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Career Priorities and the Challenge of Recruiting Women to Computing

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session


Tagged Division

Computing & Information Technology

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.328.1 - 26.328.18



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Paper Authors


Gretchen G. Achenbach National Center for Women & IT

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Gretchen Achenbach is a research scientist at the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) and a research associate in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her interests focus on the communication of scientific information and gender issues in computing and technology.

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Leslie G. Cintron PhD University of Virginia

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Leslie Cintron is a Research Scientist in the Program in Science, Technology & Society, Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia. Cintron earned a PhD in Sociology from Harvard University. She has held faculty positions at Harvard University, Oxford University, Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia. Her areas of expertise are in the study of inequality, work/family and organizations & careers.

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J McGrath Cohoon University of Virginia

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Joanne McGrath Cohoon: Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), and Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia. Cohoon conducts nationwide empirical studies of gender and computing. Her results are reported in scholarly journals and an award-winning book, co-edited with William Aspray -- Women and Information Technology, Research on Underrepresentation. Cohoon's work at NCWIT involves conducting, translating, applying, disseminating, and evaluating research. She also serves on the CRA-W Board, offers professional development to computing high school teachers and community college instructors, trains and supervises consultants, and collaborates on increasing women’s participation in volunteer computing.

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Philip Michael Sadler Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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Philip Sadler holds a B.S. in Physics from MIT and an Ed.D. from Harvard. He co-authored the first integrated computer and laboratory introductory calculus course in 1975. He has taught middle school mathematics, engineering, and science and both undergraduate science and graduate teaching courses at Harvard. His research interests include assessment of students' misconceptions and how they change with instruction, K-12 curriculum development, the transition to college of students who wish to purse STEM careers, pre-college engineering, and the professional development of teachers. Dr. Sadler has won the Journal of Research in Science Teaching Award, the American Institute of Physics Computers in Physics Prize, the American Astronomical Society Education Prize, and the American Association of Physics Teachers' Millikan Medal. He holds five patents and begun three companies. Materials and curricula developed by Dr. Sadler are used by an estimated fifteen million students every year.

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Gerhard Sonnert Harvard University

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Gerhard Sonnert is a Research Associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an Associate of the Harvard Physics Department. He received master's and doctorate degrees in sociology from the University of Erlangen, Germany, and a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard University. One of his major research interests has been the impact of gender on
science careers. This research has resulted in two books (both authored with the assistance of Gerald Holton): Who Succeeds in Science? The Gender Dimension and Gender Differences in Science Careers: The Project Access Study.

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Career Priorities and the Challenge of Recruiting More and Diverse Students to ComputingThis paper explores the compatibility between computing occupations and the career priorities ofundergraduate college students, and makes recommendations for encouraging more students, andparticularly more women, to pursue computing careers.To assess students’ career priorities, we analyzed data from the ** Project, which surveyed 7505undergraduates across the United States about their experiences and attitudes towards science.Students rated 15 career characteristics in terms of importance to their future career satisfaction.Overall, men’s and women’s mean ratings were similar, and where gender differences weresignificant, most effect sizes were extremely small. Exceptions were a moderate effect of genderfor Helping Other People, and small effects of gender for Working With People Rather ThanObjects and Having Lots of Family Time, all of which women rated as being more important.Using data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we show that computing occupations rankhighly on many of the criteria that were most important to students. Computing’s exceptionalgrowth rate, the high volume of jobs expected to become available over the next decade, and thesizeable discrepancy between degrees awarded and projected jobs indicate that computing is afield with abundant job opportunities. Educational requirements are moderate (typically abachelor’s degree), and compared to jobs with similar educational requirements, computing jobspay very well. Weekly work hours in computing professions are typically reasonable, addressingstudents’ concerns about quality of life issues such as having time for family. Furthermore, thewide distribution of computing jobs across industries allows workers the flexibility to seek outthe kinds of employers that offer schedules, wages, benefits, and geographic locations that bestmeet their needs.Although computing occupations meet many of students’ career requirements, negativestereotypes and lack of experience with computing may deter students from these careers. Inparticular, we suggest that for students to believe that computing will use their talents andabilities – the highest rated career criterion for both genders – computer science must be offeredearlier and more widely in K-12 education, and should employ teaching philosophies such asgrowth mindset that promote confidence and success. Class assignments, role models, andclassroom examples should portray the diversity of career opportunities in computing and avoidreinforcing negative stereotypes. Emphasizing the collaborative nature of computing and itspotential for helping people is particularly important for attracting and retaining girls andwomen. These recommendations are broadly applicable to other STEM fields experiencingrecruitment deficits and gender imbalances.

Achenbach, G. G., & Cintron, L. G., & Cohoon, J. M., & Sadler, P. M., & Sonnert, G. (2015, June), Career Priorities and the Challenge of Recruiting Women to Computing Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23667

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