February’s edition of the Communications of the ACM contains an article called “Woman in Computing – Take 2″. I printed it out last night but it isn’t as interesting as I had hoped. I hadn’t released from the cover that this was going to be a review article. It does contain lots of facts and figures about women in computing but I am more interested in finding out the “why”.
The papers lists some of the current initiatives that are under way to try to increase the numbers of woman in computing. One of these is to expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere. This is something that I have read about recently in the blogosphere as people are starting to write about Ada Lovelace day.
Recent research by psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones. That’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.
This subject was also addressed by The Information Technology Association of America who released a report [pdf] in 2003 which stated the following:
Underrepresentation of women and minorities in IT leads to the inevitable “vicious cycle” of fewer professional role models for those who wish to enter the IT profession. The Panel believes that the scarcity of adequate role models and mentors has a direct correlation to the perceptions that female and minority candidates will develop about IT.
I have written about role models before but I have to admit that this is an area I still don’t understand. Part of the problem is that don’t have clear understanding of what a role model is. Meriam Webster defines a role model as:
a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others
Now that is very clear when I read it but I can’t tell you who any of my role models are. I don’t consciously sit around and think that I want to be like a particular person. And I imagine the same is true for most people. This is problematic though as it means that I am likely to underestimate the need for positive female role models in computing.
This isn’t the only thing I am confused about though. If I forget about trying to work out who influenced me or who I imitate can I name some people that I imagine others would want to imitate that would cause them to pick computing as a career?