Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Congratulations, Dame Wendy Hall!

ACM President Wendy Hall has been appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. Announcement of this honor was made by Buckingham Palace as part of the 2009 New Year Honours list, and it will be bestowed later in the year. More information is availabile in the press release from the University of Southampton.

From all of us at ACM-W, congratulations!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Women at the Brazil National Database Conference

Another small – but surprisingly effective – awareness-raising initiative was taken during the 23th national database conference promoted by SBC. During the conference (October 2008), we decided to have a picture taken of all women present who are doing research in databases in Brazil. The pictures that follow show the overall group (teachers and students), as well as just the graduate students. The third picture is interesting in itself – it shows many amateur photographers (university faculty) who were recording this photographic event.

Though simple, this initiative had an immediate repercussion in many universities. Faculty and students present during the conference became immediately aware of “something happening”. Some of them talked to us to understand the need for such a picture, and have since offered to help.

Notice that there are many faculty and few graduate students. Though this is another example of the decreasing number of women, one must remember that faculty, once hired, remain in their universities for thirty years or more, while students will stay for 2 (MSc) to 4 or 5 years (PhD). Hence, one would expect less female students overall – given that some of the faculty, like myself, have been active for over 25 years.

This research domain is considered in Brazil one that has been able to attract a larger amount of women – and, from the pictures, that really looks like it. There are far more women in databases, software engineering and interface design, in Brazil, than in, for instance, computer architecture. One possible explanation is that work in databases requires extensive human interaction, and discussions with end-users. The same applies to software engineering or human-computer interaction. This would conform to the hypothesis that women are more attracted to careers where there are more opportunities for social contact. Another factor concerns role models – given that proportionately more women conduct research in databases, female graduate students might be more attracted to the field, to become faculty in the future. Whatever the reason, the fact remains – there are many women still interested in conducting research careers in databases in Brazil, and we welcome newcomers!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

News From Brazil
Ambassador: Claudia Bauzer Medeiros – Institute of Computing, University of Campinas

Computer Science university teachers, in Brazil, are becoming increasingly conscious of the problem of the decreasing presence of women among undergraduate and even graduate students. As a result, a few initiatives are being organized. The first is the creation, in 2007, of an official event sponsored by the Brazilian Computer Society (Sociedade Brasileira de Computação) concerning issues surrounding Women in Information Technology (WIT). Interestingly enough, this event has attracted a large percentage of male participants, who are intrigued by this problem. The third WIT (WIT 2009) will take place in July, in the city of São Leopoldo, in the South of Brazil, being co-located with the SBC national conference.

All previous WIT (s) were also co-located with this conference, which is a very good decision, since it attracts every year over 2000 participants from all over Brazil. Hence, many people have become aware of the problem. Many of WIT participants are now actively promoting new initiatives to attract more women, and to raise the overall awareness about related issues.

One interesting initiative is to start a bimonthly column in a new electronic magazine, called SBC Horizons, to discuss opportunities and challenges for women in IT. SBC Horizons will be launched in December 2008, and is to be distributed to thousands of SBC student members. It will also be available on the Society´s Web site. I am the co-editor of this column, together with Prof. Sandra Fabbri from the Federal University at São Carlos. The magazine is geared towards undergraduate students, and covers matters related to job market, career opportunities, curriculum options and research challenges. Several subjects are also of interest to high school students who are considering career options. Hence, this column – called Bits, Bytes e Batom (bits, bytes and lipstick) will hopefully attract more girls to IT courses. We welcome suggestions for subjects and material to cover!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Introducing the new ACM-W Council

ACM's Committee on Women in Computing has now been raised to a Council in the ACM organizational structure. Our new name is the ACM-W Council, and our charter states: "The ACM-W Council (AWC) will be chartered for the purpose of creating awareness of, interest in, and the need for elevating the issue of gender diversity within ACM as well as externally." The first meeting of the ACM-W council was held in Keystone Colorado on October 3 at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Using Technology to Create an Economic Powerhouse
Ambassador: Jehan Ara, Pakistan

Women account for almost 50% of Pakistan’s potential workforce. However, their active/acknowledged participation in economic activities is quite low compared with other economies. Even though they participate dynamically in family, home, community or farm activities, this unpaid work is perceived as their social duty rather than an economic contribution. One of the main reasons for the low economic participation of women in the country could be limited socio-economic opportunities and socio-cultural values and traditions.

During the last ten years, many countries have developed ‘Women’s Enterprise Strategic Frameworks’ to provide a collaborative and long-term approach to the development of women’s enterprise and entrepreneurship. The long-term vision set out by these frameworks is to create an environment and culture that encourages more women to start and grow businesses.

A recent research study demonstrates that in Pakistan, women entrepreneurs’ full economic potential is not being realised. As in many developing countries, women entrepreneurs in Pakistan also suffer from the lack of access to, including control over, capital, land, business premises, information and appropriate technology, suitable markets, training and capacity building opportunities, production inputs, and assistance from government agencies. They lack sophisticated networking mechanisms and effective social capital, constituency building and advocacy.

The potential of ICT for stimulating economic growth, social development and political participation is recognized, but it is increasingly apparent that the benefits are unevenly distributed. Women are increasingly taking advantage of ICT in all spheres of life, thus confirming that ICT can be a tool to promote gender equality and enhance the economic, political and social empowerment of women. As women, it is our challenge to encourage the spread and use of this technology to a larger number of women, to choose what we use and in which way we will have our contributions valued in a properly egalitarian society, for the freedom to use technologies as we will. Not solely for contributing to the Knowledge Based Economy, but for participating in and creating an economy of our own choosing, in a life of our own choosing.

A lot of women in Pakistani cities go to University. They do better academically than a lot of the young men but unfortunately a very small number filter into the workforce.
I have long felt that this is because of a number of reasons – responsibilities for small children, ailing parents, security concerns, distance from work and socio-cultural restrictions. How, I asked myself, can I and women like me help to economically empower these women? Thus surfaced the idea of the Women’s Virtual Network which I am planning to launch by the end of this month.

The objective of WVN is to:
  • Open up a Virtual Networking space for the economic empowerment of Pakistani women through the development of rewarding online careers and remotely operated businesses.
  • To benefit organizations and employers by making available talent, skills, concepts and specialized knowledge that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
  • To bring women associations and educated women, both entrepreneurial and workers, into mainstream business activities through networking and providing access to information such as market opportunities, business and career advice and exchange of innovative ideas through an Online Virtual Networking space.
  • To create online communities to encourage networking and sharing of resources by women in different professions.
The project will connect:
  1. Educated women with companies that have jobs that can be outsourced
  2. There are already a dozen or more women who have registered as Online mentors and will provide guidance to these women in the selection of their careers or the formation of their businesses
  3. Online communities of women in health, in education, in science and engineering, in education, in media who can share resources and knowledge.
  4. A free online marketplace for women to showcase and market their products and service hence achieving an outreach to areas way beyond their immediate vicinities.

I am hoping that this Women’s Virtual Network will evolve and grow with the needs of the women who register on it. It is for me a Social Entrepreneurship that I hope to make self sustaining. Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Elaine Weyuker Accepts 2008 Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award

Congratulations to our co-Chair, Elaine Weyuker on becoming the winner of the 2008 Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award! The Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award is given to a woman who has inspired the women’s technology community through outstanding technological and social contributions. This year’s winner, AT&T Fellow Elaine Weyuker, has had a career of firsts: She was the first woman to receive a doctorate in computer science from Rutgers University; the first female faculty member at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU; and is the only female AT&T Fellow. A leader in the software-engineering research community, Dr. Weyuker specializes in software testing, reliability assessment, metrics and measurement, and empirical studies; and is a fellow of both ACM and IEEE, and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering. The Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award is underwritten by Cisco.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Handing Over
(Past Ambassador: Vashti Galpin)

Since I have come to the end of my term as the ACM-W ambassador for South Africa, I'd like to recap some highlights and introduce my successor, Cecille Marsh.

I've been in this role since 2000, and with the assistance of Hlami Huhlwane (who was then a second year Computer Science student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg), we developed the first of the ACM-W ambassador websites. I focused on statistics (which were quite hard to get, and to get permission to use -- the situation is much better now, in fact there are too many to choose from!), programs for women in computing and women in science and technology in South Africa, and literature about women in computing in South Africa, which I knew a fair deal about because I was doing research in the area. The website has been updated at least yearly since then.

The things that really stand out for me when I look back are the two panels the ambassadors presented at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 2002 and 2004. They were wonderful and gave the ACM-W ambassadors an opportunity to meet as well as to pass on information about women in computing in their countries. My impression was that the audience who were mostly North American really appreciated the opportunity to get an international perspective and we had many questions on both occasions.

I also had the opportunity to mentor three undergraduate female Computer Science students (Hlami, Kego and Debashree) when I employed them to work on the website, and I believe this benefited both me and them.

Dr Cecille Marsh has now taken over the role of ambassador and I'd like to tell you about her and her research. She is Associate Director in the School of Information & Communication Technology of Walter Sisulu University in East London. East London is a small city on the southern coast of South Africa. The rural areas around East London are extremely poor and many of the students at the university come from impoverished backgrounds and have attended under-resourced schools.

Cecille has recently conducted research into self-efficacy beliefs of students studying for the National Diploma in Information Technology at her university. Her research has shown that female students, unlike female students in some developed countries, have similar (high) computer self-efficacy to male students. This appears to be related to a perception that women can do anything and comes from the female role models that they have grown up with (many come from households that have a female head) as well as the empowerment of women in the new democratic South Africa. Ironically, the fact that many households have female heads was caused by the apartheid
policy of migrant labour.

I've also investigated self-efficacy at Wits which is more similar to a university in a developed country, with most students having attended technologically-advantaged schools and few students from rural areas. My research showed that among the Wits Computer Science students, female students had significantly lower self-esteem than male students, following the trends in developed countries. It's fascinating to compare these different results from different parts of South Africa.

I wish Cecille all the best for her term as ambassador and I wish everyone at ACM-W a fond farewell.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

News From Under Down-Under
(Ambassador: Annika Hinze, Senior Lecturer, University of Waikato)

This is my first blog report, so as the Ambassador for New Zealand I would like to start by introducing you to my country.

New Zealand is predominantly an urban country, with a multi-cultural mix of Pakeha, Maori, Asian and Pacific Islanders. New Zealand is the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land have been occupied simultaneously by women: the Queen, the Governor General, Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice, and Maori all had women in office between March 2005 and August 2006.

However New Zealand has a Gini coefficient of 36.2 measuring income equality (0 being total equality) - which means that the situation here is comparable to that in the UK. Unfortunately there seems to be a decline and this situation is getting worse! NZ census data claims that 42% of the IT workforce are women -- however, only 27% out of these are system technicians and application engineers. So while these figures are better than in many other countries we again see the typical picture of women as the IT minority gender.

