Women and Minorities in Computer Science

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Women and Minorities in Computer Science

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One of the posts I wrote last week brought an interesting comment.

Why should one concern themselves with whether or not women become computer scientists? Why should women receive any special emphasis?

I’ve heard that question or variations of it before. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where the answer seems obvious. We clearly need all kinds of people (gender, race, ethnicity, age, you name it) in any organization that hope to succeed and make progress in the modern diverse world we live in. A field like computer science where women and various minorities are under represented is at a disadvantage today.

Diversity is an important ideal at Microsoft just as it is with many other companies and organizations these days. Gone are the days when any organization, let alone industry, can make it with a homogenous (all white male) set of customers and employees.  And today companies have come to realize it and incorporate diversity as not a goal but as a value to live by.

I took the following quote from the Diversity Vision and Strategy page at Microsoft.com. I think it is a good summary.

Why Diversity Matters at Microsoft

At Microsoft we think of the business case for diversity as having three components: talent, customers, and innovation.

  • Talent. Microsoft seeks to attract and retain the best and brightest employees. This enables us to gain a competitive advantage in the new emerging markets.
  • Customers. If we truly want to have a compelling value proposition for our customers, we must understand the rich diversity of our customer base.
  • Innovation. We work to build innovative products for an increasingly diverse customer base by using the diverse talents, ideas, and perspectives of our employees.

Read more about Microsoft and diversity at the Diversity home page here. But if you want to learn more about women in technology in general and women at Microsoft in particular I recommend Jennifer Marsman’s blog. Jennifer runs an interesting series of "Featured Women in Technology." She has already featured a number of very interesting women doing  very interesting things.

[Edit: Since I posted this a number of other related links have come to my attention so I added on below]

An article on the decline in numbers of women in CS as the numbers in STEM overall are up.

While the number of women in other fields of science and technology have increased over the past 40 years, the computer science area has seen a dramatic decline that has no easy explanation. An international group of computer science educators and historians convened recently in Minneapolis to systematically try to answer the question. You can read the full story at Minnpost.com:

 Nerd Girls - Women engineers who are working on interesting projects. Video here.

Newsweek article here.
  • This is a great resource page - it's certainly going in my bookmarks!

  • I am professional software engineer, specialty in microsoft.net, C# and previous version (including visual c++ 6.0),Java 2.0 and worked a lot in those languages. i have developed one most outstanding projects.i am  qualified MCAD.net as well.i have worked on many complicated research projects.though women can easly become a geek programmer if she wants.i have seen many my colleagues mostly dependant on male programmers and getting a lot of help from them.(i am not one of them and not a geek!)

  • Three quick thoughts:

    (1) Women can most definitely succeed in Computer Science!!  If we as educators truly want each of our students to reach his/her greatest potential in life, then it MUST bother us when something is causing girls to turn away from math and technology courses and careers when so many of them have the talent for it!

    (2) When I taught introductory CS to high school sophomores, I was lucky to have about 1/2 boys and 1/2 girls in my classes.  I found that many more boys came to my class overconfident in their technology abilities, while many girls underestimated their abilities (and it took probably 1/2 the year and my concerted efforts to break these flawed preconceptions).  I don't know what causes this, but surely one contributing factor is that kids are seeing far more male adults in technology careers (+ tech-oriented movie/TV characters etc.) than females.

    (3) Slight Tangent: I attended high school at an all-boys Chicago-area school.  After I graduated, the school became co-ed, despite  some vocal objections of other alumni and some staff.  The result?  The school is now flourishing like no other time in its history.

    So why should we be concerned at the small numbers of women in CS ?  For all the same reasons that we are educators!!

    (ok...so maybe not such "quick thoughts."  Apologies for the rambling :-)  )

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