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‘The % Project’ Calls Attention to Penn’s Diversity Issues

UPenn’s Computer and Information Science Department recently collaborated with Women in Computer Science (WiCS) to release a diversity census that revealed a huge lack of diversity in the major of Computer Science. In response, WiCS created “The % Project,” a social media-based initiative with the goals of increasing awareness of these diversity issues and putting a human face on the statistics gathered.

WiCS, which is primarily a mentorship program, began in 2003 with a mission statement to break the glass ceiling. Its main methods of doing so include promoting gender inclusivity and raising awareness on the issues women in the field face. “The % Project,” its newest endeavor, is carried out by students posting quotes and statistics on social media about field demographics, general attitudes, feminism, and issues such as harassment and non-inclusivity in the workplace.  

Sneha Advani, WiCS Vice President and Engineering sophomore, said campaigns like “The % Project” encourage women in STEM to achieve success by showing them that they are not alone in their struggle.

A lack of diversity in STEM is not a new concept. Women represent 47 percent of the computer science workforce – a 10 percent increase from the 1970s – yet only a dismal 12 percent of engineers are women. At Penn, of the 800 engineering students majoring in Computer Science, only 46 of them were a part of a minority group, according to a 2017 report.

Because STEM is more socially accepted as a male-dominated field, breaking through barriers is all the more difficult because of the variety of qualms that discourage women from developing interest from the start. A decrease in women’s enrollment in STEM can be attributed to a lack of role models in the field, a lack of emphasis on women in STEM while in secondary school, and the fact that the field has been historically dominated by men, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.

Steps are being made toward progress, however. Mentoring programs like WiCS can instill confidence in women who want to pursue a career in computer science.

Another suggestion is to redefine how the subject is taught. Moving in the direction of creative problem solving and reducing intimidation of unpreparedness will likely lead to higher enrollment of women. Professors also need to establish an equal learning environment that engages female students by including them in class discussions.

For those feeling discouraged about pursuing a career in STEM, we say there is hope! Startups such as Girls Who Code, GEMS, and Girls, Inc. have all been beneficial for the women’s representation in the field of computer science. These pioneering programs and organizations are a vital tool for women, minorities, and young girls who want to pursue a career in this incredibly important field.

Featured Image by Elevate on Unsplash

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