Women Embrace Computing in Mauritius
Joel C. Adams (Calvin College, USA), Shakuntala Baichoo (University of Mauritius, Mauritius) and Vimala Bauer (Barco Orthogon AG, Germany)
Copyright: © 2006
Studies like Camp (1997), Gurer and Camp (2002), Sigurdardóttir (2000), and Vegso (2005) have documented the declining percentage of women in computer science (CS) in the United States and other countries. While women are underrepresented in the United States overall, there are cultural pockets within the country that are exceptions to the rule. For example, Lopez and Shultze (2002) note that African-American women earned the majority of CS bachelor’s degrees each year from 1989 through 1997 at historically black U.S. colleges and universities. Fisher and Margolis (2002) and Frieze and Blum (2002) report some success in increasing the percentage of women studying computing at Carnegie-Mellon. Camp, Miller, and Davies (2001) point out that the problem is significantly worse for CS departments housed in a school of engineering compared to those housed in a school of arts and sciences, a phenomenon dubbed “the school of engineering effect.” So while women are on average underrepresented in CS in the United States, such national averages can hide significant variance within a country’s subcultures. Outside the United States, Schinzel (1999) notes that the situation in Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and German-speaking countries (ASGs) is similar to that in the United States, but female representation in CS is comparatively constant and high (45-50%) in Greece, Turkey, and the Romanic countries (e.g., France, Italy). Schinzel’s data are fragmentary, but they offer intriguing hints that culture plays an important role in encouraging or discouraging women from studying CS. These and reports like Galpin (2002) indicate that there are non-ASG countries where women are equally represented in CS. This in turn suggests that the problem is one of culture: ASG cultures apparently in some way discourage women from choosing IT-related careers, while the cultures of these other countries apparently encourage women to do so. If the root of the problem is the culture in the ASG countries, then that is where we should focus our efforts. What is it about the culture of the United States and other ASG countries that discourages women from studying CS? Trying to analyze the negative cultural factors from within an ASG country is rather like a fish trying to analyze the water in which it is swimming. A preferable approach is to become a “fish out of water” and visit a non-ASG country where women are studying CS. By identifying those cultural differences in non-ASG countries that are leading women to study CS, we can identify those aspects of ASG culture that are problematic. In this article, we examine the country of Mauritius, a 25x40-mile island roughly 500 miles east of Madagascar that is home to 1.2 million people. Ethnically, its population is 68% Indo-Mauritian, 27% Creole-African, 3% Sino-Mauritian, and 2% Franco-Mauritian. Religiously, its people are 52% Hindu, 28% Christian, 17% Muslim, and 3% other religions. With this dynamic mix of people, Mauritius is one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries.