Please indicate if your Initiative is an Established Initiative.
The University of Melbourne
Team - who worked on the project/initaitve
- Professor Karin Verspoor
- Ms Marion Zalk
- Dr Nicolas Geard
Overview - Provide a summary to introduce the project or initiative
Objective: Trialling female-only tutorials in a first year programming subject, in order to positively influence engagement and participation of female students in Computer Science.
Our broader objective is to increase the proportion of first year undergraduate students that choose to continue on to study more advanced Computing subjects, and eventually choose Computing as a major. We hope to increase the number of women who graduate with a degree in these technical areas.
Currently in Australia, fewer than 20% of all IT graduates from Tertiary institutions are female. This means that the pool of trained IT/Computing people available to companies to recruit from contains very few women. Coupled with attrition, this results in very very few women in technical roles in industry.
The trial is being run as a research study. Previous research into the interaction between gender and the classroom context has reported on a "chilly classroom climate", in which students of one sex are valued and treated differently than students of the opposite sex. In male-majority classrooms that are the norm in computing subjects, women may experience discouraging behaviours, be interrupted during class contributions, and may feel marginalised (Allan and Madden, 2006) (Williams, 1990). A "Computing Experience Survey" examined self-esteem in terms of two factors of worthiness and competence (Hippler, 2017); the research suggested that if educators can support students to feel that they bring value to computing and increase students' sense of respect and contribution, this may improve retention. In this context we introduced a female-only learning environment.
How would you say diversity is embraced within your organisation or sector? Are there diversity initiatives in place or are diversity approaches new to your sector?
Within the University sector, there is tremendous support for increasing representation of women in STEMM. The Athena SWAN Charter is an accreditation program designed to enhance gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine. Many universities in Australia, including the University of Melbourne, have signed on to the charter.
Other strategies that we are currently pursuing are to appoint more women into STEMM academic roles. The Melbourne School of Engineering recently advertised 5 "female-only" Lecturer positions, available only to female applicants. This was done in order to try to increase the gender diversity of the University's academic staff in Engineering, increasing the representation of women in teaching & research roles at the University. We believe that this will have important benefits for our students as well, via increasing availability of role models.
Detail the approach that was taken to implement the project or initiative, what actions were taken and why?
How approached: The School of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne offered a female-only tutorial for the first time in Semester 1, 2018, for the first year (University) programming subject COMP10001: Foundations of Computing.
Students were invited to self-identify as female, and self-nominate into the tutorial. This was one of approximately 20 tutorials that were offered for the subject; only this one was limited to women only.
We put in place a female teaching team: the Tutor and Demonstrator were both women (in fact, the young women that had originally inspired the idea), and the Head Tutor of the subject is also a woman (Marion Zalk, member of the Team SSET-CS).
Demonstrate the leadership shown in driving the initiative and fostering behavioural and organisational change.
The proportion of women amongst IT graduates has not risen above 25% in 20 years (see attached charts). We feel that it is important to do something to change this. While we cannot directly work to change the cultural attitudes towards women in tech (e.g. their representation in the media, etc.) we can influence the experience that our students have on campus.
The School of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne has activities in both outreach into schools and in contributing to the public discourse about women in computing (Team FIT, Females Into IT, awarded a TechDiversity award in 2016). This is aimed primarily at increasing enrolments (filling the pipeline).
However we wanted to try something with a direct impact on our students, specifically the female students who enrol in COMP10001 in order to learn whether Computing might be for them. We have not yet before tried an initiative to change the experience of the women enrolled in our subjects on campus. SSET-CS is an activity that aims to plug the leaky pipe, i.e. to foster/pique interest in computing and keep the women enrolled in computing subjects. It is an idea that to our knowledge has not been tried in the Higher Education sector previously.
Was there organisational/industry or other resistance to the initiative? If so, detail the actions taken to overcome resistance to the project or initiative.
