The uphill climb for minorities in the technology industry has been well-documented. The same goes for the challenges and underrepresentation that women in technology face. For women of color, the environment can be doubly challenging. The headlines suggest that my black female peers in technology and I will not only encounter gender stereotyping, but also the cultural biases that too often pervade work environments that are historically, primarily white. Women represent 26% of computing professionals and only 12% of professional engineers, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
In 2018, girls and women are getting the message they belong in computer science as much as boys and men, thanks to a greater push for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curricula in schools and a vast number of programs available to them outside of school. Yet the numbers remain discouraging. Although computer science jobs are projected to grow 15% to 20% through 2020, the majority of these positions will be pursued and filled by men, according to Women in Computer Science (WiCS). In 2016, 26% of professional computing jobs in the U.S. workforce were held by women; 20% of the Fortune 100 chief information officer (CIO) positions were held by women, and 23% of Advanced Placement (AP) computer science test takers were female, based on data from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). "As STEM-related industries on a whole add over 1.7 million jobs in the coming years, there continues to be a notable absence of women in the field," according to the WiCS website.
The persistent underrepresentation of women in computing has gained the attention of employers, educators, and researchers for many years. In spite of numerous studies, reports, and recommendations we have seen little change in the representation of women in computer science (CS)--consider that only 17.9% of bachelor's degrees in computer science were awarded to women in 2016 according to the annual Taulbee Survey.15 At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) we do not believe the situation is an intractable problem. By paying close attention to culture and environment, and taking a cultural approach rather than a gender difference approach, our efforts continue to pay off. The percentage of women enrolling and graduating in CS at CMU has exceeded national averages for many years (see the accompanying figure and table).
Imagine the most extreme stereotypes about computer scientists: They're socially awkward indoor kids. They have an obsessive focus on technology and a closet full of rumpled hoodies. Cultural perceptions about who is a computer scientist -- or an engineer or a physicist -- are a big reason why women are still underrepresented in certain science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle. "The assumptions about what it takes to be a good computer scientist or engineer are very narrow," said Sapna Cheryan, a UW psychology professor and lead author of a study published this week in the journal Psychological Bulletin. "If you have narrow stereotypes, then it's going to end up attracting a more narrow band of people, including a narrow band of men," she told Mashable.
Imagine asking a classroom full of elementary school students to draw a scientist. Now try to guess how many of them would sketch a female or male scientist. In the decade that spanned 1966 to 1977, teachers across the country gave 4,800 elementary school students this exact task in what became known as the Draw-A-Scientist study. Then a researcher named David Wade Chambers analyzed the drawings. What he found, in 1983, might not surprise you: Only 28 of the children drew a female scientist -- and those students were all girls.