Sharing Minority Experience With Majority Group/alx

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Sharing Minority Experience With Majority Group
Contributors Anne Bartilla, Christian Köppe
Last modification June 6, 2017
Source Bartilla and Köppe (2015)[1]; Bartilla & Köppe (2016)[2]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

You planted Awareness Seeds (Awareness Seeds), but some members of the majority group only superficially agree that really something needs to be changed.


It is hard for people to really understand what belonging to a minority or underrepresented group—like females in computer science—really means. In consequence, their intrinsic motivation to help with the change is low.

Usually, the majority group represents the norms and highly influences the general norms and beliefs. People belonging to this group don’t have to fight for their rights, as they are conform with these norms and beliefs. They aren’t aware of what it means to belong to a minority that is different from the norm and has to fight for its own rights and place.

Minority groups have different needs than majority groups, but this is hard to see and understand if one belongs to the majority.

The mechanism homosocial cooptation[3] means that members of a social group are orientating between themselves and choosing in first place themselves and not outsiders of the group. Homosocial networks in education are important for students[4]. If the feature of the group is to be a man, then people are outsiders because they are a woman. It is hard to become part of this group and you have to adopt to the norm and rules of the group. Members of the homosocial network are the majority and it is hard to understand people outside of the network.


Therefore: let members of the majority—students and teachers—experience or hear what it means to belong to the minority, e.g. by sharing minority stories or having them make a minority experience firsthand.

If there is communication about the topic, you can share stories. This makes it possible to inform others (majority members) about how minority members experience the field. In computer science education, men often don’t know what it means to be a female computer science student or a female employee in a computing company, surrounded by mainly male colleagues.

Knowing about how that feels, e.g. by hearing shared stories or making such an experience firsthand, can create a better understanding of the minority position. This understanding is a good step towards changing one’s views and perceptions of the minority and in consequence changing the behavior towards them. It also might make the need for changing the situation to a more diverse one more obvious. However, it is much harder to create such an experience compared to sharing stories about it, even though this experience will have a much stronger effect. The most important aspect is to make people aware of that it is different when one belongs to the minority and therefore can’t take the same things for granted as the majority. Simply being one of the few males in a larger group of women while sharing a common interest (such as computer science education) can already make some deep impression, as it shows how it feels to in first instance being recognized as a male and not as an expert.

One important aspect of applying this pattern is that it also requires at least a minimum of reflection on the experience made or heard about. If a real experience has been made, then the simple question “How did it feel?" might be sufficient to trigger that reflection. If stories were shared, then questions such as “What do you think about this?" or “What would you do if you were in such situation?" might help.

It is good to take into account that over-applying this pattern or forcing people to make such experience might be counter-productive and might create resistance against further activities.

According to Ashcraft et al.[5], men who attended the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing[6] (GHC) reported that experiencing a minority feeling there themselves has changed their view (the majority of GHC participants is female). A quote demonstrates this: “I think Hopper was a big jolt. When I stood up after an hour of it...and said, ‘You know, an hour ago, I would have argued very strongly, differently; now I know nothing.’...I mean that was a Hopper was a big kick in the pants."

Some earlier work of the authors Köppe and Bartilla[7] was presented as a poster at the 2nd Gender&STEM conference in Berlin, Germany. The majority of conference participants was female, so the 2nd author of this work made a first-hand experience as minority member at this conference, being mainly visible (and directly addressed in the beginning of a presentation) as male and not as researcher in the field. This made it quite obvious how it feels to get the special attention of others only because of a different gender.

In the Netherlands, all students get support from mentoring staff at the universities of applied sciences. This support ranges from helping them organizing their study, but also offering initial help with personal problems or problems with other students or teaching staff. Regularly, female students tell these mentors about things they experienced. These stories range from how they have to especially prove that they are competent in technical areas to how some teachers approach them differently from the other (male) students. If these stories are shared, then some people will think more about how to approach female students in a more appropriate way (as CS students and not as females). It also helps them to think about how they can support the female students with lessening the necessity of having to prove their proficiency more than the male students.


  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. Meuser, M. (2004). Geschlecht und Arbeitswelt - Doing Gender in Organisationen 1. In Proceedings of the “Gender Mainstreaming in der Organisationskultur" workshop. Detsches Jugendinstitut, Deutsches Jugendinstitut, Halle, Germany, 1–14.
  4. Cohoon, J. M. (2006). Just Get Over It or Just Get On with It: Retaining Women in Undergraduate Computing. In Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation, J. M. Cohoon and W. Aspray, Eds. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, Chapter 7, 205–238.
  5. Ashcraft, C., Dubow, W., Eger, E., Blithe, S., & Sevier, B. (2013). Male Advocates and Allies: Promoting Gender Diversity in Technology Workplaces. Tech. rep., National Center for Women & Information Technology.
  7. Köppe, C. & Bartilla, A. (2014a). A Pattern Approach to Increasing Enrollment and Retention of Female Students in Computer Science and STEM Education. In Preprints of the Gender&STEM conference 2014. Berlin, Germany