Nation-wide gender gap in technology reflected at Williams

Recent findings note that despite a reduced gender gap in math and science achievement a new gap has emerged in the field of technology.

A report released by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) combined 1,000 research studies to investigate gender discrepancies in math, science, and technology. Entitled Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children, the report examines the ways in which public schools have dealt with issues of gender and education since 1992.

The report reveals that women’s enrollment in math and science courses, as well as advanced placement courses, has increased in public schools since 1992. While more women are now taking advanced placement classes they are not receiving the high scores needed for college credit.

The report also uncovered an emerging gender gap in technology-related fields. Specifically, the report revealed that women and men are still encouraged to take courses that are consistent with traditional occupations for their gender. As a result, males are steered into the technology-related fields that are emerging as the important industries of the 21st century.

Andrea Danyluk, assistant professor of computer science at Williams, is aware of the emerging gender gap as well as its existence on the Williams campus. Danyluk is the only woman in the computer science department, but she said that fact isn’t surprising when one considers the small size of the department.

Danyluk praised the supportiveness of both the computer science department and Williams College, but noted that there does exist a gender gap in the number of computer science majors. Of the 21 senior majors, only three are women, and none of the 16 junior majors is a woman.

But Danyluk noted that Williams is not unique in this regard.

“This is totally in line with where things are across the country,” she said.

Perry Hanson, the chief technology officer of the Office for Information Technology, said he has also observed a lack of women working in the field of computing at Williams.

“When I got here three falls ago, there were almost no women working as student technology consultants, so we worked to encourage women to join our labor force,” he said.

Scott Kaplan ’99, a student technology consultant manager (STC), said presently approximately 80 percent of the STCs are male. But he added that the percentages were even more skewed when he was a first-year.

Hanson agreed that the numbers have evened out somewhat, but he added that “it seems to be true that more men are keen to work in technology than are women.”

STC Mary Glendon ’99 said she has observed efforts to increase the numbers of female STCs at Williams. Specifically, she noted that two women were recently appointed as STC managers.

Glendon said she became more interested in working with computers after participating in the Mellon Web Project two summers ago, but has little experience with technology before that point.

Danyluk offered one hypothesis for the increasing gender gap in technology. Perhaps, she explained, there is currently a redistribution within sciences in general on the college level; students interested in both math and computer science, for example, are simply choosing math.

Danyluk acknowledged, however, that this idea does not fully explain the problem.

“Historically, there have always been very few women in computer science, but it seems odd to me that the number is dropping now,” she said.

Danyluk agreed with the AAUW findings that the gender gap begins before students enter college.

“It seems like the place we would need to work would be on the lower levels,” she said. “It seems to be the case that people come into college with a sense of where they want to be. Women are just not coming into computer science saying ‘I want to be a computer science major’.”

However, Danyluk added, “It’s not so much that I’m throwing up my hands and saying there’s nothing [the computer science department] can do about it.”

Zehra Abid ’99, a double major in computer science and English, noted that while Williams provides a supportive atmosphere for female students in technology, she agrees that women arrive at Williams less interested in computer science.

She noted that more men grow up reading computer science magazines and discussing computers with each other.

“I don’t think many girls get together and discuss computer science when they are kids,” she said.

Abid said she was inspired to major in computer science after she took an introductory course in computer science as a first-year. But she recalled arriving at Williams and never having used e-mail before.

“I am probably the least computer oriented of the computer majors,” she said.

“It’s definitely a very male-dominated major,” Abid added. “I would have thought that with all its equal opportunity feminists, Williams would have had many more technical majors who are women. At least the departmental sexual segregation here makes me feel like I’m still at home in Pakistan.”

Danyluk has thought about ways in which the computer science department at Williams can work towards closing the gender gap. She sees potential in non-major computer science courses attracting students who might not feel comfortable enough to take hard core introductory courses. While such classes would not be specifically geared towards women, they might encourage women who would not ordinarily take a computer science course to try out the department.

Danyluk also mentioned working to find a balance between ways in which men and women characteristically work. She noted that, for the most part, men appear to be oriented toward competitive approaches, while women tend to work cooperatively. Danyluk said she and her colleagues in the computer science department have been exploring ways in which both working methods can be integrated into courses without alienation of either group. She commented that “computer science, in a lot of ways, lends itself to both [competition and cooperation].”

Despite the recent statistics about a gender gap in the technology-related fields, Andrea Danyluk, assistant professor of computer science, has forged her way into the male-dominated field.

Danyluk said she has had some negative experiences, however. She encountered her first explicit gender issue when she was a junior in high school. By the time she entered the advanced math class in the eleventh grade she was the only girl left in her honors class.

“I didn’t particularly notice this, but my teacher, on the first day of class, told me in front of everybody that I should probably leave because, after all, I was a girl and I probably wouldn’t be able to do the material,” she said.

Rather than drop out, however, Danyluk worker harder than she might have otherwise.

Danyluk said she isn’t sure whether the teacher’s initial comment was mean-spirited.

“It was never clear to me whether he really truly in his heart felt this way, or whether he was doing it as sort of an interesting test of my ability to deal with gender issues,” she said.

Gender was less an issue in college. Danyluk attended Vassar College as an undergraduate, which she said “isn’t all women anymore, but it is still fundamentally a women’s college in terms of its entire atmosphere.” She added, “I never felt anything unusual in terms of a gender gap.”

Later in her academic career, while at Columbia, Danyluk was one of three women in a class of 12 graduate students, and she was the only woman to graduate.

“It [the gender discrepancy] didn’t particularly bother me,” Danyluk explained. &#8220
;We women would talk about it, but it wasn’t something that loomed over me.”

On the whole, Danyluk had a positive experience at Columbia with great colleagues and a supportive advisor.

The gender gap was more apparent outside Columbia. “At the conferences I would go to I would notice [the gender gap] a little bit more, because the particular field that I’m in had very few women,” she said.

Danyluk explained that contrary to popular opinion, a lot of women work in the field of artificial intelligence, and there are certain sub-sets which are dominated by women.

Danyluk explained that her department at Bell Atlantic, where she worked as a researcher before coming to Williams was 50 percent female and included a supportive chain of command.

Danyluk’s area of specialty, machine learning, however, has a very large gender discrepancy. She noted that at conferences, it is not be uncommon for her to be the only female in a room of one hundred people.

Again, this did not seem to bother Danyluk. “Even though I noticed [the gender gap], I never had any particularly interesting or bad experiences based on it,” she said.

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