Imagine walking into a lecture hall or classroom, and the majority of students are male. This is the reality of most computer science classes at Stony Brook. Women are here, but there is no denying that the numbers start to dwindle as students move from the introductory courses into upper division classes.
These introductory courses can be intimidating for everyone, however. The amount of experience that people come in with is extremely diverse – there are those who have been coding since the age of 5, those who participated in programming classes or activities in high school and those who know absolutely nothing and are just eager to learn. It can feel like you are constantly falling behind because everyone seems to know so much more than is necessary for the class.
Nonetheless, the lack of female students is important to acknowledge, because while one can already feel so far behind everybody, the gender gap furthers that distance. With the competitive environments and struggles that come with learning the material, it becomes even more daunting for a woman to ask for the help she needs. Additionally, the stigma of technology being too rigorous for the female anatomy and the belief that women are only hired to maintain diversity pressures them to validate their place and their achievements to others, and especially to themselves. These beliefs and the lack of a support system are often reasons why women don’t stay long enough to see if they’d enjoy a career in technology.
Computer science is notorious for being a male-dominated field, not only here at Stony Brook University but out in the industry as well. In 2016, women made up less than 20 percent of tech roles at top companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. You often hear from these women that they were either the first or only female on their team as well. And this makes sense – with less than half of computer science graduates in the United States being female, the drive to develop their interest, confidence and career in the field diminishes.
Tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the country and girls are being left behind. According to Girls Who Code, over 66 percent of 6-12-year-old girls have expressed interest in pursuing technology, but by the time they get to college, that number drops significantly to just 4 percent due to societal standards and stereotypes that misrepresent computer science as a boring, difficult and nerdy programming job. It is not just about sitting and coding all day ー working in computer science can involve a great deal of creativity and collaboration.
The Women in Computer Science (WiCS) organization tries its best to remedy these issues. Our mission is to provide encouragement and support to women in the field of computing, as well as to foster an understanding between men and women to both improve and maintain women’s involvement in computer science. We encourage all genders to join to create conversations and spread awareness about the gender gap. Our goal is to create a safe and welcoming community where people can share their experiences, offer support and realize they are not alone.
In fact, WiCS recently held a hackathon called HackHealth, a 12-hour event in which a large number of people came to engage in a collaborative programming competition to innovate health-related problems. It turned out to be a huge success and based on our data, 52.3 percent of registrants were male and 43.8 percent were female, a 5 percent increase in female attendance from 2016’s HackHealth! We definitely feel that an event advertised as minority, beginner-friendly and organized by women pursuing technology encouraged other female students to participate, even if they felt their skills were not up to par. Working with and seeing other women in tech gives women a sense of companionship and inspiration ー something many might need to feel like they belong.
Kitty Liu is a junior information systems and business management double major and the president of Women in Computer Science (WiCS), with contributions from the WiCS board, which includes a mix of information systems and computer science majors.