Gender and STEM

Nerds, Geeks & Barbies: A Social Systems Perspective on the Impact of Stereotypes in Computer Science Education

Despite our best efforts, women and some communities of color remain underrepresented in computing because the root causes of their low participation are poorly understood. This paper employs Riane Eisler’s domination-partnership social systems continuum as a lens through which to identify systemic characteristics that contribute to an exclusive computer science education (Eisler, 1987, 2000, 2002, 2007). I demonstrate the critical link between geek, hacker, and Barbie stereotypes and student success in computer science education—underlining the reasons why many known strategies for building inclusive learning environments are so important to implement. Finally, I demonstrate how shifting from domination towards partnership perspectives on computer science education can help us improve the success rates of women and other underrepresented groups, as well as creating a richer learning environment for all.
(Adapted in July 2010 from
Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership, 2009)

Life on the Frontlines: One Woman’s Evolution from Warrior to Diplomat

Why is it that many successful, intelligent women who surmount the numerous institutionalized barriers to study and work in science and technology ultimately leave? The first clue lies in the “war metaphor” in this paper’s title. Although the overt discrimination that women in science and technology historically experienced has diminished, for some women today it still feels like a war zone. This paper chronicles one woman’s battles in and out of science and technology in relation to three fundamental themes: 1) the male-oriented science culture; 2) the historical legacy of barriers to education and employment; and 3) epistemological and pedagogical limits. It is a story about a woman who went AWOL from science and technology to find a “both/and” peace in-between, and about how women’s studies facilitated her evolution from warrior to diplomat.  A different version of this essay appeared in NWSA Journal. 17.1 (Spring 2005): 45-57.

Narrowing the Digital Divide: In Search of a Map to Heal the Gap

Although the actual digital divide is widening, the divide between the academic disciplines studying these issues has started to narrow. There is an increasing dialog between scholars in the social sciences and scholars in math, science, and engineering. Two recent contributions to that discourse are Jane Margolis and Allan Fischer’s Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women and Computing (2002) and Joel Cooper and Kimberlee D. Weaver’s Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide (2003). This paper contributes to the growing interdisciplinary dialog by sharing the perspectives of two scholars (one in women’s studies and one in computer science) on these two books, and answers the question: Which book might be most valuable to a computer science educator in higher education who is seeking a map to heal the gap created by the digital divide? This paper was co-authored with Carol Zander and originally published in the Journal of Computing in Small Colleges. 20.2 (December 2004): 168-175.
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Bridging the Digital Divide by Co-Creating a Collaborative Computer Science Classroom

Although the so-called “digital divide” is a popular topic of discussion among computer scientists and women’s studies scholars, these two discourses rarely intersect, either theoretically or practically—creating a disciplinary divide. Women’s studies scholars have thoroughly documented the historical barriers to science and computing for women and have outlined successful strategies for retaining women in computer science classrooms. However, few computer science educators are familiar with women’s studies scholarship. This paper, which combines the perspectives of a women’s studies scholar and a computer scientist, attempts to bridge the disciplinary divide between computer science and women’s studies. In Section 1, we explain how the historical legacies of two fundamental themes implicit in the philosophy of science contribute to the exclusive environment in computer science classrooms today: (1) science=male, nature=female, and (2) exclusive epistemologies and pedagogies that privilege “maleness” over “femaleness.” In Section 2, we offer a few practical pedagogical strategies for bridging the digital divide in computer science classrooms by co-creating collaborative rather than competitive learning environments. In Section 3, we explain what is required of computer science faculty if we are to halt the exit of talented women from our programs. This paper was co-authored with Carol Zander and originally published in the Journal of Computing in Small Colleges. 18.2 (December 2002): 117-125.
Available at
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