Women in Computer Science: It’s a Hard Problem

I've always considered women to be people
I’ve always considered women to be people (click for original)

There’s this class of problems in Computer Science, called NP-Hard. The short explanation for this, is that these are some of the most difficult problems in the field, where solutions are likely to be exponential in time.

One such problem is the Travelling Salesman problem – finding the shortest path on a graph (or a map).

But you don’t see anyone writing:

I’ve solved the travelling salesman problem! It’s possible that it’s not always the best option to take the shortest path from a given node.

Because that would be stupid. They haven’t solved it, they have provided one (in this case, useful) insight. But that insight is not new.

And yet. It seems like I see this kind of post all the time when it comes to the lack of women in the field. This week it was about how hunting rabbits is like coding. And initially I just wrote it off because it is clearly so stupid… and then I realised, this is from someone who is pretty well known in the field. And that just made me really angry – because nice, reasonable men who want to help say this kind of thing is just crackpots, who should be ignored.

But in this case, pretty famous person, who probably won’t be ignored.

(Actually he got internet-lynched and then congratulated himself for “starting a dialog”. I call BS – there’s been a dialog for a long time, he just hadn’t noticed it.)

I am so, so tired, of smart men who (I would like to think) mean well thinking the problem with the lack of women is that they have not previously turned their Towering Intellect to it.

That is not the problem.

We’ve had data, and literature, on what the problem is for a really, really long time now.

Unlocking the Clubhouse was published over 10 years ago – there’s a lot of information there as to how universities can address the lack of women. Very few universities are really re-inventing the course as they need to – Harvey Mudd is this bright, shining, star.

Delusions of Gender (Amazon) came out 3 years ago. It debunks the “neuroscience” and explores the socialisation of women. It’s an incredible book.

AnitaBorg.org publishes studies on what helps recruit and retain technical women.

When considering the problem of women, we need to build on the work that’s already done, the research that is already there. If you’re worried about retention, perhaps instead of trying to reframe and redefine the problem again, just address the problem that has already been identified.

When I read articles about why women leave (last week’s favourite) I find myself thinking yes, that will be me; I will be another statistic.

So, to the Straight White Males who write from their position of privilege. Like any other hard problem in CS, do your research first.

12 thoughts on “Women in Computer Science: It’s a Hard Problem

  1. I just finished reading Delusions of Gender and it was amazing. Going to re-read it again soon, there is so much in there. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! -Rachelle

      1. 🙂 Oh, I’ve been faithfully reading your blog but often I would try to comment and it would get eaten – I’m not used to disqus. I’m glad you continue blogging so that I can follow your adventures and see how you are doing!

        1. Oh no! Yeah I’ve been having some issues with commenting, but I’m hoping they are resolved now 🙂 please email me and tell me what is going on in your life!

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