A major project that I have initiated in New Zealand is the Computing Women Congress which is conducted in Hamilton. The congress is built around the strategy of encouraging women into IT by enabling students to meet with other women who are already successfully working within IT (see e.g., this study or this one).

The Congress has been running for three years now and brings together students, academics and IT practitioners. The conference is modelled after similar ones internationally with one important difference - its size. New Zealand is a small country and our conference brings together 40 to 50 women in IT. Within these three days together in February, people can really get to know each other. Courses have two to five participants and are truly hands-on. The 2008 conference had technical topics, such as data compression, statistics, and peer-to-peer computing, mixed with career skills training as well as gender and IT topics. Nuchjira Laungrungthip won the award for the best student paper - congratulations! This year's participants of the CWC came from the New Zealand islands as well as Australia, Germany, the UK and the USA. The conference was rounded off by a visit to the bubbling mud pools in Rotorua (remember, February is at the end of the NZ summer). The next conference is planned for 2010 (stay tuned).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sex Still Sells – or does it?
Ambassador: Jan Peters (ACM-W Ambassador for the UK)

I was planning to write my blog contribution to reflect on the falling number of IT graduates in the UK, the poor take up of flexibility and the efforts by the British Computer Society and the UK trade body, Intellect to champion and effect change. But coverage recently of the UK National Electronics Week, in early June caused me to change tack and reflect on the way companies are engaging with their users. And the effect of this on the image of the IT profession.

The cause of my consternation was the advertising by JTAG. JTAG uses models to promote their product and attract potential clients to exhibition stands. The CEO even has his own web pages featuring the models. A combination of approaches from across the world, led by e-groups, led to their recent advert being taken down following emails and phone calls to the company. These adverts called me to question all sorts of things:
  • Am I narrow minded? Out of touch?
  • Jealous that I don’t have the right behind to look good in skin-tight hotpants?
  • Confused about the role of hard hats in the electronics industry - I thought everything was getting smaller and smaller?
  • Irritated by advertising agencies?
  • Bemused? When our professionals - men and women - shout loudly that we cannot lower standards just to allow more women in and then I find that sex still sells and actually standards or products don’t matter.
  • Or cross? When my male friends and colleagues shrug their shoulders and say matter of factly “99% of their customers are men so if it attracts them to their stand then why not” and crosser still when the same cohort seem to find it acceptable that these professionals of impeccable morals, high standards and judgment are happy to concede that they would happily buy products from a stand that they had been drawn to by models. Not because they sell superior product.
  • Maybe I’m just irritated that sales, marketing and advertising agencies don’t know who their customers are. Eppendorf were drawn to my attention with their cringe-making advert for an autopippette system: Here’s the link – - it has to be seen and make sure your sound is on. Are they trying to target women? Sadly it seems more appropriate to 14 year olds and they are unlikely to have the budget or interest to buy an autopipette system. I’d like to think it was a bit of fun designed to lighten our long days.

The action taken by JTAG in light of our protests in taking the advert down shows that we can make our voices heard. If we continue to shout loudly in the right way and right places the message will get through. We work in this profession and until the images of women that are portrayed are serious and professional we cannot hope to either attract more young women in or be taken seriously ourselves.

So where does this leave us? Arguably girls and students won’t encounter these images. Hence they won’t be surprised to find we aren’t all 20 something clones with blonde hair, cute behinds and perfect teeth and only capable of leading slack jawed guys to the right exhibition stand. [Not, dear friends that I am suggesting you are not up to these Barbie perfect standards and or completely gorgeous as well as intelligent in your own right]. But how are these images going to convince parents that computing is a worthwhile society-benefitting profession for their daughters. So what to do?

I believe that we need to draw on the skills and knowledge of advertising agencies, social scientists, psychologists and education specialists developing a portfolio of ‘collateral’ in a sustained campaign to engender awareness, interest and promote action in terms of getting young women to develop the right skills. For skills are something we learn - right? and moving young women beyond the perception that they can’t do IT / computing is just that, a perception, not a reality. Our campaigns must be joined up and across our nations. The route from child poverty is through mothers. Empowering them in the support of the education of their children and widening their career options and choices is our responsibility. We must take it.

Link to other relevant blogs:

Monday, June 30, 2008

Shafi Goldwasser accepts the 2008 ACM-W Athena Lecturer Award

Shafi Goldwasser accepted the ACM-W Athena Lecturer Award at the ACM Awards Banquet at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on June 21, 2008.

Pictured (L-R): Stu Feldman, ACM President;
Elaine Weyuker, ACM-W co-Chair;
Alan Eustace, Google Vice President;
Shafi Goldwasser; John White, ACM CEO.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Congratulations Reyyan Ayfer, winner of the Anita Borg Change Agent Award

ACM-W Turkish Ambassador Reyyan Ayfer has been named a winner of the Anita Borg Change Agent Award for her many accomplishments. Reyyan will receive her award at the 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Learn more about Reyyan and her work as ambassador in her recent blog entry. Congratulations, Reyyan!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

United States Women in Computing News
Ambassador: Mary Anne Egan

This month is a report on the status of women in computing in the United States. According to the most recent Taulbee survey for the academic year 2006-2007 [1], 19.1% of new Ph.D.s and 22.6% of the Master’s degrees were awarded to women. These numbers represent a slight increase in the ratio of women among new Ph.D.s and about the same ratio of Master’s degrees as the previous year. The statistics for Bachelor’s degree production is down from 14.2% for 2005-2006 to 11.8% for 2006-2007. The fraction of new female students is reported now to be less than 10% in many Bachelor’s programs. This is a serious problem in achieving our field’s diversity goals.

