About Me

My photo
The Stereotypes, Identity and Belonging Lab at the University of Washington is now a member of the blogging community! We will be using Decoded as a forum for disseminating our research on women and computer science and discussing current issues related to the field of computer science including: women's involvement and how computer science is changing the way we live. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on our posts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Male Role Models Inspiring Women in Computer Science!

Renowned for its leadership in academics, Harvard University is once again boasting impressive statistics. In their April 20th, 2011 edition, the university’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, reported that a record number of female students are choosing to major in computer science, with numbers reaching as high as 41% female. Harvard students seem to have overcome the stereotype that women “just aren’t cut out for the major.” And what could be contributing to these changes? We suggest:

Classes that break stereotypes of who belongs in computer science.

The university’s amazing progress is due in part to Computer Science Lecturer, David J. Malan. Malan teaches CS50, the notoriously difficult introductory computer science course. The Harvard Crimson writes that the marked increase in females choosing to major in Computer Science has correlated strongly with increased enrollment in this introductory course. Students in the class report that the course teaches them computer science in an accessible, fun, and entertaining way.
Malan’s success at encouraging both female students supports research findings in our lab.  Although many believe that role models must be of the same gender as those they wish to inspire, a recent article out of our lab shows that male and female role models can have an equal influence on inspiring women to consider majoring in computer science. Dismissing Malan and other men as effective role models to women because of their gender could have proven to be a grave  mistake.  
What in particular makes Malan such a good role model? One factor that our research suggests is important is that Malan does not fit the stereotype of a computer science ‘nerd.’ This professor worked part-time as a forensic investigator throughout graduate school while volunteering as an EMT, a passion he still pursues today.
When considering how to best overcome stereotypes that discourage women from entering computer science, it is important to remember that commonly held assumptions, such as who makes the best role model, can get in the way of progress. Relying less on these assumptions and more on evidence provided in the classroom and in the lab (i.e. focusing more on the stereotypicality of role models) could lead to a nation-wide increase in the number of female computer science majors.
Interested in seeing Malan’s teaching style? Check out a video of CS50 through OpenCourseware at:
What do you think? Do you know of other male role models? Are there times in which a female role model might be better for recruiting women?
Posted by: Caitlin 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Embrace Your Inner Geek: A New Way to Get Women Engaged in Computer Science

It is not often that you hear a woman proudly describe herself as a geek, but that is exactly what Marissa Mayer did on a recent NPR broadcast. Mayer defies and embraces computer science stereotypes, managing to be both girly and geeky at once. Not only has she had a successful career as a computer scientist, but she has also become somewhat of a fashion icon, profiled in both Vogue and Glamour. As a result of her success and counter-stereotypicality, some have posited Mayer as a potential role model for young women pursuing computer science. 

Indeed, Marissa Mayer has expressed her desire to see more women in her field. Following our research in the Stereotypes, Identity and Belonging Lab (SIBL), we believe that stereotypes are a huge deterrent to women for entering computer science. As a result, many of our interventions center on debunking these stereotypes (see our Debunking Stereotypes brochure). Mayer, however, takes a different approach; instead of demonstrating to girls that you don’t have to be a geek to be a computer scientist, Mayer wants to broaden the geek image to include women. In order to accomplish this, she is redefining what it means to be a geek.

For Mayer, being a geek means that you are passionate about what you are doing. So how exactly is telling girls it’s OK to be a geek going to draw more of them into computer science? Well, Mayer believes that with the increasing ubiquity of the internet and technology, girls are able to imagine more diverse applications for computer science than ever before, applications, which just might peak their interest enough to get them to take a class in C++ or Javascript. Girls can then embrace their "inner geek" knowing that they are using computer science to pursue something they are passionate about. While Mayer’s proposed redefinition of the geek stereotype provides an alternative way to get women involved in computer science, some important questions remain:

Do we need more role models like Mayer to change the way we think about geeks? Does Mayer's femininity make it more acceptable for her to be geeky? Will girls feel the need to assert their femininity to feel comfortable wearing the geek label? Is changing the geek image simply turning a negative stereotype into a positive stereotype? Why keep the geek label at all, couldn’t we just expose women to the increasingly diverse applications of computer science to get more women interested in the field?

Finally, what do you believe is the best way to increase women’s participation in computer science?

Posted by: Sarah