Friends Like Me

“Not having friends in a computing class can reduce by 33% the likelihood of a girl studying the subject at college,” according to the Cracking the Gender Code study by Accenture and Google.

The percentage of women required in order for women to persist in the field is unclear. In 2015, Stanford announced that Computer Science had become the school’s most popular major for women. By having 30% of all CS majors being women, said Professor Eric Roberts, “We’ve managed to reach a level at which women feel reasonably comfortable; there’s no shortage of a sense of critical mass. There’s now an ability [for women] not to feel isolated.”

Professor Dasgupta of U Mass conducted studies on college engineering students and concluded that even having a 50/50 balance can be improved on by having female-dominant micro environments. In an article on the UMA website, she explains, “My take on these findings is that gender parity helped in some ways, but it couldn’t address all the problems. We often assume that if the playing field is level, with equal numbers of women and men, women will participate. But in fields where strong gender stereotypes already exist, it’s not enough. Overriding of gender stereotypes sometimes requires creating ‘microenvironments’ that have more than gender parity. This may involve the occasional experience of working in small teams with a high concentration of female peers that encourage women to jump in, speak up and help their team solve technical problems.”

Belonging is just a way of saying "Do I fit in here? Do I feel comfortable here? Or should I start looking for another subject where there are more people like me?"

We usually think of performance as determining whether somebody pursues an academic major or profession. But an interesting observation that has emerged from my research is that for women in STEM, performance is not the critical ingredient that will tell me who is vulnerable to leaving.

Usually, women who leave STEM perform just as well as others who stay. Poor performance is not what drives them out. Feeling like they fit in, or not, is the critical ingredient that determines retention.

-- Professor Nilanjana Dasgupta, brain scientist at the University of Massachusetts, in an interview with the National Science Foundation