The decrease in the number of female computer science majors is concerning not just because women should share in the formation of the field’s future and participate in its rewards, but also because the absence of women in the field is a foreboding omen for the technological future of our country. “Women are the canaries in the coal mine,” Lenore Blum stated at a talk at Harvard University [2], in that factors driving women away will eventually drive men away as well. The Taulbee survey summarized the status of undergraduate education in the U.S. with the following statement: “Undergraduate degree production continues its downward trend, although this trend should cease within the next two years, at least in U.S. CS departments. However, signs of recovery from the sharp decline that has lasted several years have yet to materialize.” [1]

The lack of students entering computer science strengthening our country’s technological talent pool combined with the economic downturn presents the United States with limited choices. No longer will it be an option to locate talent in other countries, the U.S. dollar won’t support it. No longer will the United States be on the leading edge of technology, we will struggle merely to keep up.

Unless there are major changes on the educational front, our nation’s children are going to continue to form their impressions of a computer scientist or a computer career based on what they see in the media. If they can’t experience the benefits of computers on society and the necessity of advances in computing first hand, they are left with the media images. Incorporating computing into all aspects of education needs to start now. Why can’t one of the books they read for literature be an exciting one about computers? Why can’t the history of computing be part of their history lessons about World War II? Why can’t the ideas of simulation and modeling be part of their earth science class, especially when there are so many natural disasters ravaging our world? I truly believe that if students knew that a computer science career could take you in one of these directions, we would have students flocking to the major. At this point, we have students thinking that computer majors develop new games, operating systems, hardware or maybe stretch into cool “new” applications like Facebook and cell phone applications. These are interesting, but many students want to make a difference in this world. Notice that there has been an increase in physics and engineering majors now that the price of fuel has risen so high. They see that there is a need for them; we just need to show them that there is a need for computer scientists too. Show them how technology can be used to impact others – lessen paper output, reduce transportation costs by facilitating communication or scheduling, decrease world illiteracy, the list could go on.

How can we accomplish the computer re-education of our children? We need to start with the support of our government. Yes, the government supports many outstanding and beneficial programs, but there must be a more conscious effort to combine these into a focused program. Right now I feel we have a flashlight approach for solving this problem, but we need a laser beam – focused and strong! What should this program focus on? The first would be to determine a basic technological skill set for all students across America. This would go beyond typing and PowerPoint and incorporate problem solving skills, investigate computer science topics (i.e., how the difference in a sorting algorithm will affect their checkout time at the local grocery store). Computer Science Unplugged [3] has a wealth of information and activities available to teach these concepts to elementary school children in a fun way that does not require access to computers. Another way to increase computer science topics is to integrate computer components into existing courses. I mentioned earlier about books or historical topics introduced in English or History classes. Other ideas include using the ipod or cell phone to demonstrate the concepts of randomization, hashing, programming, storage, etc.

The final piece of this educational puzzle is to certify computer science teachers at the elementary and secondary level. To have knowledgeable people demonstrate the possibilities, beauty and benefits of computer science would give students a more complete view of the field of computer science. There have been some worries that by requiring all computer science teachers to be certified, we will limit the number of teachers available. We may see this happen at first, but once students realize that it is possible to combine a major in computer science with a career in teaching, these numbers should increase.

I didn’t want this article to be all “doom and gloom” and I don’t feel it is. There are serious problems, but all the answers are there, we just need to implement them. There are many people working hard to promote computer science in the U.S., especially among girls and women. The Girl Scouts’ Girls Go Tech Program, Computer Science Unplugged and other programs run by various colleges and universities, are exposing young girls to the concepts of computer science. The CSTA focuses on the secondary school experience for students and their teachers across the country. Once these students enter college or university, there are several support organizations such as ACM, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, CRA-W and the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference, which provide guidance, support and role models. These are just a few groups that are doing amazing work in increasing the number of young people entering the field of computer science. A sobering thought when one considers all the projects currently in place is this: how many fewer majors would we have without these programs?

The time is right, the time is now, we need to work together to create national programs that incorporate computers into the students’ curriculum as much as they are already incorporated into the rest of their lives.

[1] May 2008 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 20/No. 3
[2] The New York Times, April 17, 2007
[3] Computer Science Unplugged,

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Virtual Science Learning Centre in India
(Ambassador: Dr Suriya Mayandi Thevar )

This months report comes from India where Dr. Suriya is part of a team from Annamalai University who are building a Virtual Science Learning Centre (VSLC) for female high school students. The aim of this project is to establish a twinning programme between the university and rural schools in a tsunami affected region to empower female students who cannot afford to continue their school education. The objective is to build a university based online-support system through special coaching for female higher secondary students at Cuddalore District in Tamilnadu. This district was specifically chosen as from the 113,268 students enrolled in the 97 schools in the region, the gender ratio is approximately 65 males: 35 females.

The HSC examination level is considered a stepping-stone for pursuing higher education and employment, and consequently the Government of Tamilnadu is taking measures to provide free education to all female students. However, there are a number of factors such as the availability of schools within neighborhood, the quality of teachers, the level of motivation and coaching, family support and prevailing social norms which still have not allowed many of the girls to take school education seriously.

The project aims at building a university centered-village community network that promotes capacity and confidence building as well as encouraging girls to take up Science, Mathematics and technical subjects. A team of women volunteers at Annamalai University, representing students and research scholars from the departments of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Science & Technology and English will develop web-based tutorial materials for in the regional language and also in multi-media form.

