Female CS Role Models/alx

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Female CS Role Models
Contributors Anne Bartilla, Christian Köppe
Last modification May 15, 2017
Source Bartilla and Köppe (2015)[1]; Bartilla & Köppe (2016)[2]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

You want to show a part of what computer science is by showing who computer scientists are.


People often have the image of computer scientists being male. This fosters gender stereotypes which can perpetuate and become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Role models shape the image of a discipline, as they represent the people working in that discipline. If only people are shown that represent the majority in the discipline, then likely the image of it won’t change. However, exposing the role models to only that part of the population which feels connected to the role model, such as female CS students to female computer scientists or female software developers, does not help too with changing the overall image of the discipline.

People often are aware of the gender imbalance in computer science (it is plain obvious), but there is little awareness of the gender stereotypes that are related to this imbalance. Research suggests “that stereotypes are activated for women more frequently when men significantly outnumber women”[3]

However, many advertising campaigns already reflect a diversity in the shown pictures in publications such as flyers or websites. But these pictures do not connect deeply enough to the people so that they really change their image of computer scientists in general.

Furthermore, if women are visible then often not as computer scientists, but in a communication or representation role, which reinforces the gender stereotypes even more.


Therefore: Invite female computer scientists to become role models and make them visible to all students and employees.

Increasing the visibility of female role models is possible through inviting female professionals—programmers, software engineers, software architects, CS researchers—for events like a kick-off of a Computer Science project for students. One can also have female speakers who represent the Computer Science study at introductory events.

Another strategy is to consciously increase the number of female lecturers in Computer Science subjects like programming. In this manner it is possible that the visibility of female role models could be increased and stereotypes could be overcome that Computer Science fits on the basis of a persons’ gender.

If women who work in CS-related jobs are more visible, then the image of CS as male-dominated is not predominant anymore, which is one of the first steps for changing this image. Another advantage of having female role models is that they are likely to help with increasing the self-confidence of the female students (“She made it, so I can do it too!"). It also communicates that it is normal to be female and a computer scientist.

Increasing the visibility of female role models also will address the visibility/invisibility-paradox: females in CS are visible as females and invisible as CS experts[4]. The prevalence of stereotype threat can be reduced when the number of women in the workplace at all levels of management is increased [3].

However, the number of female role models should not be unrealistically high compared to male role models, as this will create a too unrealistic image of the discipline and might be experienced as implausible.

The Dutch organization for Computer Science Education at Universities of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands (HBO-I[5]) organizes lecturer’s days once a year. The goal is to exchange knowledge and ideas and to develop strategies on how to improve CS education in the Netherlands. At these days also keynotes are given. At the lecturer’s day 2014, two keynotes were given, one by a female and one by a male professional, hereby giving a diverse representation of the field.

The Dutch organization VHTO[6] (knowledge center for girls and women in technical engineering disciplines) maintains a list with potential female role models and regularly organizes guest lectures for them at primary and secondary schools in order to promote a more diverse image of the technical disciplines, including computer science.

Activities initiated by the Women@SCS Advisory Council included an “Invited Speaker Series", where female speakers from academia, business, and industry were invited to present technical talks, share their stories and experiences and also discussing gender and work issues[7]. These presentations were open to both women and men.


  1. Bartilla, A. & Köppe, C. (2015). Awareness Seeds for more Gender Diversity in Computer Science Education. In Proceedings of the 20th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2015). New York:ACM.
  2. Patlet mentioned in 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.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Corbett, C. & Hill, C. (2015). Solving the Equation-The Variables for Women's Success in Engineering and Computing. Tech. rep., AAUW, Washington, DC, USA.
  4. Lagesen, V. A. (2011). Getting women in computer science. In Sorensen, K.H., Faulkner, W. & Rommes, E. (Eds.) Technologies of Inclusion, Gender in the Information Society. Tapir Academic Press, Trondheim, Norway, Chapter 7, 147–169.
  5. http://www.hbo-i.nl/portaal/
  6. http://www.vhto.nl/
  7. Frieze, C. & Blum, L. (2002). Building an effective computer science student organization. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 34, 2, 74.