IN 1978 A YOUNG woman named Maria Klawe arrived at the University of Toronto to pursue a doctorate in computer science. She had never used a computer—much less written a line of code—but she had a PhD in math and a drive to succeed in a male-dominated field. She was so good that, nine months later, the university asked her to be a professor.
Today, however, computer science is one of the few STEM fields in which the number of women has been steadily decreasing since the ’80s. In the tech industry, women hold only around one-fifth of technical roles. In light of these stats, the prevailing view in Silicon Valley these days is “This is terrible, let’s fix it.”
In Southern California, Klawe has done what tech has not. For the past 11 years, she has served as the president of Harvey Mudd College —a small liberal arts school in Claremont, California, known for its intensive STEM focus—where the number of women in its computer science program has grown from 10 percent to 40 percent. On the subject, she’s optimistic: Change is possible. Now it’s the industry’s turn—and it could take a lesson from Klawe.
When you meet with men in the tech industry, can you tell that some of them doubt women can succeed in technical work?
That they don’t think women are suited for this? Oh, yeah.