One of the key areas of our study was to determine whether or not gender biases or discrimination against women exists in the Stanford Computer Science department. While the hotly contested issue of the shortage of women computer science faculty has spawned claims of bias, there exists very little solid evidence to back these claims. Although we went into our study unsure of what to expect, we hoped to determine at least whether the people closest to this issue perceived there to be any gender bias.
While specific statistics on possible discrepancies in the funding, salaries, office space, and respect afforded to women faculty as compared to men were unavailable, we felt that direct interviews with all the female and many of their male computer science faculty would provide sufficient insight into the situation of women.
I have never been subject to or even noticed any sort of discrimination. A Stanford Female PhD Student
These words reflected the general opinion of many of the computer science faculty and students we interviewed, male and female. Although women are certainly in the minority of CS faculty, no one we interviewed attributes this to bias or discrimination. As stated by one female faculty member, I dont think there are people out there trying to keep women out [of Computer Science faculty positions]. I think they just dont want to go into it. However, these statements greatly differ from the results produced by the study of women faculty in science at MIT.
Both MIT and Stanford have a similarly low ratio of female CS faculty, yet in the interviews conducted for a study at MIT, female faculty members nearly unanimously spoke of blatant examples of wanton discrimination. Tenured women faculty said they were marginalized by their department and excluded from a significant role. Often this was accompanied, they claimed, by unfair differences in salary, space, awards, and resources between men and women faculty despite these women having made professional accomplishments equal to those of their male colleagues.
Most senior women faculty in this study said they felt invisible and excluded from positions of power, making their job more difficult and less satisfying. In contrast, junior women faculty felt included and supported by their departments, and were more concerned about the difficulty of combining family and work. This interesting difference makes it appear as though women are less accepted into the CS community the further they get into academia. In our study, we found that claims of bias at Stanford were far more common from undergraduates feeling uncomfortable in male dominated classes than from graduate students, and were entirely non-existent at the faculty level.
It should be noted that after this MIT study was published, many experts questioned its validity and criticized its legitimacy. Judith S. Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska went so far as to claim it was junk science that falls below the most elementary standards for scientific evidence, and fails to prove gender discrimination at MIT.
Although we are unsure of the true state of women faculty at MIT, our interviews yielded sharply different results from their study. For one thing, no one claimed that the administration was in any way practicing unfair treatment of women. As one female lecturer stated, The CS department has no gender issues. Women get same opportunities as anyone else. Its not like people did not take me seriously or give me the same chance as guys.
One female professor, when asked about whether there exists any discrimination against women faculty in CS at Stanford, likewise stated that the department itself is perfectly fair and equitable, and as a whole completely supportive. Some individuals may just be biased, but thats just them
it does not affect me. This seemed to suggest that women who have worked and excelled in Computer Science, a male dominated field, for so long have learned to accept and even shrug off any male colleagues biased views. The fact is, the ones who excel have found a way to deal with it. Ive never heard them complain. Even by grad school women know how to deal with sexism, stated a male professor. While neither completely denies the existence of sexism, they likewise did not feel like it in any way affected womens desires to become faculty members.
When faced with the question of whether or not bias or discrimination could be a possible cause of the current shortage of female Computer Science faculty, a vast majority of our interviewees, including every faculty member we interviewed as well as almost every graduate student, claimed it was not. There are more males in the faculty because there are more males in the applicant pool, stated a female professor who is involved in hiring new faculty members. Id love to see more female faculty members, but they have to be qualified. Were not going to sacrifice the quality of our department just so we can hire more women. She had recently interviewed a few women for faculty positions, but ultimately did not offer them the job. They just werent qualified. We didnt even consider the fact that they were women.
One female graduate student claimed that it was not the fault of the department for unfairly excluding women, but rather the shortage of women was more attributable to the women themselves for not being as confident or aggressive in pursuing opportunities. She felt that the people who went far in academia were the people who went out of their way to get noticed. Some women feel intimidated by male faculty, even if the men themselves are not being biased or discriminatory at all.
Quite to the contrary of the notion that women are unfairly excluded, some of our interviews even suggested that women had an advantage over men. However, this view was far more common in male students than female. One male masters student stated at Stanford, assuming equal competence, its probably an asset to be a female. Professors are more inclined to seek them out because there are too many. If one came along, shell probably get snapped up. Another male masters student had similar thoughts: it seems that some women are given a bit more leeway because of their under-representation. He felt that men are more likely to be brushed aside if they do not excel in their studies, since male Computer Science students are too common. It is easier for females because everyone is supportive of helping women to achieve their foals in this field
whereas men are on their own. In his mind, women receive extra opportunities since the department would not want to lose them.
However, this special treatment can also have negative effects. When asked whether or not professors would seek out females for research, one female PhD students said It varies by professor. Im not sure about Stanford. At Brown, professors tried to attract female TAs, sometimes too aggressively, sacrificing quality. She felt that this could create an atmosphere of resentment among that female students male peers, which in turn could lead to bias. However, most professors agreed that special treatment like this does not occur at Stanford. As one female professor stated, I doubt that anyone really chooses one gender over the other. The differences between individuals far outweigh any differences between sexes. She went on to half-jokingly admit that you especially would not see any preferential treatment towards females with any of the faculty members over the age of 60. Especially the ones who work with the EE department. They just expect to have male graduate students. Still, though, she didnt feel like women were at all excluded, but they had equal opportunities.
While none of the faculty members felt that any discrimination against women at Stanford was present, one professor discussed how she was discriminated against out in industry. Male businessmen did not show a great deal of respect for her, and she resorted to having to pretend she was a secretary for the business transactions to run smoothly. However, she feels that the environment is different at Stanford, and in the academic environment in general. Even when she was the only woman in a class with eighty students, she did not fell discriminated against and did not mind the situation.
Not every student feels the same way, though. While the fact that there are so few women currently in Computer Science does not imply that there is any explicit bias against women, many of the female students felt some subtle bias by being such a minority. Every time I enter a CS room Im always looking around for women, and Ive yet to encounter a woman in the field, stated one female undergrad. She feels that this shortage creates an uncomfortable environment for her. Another student agreed that it is simply easier to talk to female faculty members and other female students.
Through all our interviews, none of the women or men felt that discrimination exists in Computer Science at Stanford. One woman who will soon be receiving her PhD made the following comment about her time here at Stanford: "Ive have felt a very warm welcome both working and from advisors. Ive had excellent experiences working for professors that have been respectful and not treated me differently from guys working for them."
After receiving this overwhelming response that there is no discrimination at Stanford, then why do reports like the one at MIT still continue to be produced and still claim that bias does exist? People treat this to be a bigger issue than it really is, one professor stated. Its as if a woman cant just be interested in Computer Science without it being an event. If a man chooses CS, it is normal. If a woman chooses CS, she gets interviewed. Another professor feels the same way: People blow things out of proportion when [they hold huge conventions] discussing the state of women in CS. She felt that the constant barrage of reports and studies into the small percentage of women in CS has an alarmist effect, making people think the shortage must be a problem when it really is not a problem. There was a time when there were no female humanities professors either. Things will change.