How Colleges Can Grow Women Participation In Computer Science Programs

The growing effort to encourage women towards computer science careers could not be more exciting to see. I was among the early group of women to enter a university computer science program while in college years ago. It led to a career in the technology industry that has included being part of IPOs, exits, startups, advisory roles and so many other great opportunities. That more women may have the same opportunities through computer science careers is great to witness. It also has potential to benefit the technology business, innovation and economy here in the U.S.

But while the push to drive women into computer science has increased, the number of women entering college and university programs still remains relatively small to date. It does not mean that there hasn't been progress -- Carnegie Mellon has said that 40 percent of those enrolling in its computer science program this year are women, and Berkeley (my alma mater) reported this year that women outnumbered men in the school's introduction to computer science programs.

However, the overall number of women in programs throughout the U.S. is at just 18 percent, noted as a decline from past years. It inspires a variety of questions -- first, does it matter if women choose computer science careers? If so, how can we encourage more women to enter the industry?

In leading engineering teams of both men and women in a variety of scenarios, I can attest first hand to the inherent and unique value that both genders -- separately and together -- bring. There are plenty of stats and studies to support the value of women in business, the workplace and technology environments as well. Not to mention the successes in the market, from Marissa Mayer of Yahoo to female engineers at leading companies. Without question, women choosing computer science careers can matter.

When it comes to encouraging women to enter the industry, it is not surprising that things might get a little less clear. Some suggest that mentoring will help, others believe that exposure and information about the opportunities that exist in the business are key.

In reality it will take both, along with companies, entrepreneurs and executives shifting focus to creating and leading gender neutral environments, be it in early stage startups or large corporations. Doing so shifts the focus from being 'male' or 'female' to a mixture of both, and better enables organizations to align every aspect of the company and its efforts to tap into the benefits that both genders bring. It can also contribute to help better empowering all.

Just the same, there should not be a separation of women by gender in collegiate and university programs, either. While it might give the impression that women will feel more comfortable (and therefore select computer science fields), it is not the reality in the business and working world they will ultimately be in. Rather, we should encourage and lead women to learn how to participate, work and adapt to as much of the real-world experience as possible -- and for all regardless of gender to succeed in their careers in computer science and beyond.