Can you name one popular woman engineer who has made a significant impact on computing? Despite having many impressive choices (Grace Hopper, Anita Borg and Frances Allen, to name a few), most Americans can’t. Not only are there a significantly low number of female computer scientists, women are often not credited for their accomplishments fairly. Last fall, I had a chance to attend the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Celebration in Houston, Texas.
As a man at a women in computing conference, I got the opportunity to learn about common challenges faced by women throughout their computing career. Also, I learned how women can significantly impact the culture of the workplace simply by bringing in a different perspective. GHC 2016 really opened up my eyes to accepting diversity in the workforce and in our day-to-day lives. A diverse team approaches a problem with many different perspectives, which can often lead to a quicker solution. Learning more about the adversities faced by female engineers has increased my respect for women in technical fields. The computing community as a whole, regardless of gender, needs to acknowledge the adversity faced by women and also value their importance in the industry.
There were several recurring themes at the conference. Those mentioned below tie in well with another blog post, “Three Ways to Keep Women in Tech” in the areas of “Ongoing Support” and “Advocacy”.
Computer Science has one of the lowest averages of women participation compared to any other profession. Only 7% of the Computer Society membership has indicated their gender as female (Computer.org). It is not the engineering assignments/classes that drive women away from computer science but rather the culture of engineering in general. Engineering can be a male dominated profession, often causing women to experience conventional gender discrimination, leaving them marginalized. Studies have shown that almost “Fifty-six percent of technical women leave tech companies within 10 years – more than double the dropout rate for men,” (Women2.com). Li Chen, a Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft, mentioned in her presentation that the most prevalent reasons for low female representation is a feeling of isolation and a lack of inspiring female role models.
Another pressing issue is the need to redefine mentorship for women. Most developed countries, have realized the importance of women in the community and are implementing programs to help women succeed in technical fields. Developing countries need to follow suit. Further progress needs to be made by all in order to increase female participation in the workforce. In a survey mentioned by Nisha Dua (Founder of BuiltByGirls) at the conference, young women seem to want advice and guidance about particular skills. Specific feedback on professional tasks is highly valued by young female computer scientists.
Recognizing Accomplishments and Contributions
Finally, it is crucial for corporations to realize the importance of women in computing and actively participate in the cause. Large corporations have the ability to take the first step, which will further encourage all companies to follow them. Blatant gender discrimination, while it should be a thing of the past, still affects our society today. I believe it is the responsibility of all corporations to help increase the involvement of women in computing by guiding them to be self invested in their work. Women bring a unique perspective to the computing community, and only by taking advantage of this will we be able to achieve future technological advancements.
As a man in computing, I will cherish the courage and tenacity of women engineers who have overcome many challenges to get us where we are today.