The American Association of University Women has just released a report on ways to get more women interested in engineering and computer-science careers: affirmative-action hiring and watering down computer courses in college.
The report is grandiosely titled Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Computing and Engineering. But at least according to the AAUW’s press release, the report actually consists of the invariable same old same old.
It starts with this observation:
More than ever before, girls are studying and excelling in science and mathematics. Yet the dramatic increase in girls’ educational achievements in scientific and mathematical subjects has not been matched by similar increases in the representation of women working as engineers and computing professionals. Just 12 percent of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today.
Could that be because, as scholarly studies have shown, women are more people-oriented, in contrast to men, who are more oriented toward things? Careers in science, which deals strictly in things and abstractions, may simply not appeal to many women, who may prefer to work as psychologists, anthropologists, and social workers instead of at a cubicle desk in Silicon Valley.
Nah, that would be the obvious answer. The AAUW perfers this answer:
We all hold gender biases, shaped by stereotypes in the wider culture, that affect how we evaluate and treat one another. Several findings detailed in the report shed light on how these stereotypes and biases harm women in engineering and computing.
But employers aren’t the only ones making this mistake. Stereotypes and biases affect women’s beliefs about their own abilities and the choices they make about their own futures as well. Girls with stronger implicit biases linking math and science with boys spend less time studying math and are less likely to pursue a career in a STEM field.
So here’s what the AAUW recomends:
The representation of women in engineering and computing matters. Diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation. Everyone’s experiences should inform and guide the direction of engineering and technical innovation.
In less than 10 years, the United States will need 1.7 million more engineers and computing professionals. We simply can’t afford to ignore the perspectives or the talent of half the population.
In other words, hire a bunch of women engineers just because they’re women.
Harvey Mudd College has dramatically increased the number of women computer science graduates at the school with three simple interventions designed to welcome beginning students into the curriculum rather than weed them out. The college
- Revised its required introductory computer science course to emphasize broad applications of computer science and accommodate different levels of experience.
- Provides students with early research opportunities.
- Sends women students to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
In just five years, the percentage of women Harvey Mudd computer science graduates grew from a historical average of 12 to around 40 percent, while the national average stalled at 18 percent. What if we took the lessons from these efforts and applied them to businesses and K–12 education?
In other words, less science and more people stuff in that intro computer-science course. And girls just want to have fun going to conferences!
Title of the next AAUW report: Let’s Talk About the Cool Shoes That Women Engineers Get to Wear.