Friday, October 5, 2012

GHC 12: Unlocking the Clubhouse: A Decade Later and Now What?

Oct 5, 2012- Day three at the Grace Hopper Conference in Baltimore. Here is my next blog from an invited technical speakers track. This talk had an interesting title "Unlocking the Clubhouse: A Decade Later and Now What?". The title in itself was very thought provoking. Here is the abstract for the talk:

In the decade since Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing was published, educational  institutions have coalesced around the mission of increasing women’s participation in computing. Yet, despite the uptick of interest in computer science majors and the surge of technology shaping all aspects of our lives, the numbers of women majoring in computer science are still abysmally small. In this talk, I will reflect on why this is the case, and make connections to the issues raised in Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing—the underrepresentation in computer science of students of color. As this talk is occurring one month before critical US national elections, I will examine how underrepresentation in computing relates to the larger issues we face as world citizens.
The speaker, Prof. Jane Margolis is a senior researcher at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and is the author of two award winning books: Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Comuting, and Stuck in the Shallow End: Education Race, and Computing. 

Jane came up the stage with a bright smile on and started the talk with some statistics about under-representation of females in CS:
  •  25% of female in computing workforce in 2011
  • 18% of female into CS in 2011
  • 14% of female into CS in 2010
I was surprised on seeing these numbers. Only 25% of female in the computing field is startling! Jane then spoke about the startup cultures and the number of women in startups. These numbers made me all the sadder. Most of the women are in marketing and PR, so the actual number of women in engineering is far less than what is shown here.
  • Foursquare: 6/40
  • Dropbox: 3/35
  • Tumbler: 1/16
  • Vimeo: 4/31
  • Kickstarter: 4/14
  • Square: 10/54

Jane bought up the interview with Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter) about the number of female interns in Twitter. Jack’s reply was “Not in this batch…we’d love to find some”. My heart sank hearing this. “Not in this batch???” What does he even mean?

So, what are the main questions ahead of us now?
What should we do NOW?
What are our goals?
What are our strategies for change?
Why is this issue important considering everything else going on in the world?

Jane started with a little background about her. She started at Pacific Bell as a telephone installer (after graduating with a degree in social science). She knew nothing about working with tools- absolutely nothing! The phone company was forced to put women into this job because of the civil rights movement, and women’s liberation movement. So, they trained women about the process. Through that process, Jane discovered that she actually loved the job. Small things like “you don’t have to dress up for this work” made Jane fall in love with this job even more. This was a life-changing experience for Jane realizing that these opportunities were never being given to women for no reason. Her journey started there…

Jane later went to Grad school and got her PhD in Education. Her main focus was on access and opportunities. She was also a visiting professor at CMU. The key findings during her stay at CMU (from interviewing girl students) were:
  •       Norms, Standards, Expectation were based on a small subset of males
  •       Women suspect, lesser, just because of their gender

So, what are the key factors for social change?
  •       Date from your own backyard (so none could deny)
  •       Insider champions!

After this study, Jane was determined to study the cause for underrepresentation of women in CS. She got a NSF grant for the same. Her key findings include:
->      Technology not the great equalizer
->      Disparities in opportunities
->      Issues are systemic:
o   Structural
o   Normative (Beliefs)
o   Policy

These beliefs and policy affected everything- ranging from the curriculum offered in the school to CS being considered just a vocational course. Jane found it hard to believe that floristry and CS were given the same credit at few schools. 

All these findings inspired Jane to create a course called “Exploring CS”. It is predominantly used in the LA schools, and its being picked up around the country (around 70 schools). This is a course designed to show kids who don’t have experience about the numerous opportunities in CS, and how it is relevant to them. The course is tailored for them to show what they can achieve with technology. Presently, 40% of ECS students are girls.

What I loved about Jane’s way of speaking is the intuitive set of questions she asks that makes you think. So, the next set of questions that Jane put forth were:

  •          So, what should we do now?
  •          Learn and discuss more about… Theories of social change for action
  •          How do we amplify our voice? 

There is a lot of unconscious bias against women in the start-up world. Bias is within everybody and within us all, but we all need to be more conscious to be aware of this unconscious bias within us. Jane bought up reference to two topics here:

         ->  Reference to Square intern picture
The interns at Square released a picture that caused quite an uproar amongst women in technology. Apparently Square did not find even ONE single female intern. All the 15 interns at Square were males. I wonder what Square has to say about this.

          ->  Reference to the resume study (for the science lab).
The researchers at Yale University conducted a study for a position for a science lab. They had the same resume with just the names changed- one as a male student and other as a female student. The findings were startling. But Jane says she is sadder that this finding is a surprise! She asks “Isn’t this just known already?”

We know this exists- Ok, so what are our strategies for social change? What do each one of us think in a situation like this?

The solution is simple: There are NO quick fixes! We need to form communities wherever you are- there needs to be a social change. We as women need to raise our voice in situations like this. WE are the answer to such questions.

The world of computer science has totally changed our responsibility. So, what is our responsibility? Jane answers this question with a series of pictures. (Sorry! I wasn’t able to take a picture of them)
1) Work-family balance (May 1998 New Yorker- Child Care- woman sitting in a construction site and breast feeding her child)
2) More Work-family balance (Two guys on a life boat and cribbing about not having a smart phone to do their work)
3) Exclusion- July 23, 2012 New Yorker (Family on a vacation- and everyone looking at their own phones- is this even called a vacation?!?)
4) Global consequences of CS and Technology
5) Growing inequalities

I feel the main motive of Jane’s talk is to make us think through her questions. THINK. Because only when you think- you realize what you should be doing and what you actually are doing. Think..and Think more…
  •          How do we deal with the contradiction, the biases?
  •          What do we do with all the pictures above (topics)?
  •          What should our response be?
  •          What have we be doing so far?

If we have actually been doing something- why haven’t the needle moved yet?

These questions made me realize a lot of things. I hope it did to you too…

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