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!