Gender bias ingrained in IT

The assessment of computing degree courses and research is discouraging women from studying IT and ultimately entering the profession.

This is the...

The assessment of computing degree courses and research is discouraging women from studying IT and ultimately entering the profession.

This is the conclusions of a report by the BCS affiliate group Women into Computing.

The problems at university level highlighted are that social, professional and political issues - including those of gender and ethnic groups - get little attention in computing degree courses, and are not considered valid topics during research funding assessments.

The report by group members Frances Grundy and Eva Turner states: "The absence of political and social topics has far-reaching consequences for women and for other disadvantaged groups. Our concern is that so long as this continues, pure computing will remain the masculine-dominated field that it has always been."

These comments reflect the group's fears that without changes in the way computing science research is assessed, there will be no studies into these issues because lecturers will see they will be given no credit for their efforts.

Grundy and Turner also highlight problems in the way the BCS approves degree courses as counting towards its professional membership.

These problems arise not least because of Engineering Council rules on how degree content counts towards Chartered Engineer status.

The BCS is a member of the Engineering Council and can award the title of Chartered Engineer.

"We would like to see more integration of social and political factors, which we regard as affecting all areas of computing, in all computer science topics," say Grundy and Turner in the report.

"We would particularly expect professionalism to contain explicit mention of the social and political. It should include a topic on understanding the obstacles to involvement in the creation of new technologies, and the obstacles restricting access to computing products by different social groups: ethnic minorities, the disabled and women."

They are concerned that final-year projects must always involve developing software and cannot be based upon social issues.

"This is detrimental to teaching, research and the development of professionalism and ethics - which includes gender and other issues," they say.

Women into Computing does report encouragement elsewhere. The Cabinet Office has asked for a copy of research into gender issues and IT by Janet Stack, a computing science lecturer at Glasgow University, who recently chaired Women into Computing.

In addition Stack is on a new committee sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry to develop a Web site aimed at encouraging women into IT.

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