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Equity in the Light of Fairness

Let me start by saying I am new to this board of directors and I do not really have a good feel for what YOU want to hear or read about just yet. So I thought I would share an idea that has been floating through my head. We all know there is an underrepresentation of females in computer science. That is no secret. But sometimes, I find myself asking questions such as,"does it really matter?" If girls do not want to be computer scientists, why are we pressuring them? Why do we put funding and large efforts into programs that attract girls to the discipline, only to have a small return on the investment? (And I run quite a few of these programs!) And by having equal numbers of male and female students in the discipline, just what would that accomplish? Is it simply a matter of wanting what we do not have?

These questions spawn from a thought that has stuck with me since my undergraduate days in education. In one of our foundations of education courses, we were taught about the concept of fairness. The professor defined fairness not as everyone getting the same thing, but everyone getting what they deserve. I think it makes a much more compelling case to think about equity in computer science if we think about it in the light of fairness.

I wonder if, in looking at this concept of fairness for female computer science students, we focus too much on the construct of 'female'. By singling out the women who do choose to go into computer science, does that make them sense more of the differences that already exist naturally? Obviously, we know males and females are very different, in their thoughts, desires, skills, etc. So, if we come back to this idea of fairness, fairness for a female in computer science should focus on meeting each individual's needs regardless of gender. Certainly, the concept of differentiated instruction is nothing new. Schools have been doing it for years based on ability levels, special needs, and talents. So what would our curricular and co-curricular efforts look like if we focus on individual needs and gender is just one of the considerations in those needs? Does it change how we do things today? And more importantly, does it change the 'face' of computer science and those seeking to engage in the discipline?

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to all these questions. If you have tried anything like this, I would love to hear about it. However, I do know that females are very important to computer science because of those differences in thoughts, desires, and skills. It is the collective combination of the variety of characteristics among those in the discipline that will continue to spur us into the next century of new discoveries. And embracing that variety is what will promote fairness for years to come.

Mindy Hart
CSTA Board of Directors

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