Dahlberg, director of the Diversity in Information Technology Institute at UNC Charlotte, said in a 2009 interview. This is especially true for young people.

Some new efforts to address the issue are grabbing headlines. Skillcrush, an online community that focuses on offering free programming courses to women, just received a nice write-up in Fast Company. It touts having taught "thousand of women" coding. It also teaches career development.

Another program that earned a mention this past week on John Gruber's Daring Fireball tech blog is "App Camp for Girls." App Camp is an Indiegogo campaign to address the gender imbalance among software developers and focuses on mobile apps. "At camp, girls learn how to brainstorm, design, and build iPhone apps, working with women developers and designers," the campaign Web site says.

Dahlberg very actively participates in an NSF-sponsored program called the STARS (Students & Technology in Academia, Research & Service) Alliance. It mentors students at over 20 colleges and universities, as well as high schools, in the southeastern United States .

Other initiatives include Global Tech Women, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the Anita Borg Institute of Women and Technology. The U.S. National Science Foundation is supportive of many of these groups and runs its own program, Alliances for Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC).

Are you a woman in computer science? Please consider sharing your experiences.

(image credit: Skillcrush)

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards