Celebrating Women in Computing – Part 1 – Maria Klawe

This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to go to the Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing (ONCWIC) conference in Waterloo.  There were some great talks by some great women and I’ve realized it will take a few posts to sort out all my thoughts.  So here is the first one, on the talk by the amazing Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College.

Everything Maria Klawe said resonated so much with me, but the understanding of the ‘impostor syndrome’ is probably the most important takeaway since it’s the most pervasive feeling that I’ve noticed among my own female peers.  We need to talk about this more, because knowing that so many other highly successful women feel like impostors in their day-to-day life definitely helps your own feelings of inadequacy.

Maria also brought up a lot of the reasons why women are under-represented in technology including the ways to overcome the perceived lack of ability, lack of interest, and sense of not belonging.  Fostering belonging is much more than meeting quotas in the classroom, and requires looking at and changing the culture of learning.  Maria brought up the example of diffusing the ‘macho’ attitudes of students trying to one-up each other, and also re-framing computer science classes as creative endeavors.

Finally, a point applicable to anyone of any gender, she noted that being ‘smart’ is not nearly as important as:

  • picking the right things to work on
  • persisting when the going gets tough
  • asking for (and accepting) help
  • changing strategy when necessary
  • building the right teams to achieve your goals

As someone who has been in communities and environments where being the ‘smartest person in the room’ was the be-all-end-all, these are all great points to remember and embrace.  And she reinforced something I’ve learned as just a part of growing up and working more with people: we need to acknowledge and welcome all sorts of contributions, which come in many different styles.