Inspired by a conversation with several of our students in July 2017, I had hoped to make the female-only tutorials available for enrolment to COMP10001 students immediately in Semester 2, 2017 (2017/SM2). However, the lecturers of the subject felt that it was too close to the start of the semester to be workable, as we needed some administrative support to implement the idea.
We therefore postponed the implementation until Semester 1, 2018. However, this was positive in the end as it allowed us to frame the initiative as a research study: we applied for Ethics approval to study the student experience via student surveys, which was approved, and then did a baseline survey of the students in 2017/SM2 who did not have the female-only tutorial available.
Apart from logistical issues, and the need to follow the Ethics protocols, we have received strong support from the lecturers and the executive of the School of Computing and Information Systems.
We did receive some criticism in the media. Karin was invited onto Tom Elliot’s show on 3AW radio in order to defend the idea of the female-only tutorials. Tom accused us of practicing discrimination against males, and suggested that we should offer a male-only tutorial. Karin responded “Well, Tom, given the low numbers of females enrolled in our subjects, the reality is that many of our tutorials are in practice male-only or at least heavily male-dominated.” A thread on Twitter relating to the initiative can be found at https://twitter.com/karinv/status/972235241187295233; there was some trolling in response.
Detail the follow up or response to the project or initiative by the organisation /industry /sector. For example has it been extended for a further year, or has the scope been expanded?
There has been widespread interest in our activities. There has been some interest in the news and on social media. I was invited to speak on 3AW Radio about the iniative.
I was contacted by the University of Adelaide, who wanted to have more details. After speaking with them they are seeking opportunities to implement a similar idea there.
Based on initial feedback, we will be offering the female-only tutorials again this semester (2018/SM2).
Please provide 2 references being the beneficiaries or people that experienced the change (as a result of the initiative). Details to be provided should include:
4. Phone number
6. Short description (up to 250 words) of association with the nominated diversity initiative eg as a beneficiary, experiencing the outcome, etc.
What outcomes have been achieved against overall program or organisational performance? Using metrics specify these outcomes, for example financial, growth, policy achievement, performance or capabciltiy uplift?
With only one semester completed, it is not possible to measure the long-term impact of the initiative. However, early data from the first survey (just closed a couple of weeks ago) suggests that while only 35% of the women in that semester's group of COMP10001 students NOT in the female-only tutorial will be continuing on to COMP10002, 50% of the women who were in the female-only tutorial will be continuing on. The survey response rate was low, and there are many possible confounds with these results (e.g. due to the self-selection into the tutorial); however this is very promising initial evidence that the tutorial provided the participants with a positive experience.
What do you consider your significant achievement with this Initiative and why?
The representation of women in computing has not improved substantially since I was a student of computer science 25 years ago. This is partly a problem of women not entering computing, but it is also partly a problem of us losing them once they get here. We need to support the women who give it a go, so that we don't turn them off in their first experience. It seems that this idea of creating a "safe space" for really giving computing a good go will provide the women with a positive experience that may encourage them to continue.
A quote from one of the students who participated in the tutorial reinforces this:
"I think because it was so inclusive and girl-positive, I have a more positive outlook on the gender ratio in computing professions."
From this quote, I get the impression that we have somehow 'innoculated' the student against the impact of the gender imbalance in computing. She recognises that there is an imbalance, but feels ready to try anyway. Essentially, she is more confident that she can be successful in a computing professions. This to me is indicative that we are having an impact with this initiative.
Who inspires you from a diversity perspective? Who provides leadership in diversity and why?
I am inspired by so many!
- the young women who run Robogals and do outreach into the schools to get girls interested in technology
- the women who are very open about the challenges they have faced as women in the tech sector, and seek to change the culture. Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer, etc.
- the women who publicly share their negative experiences and spark a conversation, such as Susan Fowler describing her experiences at Uber or the women sharing their #metoo stories.
Leadership comes through not being afraid to raise issues, and to take action for change.