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Digital Divas


I first became aware of the lack of women in the computing in 1987 when I was a lecturer at the University of Southampton in the UK and we realised we were starting the new academic year with no women in any of our BSc Computer Science classes. This came as quite a shock as in previous years women made up about one third of the class. In 1987 my colleague, Dr Gillian Lovegrove, and I wrote a paper entitled “Where have all the girls gone?” exploring what was happening in the world around us to bring this situation about. One of our conclusions was the advent of the personal computer, which in the 1980’s were being marketed as “toys for the boys. This was very off putting for girls thinking about which university degree to apply for as evidenced by the statistics. We hoped it would be a short lived phenomenon but unfortunately this wasn’t to be.

Ten years later, Tracy Camp (1997) wrote about the ‘incredible shrinking pipeline’ referring to the declining numbers of women studying computer science. Eighteen years on little has changed. Despite the ubiquitous application and use of computing in our everyday life, business and education, and the development of devices such as smart phone that we are finding we cannot live without, girls are still significantly underrepresented in computing subjects in schools. With fewer girls showing an interest in computing at school it is not surprising that fewer women are going on to a computing career. The lack of diversity in computing is not limited to Australia, but in fact is present in most Western developed nations is well recognised internationally.

This is a problem that this Digital Divas program seeks to address, and given the statistics published by the National Centre for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT, 2014) it is not before its time. The NCWIT report found that work teams with equal male and female membership have been shown to be more effective and more efficient than single-sex teams, and that when women have engaged in computing, they have been able to create high-tech start-ups with less funding and fewer failures than the average (NCWIT, 2014).

The Australian researchers who wrote this book found that the barriers to girls contemplating computing careers are established by lower secondary school and so focused this curriculum based intervention on this age group. Their program shows that attitudes can be changed, and they provide a sound framework for others to adapt in similar programs.

Since my early days as a computer science lecturer in the 1980’s I have been involved in the movement to encourage more diversity in our subject. If we don’t encourage girls into computing, then the number of women who work in IT will continue to decline. I first met Catherine and Annemieke, two of the authors of Digital Divas, at the amazing Grace Hopper Celebrations of Women in Computing in the US. We bonded at the discos, which were an absolute riot! These conferences now attract nearly 3,000 students from around the world, all celebrating being women in computing. As President of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) it was my pleasure to continue to support the GHC conferences and to support the development of ACM-Women around the world.

We need the Digital Divas of this world to come together to encourage more girls to sturdy computing and to work in the computing industry. It is for this reason that I applaud the publication of Digital Divas so that we can all share in the work being undertaken in Australia, learn from the research they have done and apply the results in our own context. Digital Divas of the world unite!

Professor Dame Wendy Hall DBE FRS FREng

Director, Web Science Institute

University of Southampton

Digital Divas

   by Julie Fisher, Catherine Lang, Annemieke Craig, Helen