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Maria Klawe talking about 'Changing the Ratio for Women in Tech' at DCU

I have been a longtime fan of Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College and often quote her 4 pillared strategy for attracting, encouraging and supporting young women in STEM careers, and in particular, Computer Science: 
Develop courses where Computer Science is paired with disciplines where we already find young women e.g. Health Informatics, Business Data Science etc

  1. Outreach to Schools
  2. Provide more accessible introductory programming modules - these should teach the same concepts but without the steep learning curve of dense syntax and form of languages like Java & C#
  3. Develop courses where Computer Science is paired with disciplines where we already find young women e.g. Health Informatics, Business Data Science etc
  4. Provide more social glue and build community in STEM classrooms

So, I was delighted to get the opportunity to see her speak at DCU last week, where she shared her Irish roots, and was warmly welcomed by Professor Lisa Looney, and President Brian McCraith, 46 years after her last visit to Ireland. She started her talk by remembering her childhood and noting that, as a child, she always thought she should have been a boy. Why? Because she so enjoyed all so many interests and activities that were thought of as boys stuff, and her parents always expected her to be able to do anything where she showed an interest. An interesting insight into how society viewed girls and set expectations accordingly - and the huge role parents can play in challenging these stereotypes.

Why is it important to have more women in STEM & CS?
After this thought provoking start, Klawe asked ‘why does it matter that girls and other minorities are sometimes made to feel outsiders in STEM? Why is it so important that we make space for all? It matters, she said, not just because there is demand for more workers in these domains, and great jobs and opportunities for the young women who go into STEM, it matters most of all because with more diverse teams, we get ‘better solutions to the world’s problems’. Diversity brings different perspectives, and therefore deeper understanding of problems, and of potential solutions. 

Change is Required
But this requires change - at all levels: 

  • we need to increase the percentage of female majors in CS and Engineering
  • Increase the hiring and retention of females in the tech industry
  • Increase the hiring and retention of females in academia
  • Increase the promotion of women into the highest levels of leadership in industry and academia

A Hypothesis
As we know, this is a wicked problem and there are so many interrelated variables that affect womens’ participation at these levels. But Klawe presented a hypothesis: 
If we 

  • Make learning and work environments interesting and supportive,
  • Build confidence and community among women
  • And demystify success

Women will come, thrive and stay

Things we can do
Provide fun and interesting Computer Science and Engineering courses in Secondary School
Change the way we teach CS and Engineering at college level
Learn how to recruit and retain more females in the tech industry 
Create and support networking and mentoring opportunities for females at all levels
Increase the visibility of the issues

What the Harvey Mudd CS Department did
Changed the intro course
Eliminated student macho behaviour
Took first year females to the Grace Hopper Celebration
Provided summer research experiences between first and second year

Changing the Intro Course
Old course: learning to program in Java
New course: computational approaches to creative problem solving using Python
Grouping by prior experience
Outcomes: everyone loves it, more majors, more non-majors in higher level CS classes

Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity
Collaboration by HMC, ABI, NCWIT, CRA, CMDIT
15 CS departments (plus beacons and affiliates)
Funded by Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Pivotal & NSF
UCLA research team studying outcomes

Changing the Culture
Make learning and work environments interesting and supportive
Build confidence and community among women
Demystify success

Two Stories
Ellyn Shook at Accenture
Satya Nadella at Microsoft 




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