The computer scientist and the cleaner had a long and happy marriage. One of their few arguments was when she forgot their wedding anniversary. But their marriage was strong and he forgave her.It's not a great story, but it's a story.
Now let me ask you a question.
Who forgot the anniversary? Was it the computer scientist or the cleaner?
The answer doesn't matter. What matters is: when you read it did your brain make you think that the computer scientist was male and the cleaner was female?
For an unbiased view, let's ask Google Images about computer scientists and cleaners. The answer is clear: computer scientists are men, and cleaners are women.
We've got a problem: we, meaning everyone in computer science. The problem is twofold. There's a major gender imbalance in computer science. And that women are often not treated right. It's a very widely known problem, and in fact I think it's the most important problem for computer science. (Not the most important problem in computer science, but for it.)
I've been thinking about gender issues in computing because I am first year co-ordinator in the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews. It suddenly occurred to me that I have a responsibility to new students to tell them about the most important problem for computer science.
So I decided I should prepare a talk to give to first year students, both men and women, to tell them about this major problem, and some small pointers on what to do about it.
A draft talk is below, but here are a few of the key points.
I know of only two good reasons we need more women in computer science
- It’s right
- Computer Science would be better
- this point being that since some women don't get into CS or leave early, the average quality of CS would go up with more women in it.
What should people in CS do about it?
1. Don't be a jerk to women
2. Don't use sexist language
3. Understand it's not you who decides if you are doing 1 or 2
We need males in CS to be Allies
Allies? Basically an ally is a non-female who thinks that both men and women should be treated right in CS. See the geekfeminism wiki for some pointers.
Don't get me wrong.
I want all our male students to have fun and do brilliantly in their CS degrees and afterwards. It's just that I want the same for female students and other disadvantaged groups. And I want us to work together to reduce those disadvantages.So here is my talk, embedded below or direct at SlideShare.
If you want to comment, please do comment here, or by email to me, whatever you want. I'm obviously especially interested in any ways I can improve the talk (apart from making it shorter, which I know it needs to be). Given this topic can be sensitive, I will remove what I regard as offensive comments without hesitation.
Credits: This is my own work and I take full responsibility but helpful comments have been received from: Kate Cross (special credit for suggesting anniversary instead of a car crash in the story), Perdita Stevens, Vicky Larmour, Karen Petrie, Ursula Martin, Louise Dennis, Julian Bradfield, Dave Berry, Judith Underwood, Chris Jefferson, Jeremy Frank, Juliana Bowles. (There are actually many others who have commented usefully, and I will add you here happily if I've omitted you.)[Update: 6 Oct 2013: following comments from two friends, I have made some changes to this post and the draft talk. This was removing some of the more personal material and changing the story from a car crash to an anniversary.
Update 2: 7 Oct 2013. Changed "in computer science" to "for computer science"
Update 3: 7 Oct 2013. To my horror realised that I was guilty of cissexism since the FLORIN slide implied gender was binary. Have removed this. There are also many other changes I want to make in this based on other comments but this was the most urgent.
Update 4: 9 Oct 2013. Quite a number of changes.
Update 5: 12 Oct 2013. Added many slides about the Petrie Multiplier.
Update 6: 20 Oct 2013. Slides as delivered to students at St Andrews, with one or two minor deletions of local information.
As I am changing this talk and it's in the open, I thought I would make available earlier versions. Here are version 1, version 2, version 3, version 4, version 5, and version 6 (the version delivered to students in Oct 2013.]