Last year, Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Computer Science won the Diversity Champion of the Year Award at the Digital Diversity Awards, celebrating an organization for going above and beyond to address the need for greater gender diversity in the male-dominated tech industry.
Founded in 1997, Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Computer Science is the premier research institution for Information Technology in Atlantic Canada. In 2016, as the university looked ahead to their 200th anniversary in 2018, the Faculty of Computer Science decided to leverage this unique moment in history to create change; they wanted to not only attract more female students, but to increase support for their current female students as well. The department launched the WeAreAllCS campaign, with the ambitious goal of doubling the number of female students entering their undergraduate programs in September 2018 vs. September 2016, and driving stronger supports for their female students.
Through this innovative initiative, Dalhousie successfully brought together leaders from education, industry, government, and the student body to increase the number of incoming female students by 144% in 2018, far exceeding their initial goal. Dalhousie tackled this challenge head on by coordinating with industry partners and Nova Scotia’s K-12 system, and by developing new curriculum and course delivery methods, creating scholarship opportunities and peer mentorship programs, and hosting a national conference for women in technology.
For Dalhousie, encouraging more women to enter STEM fields is not about the numbers, but an important societal issue. “We live in a world where technology underpins all industries and plays a key role in almost all aspects of life,” explains Dr. Andrew Rau-Chaplin, Dean of the Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science. “Therefore the creators and influences behind technology must be diverse in order to reflect and serve our society.”
In addition to increasing the number of female students enrolled in the Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie saw a 250% increase in female students joining the student-led Women in Technology Society in the 2017/2018 academic year. The group has created a supportive and fun environment for female students, and has partnered with faculty in the department to lead exciting initiatives like the Female-Identifying Student Peer Mentorship Program. All female-identifying students who sign-up for the program receive a mentor to help them navigate the Faculty of Computer Science systems, resources, and community.
With an eye to the future, Dalhousie champions diversity in the talent pipeline in the K-12 public school system, working with partners across the province to promote and encourage women in tech and educate female students on available opportunities. In 2017, the team introduced an annual on-campus event for female-identifying high school students from across the province who might be considering going into a STEM program, which has been attended by over 150 interested young women annually ever since. Participants have the opportunity to meet and learn from Dalhousie students and alumni from the Faculty of Computer Science. The Faculty also collaborates with like-minded organizations and industry partners to offer financial support and mentorship to incoming female students. Since 2018, the team has awarded 64 Women in Technology Scholarships to new female students.
The Faculty of Computer Science continues to strive to improve gender equality for the future. “We still have a long way to go to see a true gender balance in our classrooms and winning the Diversity Champion award further gives our WeAreAllCS campaign a platform to not only show our support for women in technology but to also inspire other institutions and industries to prioritize the attraction of female talent in the tech sector”, says Dr. Rau-Chaplin.
Our 5th annual Digital Diversity Awards (DDA) are now open for nominations, if you know a diversity champion in Nova Scotia’s tech sector please submit a nomination for the 2020 DDAs today! Learn more about our awards and nomination criteria.