Women underrepresented in technology fields

Data published by mapping blog shows low ratio of female professors in tech fields at Queen’s

Queen’s has low percentages of tenured or tenure-track female professors in tech-related fields.
Queen’s has low percentages of tenured or tenure-track female professors in tech-related fields.

When Faculty of Education Professor Lynda Colgan asks young students to draw a scientist, they usually draw a character with a lab coat, glasses and “crazy hair”.

It’s also always a male.

“The stereotypes around who scientists are and what they do linger in the public eye, and because those linger, we also are not attracting young women into these fields,” Colgan said.

Colgan’s point is bolstered by recently published findings on The 10 and 3, a blog that uses maps, data and visualizations to tell “compelling and unusual” stories.

The blog’s authors — Michael Kuzmin, Arik Motskin and Zack Gallinger — examined the proportion of tenured or tenure-track women professors in technology-related fields at twenty Canadian universities. Results placed women professors at Queen’s at 16, 13.6 and 13 per cent in math, computer science and electrical/computer engineering departments, respectively.

Queen’s ranked 15th out of 20 universities for math and 14th of 20 for computer science. For electrical/computer engineering — a category in which only 18 universities were ranked — Queen’s was third after Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary.

Trends in the data are also supported by figures from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

While 30 per cent of Google’s employees are female, only 17 per cent of women make up its tech sector. 31 per cent of Facebook’s employees are female, but only 15 per cent are in its tech sector; 30 per cent of Twitter’s employees are female, while only 10 per cent are in its tech sector.

Colgan said the issue begins in elementary school.

“By the time children are in grade three, 50 per cent of our students in Ontario are saying they don’t like math, they’re not good at it and they don’t see any purpose to doing it,” she said, adding that fewer than 50 per cent of secondary school students complete grade 11 and 12 math and science.

“All universities across North America are going to face the same problem if we don’t turn around student interest in these subjects earlier on,” she said.

Citing a study by the University of Missouri and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, which found that girls outperform boys in overall academics, Colgan said girls are less confident than their male counterparts. This can cause girls to drop courses like math, science and engineering or choose not to take them at the post-secondary level.

“This leads to underrepresentation, the kind of underrepresentation you see when we don’t have faculty, graduate faculty and professors who are female in those areas,” she said.

She added that mindset is important for success, and students who maintain a passion for a subject “are not going to be intimidated by anything.”

“Again, what we have to remember is that that kind of confidence, mindset, passion, doesn’t start at university — it starts many, many, many more years earlier and it is developed over time,” Colgan said.

President of Queen’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Rebecca Lang said “the amount of self-doubt” and “low confidence” in females must change, and WISE is trying to aid in this.

“I’ve heard a woman once tell me that if a guy has an answer to a question, he thinks it’s right until proven wrong, whereas a woman would be more, think they’re wrong until proven right, or not be sure of their answer until proven right,” said Lang, ArtSci ’15.

Wendy Powley is an adjunct professor in the School of Computing and founder of Women in the School of Computing (WISC). Powley, who founded WISC in 2003, organized the first Canadian celebration for women in computing in 2010, set to become a national celebration next year.

Despite a 247-person growth in enrolment from 2009-14, she said the school is in a “fight” with the University over hiring faculty members for the School of Computing.

“We’ve been begging, begging, begging for a position — for a single position — and the University says no,” Powley said, adding that the University is using statistics that don’t reflect the school’s increased enrolment to justify its stance.

“How can we hire female professors when we can’t hire any professors?”

Powley said female role models are really important for “getting women into the field”, and hiring female adjuncts in the school — particularly for teaching first-year courses — is one step the School of Computing has taken to increase female engagement.

Including adjunct professors — men and women — Powley said women currently make up 24 per cent of those teaching in the School of Computing. This is approximately 10 per cent higher than the data from The 10 and 3, which did not include adjuncts.

“It’s good that we have these adjuncts that are teaching and providing the role model, and providing the teaching and everything to the students,” she said.

“But we do need more female professors who are actually doing research, supervising students, things like that.”

This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: The name of the blog that published findings on women professors in tech-related fields at Canadian universities is The 10 and 3, not The 10 and 13. Incorrect information appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of the Journal.

The Journal regrets the errors.

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