Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Women in tech: how do to close the gap

For International Women's Day, Coursera asked two UC San Diego female teaching professors for their thoughts on Women in Tech. Mia Minnes and Christina Alvarado co-teach "Mastering the Software Engineering Interview" with teaching professor Leo Porter on Coursera.

Some thoughts from Alvarado:

In high school when I took my first real computer science class, I discovered that computer science was intriguing and challenging. For me, solving concrete problems was just plain fun. I was hooked.

 Over the early years of my career as a professor, the goal of increasing women’s participation in computer science moved from a hobby to a central goal of my teaching and research. I was distressed by women’s absence in a field that I found so fascinating
 At the heart of the tech industry, there’s a broad cultural change that needs to happen. It’s not about just pushing more women into computer classes or STEM disciplines from a young age. Women are still entering higher education and are confronted with barriers in a learning environment dominated by male students and instructors and later on, in the industry.

 We need to address the cultural issues and biases that are at the root of gender diversity, to make women feel that they are accepted and belong in computer science and the tech industry. The more people who acknowledge these biases publicly, from educational institutions to technology companies, the more we all will be able to confront this problem and work together to change it.

And some thoughts from Minnes:
Being a role model is something I take very seriously, and it’s something that my own experiences as a student in college have helped shape. As an undergraduate, I remember the jolt of realizing, almost every time I stepped into a lab or a lecture hall, that I was the only woman in the room or one of very few women.

Anyone embarking on a challenging field or project can benefit from having someone that they can relate to and look up to. I think it’s especially important to be able to see others who you can identify with and who have gone before you and succeeded.

 Many of the women who attend my office hours have told me this is the first time they’ve ever felt comfortable approaching one of their professors, not to mention participating in office hours. I think that’s very telling of just how crucial it is to have networks of women – both in the workplace and in education. They are essential to supporting them and further setting them on the path to succeed in the technology industry and their future career paths.

I agree with many who will tell you that mentorship isn’t the only solution, but I think it’s an important factor in empowering women to pursue their passions and follow their curiosity, whether it be in technology or any other field.

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