Rectifying a Gendered Industry: Twin Cities welcomes Grace Hopper Conference

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The past 25 years have not been the brightest for women in the computing industry. After an encouraging period of growth in female computer science graduates in the U.S. from 1970-1985, recent figures show that the gains were short lived.

According to the Department of Education, only 18 percent of computer science graduates from 2008-2011 were women, the lowest rate since 1974.

Despite the unfavorable statistics, Macalester College computer science professor Susan Fox said she’s encouraged by recent pushes for gender diversity in the industry. Fox pointed to the 13th annual Grace Hopper Conference, a four-day convention that connects about 4,600 female computer science students with female industry leaders from tech companies including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and IBM. This year, Macalester is sending about a dozen students to the event.

This afternoon, Macalester senior Melissa Marshall was excited to have lunch with a software engineer in town for the conference. Marshall previously attended Grace Hopper two years ago in Portland, Ore. As the only female computer science major in her graduating class, Marshall said it was encouraging to find a community of women in tech. “Many women are the only women or one of a few women at their companies,” she said. “Getting to meet other women in tech and keep in touch with them after the conference is a great opportunity.”

Jean Hsu was at Grace Hopper representing Medium.com, a San Francisco-based startup and the smallest company in attendance. Hsu was Medium’s first female engineering hire. “We really tried to build a company that has a diverse workforce,” she said. “We figured this is a good place to recruit.”

Meanwhile, Macalester junior Ivana Marincic was preparing for an internship interview with Thomson Reuters. She said she was initially drawn to architecture, but found her niche in computer science where she could combine her technical math skills with her artistic ability.

Marincic said she was particularly encouraged by her professors Fox and Elizabeth Shoop. With Fox and Shoop, Macalester’s full-time computer science faculty is two-thirds women. When Marincic declared her computer science major, she recalled Shoop becoming particularly excited. “It just kind of leaves an impression on you that what you’re doing is right,” Marincic said.