Has the gender balance changed in computer science? Well, the recent Oxbridge Women in Computer Science Conference, held in Cambridge on 27 February, was proof that the number of women involved in computer science is increasing. And I believe that already the public opinion of computer science is changing, and that people no longer think of it as somewhere where men are in charge.
You only have to look at our own Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre here in Oxford, led by Professor Sadie Creese, for evidence that women can and do make it to the top in this field. There have been several women behind important advancements, both past and current, and women have acquired leading roles in the area both in academia and the private sector. There was certainly a cultural stereotype before, leading women away from studies of maths and computer engineering, but I'm happy to see this no longer exists.
The Oxbridge conference, made possible with generous sponsorship from Google, brought together junior and senior female computer scientists with the aim of encouraging collaboration through formal and informal discussion. The event included talks by key speakers from academia and industry, with keynote speeches from Professor Ursula Martin from Oxford University's Department of Computer Science, and Oana Florescu from Google.
Professor Martin gave an inspiring presentation, explaining ‘where mathematics comes from’. She also presented the idea of ‘Polymath’, a new means of collaboration for new mathematicians, via blogs where they can work on the same project simultaneously.
Oana Florescu from Google's Zurich office shared her experience as a woman in a male-led environment. Her advice to young professionals was to chase their dreams and try to follow a career where they feel happy. According to her, "when you enjoy something, you will find a way to succeed, of course that means that you have to work hard for it".
The inclusion of women in computing can mitigate innovation-hindering effects by preventing homogenisation. It also provides benefits such as better decision making, increased creativity, and enhanced, innovative performances. This is why it's so important to that networking opportunities such as the Oxbridge conference continue to take place. Through them, women can continue exchanging ideas, and of course provide support for women who are new in this field.
- The Oxbridge Women in Computer Science Conference is an annual conference co-organised by the Oxford Women in Computer Science Society (OxWoCS) and Women@CL at the University of Cambridge. Next year's conference will take place in Oxford.
This opinion piece reflects the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Oxford Martin School or the University of Oxford. Any errors or omissions are those of the author.