What’s it like to have almost only male colleagues? As in the rest of the tech industry, there are very few female academics in computer science.
To find out what that does to a workplace, we spoke to Dr Simone Stumpf about her experiences. She told us the gender balance is certainly something she is ‘aware of’.
Dr Stumpf works at the computer science department at City University London. A scrape of the university website showed that only 7 of the 41 academics in that department were female. That’s 17%. The other 34, including the head of the department, are male.
“17% is actually relatively high”
This is lower even than several major tech companies, but nothing unusual for the world of STEM in academia.
“You could look at it the other way around, and look at the usual intake into computing,” argued Dr Stumpf.
“17% is actually relatively high, ironically, because the female intake among undergraduates who go on to a Ph D is actually quite appalling. Nationally, not just here,” she said.
The undergraduate intake into computer science hovers just over 17%, but declines further at a postgraduate level.
“Casually misogynistic” programming culture
When we asked about the work environment in the programming world outside academia, Dr Stumpf brought up the casually misogynistic ‘brogrammer culture’ which leaves women excluded.
The idea of programmers having to go into a darkened room and refuse to emerge for days on end is still prevalent, according to Dr Stumpf.
“And programming is something that you can’t just dip into and dip out when the muse kisses you. You have to dedicate some time to understanding the code, so you have to have a sustained effort,” she said, adding:
“But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend 24 hours living on beer and pizza.”
“Have to take the fear away”
Dr Stumpf was inspired to go into computer science early on, as she sat in her school computer lab programming in Basic back in the 80s, and says that it was the problem-solving that attracted her to it from the start.
“It was that sense that I could get things to work, figure out what to do about it, and then solve that problem using a computer program.”
She believes society is still dissuading women from choosing this field, and that we need to change our attitudes. When we asked her how this could change, she said that a lot of it is about ‘taking the fear away’.
(Photo of Dreamhack 2012 by Kelly Kline/Flickr.)