IEEE Computer Society’s Computer Magazine Tackles the Critical Challenge of Bringing Women into Computing

The March issue of IEEE Computer Society’s Computer magazine addresses the important challenge of attracting more women to the field of computing, with case studies from leading organizations and personal stories from those encouraging underrepresented populations to consider computing. From mentoring and gender-based barriers to the importance of K-12 computer science education, the special issue embraces an array of perspectives and strategies for building diversity.

Computing and information technology are among the fastest-growing US industries, technical innovation plays a critical role in every sector of the US and global economy, and computing ranks among the top 10 high-profile professions. Yet only 18 percent of all computer and information sciences undergraduate degrees were awarded to women as of 2009.

This lack of diverse perspectives will inhibit innovation, productivity, and competitiveness, and result in the US not having the professional workforce required to meet future needs, say guest editors Jane Chu Prey of the US National Science Foundation and Alfred C. (Alf) Weaver of the University of Virginia. According to the National Committee of Women in Information Technology, by 2018, US universities will produce only 52 percent of the computer science bachelor’s degrees needed to fill the 1.4 million available jobs.

“We face a great challenge, but one that can be conquered if we all work together. We need to recognize that to be successful, we must have a diverse workforce, and we all need to help build it,” said Prey, a program director at the National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education.

Added Weaver, director of the University of Virginia’s Applied Research Institute and a professor of computer science: “This problem extends from K-12 through undergraduate education and on to graduate school and industry. There is no easy solution or quick fix. All segments of the pipeline need attention.”

Articles in the special issue include:

  • “Diversity in Computing: Why It Matters and How Organizations Can Achieve It,” by Wendy M. DuBow from the National Center for Women and Information Technology at the University of Colorado at Boulder;
  • “Priming the Pipeline: Addressing Gender-Based Barriers in Computing,” by Telle Whitney, Denise Gammal, Barbara Gee, Jody Mahoney, and Caroline Simard from the Anita Borg Institute;
  • “A Path Between: Mentoring the Next Generation of Computing Professionals,” by Mary Fernández of AT&T Labs; and
  • “More than Gender: Taking a Systemic Approach to Improving K-12 Computer Science Education,” by Chris Stephenson of the Computer Science Teachers Association and Rebecca Dovi, a teacher at Patrick Henry High School in Richmond, Virginia.

Representatives from the University of Washington, University of Virginia, and Harvey Mudd College describe how they’ve increased the number of women in computer science programs at their institutions. The authors include Crystal Eney, Ed Lazowska, Hélène Martin, Stuart Reges, James P. Cohoon, J. McGrath Cohoon, Mary Lou Soffa, and Maria Klawe.

In addition, those dedicated to bringing more women into computing discuss in articles and videos why they choose to spend their time on this important effort. The authors include Annie I. Antón of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Alice Bonhomme-Biais and Raquel Romano of Google, Deepak Kumar from Bryn Mawr College, Robert B. Schnabel of Indiana University Bloomington, and Kate Starbird of University of Washington.

“Their individual stories illustrate what the efforts and passion of individuals can do to encourage more women and girls to get excited about computing,” said Prey. “Once you have read these thought-provoking articles, you can make a decision to be part of bringing about change by talking with your daughters, nieces, neighbors, and their school counselors about the wonders of computing and how the next generations of computing professionals will have an even more exciting opportunity to change the world.”

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