Archive for the 'women' category

2010 ACM Awards - A Glance at Gender

Jun 06 2011 Published by under computer science, women

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), our main professional organization in Computer Science next to the IEEE, has announced their award winners for 2010. This includes the Turing Award, which is basically our version of the Nobel Prize.

I thought I'd do a quick check to see what the gender balance of awardees was for this year. Just curious.

Turing Award - M
ACM-Infosys Foundation Award - M
Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award - M
Software System Award (Group of 12) - All M
ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award - M
Grace Murray Hopper Award - M
Karl V. Karlstom Outstanding Educator Award - 1 F, 1 M
Doctoral Dissertation Award - M
Distinguished Service Award - M
Outstanding Contribution to ACM Award - M

So by my quick tally looks one woman received an award - for being an educator - which she shared with a man.


For new 2010 ACM Fellows, things look a little bit better. Looks like 8 out of 41 were women, so about 20%.

I don't have time at the moment, but if anyone is feeling energized it would be interesting to look at the data for previous years, as well as from IEEE. It takes a bit of work - you often have to visit people's websites to figure out gender, since names are not always clear.

3 responses so far

What it feels like to be me

May 23 2011 Published by under computer science, women

Picture this:

You are wearing a green shirt.
You have eight people around you wearing purple shirts.
You are sharing a meal.

"blah blah blah blah... Computers.... Weather....blah blah blah"
"Yeah, weather, blah blah blah"

The conversation stops. Cutlery clanks on plates. Heads whip around to look at you, awaiting your reaction.

You think several thoughts at once, including noble ones like:

"Quiet green-shirt-wearers rarely make history"

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

Less noble ones, like:

"Not again. I was just sitting here, having lunch, thinking about clever things to say about the weather."

"Do we have to talk about my shirt color at Every. Single. Meal?"

Then nerve-wracking ones, like:

"Because I wear a green shirt, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes'; They will say, 'Green shirts don't have what it takes'"

Your response today, right now, matters, because they all do. Whether you want to or not, you must represent all green shirt wearers in a sea of purple. You're probably wearing the only green shirt they've ever seen, and at this rate, probably the last.

Picture it.

This is what it feels like to be me.

Of course, being me, deeply lacking in verbal acumen, things usually go something like this:

13 responses so far

Hey, where did all the women go?

May 16 2011 Published by under academia, computer science, culture, sexism, women

New Scientist had an article several weeks ago, "Where are all the women scientists?" which ACM seems to have just picked up on in their thrice weekly Tech News. It caught my eye because the article begins by quoting fellow FCS and blogger Amy Dalal (her blog is called "This is What a Computer Scientist Looks Like").

After feeling simultaneously disgusted and terrified reading that Amy received harassing phone calls due to being the first FCS faculty member in her department, I found the rest of the first part of the article a bit ho-hum. It was the typical work-life balance stuff.

But then I saw this:

None of the above

But maybe it's not the babies. A study of more than 3,700 female engineers carried out by Nadya Fouad and Romila Singh at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee revealed that only a quarter left engineering because of family reasons ( The remaining three-quarters quit their jobs or left the field entirely because they did not like the workplace culture, or were unhappy with other aspects of the job.
While blatant gender discrimination in the workplace is rare, the subtle, everyday instances of bias that women experience create a snowball effect that, over time, can be overwhelmingly off-putting.
More than half of female scientists have experienced gender bias, according to a 2010 survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for L'Oréal. Examples include being ignored in meetings, students calling you Mrs. instead of Dr. or Professor, receiving unwanted comments on your appearance, and hearing that you were hired not on merit, but because you're a woman.

Yes! Exactly! Thank you! I've been saying this for years, and many, many times since I started blogging. Babies are rarely the reason women leave. It's culture. Culture, culture, culture.

Sadly after these three great paragraphs the article seems to have suffered from an overzealous editor, because it suddenly became, "But don't worry, look at this one positive example we have!" and talked about how at the US Geological Survey half of the top positions are held by women. I think that's great, but I would have rather seen the space used for talking about broader initiatives to attract and retain women across all the sciences and engineering, as well as across government, industry, and academia.