The project will be delivered in three phases:
Phase-1 (Pilot Phase): To develop the content, build the partnerships, arrange the availability of the existing delivery channels in one selected village, and perform a proof-of-concept study for the implementation of the computer network link.
Phase-2 (Trial Phase): During this phase, the content and the computer-assisted learning will be introduced into three selected villages.
Phase-3 (Roll-out Phase): This stage will master the connecting of individual villages to the learning network.

It is proposed to create a Virtual Learning Center in each block in the selected district. The web based learning setting supports question and answer, online discussion, bulleting boards, web courseware download and e-mail communication, thus supporting real time and non-real time interaction via the Internet. Face to face tutoring is made available on the weekends at all local learning community centers in the respective villages.

This project will also showcase how the technology can be used as a strong catalyst for improving the academic interaction freely, openly, in many different ways between student communities in the universities and in the rural regions leading to creativity and innovation in the field of STEM

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Congratulations Shafi Goldwasser, 2008-2009 Athena Lecturer

Shafi Goldwasser Photo
The Association for Computing Machinery’s Committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W) has named Shafi Goldwasser of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science as the 2008-2009 Athena Lecturer for her outstanding research contributions to cryptography, complexity theory, and number theory. Her research includes the development of zero-knowledge proofs, which enable proving the possession of a particular property or piece of information without revealing the information, fast primality tests, and fundamental results on the hardness of approximating certain NP-complete problems. Goldwasser is the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

The Athena Lecturer is invited to present a lecture at an ACM event. Goldwasser will address the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, sponsored by the ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT), in Washington, DC in May 2009. The award, which celebrates women researchers who have made fundamental contributions to computer science, includes a $10,000 honorarium, which is provided by Google logo

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Greetings from Turkey!
(Ambassador: Reyyan Ayfer)

Spring is in the air... After a cold winter with lots of snow in Ankara, we are enjoying the blossoming trees, warmer weather and the fresh smell of nature after a spring rain. It is mid-semester at Bilkent University. All faculty and students are very busy with midterm exams, term projects; all kinds of activities ranging from research to social. Among these activities are ones organized by the ACM-W Students Chapter BilWIC (Bilkent Women in Computing), which in its second year became one of the prestigious student clubs among the 90 clubs at the university. In this month’s blog I would like to share my personal journey with ACM-W and present some of the issues I have been dealing with.

My interest in ACM-W began when I saw the decrease in the number of female students in my own department. During an Internet search I found numerous reports by the ACM-W so I sent an e-mail to the address on the web page, and immediately I received a reply from Anita Borg. It is amazing to see now that what she has started is touching lives of many women including some in Turkey.

The below message -which I still keep in my folder- is dated November 02, 2001:

Dear Reyyan Ayfer,
I am forwarding your message to Denise Gurer at the Committee for Women at the ACM. She will be able to help you with the Ambassador program. I would also like to direct you to the web sites for the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing ( We will be particularly hoping for international participation. I would be very interested in a list an contact information of any senior women in computing in Turkey. It is possible that the Institute for Women and Technology ( ) will be holding an event for which we would very much international participation.
Anita Borg

That was when I became acquainted with the ACM-W, the Grace Hopper event and when I started to become aware of women's status in my country. Until then I was so busy with my work, family and trying to keep up with the advances in technology and computer science that I had no chance to look around. At the beginning I thought that work regarding women in computing would be a luxury when the basic requirements about gender issues like the literacy ratio, women's representation in the work force, etc are considered. However, we had to start from some point. I took the role as the Turkish Ambassador of ACM-W.

I returned from Grace Hopper Conference 2002 with the idea of starting an ACM-W Student Chapter. I am thankful to Paula Gabbert for the support provided at that stage. I arranged meetings with students of related departments to discuss the possibility of establishing the chapter. We got together many times to discuss the problems female students encounter in their departments, especially during their first year. Students were happy to get together, eat pizza and share thoughts for arranging activities, but not willing to take responsibility for an ACM-W Student Chapter. One of the major reasons was that the students did not know anything about ACM. The first question I had to answer was: “What is ACM? Why ACM?” followed by “Why should I become a member?” I was a student member 35 years ago because it was a privilege to receive the printed ACM material. Now things are different. Students have access to all kinds of information online. Using presentations of my own, finally a group with 40 members was formed on March 31, 2005. The first active year for Bilkent University student chapter has been 2006. After a good start the chapter continued organizing activities with a new executive board in the following year. This year they have conducted three seminars: “Women in IT: Experiences from New Zealand” by Dr. Annika Hinze, ACM-W New Zealand Ambassador, “Grades and Students: Who is the Driver?” by Dr. Anders Berglund, Upssala University, “Turkish Women Throughout the European Union Process”, by Gulsun Bilgehan, Former Chairperson, Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe. Future plans include thematic courses for students and more seminars as well as social activities.

The major challenge when working with student groups, especially with students of CS related departments, is the very heavy and demanding student workload. Since the students have very limited time to use for extra-curricular activities, leading student groups requires very good planning and follow-up. In order to be able to realize the activities planned at the beginning of the academic year, we decided to hold weekly lunchtime meetings. Those regular, short, face-to-face meetings were important to ensure the sustainability of the chapter. We prepared a checklist to be used by organizers of the activities, which was very helpful for ensuring the success of the activity. While the students were able to keep-up with activity organizations and attending activities, they were not successful with their web page. Students prefer communicating with tools like Facebook, messengers, SMSs etc. Our future plans include the use of Moodle, the course management tool that is used widely in the university, to access more members of the chapter and additionally to use Facebook and SMSs for better communication among members.

