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'It's a Bit Weird, but it's OK'?: How Female Computer Science Students Navigate being a Minority

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Abstract

Within Computer Science (CS) education, women have long been underrepresented. In the UK, women make up less than 20% of CS students at A-Level and undergraduate level. The lack of diversity within CS has become well-studied, often through quantitative surveys of female CS students or evaluations of different pedagogical or cultural interventions aimed to increase diversity and inclusivity. However, there have been far fewer studies that explore the experiences of female CS students at a more in-depth, qualitative level. This paper reports on the results of 15 in-depth semi-structured interviews with first year female CS undergraduate students at a UK university. Several of our findings are consistent with much existing research, such as the prevalence of gendered CS stereotypes and a lack of confidence. However, we also find two key strategies by which female Computer Science students navigate their minority experience that have not been given much prior attention. Firstly, we find that female CS students find it hard to articulate their minority experience without utilising the linguistic device of hedging. Asked about their experiences as a minority, participants would often mention a negative feeling in relation to this situation, followed quickly by a diminishing clause- ‘it’s a bit weird, but it’s ok’. Secondly, participants tended to individualise the problem, stressing the importance of their own individual responsibility to fit into CS and succeed, despite having sometimes experienced discrimination or sexism. We conclude by considering
the implications of these findings for educators.