“Women in Computer Science Club will foster a community which promotes equal opportunities for women in computer science by helping to create professional development opportunities and by advocating for more women to enter and contribute to this dynamic field.”
This is the mission statement for the Women in Computer Science club at my university, a club which has shaped my life as a college woman in tech more than I anticipated. Women in Computer Science, which we affectionately refer to as ‘WICS’, is student-led, sometimes meme-driven, and always empowering.
Serving WICS in a leadership position for the past two years has taught me several skills–ranging from broad to practical. There are skills like: how to educate others about the inequality women face in this field and how we can help address it; how to create a welcoming environment for women and male supporters; how to communicate, plan, and carry out events with and for a group of people; and how to have (fake) confidence when public speaking. There are also skills such as memorizing the club’s pizza preferences and consumption habits in order to accurately place an order at the local pizza joint. After watching leaders of the club accomplish these things before me, and then leading the club myself, I have decided that there is a certain ‘art’ to running a successful WICS club. Whether you’re a seasoned leader in CS or just thinking about getting a group together, hopefully you can take something away from my compilation of ‘WICS Tips’ below:
- Be transparent about inclusivity in WICS. If membership is limited to women, say that. If membership is open to all genders, say that, too. There are pros, cons, and logistics to each, so what works for one club may not work for another. (In my club, identifying as a woman is not a requirement for membership, but it is a requirement for some of the events we take part in. We just let our guys know that!)
- Make sure people understand the purpose/goal(s) of the club from the get-go. This may mean explaining it in the first club meeting, on advertisements for the club, and in the first club listserv email of the year. Speaking of emails…
- Find a witty club officer to manage the listserv who will regularly send out accurate, but funny, club meeting minutes. This keeps information organized and people engaged in the club, even if they can’t make meetings.
- A Google Drive folder containing all the club documents since the club’s inception just may be your savior. Share it with all the officers and your advisor(s) because “organized chaos” is better than “chaos chaos”.
- Understand that college students’ time is often governed by a currency system called “free food”. Take advantage of this.
- Don’t try to plan an entire conference (or any sort of large club event) by yourself. It will most likely be overwhelming and consume a ridiculous amount of your time.
- That being said, if you somehow unexpectedly find yourself in the position where you’re planning an entire event alone, remember that you can ask for help and delegate responsibilities. Know which responsibilities to keep for yourself if you need to make sure they get done. To-do lists are your friend.
- Get feedback from the club regularly and give opportunities to do so anonymously. (Sticky notes are one tactic that can work well.) You want to plan events that people care about and will participate in. Anonymous feedback is also helpful when talking about gender inequality in STEM with a mixed-gender club so that everyone feels safe enough to be honest.
- Embrace game nights — programming conversations, nerding out over the latest technology, and ranting about the gender gap are all things that will probably happen at a WICS meeting at one time or another, but don’t forget to have fun.
- Remember why you’re doing what you do when everything gets stressful. In your little corner of the world, you’re making computer science a better place for girls and women, like you, in tech. And that’s pretty cool.
-Mariah Jacobs, 2018 RTC Fellow
Rewriting the Code-Empowering College Women in Tech