Creating space for transformative conversations

Conversations that Matter: Maria Klawe

April 25, 2016

Episode 80  

Maria Klawe: Women in High Tech

Conversations That Matter features Maria Klawe the President of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. For more than 30 years, Ms. Klawe has worked hard to recruit, retain and advance opportunities for women in computing sciences.

The percentage of women in computing sciences is exceptionally low and many experts point to the introduction of the Personal Computer as the culprit. Klawe points out, “when personal computers made it into homes and schools, the primary things that children used them for was to play games. And most of the games were, let's say boy-centric.”

Klawe goes on to say these boys were fascinated with computers, they taught themselves basic coding as their appetite for understanding grew at an exponential rate. At school they knew more about computers than their elementary and secondary teachers, “very rapidly teachers and parents and children themselves thought that computers were a boy thing.”

By the time these young men attended post secondary the knowledge and skill gap was vast, so large the majority of female students self selected out of the program. Klawe says it’s a relatively easy situation to remedy, “if you make your introductory computer science course in university be one that's highly engaging, that is not intimidating so everyone is encouraged to think they'll do well, and if you simply encourage the young women in the classes to take the next computer science course and then the next course after that, it's actually relatively easy to raise the percentage of women majoring in computer science from something like 15% to 30%.”

It’s an approach Harvey Mudd College has employed successfully increasing the gender balance in all sciences.

Conversations That Matter is a partner program with the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. Join veteran Broadcaster Stuart McNish each week for these important and engaging Conversations shaping our future.

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