Changing the Tech Industry From Here

By Mary McInerney, Office of Development Communications Posted Tue, 08/29/2017 - 14:00

Top tech leaders at LinkedIn and Craigslist have joined a USF effort to reduce the tech industry’s gender gap.

Sarah Clatterbuck ’97, senior director of engineering at LinkedIn, and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, paid for about two dozen female computer science students and faculty to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October. The conference is the largest gathering of women technologists in the world. Several  students also received prestigious scholarships from the Anita Borg Institute.

Clatterbuck and Newmark’s support shines a light on USF’s Computer Science Department, which stands out with almost 50 percent of faculty being female, more than most universities, according to Assistant Professor Beste Yuksel. The department is also home to the Democratize Computing Lab, which is open to all students and offers training in coding and app building, and the Women in Computer Science and Tech Club, which provides networking and mentoring.

“As a woman pursuing computer science, I am very excited to be a part of a space where I feel encouraged and recognized,” said Nyssa Chennubhotla, an undergraduate computer science student. “I want to be inspired by other women, learn from other women, and make the right connections in order to start my career.”

The Grace Hopper Celebration brings together more than 15,000 women each year to meet about  computing, research, and careers. GHC was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994, and it is inspired by the legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral who died in 1992. The 2017 GHC was in Orlando.

The conference offers professional development and a career fair, giving students the opportunity to interview for jobs and internships. USF will be sending a staff member from the Career Services Center to support the students.

Support for USF’s Female CompSci Students

Clatterbuck, a member of the Women in Tech initiative at LinkedIn, says she’s supportive because it is important to hire more women in computer science in order to democratize the work force. She also points out that there are opportunities for women in computing.

“Women make up 47 percent of our workforce in the U.S., and they represent only 12 percent of engineers,” she said. “At the same time, you look at software engineering and related fields, and they are some of the fastest growing fields in the world right now, and demand is high and supply is low. The economic opportunity is really high right now. For me, it’s about creating an economic pathway for women.”

Newmark, too, says the tech industry needs more skilled workers, and that should mean a lot more women in computing. Unfortunately, though, the industry has not treated women fairly, he said.

“For me, it all starts with the notion that we all should treat others like we want to be treated,” he said. “I feel that gender and ethnicity shouldn't play into that decision, which is about basic fairness. Over decades, I've seen that women aren't treated fairly in the computer and Internet industry, and I figured that acting in good faith means doing what I can now.”

For Newmark, that means supporting organizations like Women's Startup Challenge and Girls Who Code, as well as supporting students at USF.

Steps to Bridging the Gender Divide

The reality, though, is that women still find it difficult to bridge the gender divide in tech. This summer’s headlines, for example, provide a clear look into how many of the largest tech companies in the San Francisco area operate. With the current climate for women in tech, it is even more important for USF to send a strong cadre of women to GHC this year, said Yuksel, a Computer Science professor at USF.

“Currently the number of women in computer science is going down,” said Yuksel. “It’s not going up. And it’s actually becoming more of a civil rights issue, more of a human rights issue. It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

At USF, where the faculty of the Computer Science department is almost 50 percent female, high above most other universities, there have been ongoing efforts toward diversity and inclusion, including the Democratize Computing Lab, which has won foundation grants to continue its work toward diversity and inclusion.

In addition, a Women in Computer Science and Tech Club gives female students and faculty the opportunity to build a peer network and support each other’s work. The efforts seem to be paying off. Nationally, about 16 percent of computer science undergraduates are women, while at USF women represent 24 percent of Computer Science students at the university. The goal, Yuksel said, is at least 50 percent.

Jovani Kimble, a graduate Computer Science student, says more women will go into computer science if they know they are being supported. Opportunities like GHC and being inspired daily by professors like Rollins and Yuksel has made an impact on her, Kimble said.

“Having those types of relationships are invaluable and has helped me become more confident in pursuing my passion for computer science,” said Kimble. “Having support helps eliminate doubts and fear. When you have support, you know there are people in your corner.”

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