16 responses so far

Finding Your Way In (Computer) Science: Self-Esteem

Apr 25 2011 Published by under academia, computer science, women

A long time ago, someone I really dislike recommended a book to me called, "Finding Your Way in Science." For a long time I avoided reading it, because I decided if my arch-nemesis liked the book it couldn't possibly be good.

But it nagged at me, so I gave in and bought it. And actually, so far it's not bad. Good job, arch-nemesis!

The book does read like a self-help book for scientists, and it's definitely biased toward the life sciences, but to its credit it does have some outstanding nuggets.

There's one nugget in particular that I recently found myself dispensing to a young FCS who was struggling with issues relating to her self-worth as a researcher. Given the prevalence of self-esteem issues greatly affecting women in technology, it seemed like I should repost it here:

Never place your sense of self-worth in the hands of another person.

And the corollary is:

A wise person is unmoved by either scorn or praise.

These are both important bits of advice. If you place your self-worth in the hands of another, then every time you are rejected (which will happen frequently over the course of your career), it will feel like being punched in the gut. It's very tempting to be over-the-top excited when Dr. Famous lavishes praise on you, and Dr. Awesome invites you to serve on a program committee, and Dr. Woot cites your paper. These are all good things to be happy about, but on the other hand you don't want to be devastated when Dr. Famous rejects your paper, Dr. Awesome gives you a scathing review, and Dr. Woot rips you to shreds in front of 2000 of your closest colleagues.

Be like a tree and all of that. Roll with the good and the bad. If you take this view, the outcome of a single event matters much less.

I've found it helps to take a career-level view instead of an event-level view. John Regehr writes about this - don't get too attached to a single paper, proposal, or job. Don't tie up your entire self-worth in the outcome of a single event. Everyone gets rejected!

Image description: Book cover parody of "Everyone Poops"
by Taro Gomi. This text reads: "Everyone Gets Rejected
By Female Computer Scientist". It has pictures (by Gomi) of an angry
looking person, a horse's behind, a goose, and an apple.

11 responses so far

Good Hair Day, Fair Pay Day

Apr 12 2011 Published by under women

What is equal pay day?

Today, April 12, 2011, is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into 2011 women need to work to catch up to a comparable man's salary. As recent as 2008, the gap between men and women was 77 cents per dollar.

This gap is even more stark for women of color - "Latinas earn 58 cents and African American 68 cents for every dollar men earn." (National Committee on Pay Equity).

Doesn't more education help?

Some people say, "But look at all these women in college and graduate school! Getting more education will help, surely."

Not so, I am sorry to report. In fact, at the highest level of education the pay gap is the largest:

Credit: Professor Hilary Lips, Northwestern Univ. [source]


Median weekly earnings, women

Median weekly earnings, men
















High school graduate, no college




Isn't a woman's choice to get paid less than men?

Then people say, "Well, what about all those women choosing to [rear children, go into professions that don't pay well, etc.]". Professor Lips writes as much as the media loves to say it's a woman's "choice", there are far more factors at play:

Women’s choices are not the problem.

Individual women can sometimes evade the effects of the gender pay gap by making certain kinds of choices, such as selecting male-dominated occupations, working more hours, avoiding parenthood. However, these choices occur in an environment suffused with subtle sexism and discrimination: there are more barriers for women than for men to making certain choices, and the consequences of some choices are starkly different for women and men.

Moreover, these individual solutions are not effective on a societal level; they work only if the women enacting them remain in a minority. For example, if most women moved into jobs that are now male-dominated, signs are that the salaries associated with those jobs would likely drop. But, by making it difficult to go against the tide, the forces of discrimination ensure that most women don’t move into such jobs. And as long as a few women get past the barriers, the illusion persists that any woman could do it if she wanted to—it’s a matter of free choice. However, women’s choices will not be free until their abilities and their work are valued equally with men’s, and until women and men reap equivalent consequences for their choices in the realm of work and family. [source]

This comic sums up the 'choices' argument best:

Credit: Amerstand at Alas, a blog. [link]

This post is depressing. Can you please give me some good news, FCS?

