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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.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Patching up the Leaky Pipeline: Retention of Women in Computer Science

The UW Computer Science and Engineering department
celebrates their new PhD graduates
As the University of Washington celebrates the commencement of our students, we at SIBL want to congratulate our new doctors of computer science. This year almost 20% of the new PhDs from the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering department were women, a relatively large proportion considering the percentage of women studying computer science decreases as they get further into their education, a phenomenon called the “leaky pipeline”. The leaky pipeline is due in a large part to the additional barriers that women in computer science face throughout their schooling.

Anna North is an ex-computer science major at Stanford who shared her experiences in an article posted on Jezebel. Highly aware of being outnumbered, she struggled to feel at ease among her male peers. North remembers trying to rebel by wearing miniskirts to class to highlight her femininity. Despite her love of programming, North ultimately left the computer science major to pursue a degree in English. She explained that the common stereotype for women in computer science at her school was that “all the girls leave after their first year.” What could have been done differently to prevent North and other women like her from leaving the major?  

Stanford University, Anna’s alma mater, has struggled to retain females in their CS program, but, like many schools, they are trying to address this attrition. An article by TechCrunch noted that departmental dinners are held to encourage current computer science majors, faculty, and people in the industry to meet and mingle. Highly successful, these dinners occur twice a quarter. They foster a sense of community for women in computer science and provide undergraduates with an opportunity to interact with successful female role models in the field. This approach is congruent with findings from the Stereotypes, Identity, and Belonging Lab, which suggest that while both male and female role models can help recruit women into computer science, female role models may be especially important for retention. These role models can help combat the negative stereotypes that are often thrust upon female computer science students and communicate to potential female computer science majors that they do belong and they can succeed in the major.