This is the part of Hilary's article that stuck out for me:
Many groups have popped up that support women in technology, like Girls in Tech, She’s Geeky, and many others (enumerated in Digiphile’s thoughtful post Why Including women matters for the future of technology and society). More often than not, these groups are the canned food drives of the women in technology movement. They make you feel better, they might do a little good, but they offer no fundamental change to the system that created the problem in the first place.I remember sitting down with our Dean of Engineering to discuss CU-WISE budget opportunities. Dean Goubran has been incredibly supportive of CU-WISE, but said one important thing: he wanted to see less talking and more doing. He figures people have been sitting at conferences talking about the problem for at least 20 years, but the problem remains. What is it that CU-WISE will do to actually change things?
This was a tough question, especially for a group that had only been around for about a year. How would we know that we've made a real difference?
It's still hard to know for sure, but I think we're getting better and better at this all the time. For example, when I do outreach with groups of girls, I ask them hard questions about why there aren't many women in computing, and why it matters. Their insightful answers impress me and give me hope for their generation.
But we can't really measure how effective our outreach is. At least not yet. I do think it's important to get out there and make the image of computer science and engineering a more positive one, but we won't really know if our attempt is working until much later.
I do often hear a number of women attending CU-WISE events express their gratitude for the existence of such a group. I'm not sure we've saved anyone from dropping out or changing majors, but it does seem like a possibility. But this, too, is hard to measure (I suppose we should attempt to do a proper survey someday!).
So I look to the events we've been holding this past semester. Not a single one revolved around a discussion of the issues women in science and engineering face. The first was an opportunity to put our knowledge of technology to use in the IBM Extreme Blue Case Study Competition. Next, we gave our members the tools they needed to succeed in industry, teaching them skills like networking and negotiation at WISE Steps to Success. We had a smaller presentation on entrepreneurship and then held the very successful Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering.
That last one, the Celebration, had a lot to do with doing. Most talks were women simply presenting their research. As Hilary put it, we got together to "do science."
Based on all this, I think CU-WISE has done a good job of disproving Terri's theory to an extent:
Theory: The more time we spend on women in computing initiatives, the less time we have to actually get stuff done.Naturally, some of our time must be taken away from doing if we are on the CU-WISE executive team, so we must be careful to balance the commitments properly. (This is something I didn't quite get right during my Masters but have improved thus far in my PhD.) I'm hoping that our group does a good job of encouraging our members to do the most doing possible.
And if we succeed, I think we will be far from harmful.