November 10, 2017

Where Are the Female Leaders in Tech (& How Can We Attract More)? – with Dean Carla Brodley

On this episode of The Innovation Engine, we examine the dearth of female leaders in technology and look at ways we can mentor and encourage more female computer scientists. Among the topics we discuss are a new curriculum at Northeastern University, how that curriculum is evening the demographic playing field, and whether there really is a difference between women and men when it comes to their interest in Computer Science.

Our guest is Carla Brodley, Dean of the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University. Dean Brodley’s interdisciplinary machine learning research led to advances not only in computer and information science, but also remote sensing, neuroscience, digital libraries, astrophysics, chemistry, evidence-based medicine, and predictive medicine. She’s currently serving on the board of directors of the Computing Research Association (CRA), the Executive Committee of the Northeast Big Data Hub, and as a member-at-large of the section on information, computing, and communication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Listen to the Episode



Why are there fewer women than men in Computer Science?

    “People pre-select out of careers really early, and often it comes from stereotype threats or from what’s in the media – and certainly the perception of what a computer scientist is in film and TV is actually pretty far from the truth.”

How we can encourage women to try Computer Science (and one way we shouldn’t):

  • When trying to encourage women in computer science, it’s important not to “lean in” to women in the admissions process. All you’re doing then is stealing from other universities, because these women have already identified that they want to go into the field. “The goal of the programs that we’ve designed is to broaden the pipeline.”
  • The best way to encourage women to take computer science, frankly, is to make it required, but that doesn’t always work in most universities because every college and every Dean would like to have their classes be required.
  • Why’s that the best way to do it? Carla found, both as a Dean at Northeastern and a department chair at Tufts, that women and men who try computer science, who have never had it before, like it in exactly the same percentages. So 75 percent of people at both Tufts and Northeastern who’ve never taken computer science before love it enough to take the second course, and then typically 75 percent of the students who graduate that course love it enough to major. There is absolutely no difference in those percentages for men and women.
  • At Northeastern, they have created a number of combined majors. That turns out to be extremely attractive to their students, both men and women. In fact, more than half of their computer science majors are doing combined majors.
  • Similarly, Northeastern created a program called meaningful minors in computer science. “I don’t necessarily think that everyone needs to major in computer science, but I really think in today’s age everyone should know a little bit about the major tool that they use at work.”
  • Northeastern also piloted a Master’s program for people who have never taken computer science, which has been quite successful. People who majored in subjects like English, political science, history, economics, literature, theater, chemistry are coming to this program, and companies seem to like hiring these students.


About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on Apple Podcasts. You can also tune in via the podcast’s home on Spotify to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser.