U of G Conference to Draw More Women to Computing

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An annual conference designed to attract more women to computing will take place for the first time at the University of Guelph this weekend.

The Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing (ONCWIC) Conference, now in its fifth year, will be held at U of G Oct. 24 and 25. Organizers expect to attract 250 attendees, including students, industry professionals and politicians.

Liz Sandals, Ontario Minister of Education, and MPP Han Dong will speak at the conference Oct. 24.

The conference began as a way to stem declining female enrolment in computer science and to encourage more women in information and communications technology careers in Canada, said computer science professor Rozita Dara, one of the conference organizers.

The event will include plenary sessions with industry leaders, group discussions and poster sessions.

“This event is intended to foster networking and growth within the Ontario female computer science community,” said Dara.

“We hope ONCWIC will help build the computer science community within Ontario, and set an example to support, promote and increase the visibility of women in technology across Canada. In addition, we hope to increase the potential for collaboration between industry and academia.”

Industry partners include Google, Microsoft, IBM, Morgan Stanley, RBC and TD Bank.

Prof. Deborah Stacey, Computer Science, said women face many challenges in entering the computing workforce.

“Not all aspects of the profession are attractive to women. Most industry is dominated by males, and there is a distinct lack of all types of diversity in some of the meccas of technology,” she said.

“Guelph’s computer science program has room to improve in comparison to other engineering programs. Our student body is 10 per cent female, while engineering is close to 30 per cent. But as our enrolment grows — and it is the fastest growing program on campus — the percentage of female students is going up.”

Stacey, a conference co-organizer, said it is important for young girls to consider computing science as an option.

“Primary school needs to encourage all students to explore computing. In the School of Computer Science, we have even had outreach programs to kindergarten students,” she said.

“A critical time is high school, where social pressures often convince girls that technology and programming is not for them even though they are good at it. Mentoring and teachers passionate about computers will help.”

For more information and to register, visit oncwic.ca.