Barbie to the rescue

Efforts to attract more women to computer science evoke C. Northcote Parkinson’s analysis of the progression of the British Navy after World War I: ever more admirals, ever fewer ships [1]. There have been some successes, notably at Carnegie Mellon [2], but mostly we tear our hair in despair while percentages of female informatics students hover around 10%, less than in the seventies, regardless of how hard we try (one department I know has a full-fledged “Frauenförderung” —women’s promotion — organization, with as much effect on enrollment as if it were hiring admirals).

The best analysis, going beyond the usual pieties and providing concrete recommendations, is the Informatics Europe report by Jan van Leeuwen and Letizia Tanca [3]. Even the simple steps it recommends, however, still face technical difficulties and faculty resistance.

The report was right to concentrate on the image of the discipline. In one of its conclusions, it encourages us to remind the world that “Informatics/Computing provides the science and the technology that underpins the development of today’s digital world”.

Is help coming from some unlikely quarters? Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal describes [4] the campaign for a new personality of the Barbie doll. In a public vote started by Mattel, girls overwhelmingly chose “Barbie the Anchorwoman”; but the vote was open to anyone, and a campaign of women IT professionals led to the triumph of “Barbie the Computer Engineer”, which as a result will be one of the new models. For the little girl in your life, with her special affinity for logic and her special people skills (the harbinger of IT success), it is never too early to place your order.


[1] C. Northcote Parkinson: Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress, London, John Murray, 1958; see also original article in The Economist.

[2] Joanne McGrath Cohoon: Must there be so few?: including women in CS, , International Conference on Software Engineering, Portland, 2003, pages 668-674, available online (with ACM registration).

[3] Jan van Leeuwen and Letizia Tanca (Eds.): Student Enrollment and Image of the Informatics Discipline, Informatics Europe Report IE-2008-01, October 2008, available online.

[4] Ann Zimmerman: Revenge of the Nerds: How Barbie Got Her Geek On, in the Wall Street Journal, 9 April 2010, currently available online.

VN:F [1.9.10_1130]
Rating: 4.0/10 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.10_1130]
Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
Barbie to the rescue, 4.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.