illustration by Heather Rose.
illustration by Heather Rose.

It’s surprising that 68 percent of women and 63 percent of men enroll in college, yet women still only make up a quarter of the workforce in technology,” said UC Santa Cruz computer science professor and Baskin School of Engineering associate dean for undergraduate affairs Charlie McDowell.

McDowell was recently featured on technology website TechCrunch’s article “10 Men Making Waves for Women in Tech.” Recognized as an ally for women in tech, McDowell encourages and supports women who are interested in pursuing an education in technology to remedy the existing discrepancy between genders in the field.

The discrepancy between men and women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM) — which can be attributed to a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and less family-friendly flexibility — calls for advocates like McDowell to support women in STEM, according to the U.S. Economics and Statistics Administration.

Information technology will be one of the fastest expanding sectors of the U.S. economy with an added 1.4 million job openings predicted by 2020. However, more than half of these jobs are likely to be left unfilled by women due to the lack of women with computer-related degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“There is research showing that corporate teams do better when they have a good diversity representative on the team. They do a better job when they’re mixed,” McDowell said. “It’s good for the economy and we are all a part of it.”

McDowell also works with the Project Advancing Women’s Education in the School of Engineering (Project AWESOmE). The program’s purpose is to encourage and enrich young women who are interested in getting involved in the evolving field of technology.

Baskin School of Engineering director of undergraduate affairs Adrienne Harrell said Project AWESOmE continues to satisfy the social and academic needs on campus by setting up study groups and peer mentoring for women in computer science and computer engineering at UCSC.

Girls in Engineering, a similar program, is a summer camp offering middle school girls hands-on activities including creating 2D games, animations, interactive art pieces, Lego NXT and programmable robotics kits for building microprocessor-based robots.

“It’s about creating a sense of belonging. We all want and need to thrive and that’s what Project AWESOmE and Girls in Engineering are helping to achieve,” Harrell said.

McDowell has a long history of pushing for the inclusion of women in STEM. Fifteen years ago, McDowell and his wife were inspired by pair programming, a software development technique that involves two programmers working together at one computer. They realized the technique would increase retention of women in introductory programming classes.

“I’m happy to say that pair programming is recognized at several institutions around the world. That is one of the ways I was influenced to do what I do,” McDowell said.

In his work with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a nationwide nonprofit working to increase the involvement of women in computing and technology, McDowell aspires to be the advocate needed to close the disparity and create a safe and welcoming environment for women.

“It’s a slow battle. I would say about 10 years ago it might have been 10-12 percent female. The last time I checked our frosh class was 17 percent female,” McDowell said. “I would consider that good progress.”

While UCSC continues to increase women’s involvement in STEM, Project AWESOmE’s student engagement coordinator Remington Maxwell still encounters men in the computer science major who don’t know how to respond to a woman lab partner.

“I don’t have much of a problem being the only girl in a room full of guys, but I know a lot of other women who do,” Maxwell said. “I played on a basketball team with boys and I was in a class where I was the only girl. [People] would address the class as ‘guys and Remington.’ I’m used to being one of the few, but I see a lot of other women who struggle. It shouldn’t be that way.”

As a coordinator for Project AWESOmE, Remington outreaches to women to get them interested in STEM. She has seen an increase of women in her tech classes and believes UCSC is helping reach the evolution of gender inclusion in computer science.

“In a lot of the classes I’ve taken, there’s a big focus on including more races and more gender inclusion,” Maxwell said. “UCSC is spearheading that movement to be more inclusive, especially in our computer science and game design department.”

As an ally for young women in computer science, Charlie McDowell believes women are just as qualified and suited for careers in technology.

“If we don’t bring women in computing to equal numbers, we’re missing out on the stars. Who are the Mozarts, the Beethovens, the Jimi Hendrixes and the John Lennons? What about all of the women who might have the drive or the passion to contribute, like those folks did to music? I believe women are very capable,” McDowell said.