In celebration of International Women’s day, I sat down with Dr Heidi Christensen and our CDT students Meg and Danae to talk about their experiences as a woman in Computer Science. Computer Science is a very interdisciplinary area of study and research, which has traditionally suffered from a gender imbalance.
Our students have come into the CDT from a wide range of mixed academic backgrounds. We talked about what it was like to come from different backgrounds and perspectives. From Linguistics, where there was a large majority of women, to Computer Engineering where the scales were tipped heavily in the other direction.
‘I worked as a data scientist for two years and was the only female data scientist. It could be difficult at times as I felt I had to prove my knowledge.’
‘I was in a cohort of mainly women but the majority of lecturers were male.’
The CDT, in particular, is focused on closing the gender gap by seeking out and accepting students from a wider range of backgrounds. Along with this ethos, the Department is working hard to bring a balance through a variety of initiatives including the Athena SWAN award. You can read more about this here: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/dcs/about-department/women-computer-science
‘When I first came to Sheffield I was impressed with the balance.’
‘I had been warned that coming into Computer Science, I would have to work harder to be listened to, but generally that has not been the case for me. It has not been too different to my past experiences or too steep a learning curve.’
There are still barriers that exist, including; the ‘stereotype’ of what a computer scientist looks like; the idea that someone working with computers being a ‘hacker’; and myths around certain subjects being for boys and for girls, that should be broken.
‘At first I thought it was a brave decision to choose a career in Computer Science, but going forward it shouldn’t be seen as being brave, it’s just another option that is there.’
‘I wish I had known at a younger age that you can work with language alongside computers. And that there is a lot of room in Computer Science for the things that I am interested in.’
We rounded off our discussion with advice for encouraging more women to get involved in Computer Science. The key being increasing awareness of what options are out there and a greater understanding about the broad area of engineering.
‘Find what it is you can contribute: the different point of view you bring and what you have to give that is different. Be yourself.’
‘Be proud of your background and what you can bring. You have to find your own feet.’
You can find out more about the Sheffield Women in Computer Science Society (SWiCS) here and see how you can get involved; sheffield.ac.uk/dcs/news/sheffield-women-computer-science-society