The Women in Computing workshop took place at the recent 2011 Latin American Faculty Summit. Amidst Faculty Summit topics such as open data, the role of basic research, and cluster and cloud computing, the Women in Computing workshop explored the underrepresentation of women in technology in Latin America. The participants examined various ideas for fostering discussion about gender imbalance within their communities.
Workshop attendees had the opportunity to benefit from the experience and resources of the U.S. National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), which develops research-based materials to raise awareness and implement practices and programs that increase women’s involvement in computing. Resources that were available to attendees include talking points to present computer-science careers to families and teachers; data sheets that easily summarize the status of women in the field; kits that can serve a variety of purposes, such as talking to high-school girls about careers in technology; and descriptions of curriculum and teaching techniques that attract female students.
The meeting participants came away brimming with ideas for addressing the gender issue. Here’s a sample of their observations.
From Juan Lalinde, Universidad EAFIT – Abierta al Mundo:
“A simple analysis of these facts shows that promoting the enrollment of women in computing programs is not only possible but a good way to provide the qualified professionals the industry needs. The conversation is not about how to balance the proportion of men and women but how to encourage women to enroll in these programs. I believe we have to identify and then discard the social and cultural factors that discourage women from pursuing a degree in computing. The question is not how to motivate them but how not to discourage them.
“In the future, I think it would be nice to invite women who have significant achievements in academia or industry, to share their views and experiences. As mentioned above, I believe the challenge is how to remove social and cultural factors that discourage women from pursuing a degree on computing, and sometimes they are difficult to identify. Learning from the experience of somebody who has overcome these factors can help us in that process.”
From Professor Alfred Sanchez, Universidad de las Américas Puebla:
“The workshop initiative is very pertinent, as evidenced by the excellent turnout and the diversity of participants. It provided a good opportunity to learn about the situation of women’s enrollment in engineering programs throughout Latin America, as well as about perspectives from other regions. In particular, it seems the experience of NCWIT can serve as a model for developing strategies and addressing related issues. Maybe we could think of a similar association at the Latin American level.”
From Flavio Soares Correa da Silva, University of São Paulo:
“During the past four Latin American Faculty Summits, Drs. Jane Prey and Juliana Salles have organized Women in Computing workshops, which have been devoted to gender issues in IT-related higher education and professional environments. These workshops have been attended by representatives from most countries in Latin America. The discussions have progressed from raising awareness of the importance of gender balance in those environments; to data collection and organization in order to properly found arguments and points to be made about the issue; to the design of concrete actions to be taken to move from our present status—in which women are underrepresented in IT—to a more balanced scenario, which shall be more rewarding to society and economies as a whole. It is all too natural to expect (and hope) that in future workshops the discussion will be about the results of the initiatives which are now being designed.”
That is our hope, too.
—Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
—Jane Prey, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections