Facebook to Intel Back Effort to Lift Engineer Diversity

Harvey Mudd College and the Anita Borg Institute, along with technology companies including Facebook Inc. and Intel Corp., have begun an initiative to increase the diversity of computer science undergraduates, amid a debate about the issue in Silicon Valley.

Under the effort, named Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity, or BRAID, the companies -- which also include Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. -- will donate a combined total of $1.35 million over the next three years to the computer science departments of 15 universities. The schools have agreed to follow practices used by institutions such as Harvey Mudd, where almost half of the computer science majors at the Los Angeles-area liberal arts school last year were female.

The announcement about BRAID, made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, follows recent disclosures by technology companies about their lack of diversity, particularly in jobs such as programming and hardware engineering. At Google, 17 percent of those roles were held by women, with 3 percent by blacks and Hispanics, the company disclosed in May. Facebook has said its technology staff is 15 percent female and 4 percent black or Hispanic.

Klawe said her goal is to prove that any department can have success in steering women and people of color into computer science.

“Anytime a computer science department chair has made the effort, they’ve seen significant progress,” she said.

BRAID Begins

Klawe said BRAID began after she shared data on other successful programs at a recent conference for computer science departments, and offered to aid the first 10 departments that reached out for help to raise money to send their female freshmen to a technology conference on diversity.

By the time she got back to her laptop, she had e-mails from 11 of the 15 schools that would participate in BRAID. Within three days, Facebook, Google and Microsoft had agreed to fund the program, she said, adding that Intel also came on board later.

Klawe has drawn attention to techniques that have made computer science more appealing to female students at Harvey Mudd. Newly accepted students often receive calls from computer science professors, and are required to take an introductory course that stresses fun and teamwork over prior knowledge.

Other programs such as Carnegie Mellon University and University of California at Berkeley have also made strides in attracting more women.

Still, women received only 19.1 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2013, up from 17.8 percent in 2009, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

Research Study

The schools involved in BRAID will also provide data for a study on how best to attract and retain female, black and Hispanic computer science students. Participating colleges include Villanova University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and others including the University of Illinois in Chicago and the University of Nebraska.

BRAID will be led by Klawe and Telle Whitney, president and chief executive officer of the Anita Borg Institute, which promotes women in technology. Klawe, who is a board member of Microsoft, is interviewing CEO Satya Nadella on stage at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Oct. 9.