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Promoting Diversity

Computing Sciences researchers set out to attract woman and minority candidates

April 1, 2008


Computing Sciences researchers are undertaking initiatives to work on increasing diversity and to encourage K-12 students to study and pursue a career in math and science. They formed the Computing Sciences Diversity Committee to provide a forum for researchers and other staff to brainstorm and carry out ideas that promote diversity. The committee will also coordinate the various diversity-related efforts that many researchers and managers already have undertaken.

Members of the diversity committee include representatives from the groups and departments within the Computational Research Division and NERSC, the two divisions within Computing Sciences (CS).

Computing Sciences staff were actively involved in diversity-related recruitment and programs before the diversity committee was formed late last year. They have attended conferences such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing. They then followed up by sending student attendees information about research opportunities at Berkeley Lab. Juan Meza, head of the High Performance Computing Research Department, led the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute’s 2007 summer program for undergraduate students from underrepresented groups. Three researchers, Cecilia Aragon, Ann Almgren, and Deb Agarwal spoke at the 2007 University of San Francisco Summer Enrichment Program, which set out to encourage young women ages 13–18 to study computer science.

“We have always cared about diversity, and this committee offers an opportunity for all interested CS employees to get involved and give their input,” said Agarwal a member of the diversity working group.

The diversity committee plans to carry out projects that would make a difference not only in hiring and retaining women and minorities, but also in making science a fun and rewarding subject in schools.

“Our participation in diversity work groups promotes accessibility and exposure to computer science careers for people who may not otherwise think about pursuing them,” said Marcia Ocon, a senior human resources officer for Computing Sciences and a member of the diversity committee. “It’s our hope that in the long term, our recruiting efforts will be met with a more diverse applicant pool.”

Research has shown that disparity begins in schools, where female students are less likely to pursue a degree in science and engineering. In fact, women were 28.5 percent of the people in the United States earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 1995, but that figure declined to 25 percent in 2004, according to 2007 National Science Foundation report on “Women, Minorities, Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.”

The same report showed that women received 17.2 percent of the Ph.D.s in computer sciences in 1998 and 19.8 percent in 2005. Overall, women comprised 34.3 percent of the earned Ph.D.s in science and engineering in 1998 and 37.7 percent in 2005. The science and engineering category includes social sciences such as psychology and sociology.

As a result, the number of women who qualify for science and engineering research positions is much smaller. Other factors, such as a lack of  support for women with children and biased hiring policies, compound the problem. Statistics show that married men with children under age six are 50 percent more likely to enter a tenure track position than married women with children under six, according to a presentation by Mary Ann Mason, Dean of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley, during a 2007 conference by the American Physical Society. The statistics came from a survey of Ph.D. recipients in sciences and humanities from 1981 to 1995.

Minorities, of course, make up a smaller employee pool in science and engineering. The NSF report showed that among the employed scientists with a Ph.D. in 2003, 25.2 percent of them were minorities. The figure for employed engineers with a Ph.D. was 37.2 percent.

Agarwal noted that women and minorities might not be choosing computer sciences because they believe job opportunities in the field are going overseas. In fact, in India, where she gave a recent presentation on gender and employment, women show a strong interest in computer sciences because of the country’s booming software industry.

Members of the diversity committee are eager to get started on several projects, including an internal mentoring program and a “career in computing camp” for local high school students. They also plan to continue to attend diversity conferences and participate in job fairs in order to attract more women and minority candidates.

Check out the National Science Foundation web site that provides a wealth of data on education and employment for women and minorities in science and engineering.

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) Computing Sciences organization provides the computing and networking resources and expertise critical to advancing the Department of Energy's research missions: developing new energy sources, improving energy efficiency, developing new materials and increasing our understanding of ourselves, our world and our universe.

ESnet, the Energy Sciences Network, provides the high-bandwidth, reliable connections that link scientists at 40 DOE research sites to each other and to experimental facilities and supercomputing centers around the country. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) powers the discoveries of 7,000-plus scientists at national laboratories and universities, including those at Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division (CRD). CRD conducts research and development in mathematical modeling and simulation, algorithm design, data storage, management and analysis, computer system architecture and high-performance software implementation. NERSC and ESnet are Department of Energy Office of Science User Facilities.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the DOE’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.