Turkey is a beautiful country connecting two continents, surrounded by seas on three sides, a country of diverse cultures, beliefs, ideas, nature and history. (You may find a short film about Turkey prepared by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (3:28) at The population of the country is around 70 million of which 49% is female and more than 50% younger than the age of 29 [1]. From the early years of the young republic, women's rights have been considered seriously. Women have received equal rights in 1926, earlier than many other countries. However, we still have a long way to go. One urgent issue is to increase the literacy rate for women because around 90% of the illiterate population is female. Even though the literacy rate for women is increasing, it is behind the literacy rate of men. When we look at the ratio of women in higher education, 40% are women, in computer science related fields it is around 20% with a slight increase in the last 2 years [2]. I am hoping that the students who have awareness of the importance of female representation in CS will graduate and make a difference in their fields for the future generations.

With my best wishes and warm regards.

[1] Turkish Statistical Institute accessed March 30, 2008.
[2] Statistics by the National Student Selection and Placement Center at accessed March 30, 2008.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

International Women's Day
Some Thoughts by Annemieke Craig (ACM-W Ambassador Program Co-Leader)

International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the fight for equal rights for women and international peace.

In our own area of Information Technology (IT), the pioneering women in computing struggled against preconceptions, restrictive work practices and stereotyped management practices in order to survive professionally. In 2008 the unequal participation by women in IT has not disappeared and continues to be an issue around the globe.

The importance of the issue to society is illustrated by the Anita Borg Institute (n.d., p. 4):
…technology has an extraordinary potential for improving the human condition—from more accurate disaster forecasting to medical breakthroughs in diagnostics and health-care delivery. But what are the problems technology is attempting to solve? Whose priorities are represented? How much of technology truly benefits the world’s peoples? Who are the creators of technology? The creators of most of our current technology, however, represent a narrow stratum of the world’s population – North American males. The important needs and problems that inform and drive technology are defined primarily from the experience and perspective of a few.

The ACM-W is supporting women in IT internationally through its Ambassador program. ACM-W ambassadors in nine countries, while sharing much in common in their enthusiasm to promote IT with young women, have different social, political and economic challenges that complicate their drive to increase female involvement in IT.
For example Women's representation in Parliament, often used as an indicator of the status of women, varies significantly in the ambassador countries; the USA is ranked 71s, Australia 30th, the United Kingdom 60th, Canada 50th, Turkey 108th, South Africa 15th, Pakistan 51st, India 107th, and New Zealand 14th (

In my own country Australia, women have many career choices presented to them, a luxury not always available in other cultures. Yet for every $1 earned by men in Australia today, women earn just 84c. Even worse – this gap has actually widened since 2004 ( While women are embracing IT applications they are not embracing IT careers. One new initiative to attempt to address this was the launch of a fun new book ‘Tech girls are chic, not just geek’ on International Women’s day. The book presents the diversity of IT careers and shows that it takes all types of people to work in IT.

Unfortunately the road ahead is neither straight nor paved as we strive to achieve a critical mass of women in IT. Yet, we should never lose sight of the global picture:

Across the world women have grown poorer than before. With their children, women still make up four-fifths of the poorest people in the US and are among the poorest classes throughout the world. (French 2007, p. viii)


Anita Borg Insitute For Women And Technology (n.d.). Changing the World for Women and for Technology, Virtual Development Center Five Year Report, 19992005. Retrieved January 2007, from

French, M. (2007). The Women’s Room,Virago.

Graphic: ‘Punch 13th June 1910’ retrieved March 2008 from

Friday, February 29, 2008

Congratulations, Susan Landau!

ACM-W member Susan Landau has been named the Social Impact Award Winner by the Anita Borg Institute. Susan Landau is a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems. The Women of Vision (WOV) Awards honor women making significant contributions to technology in three categories: Innovation, Leadership, and Social Impact. Nominees are submitted by high-tech companies, universities, private industry, and the public, with one winner selected in each category. Susan Landau will receive her award at a ceremony on May 8, 2008.

Congratulations, Susan!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Grace Hopper 2008: We Build A Better World

Grace Hopper 2008 Poster
Now is the time to prepare your contribution for Grace Hopper 2008. We hope ACM-W will have a strong presence there. The Call for Participation can be found at the Grace Hopper Celebration website. The deadline for program submissions is March 16, 2008, and the conference dates are October 1-4, 2008.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Australian Ambassador's Report
(Ambassador: Catherine Lang)

Many activities and events to promote ICT careers to young women were conducted in Australia in 2007 and more are planned for 2008. I will report on two in which I have an ongoing involvement, Digital Divas; a computer club for girls concept in Australia, and Go Girl Go for IT, a showcase career event.

Digital Divas

Research on the lack of interest by Australian girls in computing shows that they perceive that IT is still ‘geeky’, male dominated, boring and generally does not let to a ‘people-focused’ career. Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) is a UK program which has been implemented in over 3200 schools in the UK to tackle similar perceptions and to show that girls can ‘do’ and enjoy ICT equally as well as boys. The Digital Divas project is looking at whether a concept similar to CC4G can be successfully implemented in Australia.

A trial was conducted in a large suburban high-school using the CC4G materials. While it was recognised that the CC4G materials were UK centric and linked to the UK standardised curriculum objectives the materials were used with no modification or editing, at this point. The trial was structured as recommended by CC4G as a weekly lunchtime girl’s club and was facilitated by undergraduate students from Swinburne University of Technology’s Women in ICT group.

