Elite Schools Are Leading Recruitment of Women Into Tech
Women earned only 18% of the U.S.'s bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences in 2013, down from 27% a decade prior. The numbers are even worse for data restricted to "pure" computer science (C.S.), which excludes related but distinct fields like information technology and computer graphics (see graph below).
"We're going backwards in a field that's supposed to be all about going forward," said presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, discussing this issue in a February interview.
However, buried in these data is a glimmer of hope. Several elite C.S. programs like Harvey Mudd, Stanford, and University of Washington are unlocking the secrets about how to reverse these troubling trends. At these elite programs, women's share of C.S. degrees has been slowly but steadily increasing during the past five years.
[How were elite programs defined?]
- The graph above represents programs on U.S. News and World Report's 2014 list of top 25 C.S. programs.
- Similar trends were found using four other discipline-specific ranking systems: Academic Ranking of World Universities', faculty hiring patterns, National Research Council's, and top producers of Silicon Valley workers.
This trend is especially good news for tech giants like Google and Microsoft that extensively recruit from elite C.S. programs. In the past, these companies have found proportionally less women at elite C.S. programs than elsewhere. However, this situation has reversed in the past five years.
Private schools such as MIT and Stanford contributed the most to these encouraging trends, but two elite public schools also enjoyed recent success: University of California at Berkeley and University of Washington. At Berkeley, women even outnumbered men in taking an introductory computer science course last year.
Although elite programs improved as a group, many specific programs were stagnant. Among top 25 C.S. programs, women earned less than 10 percent of recent degrees at four schools: Georgia Tech, Purdue, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and University of Wisconsin at Madison. Trends for those schools were flat in recent years.
Harvey Mudd College is now leading efforts to spread its recent success in recruiting women to C.S. Along with the Anita Borg Institute, Harvey Mudd president Maria Klawe leads the Building, Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative that aims to increase gender and racial diversity in C.S. at 15 universities.
The BRAID initiative provides participating universities with $30,000 per year over three years to support their efforts. In turn, these institutions provide data on what recruitment strategies work most effectively.
[What universities are participating in the BRAID initiative?]
|Participating BRAID Institution||Women's Share of C.S. Degrees (2011-2013)|
|Arizona State University|
|Missouri University of Science and Technology|
|New Jersey Institute of Technology|
|University of California, Irvine|
|University of Illinois at Chicago|
|University of Maryland, Baltimore County|
|University of Maryland, College Park|
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln|
|University of North Texas|
|University of Rochester|
|University of South Carolina|
|University of Texas at El Paso|
|University of Vermont|
|University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee|
In the long run, the initiative aims to identify effective strategies for increasing diversity at any C.S. program in the nation. At Harvey Mudd, promising strategies included emphasizing the societal relevance of computing in introductory courses, making those courses less intimidating, and providing networking and undergraduate research opportunities.