Action Group/alx

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Action Group
Contributors Anne Bartilla, Christian Köppe
Last modification May 17, 2017
Source Bartilla & Köppe (2016)[1]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

There is a homogeneous CS student population of mainly male students at your higher educational institution (such as a university or a university of applied sciences). There is the intention of increasing the gender diversity of the student population at your institution with the goal of reaching a critical mass of female students as new status quo. There are various people—staff, management, students—who are interested in helping hereby.


The organizational structure (or hierarchy) of educational organizations is mainly intended for supporting the primary processes of education, these processes are the drivers for the structure and have the highest priority. Such structure often offers less support for other processes and activities that can help to increase gender diversity.

People think that the organizational structure is open to everyone, but the small numbers of female students show that this is not true.

Even if there is a possibility in the structure for the coordination of such processes and activities that can help to increase gender diversity, there is often not much time available for them and they are seen as organizational overhead. People don’t attach importance to it, which also negatively influences the resources (time, money) made available for it.

Activities of individuals, even when done with the best intentions, are energy-consuming for these individuals and likely do not have long-lasting effects.

Bottom-up (or “grass roots") activities that do not have support by management are likely to run dry in a short time. They won’t find their way into institutional policies and management won’t provide money and/or time additional to the regular work.

On the other hand, top-down missions of management that are not backed by the staff do not have a high chance of success in long terms either. Such an approach has something artificial, it is not grown out of a necessity, but imposed from above so people will stay resistant. It can also be a sign that management does not see the need for this topic.

Both ways miss the creation of a broad acceptance throughout all institutional levels and have therefore a high chance of failure.


Therefore: form a group of people who all align on the goal of improving the gender diversity of the student population as a first step. This group should also be committed to the activities on longer terms, and have the authority to make changes.

The most important function of such a group is to combine forces with support from—and in cooperation with— management. An important precondition for this solution is the commitment at all levels of the organization to increase the gender diversity of the student population. If this is not the case, then this commitment should be created first through various Awareness Seeds (Awareness Seeds) and probably a Corporate Angel (Corporate Angel) and/or Local Sponsor (Local Sponsor)[2]. When setting up such action group and starting with initiating activities, most patterns for fearless change might be helpful[2]. It would for example be good to create a Group Identity (Group Identity)[2].

The final goal for such a group is to have a diverse student population. This vision can be realized through some intermediary steps. Initially the group should consist of mainly female lecturers and staff, because they function as contact persons for the students. Women should be preferred at this point because of a possible identification by the female students. They also often know the student’s situation from their own experience. Female students should be included because they are the group of interest/concern. In this way, female students get ownership and control over the activities. The female students should be involved because of being competent CS students and not only because they are women (the unique characteristic) as the only starting point (see also Inclusive Approach (Inclusive Approach)). The next step could be to set up a network by including the students, other institutions (other universities, companies, or secondary schools) and male/female colleagues and students (see also Quick Supporters (Quick Supporters) and Male Participation (Male Participation)). This would enlarge the support and improve the continuity. Others can then participate and play different roles in the network, dependent on their role in the institution. There are constantly active supporters and others can help on request. Female role models from outside the institution could also become members of the action group in a later step.

The agenda arises from the interests of the network, but is also defined by the management. This way a long-term support of the management is guaranteed. The main objective ’more gender diversity’ is leading for all activities. However, the management may have different interests such as financing the group and its activities, using it for promotional or political reasons, or for improving the student enrollment and retention in general. Involved students also want to have fun and build a professional network for later.

The activities should be evaluated regularly to expand successful strategies and improve or cancel less effective strategies. It is also a possibility to enlarge visibility by reviews/reports which are publicly available. These can for example be put on a website (as also described in E-Forum (E-Forum)[2]), presented at conferences, or distributed in local newspapers.

The aim is that involvement from continuously participating students and lecturers does not only have to be voluntary. Students could get credits or even money as a student assistant. Staff members get time for it. That values their work and also enables continuity of activities.

There should be a working cycle of newcomer female students, active networking students and alumni. In this way, knowledge and information could be shared and time and energy used effectively. Most likely it will be necessary to have a support group for a long time because students leave the higher education system. New students must be integrated in the group. For this it needs reliable structures in the background to monitor the beginning students up to alumni who engage as role-models, provide a professional network, and advocate the idea from the network outside of the organization.

It is good to have a core group which is responsible for organizing regular meetings and thinking of next activities. The group should be visible at the institution and the members of this core group should get (some) time for their tasks. Outside of this core group a larger group can be formed with members who occasionally take over tasks and also supporters of the group who are not directly involved in the activities, but occasionally help with organizational issues or simply express their appreciation of what the group does.

To increase the visibility of the group and also the commitment of the members, the group should get a memorable name.

Positive consequences are that activities are organized and executed by multiple people, which helps with distributing the work. It naturally helps with distributing Awareness Seeds (Awareness Seeds) in the organization. Being a member of such a group also likely leads to a higher commitment and the visibility of the underrepresented group increases.

On the other hand, people outside of this group might get the feeling that there is too much attention focused on that group, especially if they don’t see the need for it. This can lead to envy and be counterproductive. Awareness Seeds (Awareness Seeds) and an Inclusive Approach (Inclusive Approach) likely help to lower the chance of this consequence.

People also could get the feeling that because of the existence of such an action group enough is being done on improving diversity and that further support is not needed. It furthermore could happen that students have the feeling that they are missionized and therefore don’t want to participate. Using Awareness Seeds (Awareness Seeds) in combination with a mix of bottom-up and top-down activities might help here.

Such a support group formed the core of the activities at the NTNU[3].

At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) they also successfully formed a community of women in the School of Computer Science called Women@SCS[4][5]. They “have found it essential to have a core group of activist students at the helm", which is also an example for an Action Group (Action Group). That such a group especially in long terms can be successful has been shown in a series of studies at CMU[6].


  1. Bartilla, A., & Köppe, C. (2016). Organizational Patterns for Increasing Gender Diversity in Computer Science Education. In Proceedings of the 10th Travelling Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (VikingPLoP 2016). New York:ACM.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Rising, L., & Manns, M. L. (2004). Fearless change: patterns for introducing new ideas. Pearson Education.
  3. Sørensen, K. H., Faulkner, W., & Rommes, E. W. M. (2011). Technologies of inclusion: Gender in the information society. Trondheim: Tapir Akademisk Forlag.
  4. Frieze, C., & Blum, L. (2002). Building an effective computer science student organization: the Carnegie Mellon women@ SCS action plan. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 34(2), 74-78.
  5. Fisher, A., & Margolis, J. (2002). Unlocking the clubhouse: the Carnegie Mellon experience. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 34(2), 79-83.
  6. Frieze, C., & Quesenberry, J. L. (2013). From difference to diversity: including women in the changing face of computing. In Proceeding of the 44th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (pp. 445-450). New York:ACM.