Women in computer science face social barriers to success

Vanya Sharma

There is an invisible friction between the women and men in computer science classes. Women, in classes with ratios of men to women as high as 25-to-1, have begrudgingly accepted their minority status as an expected but unjust reality. The solution to this problem is not an instantaneous one but rather a gradual one that will start at the elementary-school level and slowly trickle up to the university level.

Certainly, the Department of Computer Science has endeavored to increase the representation of women in its program and has raised that percentage over the last decade by seven percentage points to 19, which surpasses the current national average of 12 percent.

“We’ve supported and hosted numerous events that encourage female participation in computer science such as First Bytes, a 14-year-old computer science program for rising junior girls,” said Bruce Porter, computer science professor and department chair. “In fact, 25 percent of the women from UT freshman class of 2015 had previously attended First Bytes.”

Other initiatives include the Grace Hopper Conference, to which UT sends 20 women in CS on an all-expenses-paid trip. Female computer science faculty also invite some undergraduate CS females to their homes and offer close mentorship. Organizations such as Women in Computer Science offer freshman mentorship programs, resume workshops, luncheons with professors, tutoring and many more events.

“Because there are so few women in CS, it’s nice to know that there are other people who understand how you feel and where you’re coming from,” said Tika Lestari , a computer science sophomore and active member of WICS.

However, it is one thing to view the numbers and totally another to experience the academic journey of a computer science woman.

 “Being a woman in CS is hard when you love computer science,” computer science senior Megan Chen said. “Despite their love for CS, I think women are much more prone to dropping the major than a male.”

 Seen in the 2014 UT computer science academics data, women are 25 percent more likely to transfer out of the major than men. Despite all the best efforts, a glass ceiling hovers for these undergraduate women.

As women advance further in their education from undergraduate to graduate to post-graduate, they funnel away until only a very small number hold doctorates in computer science. For example, since the UT computer science department requires a post-doctorate degree from all of its faculty, there are only eight female faculty out of 51 members. The department tries to recruit computer science females with doctorates to join the faculty and decrease the inequality.

The good news is regardless of the number of women in a class, professors consistently state that women perform just as well or better than their male counterparts. However, academic performance does not pose the problem; these women struggle more in getting into the male-dominated niche of computer science.

The number of women in computer science is not an issue that can be fixed by one article, one person or in one moment. The change is gradual rather than radical, and while this generation may not witness gender equality in computer science, the next hopefully will. More and more young girls want to code and build technologies.

Sharma is a business honors, finance and Plan II sophomore from Highland Park. Follow her on Twitter @vanya__sharma.