Any discipline is easier to study in undergraduate and graduate school when there is support from peers. Computer science is competitive and difficult and our study shows that, despite what many of the interviewees claimed, their actions belie that they have had to modify their behavior to deal with support issues.
Many of the women interviewed noted that they learned to be louder and more assertive with their peers and in their interactions with others in their research groups in order to be heard. One professor said that she had to learn to interrupt others during research-group meetings in order to get her ideas out. This changing of behavior is primarily attributed trying to match the behavior of others in the male-dominated CS culture.
However, many--if not most--women are unwilling to significantly change their behavior just to be heard by others. The same professor who changed her behavior to be heard at her group meetings found that most women where she received her PhD were studying theory, most likely because the other women were also studying theory. In a sort of self-perpetuating cycle, the women were gravitating towards each other because they could give each other a support network without changing their behavior.
Many of the women interviewed, especially those already professors and those pursuing graduate study, casually commented that they had modified their behavior to be able to interact with the others. However, these graduate students and professors often said that they did not perceive a lack of a support network.
On the other hand, when interviewing an undergraduate female who formerly studied computer science, her estimates of the percentage of females in computer science fields was dramatically lower than the actual numbers, perhaps indicating that she felt alienated from the others. In fact, when asked about the shortage of women of CS faculty, she commented, "It makes me depressed. Every time I enter a CS room I'm always looking around for women and minorities, and I've yet to encounter a woman or minority in the field." Unless female students in computer science either (a) modify their behavior or (b) find a support group, it is possible that they might be tempted to drop out.
The same undergraduate then went on to say, "If anything could have pushed me on in CS it would have been my desire to be a role model for someone else." Many of the graduate students and professors also mentioned that good female role models would be or would have been helpful in their graduate study. Many graduate students, even those who are comfortable modifying their behavior to work in the male-dominated culture, find it difficult to approach and talk to male faculty. Cleary, good female role models would be very helpful.
Support networks are critical to those studying CS and women are often at a disadvantage when developing these networks. In fact, many professors and graduate students have found it necessary to modify their behavior to interact with others in male-dominated computer science, which is not something all women are capable of or willing to do. However, professors should be able to alleviate some of this problem by actively promoting and encouraging females in their classes to attend workshops and homework discussion sections put on by women's engineering associations like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) so that women who are unable or unwilling to bend their behavior to a male dominated environment can still achieve a support network with other women.