Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Similarities Between CS and the Navy

Today a group of students and faculty from SCS had the opportunity to meet with Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations to discuss diversity. It turns out that the problem of recruiting women and minorities to a field is not unique to the field of computing. Admiral Roughead has faced issues in diversifying the Navy, similar to issues we face in recruiting women and minorities into CS programs.

One of the things that we talked about at the meeting were seeing "people who look like you" succeeding in your field - whether that be CS, the Navy, or another field. People love to see patterns. And if you see someone of your race or gender succeeding in a certain field, you think, "Hey, that computer scientist is a woman," or, "Hey, that admiral in the Navy is Hispanic." And then you might think, "I'm a woman too, I guess computer science isn't just for guys, I can do that too" or, "I'm also Hispanic, maybe I can succeed in that field."

We've talked at our meetings about how we justify having a women's group (Women in the School of Computer Science - W@SCS) when we claim that women and men aren't all that different. Why is there this need for a women's group if we don't need to make computer science "pink" or if women shouldn't be treated differently? And I think we've hit exactly on this. It's not that W@SCS aims to treat women differently, it aims to give women the same opportunities that men are given by default in a male dominated field. Men are automatically given a lot of "people who look like them" in the field. Whereas it is much more difficult for women to find colleagues, mentors, and role models "who look like them." If you don't feel isolated, if you don't feel alone, you will be much more likely to succeed in CS, in the Navy, in any field.

I was looking online for more information about Admiral Roughead, and it seems that diversity is one of his main goals as Chief of Naval Operations. I found a quote of his from 2008 that I found really brought across an important point. "I’ve been around the country meeting with opinion makers and shapers, attending events that give me a better sense of how we can best attract representative minorities into the Navy. I believe we have tremendous things to offer, we just have to make sure the opportunities are known to the folks that are out and about."

I think this is the same in CS. We have so much to offer, we just have to insure that everyone has the opportunity to participate by getting rid of stereotypes and by figuring out exactly how to draw women and minorities to the field.

I found a webpage which is a collection of quotes by Admiral Roughead on the subject of diversity which I thought was pretty interesting.

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