With the increasing emphasis on STEM education, different initiatives are focusing on the diversification of technical science; the BRAID initiative is one of them. The current make up of students in STEM programs is mainly male because women just are not enrolling in these degree programs. They are drawn to the more traditionally female studies such as teaching and social science. There may be a biological basis for this, but the increasing number of females in science disciplines since the early 2000s makes it clear that it is also the result of a cultural bias. In addition, there is an alarmingly low number of individuals of color who enroll in technical science majors.

Women Under-Represented in Tech Jobs

The computer sciences field is employing a dwindling number of women. In 1985, 37% of employees in the computer sciences were women, but that has changed. In Silicon Valley the current workforce is 70% male and the social media website Twitter employs 90% male workers. This trend is not occurring because corporations will not hire female workers; it is because there are fewer qualified female applicants, in part because women are not majoring in technology in college.

Braid Program Designed to Attract Women and Students of Color

In 2014, Harvey Mudd College, along with the Anita Borg Institute, announced the “ Building, Recruiting and Inclusion of Diversity Initiative” as part of the CHARGE program sponsored by ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. CHARGE stands for the Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls’ Education. One goal of both programs is to increase the number of female students involved in STEM professions; the BRAID program also wants to attract more non-white students.

Because Harvey Mudd College, through its own efforts, has increased the number of women in computer science majors to 40%, it seemed the ideal model for other schools to follow. The BRAID initiative currently involves fifteen schools who are trying to emulate the Mudd methods in order to raise the number of under-represented minorities, including women, who are majoring in the computer sciences. These schools are:

  • Arizona State University
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New Jersey University of Technology
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Maryland Baltimore
  • University of Maryland College Park
  • University of Nebraska Lincoln
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Rochester
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Texas El Paso
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
  • Villanova University

The schools involved receive $30,000 a year for three years to implement programs that will encourage women and other minorities to major in computer sciences. In return, they provide data and insights that can be used in researching the issue and

What is Being Done

The BRAID initiative deals mainly with recruiting and retention in undergraduate computer science programs. One component is to increase outreach to high school students and their teachers. Another is the modification of computer science majors, making them more attractive and less intimidating. A third component is establishment of communities among minorities, such as a women’s computing group. Last, schools are encouraged to “push” dual majors so that computer sciences are seen as a way to solve problems in other disciplines.

The difference in the number of men and women studying computer science may be biological; men, some of whom are supporting families, gravitate to the higher-paying science and technology fields while women forego the higher compensation and opt for more “satisfying” professions like teaching and social sciences. The aim of the BRAID initiative is to ensure the doors to these career fields are open to under-represented minorities.