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Contributors Anne Bartilla, Christian Köppe
Last modification May 16, 2017
Source Bartilla & Köppe (2016)[1]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

There are a few female students in your computer science cohort, but they form a minority.


Female students often drop out in problematic times and situations, as they struggle with finding their way in a male-dominated environment and often suffer from a lower self-confidence and higher need for proving themselves.

Female students often find themselves as the only ones in larger groups of students, so most of their classmates are male. And even if there are other female students, these often have the same problems with finding their place in the group. Having Female Role Models (Female Role Models)—such as occasional female lecturers for technical subjects—shows them that it is possible to find a place in this environment, but does not help them in concrete situations or if they have concrete problems and questions. There is no ”natural" network which provides help in such situations.


Therefore: provide mentors for female students. These mentors are counterparts in good and bad times.

Mentoring means that someone with more experience is connected to someone with less experience and is about encouraging and supporting (female) students who already are studying computer science. The mentor guides and supports the mentee during a shorter or longer period.

Mentors can be female (then they also can function as Female Role Models (Female Role Models)), but male too (which might offer the students better access to larger networks the male mentor is already part of). A mentor can support the students with advice based on her own experience. The goal is to keep the female student enrolled, but also to help with the transition towards the work environment. Such a mentor also can serve as a first step towards building a network[2]

The role of mentor can be ideally fulfilled by either female students in higher semesters, by female lecturers, or by female experts from the work field. However, it is important that the role is fulfilled by people with good mentoring skills and an interest in mentoring a female student. Just assigning someone as mentor who is not able or willing to do it does not work. If not enough female mentors are available, it will also work with skilled and willing male mentors.

Finding mentors is not easy, as most people don’t have enough time available for such tasks. However, people who are seeing the importance of this often are also willing to offer support (including the necessary time) as mentor. Important is that they become committed to mentoring on long terms in order to guarantee continuation. Mentors can be found in the networks of involved people (such as the Action Group (Action Group)), but there are also organizations such as ACM Women, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), or VHTO in the Netherlands, which provide a database of potential mentors.

If applied, this pattern offers good support for female students during the first semesters and increases the chance that they finish the study. It also shows them where they are able to, as the mentor is a senior.

Some students might feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed with getting such a special attention. This is especially because research has shown that most female students don’t want to be treated special and just want to be a part of the whole[3].

Even though all students would likely benefit from having mentors, it is especially important for female students to get such kind of support because of the often present lower self-confidence and the additional effort the female students have to take to find their position in the group.

VHTO, the national expertise office in the Netherlands for girls and women in STEM, organizes Mentoring Circles for female students in the transition from education to employment (including self-employment)[4]

Mentoring plays another role in the success of female CS students. Moshe Vardi names it as important in his Communications of the ACM column[5].


  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. Friedman, A. (2014). Tech women are busy building their own networks. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
  3. Bartilla, A. (2014). 'Je mannetje staan': Kwalitatief onderzoek naar vrouwelijke informatica studenten in het hoger beroepsonderwijs. Universiteit van Amsterdam. Faculteit der Maatschappij-en Gedragswetenschappen.
  4. VHTO. (2016). Mentoring Circles. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  5. Vardi, M. Y. (2015). What can be done about gender diversity in computing?: a lot!. Commun. ACM, 58(10), 5.