- not many women study or have an interest in computer science;
- women are subject to a number of socio-cultural pressures that men aren't a part of;
- in a male dominated industry, there are very few women role-models to look upto - resulting again in #1 above.
Tackle the problem at the Grassroots -- target students
All across the world, computer science doesn't seem to be a hugely popular discipline with young girls. The key could be to introduce young girls to the magic of programming at an early age. One of the projects that really excites me is Alice. Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience. Alice allows children to learn through a head-fake -- they believe they're playing a game, but on the sidelines they're actually writing a program in a modern object oriented language such as Java. Prentice Hall has gone to the extent of creating instructional materials to actually teach students how to program, using Alice as the teaching tool! Could companies support the educational system by sending their experts to schools and universities using Alice as a a teaching platform. That way we can introduce computer science as a discipline that's just as interesting and creative as management or humanities.
Join Forces in the IndustryWhile a single company may not have many women superstars, there's absolutely no dearth of thought leadership from women in IT. Often we make the mistake of trying to solve our gender diversity problems in isolation. It may not be a bad idea for like minded companies to join forces and seek out great female potential by using their role model women as hiring ambassadors. A women only career fair with superstar women representatives from various companies could actually help other ladies be attracted to computer science as a career. In general, these alliances need to be strategic -- short term alliances are likely to be frustrating, but longer term alliances may actually allow organisations to build on each other's successes.
Recognise Socio-cultural Influences -- Experiment with Next-gen ToolsThe webvolution, and immersive internet presents us with some very interesting possibilities. There's no doubt that the technology is still immature, but companies need to still start experimenting with virtual worlds as a way to create real-time, synchronous workspaces. Women, particularly in India are under the influence of great socio-cultural pressures. The ability to work from home and still enjoy a high degree of collaboration could be invaluable in increasing diversity. Karl Kapp is a great proponent of such technology and I think that when we can actually make 3D technology an inseparable part of work a few years from now, companies will enjoy significant advantages in addition to being able to increase their diversity. Here are some obvious advantages that come to mind:
- lower investment on facilities -- possibly lower opex;
- lower cost of commute;
- lower pollution levels as a result of lower cost of transport;
- lower carbon footprint as a result of reduced travel;
- better salaries as a consequence of money saved on lease, office space, etc;
- faster growth of business as a consequence of virtual workspaces and the ability to invest elsewhere.
What other ideas do you have to increase gender diversity in the IT sector? ThoughtWorks is keen to right the wrongs of this industry in it's own small way and I can try to channel some of your suggestions in the right direction. Let me know what you think by adding your thoughts in the comments section.
Photo credit: chrisjfry under the Creative Commons and Dr. Karl Kapp for the Protoshpere screenshot.