I am happy to report the news isn't all bad. Asian-American women, you're doing the best of all of us, making 91 cents on the dollar to men. And my fellow Engineering women, we're looking at 96.7 cents at least for the first three years of our careers. [source]

What can I (a woman) do to close the gap for myself?

Ask! Ask for a raise. Ask for a promotion. Apply to tons of jobs and get employers into a bidding war over you. Negotiate that starting salary.

Just don't be a wallflower, waiting around for people to recognize your brilliance. Fellow FCS Valerie Aurora has some great negotiation tips on her website. Remember - don't be afraid of people getting mad at you!

What can I (man or woman) do to close the gap for others?

If you're in a position of power over people's salaries (manager, department head, dean, etc.), go through your employees' salary data and crunch the numbers. Check for statistically significant differences between your male and female employees of comparable experience level to ensure salaries are fair.

Also, be sure when you assess employees for raises/tenure/etc you are using equal objective criteria. When you give an employee a merit raise, make sure you use the same criteria for John as for Jane.

Finally, remember to laud the ladies! Talk up the professional accomplishments of your female colleagues to anyone who will listen. Be a sponsor.

5 responses so far

Jean Jennings Bartik (12/27/24 – 3/23/2011)

Mar 28 2011 Published by under computing history, women

Jean Bartik, the last of the six "female computers" I blogged about last month, passed away last week.

CNN wrote a nice obituary. I liked this part a lot:

"Jean is probably one of the most significant pioneers in computing," Rickman said. "Jean worked hard and, as a woman in a man's world at that time, especially in the business world, it's amazing what she was able to accomplish."

Bartik graduated from Northwest Missouri State Teachers College in 1945 as the school's one math major. She recalled living on her parents' farm, refusing the teaching jobs her father suggested and avoiding all talk of marrying a farmer and having babies. Instead, she took a train to Philadelphia to work for the military.

Forget babies! I'm going to go program computers.

I love that. It was such a revolutionary thing to do in the 1940s. Hard to imagine in today's world how revolutionary that was.

The article ends with a quote from Jean:

In February, Bartik said women hadn't gotten far enough in technology, but she saw a promising future.

"Women are busily working on it," she said. "I have high hopes for them."

My thoughts go out to her family and friends. I hope they can take comfort in the fact that hundreds of women all over the world have been inspired by Jean, including this one.

PS - In case you were wondering, the banner at the top of my FCS blog features two other "female computers" who were Jean's contemporaries, Ester Gerston and Gloria Ruth Gorden. Here's a picture of Jean programming the ENIAC.

One response so far

Gasp. Did a *girl* hack HB Gary?

Mar 21 2011 Published by under security, women

A 16 year-old girl?

But that's impossible! Girls don't even know what computers are, let alone how to do something as complex as launching a SQL injection attack*.

Clearly this must be a ploy by Anonymous. It's all men in Anonymous. There are no girls on the internet!

This trope is a common one that the media does little to dispell. In addition to perpetuating the belief that the only thing  women could possibly ever do on a computer is use Facebook, they also seem to imply women could never possibly do something as Dark and Dangerous as hacking.


I of course do not condone black hat hacking - but - I think everyone assuming Kayla must be a guy is sexist.


(*) Actually, what I find the most entertaining in the media is that most of these attacks to not require much cleverness. They are just exploiting human engineering error (poorly written code) or human social error (social engineering). Given most software looks like Swiss cheese as far as security is concerned, and given most people have no training on how to spot a social engineering ploy, the success of these attacks is hardly surprising.

16 responses so far

Oh noes, it's women CEOs!

Feb 28 2011 Published by under women

In case you missed it amidst all the other news last week (Wisconsin protests, New Zealand earthquake, The Last Airbender winning worst movie of the year), there's a debate raging across the pond as to whether there ought to be quotas for hiring more female CEOs to lead companies. I've been watching this debate unfold, because the comments people leave on these articles provides some insight into the thinking of some very polarized people. Furthermore, they reveal some seriously flawed assumptions.

