This is in response to “Gender disparities in engineering and computing science at SFU and its effects on female students“, March 13, 2017
To the Editor:
As the Women in Computing Science (WiCS) group at SFU, we do face the issues presented in the recently published feature article. However, when we spoke about these difficulties, we expressed them within the context of the encouragement and support that we give and receive. With our comments taken out of context, the article is overly bleak and not reflective of the whole story. The community within the Faculty of Applied Sciences (FAS) has been working to address all aspects of the diversity problem discussed in the feature.
Some of the strongest WiCS supporters are faculty members. Both the Dean of FAS and the Director of the School of Computing Science (CS) spoke at our International Women’s Day celebration. One of our dedicated faculty members successfully advocated for a WiCS common room. The School of Computing Science has a productive Diversity Committee consisting of faculty, staff, and WiCS representatives. FAS has a dedicated staff member to run its elementary and high school outreach programs, including four initiatives which are specifically for young girls.
The Faculty and the School are our primary benefactors for our events, scholarships, and programs. In 2016, the School of Computing Science offered sponsorships to seven female students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Science, an inspiring conference attended by some 14,000 women. Many companies also express encouragement for bringing more women into CS with personnel and financial contributions to WiCS events.
We have introduced female role models for both high school and university students. WiCS and the Women in Engineering (WiE) groups organize an annual event, Try/CATCH, for high school girls with a keynote speaker, programming and robotics workshops, and a Women in Tech panel discussion. WiCS and WiE run mentorship programs for new female students to SFU. Every semester, WiCS holds a mentor lunch to connect female CS students with a female faculty member. Together with WiE, we annually host a networking night, attended by students of all genders, featuring a panel and mentoring sessions with women from industry.
WiCS is actively building a stronger rapport with other FAS student groups. The majority of our events are open to FAS students, faculty, and staff of all genders. We have encouraged WiCS members to run for Computing Science Student Society (CSSS) executive positions, established a WiCS-CSSS Liaison, and coordinated joint social events with the CSSS.
The underrepresentation of females in tech-related fields stems from longstanding cultural and social stereotypes that discourage young girls from considering these careers. While closing the gender gap will be a generational challenge, it is important to take small steps in the right direction. As the Women in Computing Science group at SFU, we truly appreciate the dedication of FAS and CS to outreach events and their ongoing support for female students. Although being a female student studying Applied Sciences has its pitfalls, we are proud to be a part of the the School of Computing Science and the Faculty of Applied Sciences at SFU.