The positive impacts of the club were as follows:
  • The girls enjoyed using the technology in this non-academic club environment.

  • The university students who acted as facilitators had a positive learning experience. They built leadership skills while interacting with the younger students and acting as role models.

  • School staff acknowledged a need and value for this girls only IT experience.
The less than positive impacts were that:
  • The participation numbers were very low and declined progressively.

  • The concept of a lunch-time computer club can be seen as illogical in that food and drink and computer labs do not go together. Students could rarely get immersed in their activities before the need to log-out and get ready for the afternoon classes.

  • The CC4G site and log-in was temperamental. Some days it was very slow and girls also had difficulties accessing it from home. This somewhat defeated the purpose of easy accessibility and simplifying ICT to girls
The club had minimal impact in this format. Lunchtime clubs are not a part of the culture of government secondary schools in Australia with girls of this age wanting to spend their short lunch break socialising, not playing in the computer room.

The way forward in 2008 is to create Australian centric materials which can be used for a computer club initiative that can be run as an elective unit in the school curriculum.

Go Girl Go for IT
One strategy to address the lack of awareness by girls of the ICT field is to host a day where girls come and interact with technology and listen to talks by women in the profession. A number of these type of days will be conducted around Australia in 2008 and can be conducted for small groups, or as in the case with the Go Girl, Go For IT career showcase, it may be a large two-day event.

In 2006 for example, all Victorian secondary schools were invited to send girls to the event conducted at Deakin University. The purpose of the showcase was to expand the career horizons of female students by showing the range of career opportunities available in IT. The showcase was attended by almost 1900 girls and 180 teachers. Evaluation from the event found that
  • While only 34% of students indicated they had considered IT as a career before the showcase, after the event 63% of the students would consider a career in IT.

  • Amongst other things, the surveys revealed that the girls learnt IT could be a rewarding and fulfilling career, not just for males or for geeks and that it is a very diverse field: That there are many different pathways to a career in IT and many different places it can take you. As one student explained: “I like how you never stop learning and that you learn new skills as technology develops and … IT allows you to use your intelligence to do cool things”.

  • Overall the vast majority of students and teachers were left with a positive impression of the event, with more than half rating it as Excellent or Great. They found the speakers inspiring and loved the entertainment - the fashion parade, band and trade show.
To conduct this event over 150 professional women (and a few men) volunteered their time, energy, passion and expertise. Fifteen corporate sponsors donated $90,000 AUD in cash and more than double that amount of in-kind support. Presenters donated their time and enthusiasm. The event was a year in the planning. With an overwhelming majority (96%) of teachers indicating they would consider bringing students to another Go Girl event we are currently planning the 2008 event.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Women in CS News from Canada 2008 (Ambassador: Julita Vassileva)

Happy New Year! I thought that it is appropriate to start with the first January report about a stereotypically cold place – Canada. Right now it is -25 C (-13F) here in Saskatoon, we are right in the middle of this big country. I have gotten used to the cold in the last 10 years since I came here, though in the country where I was born, Bulgaria, in doesn’t get nearly as cold in wintertime. So let me introduce myself: I am Julita Vassileva, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan. I hold the NSERC / Cameco Chair for Women in Science and Engineering and I am the current ACM-W Ambassador for Canada.

In this first report I will give a brief overview of the statistics of Canadian women studying Computer Science (CS), women working in the IT sector and describe some measures taken to promote the status of women in academia. I will feature some of the Canadian outreach activities promoting CS to female students. Finally, I will highlight some recent achievements of Canadian female researchers in Computer Science.


According to [1] only 27.4% of the IT workforce (public and private sector) in Canada is female, and the only categories of IT that women dominate are technical writing and graphic design/illustration. Women represent only 10% of the 160,000 licensed engineers across Canada.
According to a recent article published by Computing Research Association [2]:
“the overall CS degree enrollment and production trends at Canadian institutions are similar to those seen in the United States. The number of degrees awarded at all levels has grown rapidly in the past decade. Recent enrollment figures would suggest a slowdown in bachelor's degree production in the coming years, in contrast to continued growth at the graduate level. … The biggest decline in bachelor's degree enrollments has been among women: 30 percent fewer women were enrolled in 2003/04 than in 2001/02, compared to an 8 percent drop among men for the same period.”

The percentage of students enrolled in a Bachelor’s program that are women in 2003 was 18%, in MSc. Program – 28% and in a PhD. Program – 24%.

The proportion of female faculty in Canada in 2007 was 32.6% [3], down with nearly 5% since 2001/2002 when it was 37.3% [4]. However, for Science and Engineering areas the proportion is only about 14%. Similar to the US the proportion of women newly hired into tenure-track positions is higher, around 19%, while for full professors, it was as low as 7.7%. Yet, some Computer Science departments, for example, at the University of Victoria, have a very high proportion of women-faculty (approx. 33%).

Government Programs and Institutional Actions

To address the situation with underrepresentation of female faculty in Science and Engineering, the Natural Sciences and Research council of Canada (NSERC) [5] has launched two programs:

• University Faculty Awards
• Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering

The goal of the University Faculty Awards program is to enhance the recruitment, retention, and early career progression of women and Aboriginal people in tenure-track faculty positions in the natural sciences and engineering in Canadian universities, by providing opportunities for them to establish a strong research record. Through this program, a University can nominate a Canadian or permanent resident female candidate. It has to commit a tenure-track position. If the applicant is successful, NSERC contributes $40,000 CDN / year as salary contribution for up to five years. The new faculty member enjoys reduced teaching and administrative load during the award, which allows her to kick-start her research. Unfortunately, as of this year, the UFA program has been cancelled. The program was highly competitive, and it was found that women hired through this program would have obtained faculty positions anyway, so it didn’t result in increasing the number of female faculty overall. A new program is currently being developed to address the underrepresentation of women and Aboriginals in the natural sciences and engineering.

The Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering program is regional, with one Chair for each of the Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairie and British Columbia regions. The goal of this Chair program is to increase the participation of women in science and engineering and to provide role models for women considering careers in these fields. The five current chairs are: Dr. Cecilia Moloney (Engineering, Memorial University) – Atlantic Region, Dr. Valerie Davidson (Engineering, Guelph University) – Ontario, Dr. Nadia Ghazzali (Mathematics, Laval University) – Quebec, Dr. Julita Vassileva (Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan) – Prairies, Dr. Anne Condon (Computer Science, UBC) – British Columbia and the Yukon.

Several Canadian Universities have undertaken an evaluation of their practices as they relate to gender. For example, the University of Calgary performed an evaluation of the workloads of faculty from equity perspective. Their recommendations can be found online [6]. The University of British Columbia Faculty of Science performed recently a study of the working climate for science faculty, led by Rachel Kuske. The results can be found online too [7]. Other Universities are planning to perform such studies too. Hopefully the implementation of the recommendations of these studies will help female faculty advance in their careers on equal pace with their male colleague.

Supporting Education and Outreach

The Jade Project was launched in 2005 by Professor Anne Condon from the University of British Columbia who holds the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for British Columbia and the Yukon. It aims to increase the participation and success of girls and women in the physical sciences and engineering, particularly computer science. Three major components of the project are:
  • CS101 - Connecting with Computer Science. This interdisciplinary college-level course, introduces computer science principles through applications in the arts, psychology, and biology. For example, in the biology module, students learn how fragment assembly, a key step in genome sequencing, can be modeled in a way that makes it amenable to solution using a computer.
  • The Canadian Distributed Mentor Project (CDMP) is a program to encourage undergraduate women in computer science and computer engineering to go to graduate school. Coordinated by Dr. Faith Ellen at U. of Toronto it supports outstanding undergraduate women in Computer Science at Canadian institutions to immerse themselves in research, working closely with a female mentor. The goal is to encourage these students to consider a research career in computing. The number of undergraduate students involved in the project has grown from 4 in 2001 and 2002 up to 11 in 2007.
  • Jade Bridges Program. Bridging across the province, this program supports a network of leaders in B.C. academic institutions, who are working to recruit and support the careers of women in the Physical Sciences and Engineering, with the goal of increasing institutional commitment to the goals of increasing the representation of women.
Professor Anne Condon was the Program Chair of the 2007 Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computer Science in Orlando, Florida.

There are many local outreach activities for girls in high- or middle-school out of various computer science departments in the country, such as computing day camps, lab-tours, exhibitions and school lectures.

Individual Achievements

There are many outstanding Canadian female researchers in Computer Science. Here I will list just some recent achievements (in West to East order).

Gail Murphy from UBC has won several awards, including a Steacie. She has also just won a U. Washington Diamond alumnae award.
Karon MacLean from UBC has had her work featured in the Economist.
Rachel Pottinger won a Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award.
Renee Miller has a chaired professorship at Toronto, the "Bell University Lab Chair of Information Systems".
Marina Gavrilova from the University of Calgary recently became the first woman Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal Transactions on Computational Sciences, Springer. A book on Biometrics she co-authored has become a World Scientific International Bestseller of the month for September 2007. Dr. Gavrilova is presently directing two labs: Biometric Technologies and SPARCS Lab, co-chairing ICCSA conference (since 2003), working on a book on Intelligent Methods in Computational Geometry, and participates in SciberMentor program, a science and engineering email mentorship program out of the University of Calgary.
Sheila McIlraith, and Toni Pitassi from the University of Toronto, were chosen as two of 50 researchers across Canada to receive inaugural NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplements (DAS) in March 2007. The Discovery Accelerator Supplements support faculty who are on the verge of research breakthroughs. Dr. Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC notes, "These new grants target 50 outstanding researchers. Based on their success and accomplishments so far, we believe they are poised to make real breakthroughs in their fields, and we believe it is critically important to support them financially at this time." McIlraith’s DAS was awarded for "customizing computer system components," and Pitassi’s - for "solutions to computational complexity".

Until next time - keep warm out there!


[1] Ticcoll, D. 2005. Canada’s Information Technology Labour Market 2005: Issues and Options. Report of the Software Human Resource Council Expert Panel. Ottawa: SHRC.
[2] CRA Report January 2006.
[3] CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers) Almanac 2007
[4] Canadian Coalition for Women in Engineering, Sciences, Technologies and Trades, CCWESTT
[5] Natural Sciences and Engineering Council, NSERC
[6] Joldersma, H. (2005) NEXT Steps: Report of the Gender Equity Project, University of Calgary:
[7] An Assessment of the Working Climate for the Science Faculty at UBC:

Tracy Camp wins Outstanding Faculty Award

We celebrate a recent honor of an ACM-W member (and previous ACM-W Co-Chair). Colorado School of Mine's recently presented Tracy Camp with an 'Outstanding Faculty Award' (an award that doesn't occur every year). Tracy was nominated for the honor by her research group, making the award even more special.