Let's take Mike for example:

People should not be chosen for a job on the basis of gender, race or religion. In every case a job should go to the person best able to carry out that job. --Mike Rose, UK

You know, Mike, I agree with you 100%. I think that is a great statement. Except, please do something for me. Explain to me how a hiring manager identifies who the "best person able to carry out that job" is. Is it based on an objective, quantifiable measure? Say, number of publications, number of profits earned, number of customers acquired? Is it based on a gender-blind objective assessment of a candidate's writing skills, technical skills, or thinking skills?

Oh, it's usually not? Huh. Then how can best be determined? Awfully fuzzy, I'd say.

Here's the thing: in corporate America (and in your case, corporate Britain), there is systemic bias and discrimination against non-majority people. I say non-majority because this bias is something that goes beyond race, ethnicity, and gender discrimination. It also includes socio-economic status, parental status, marital status, sexual orientation, and cultural background.

You see, many of the people being discriminated against don't "fit" the mold very well. So in addition to never even getting called in for an interview because their name is "Jamal Brown" instead of "John Smith", if they are interviewed they don't make the final cut because they didn't fit the majority image the hiring manager had in their brain.

So in nearly every case, we're finding the majority person getting the top jobs because the non-majority person didn't fit this non-objective image of "the best person able to carry out that job".

Someone asked the head of Associated British Foods about its CEO hiring decisions. It 'says it has a duty to appoint the best candidate, "and to date that person has been male"'. (The Times, 25 Feb 2011).

Riiiight. Ok, Mike, let's look at the logic here:

  • Companies always hire the "best candidate".
  • The majority of Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies are run by wealthy white men.
  • Therefore, the best people to lead Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies are wealthy white men.

Ok, I'm done picking on Mike. Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies, this message is for you:

     If you are truly committed to diversity, PROVE IT.

Stop padding your website and brochures with pictures showing how diverse you are and actually bring in some diverse leaders. Take a chance on a non-majority person for once. I promise, we don't bite. Usually.

12 responses so far

Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII

Feb 14 2011 Published by under computing history, women

In 1942, when computers were human and women were underestimated, a group of female mathematicians helped win a war and usher in the modern computer age. Sixty-five years later their story has finally been told.

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! There is a new documentary called Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II about female mathematicians and scientists who were secretly recruited to do ballistics research and crack codes during WWII. (They were called "Female Computers", back in the days when "computer" meant "one who computes")

Unsurprisingly, because the research was classified, the efforts of these women went largely unsung until Professor LeAnn Erickson, faculty at Temple, made a documentary about them.

CNN has a nice write up about the film, and includes an anecdote about work on the ENIAC (the other "first" computer). Though, this part made me cringe:

The war ended in 1945, but within a couple months of arriving in Philadelphia, Bartik was hired to work on a related project -- an electronic computer that could do calculations faster than any man or woman. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, created by Penn scientists John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr., weighed more than 30 tons and contained about 18,000 vacuum tubes. It recognized numbers, added, subtracted, multiplied, divided and a few other basic functions.

Men had built the machine, but Bartik and her colleagues debugged every vacuum tube and learned how to make it work, she said. Early on, they demonstrated to the military brass how the computer worked, with the programmers setting the process into motion and showing how it produced an answer. They handed out its punch cards as souvenirs. They'd taught the massive machine do math that would've taken hours by hand.

But none of the women programmers was invited to the celebratory dinner that followed. Later, they heard they were thought of as models, placed there to show off the machine.

I'd like to think we've come a long way since 1945, but I have heard recent stories of female technologists demonstrating things at technology shows whom male attendees assume are booth babes, so maybe we're not quite there yet.

In any case, if you are interested in seeing the film, the creators have several screenings scheduled, and are planning more. Also I believe you can rent it on Netflix. Or, check your local PBS listings.

4 responses so far