Women comprise an increasing share of the Informatics major at the UW iSchool.
The number of women admitted to the program in 2015 jumped to 40 percent, far above the national average and up from 30 percent just a year ago.
The school has actively recruited women applicants to Informatics, a STEM program that puts information technology to work to improve people’s lives at work and at home. Women make up close to half the iSchool faculty, and an introductory course, INFO 102, examines women’s role in computing and shines a light on gender inequality in the technology industry.
“The iSchool really puts its money where its mouth is,” says Negin Dahya, an assistant professor at the iSchool. “These are real things that change the dynamics of the workforce.”
The tech workforce has been dominated by men, and over the years the proportion of women in the field has fallen. Women hold only a quarter of professional computing jobs today, down 10 percent from 1990.
“That has really changed over the last decades in a direction we would not want it to go,” iSchool Assistant Professor Katie Davis said.
Gender issues are now woven into all courses in Informatics, a program centered on teamwork; the more diverse the team, the better. “In Informatics, they engrave that in your brain,” says recent program graduate Jessalyn Cheng.
Cheng is a past president of WINFO, a student group formed in 2012 to draw more women into the program. Its members help with the forms, essays, resumes, and coursework requirements needed to apply for Informatics. They put together networking sessions and panels with strong women figures – including women in the male-dominated gaming industry.
WINFO also helps students strategize on ways to enter the tech pipeline, connects them with recruiters and human resource personnel, organizes an annual women’s hackathon, and arranges tours to tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing.
“This is a great way to see a company, meet the people, and imagine yourself possibly working there,” said Davis, faculty adviser for WINFO.
Having women make up 40 percent of enrollment is a milestone, but it’s not the iSchool’s ultimate goal. That would be 51 percent — the proportion of women to men on the UW campus and across the nation.
“Increasing the number of women in our Informatics program can only strengthen the fields our students are going into,” Davis said.