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Jeria Quesenberry (CMU) speaks on Gender Balance in two CMU Portugal events

On June 26th and 28th, the CMU Portugal Program hosted two invited talks to discuss gender balance in Academia. Continuing its tradition of bringing Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) speakers to Portugal to share best practices and experiences on this topic, the Program welcomed Jeria Quesenberry from CMU as the guest speaker.

During her visit to Portugal, the professor of Information Systems, delivered the talk “Breaking Barriers in Technology: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon and Global Perspectives” on two occasions. The first event was held at Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, co-organized by INESC-ID and the Instituto Superior Técnico Gender Balance Group. The second occurred at INESC TEC in Porto, supported by its Diversity & Inclusion Commission.

At Técnico, President Rogério Colaço opened the session, sharing the institution’s commitment to gender balance. He highlighted the foundation of the Gender Balance Group in 2016, now led by Professor Alexandre Bernardino and Beatriz Silva from Técnico. According to President Colaço, while we can talk about gender equality nowadays, true equity has yet to be achieved, stressing that supporting gender equity has been one of the concerns of his presidency. 

Jeria´s research focuses on cultural influences in technology, particularly social inclusion, broadening participation, career values, organizational interventions, and work-life balance.  Currently, she stands as the Associate Dean of Faculty in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a Teaching Professor of Information Systems at Carnegie Mellon University and has published the book Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University”. 

Jeria Quesenberry (CMU)

Jeria shared the outcomes of her research on women in computing, highlighting best practices and challenges from her experience at CMU and showcasing examples from the Computer Science undergraduate program at CMU over the years.

According to the researcher, “Gender imbalance is a topic that requires work. It is a multifaceted problem that demands a multilayered approach.” She added: “When I started my research 25 years ago, this was a new topic. Now there is a broader recognition of the problem; speaking about gender balance is no longer a question.” 

As of 2019, in the US, women represent just over half of the professional workforce but only 27% of computing jobs, and African American and Latinx women hold less than 10% of computing occupations. The highest representation of women in ICT work can be found in the Asia-Pacific region (30.4% women) and Africa (31.3% women). 

Regarding Carnegie Mellon University reality, CMU SCS undergrad gender diversity has been higher than national averages for 15+ years. In 2019, 49% of new CS students were women. Since 2022, that percentage has been divided between women and nonbinary; in 2023, it was registered at 46% and 3%, respectively. Regarding major graduates, females and males are at about the same rate – women are 93%, and men are 92%. In the mid to late 90s, female students only represented 5-12% of the students in the field. 

The 2000s brought some changes, not only in the admissions processes (looking for students with strong potential as opposed to prior programming experience) but also in culture and environment, which brought in more female students with a broader range of interests. However, the curriculum was NOT changed to be “female-friendly”. 

In 1999, the Women@SCS Advisory Committee was created to support female students. Its mission is to create, encourage, and support women’s academic, social, and professional opportunities in computer science and to promote the breadth of the field and its diverse community. 

Since then, the percentage of women has risen as the culture & environment improved for all. At the end of her presentation, Jeria shared: “Let’s stop perpetuating Western cultural myths about women’s low participation in computing once and for all. Instead, let’s commit to discussions that explore the wide range of obstacles and catalysts within our various cultures and environments. Addressing the gender gap requires a broader understanding of how we think about women and the computing field”, declares Jeria Quesenberry.

In Lisbon, Jeria’s talk was followed by a roundtable discussion on “Gender imbalance in STEM: the Portuguese academic experiencewith the participation of  Ana Paiva, Portuguese Secretary of State for Science; Anália Cardoso Torres, Professor at Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, Universidade de Lisboa; Inês Lynce,  National Co-Director of the CMU Portugal Program and President of INESC-ID; Jeria Quesenberry, João PeixotoVice-Rector of Universidade de Lisboa; Leonor Barreiros master student at Instituto Superior Técnico and Luís Lemos Alves, Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico. Sara Sá, science writer, moderated the discussion.

Ana Paiva highlighted the need to guarantee gender balance in the law, but supporting education, awareness, and cultural activities can have a big impact. The Secretary of State mentioned some activities that have been developed, such as the  RESTART Program. This funding instrument was created to promote gender equality and opportunities through the competitive funding of individual R&D projects in all scientific fields by researchers recently taking parental leave. In her intervention, Ana Paiva also highlighted the recent call for science-for-policy projects that aim to ensure that scientific knowledge drives and supports the development of new policies. It was also mentioned the program Engenheiras por um dia that encourages female students to choose engineering and technology, challenging the notion that these are male-dominated fields.


Ana Paiva – Portuguese Secretary of State for Science

Anália Torres shared with the audience the results of the recent study “Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions: Knowing the Reality to improve it,” which aims to provide a synopsis of the results found on promoting Gender Equality (henceforth GE) in Portuguese Higher Education. The four Case Studies conducted (with interviews with institutional managers, teachers, non-teaching staff, and students from four Portuguese Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), allowed us to understand the specific institutional, contextual, and circumstantial factors that can help in explaining the level of adherence to policies and practices that promote Gender Equality (GE). The conclusions drawn from this research project show that, although Portugal started late in tackling gender inequalities in higher education, it is already taking steps to balance the existing gaps. Precisely because imbalances persist, it is important to consider the clues drawn up and grounded in the project results.

Anália Cardoso Torres – ISCSP, Universidade de Lisboa

Inês Lynce, the first female CMU Portugal National co-Director and the first female President of INESC-ID, addressed the issue of underrepresentation in Academic leadership, evaluation processes, panels, etc. Despite the significant demand for her participation in events and other initiatives, she makes an active effort to participate, ensuring female representation;  otherwise, their seat at the discussion table will remain vacant. Inês also emphasized the importance of fostering a cultural environment that builds self-confidence in young girls, enabling them to find their own voice and be heard. Lynce highlighted that this work must begin at a very young age, starting at the primary education level.

Inês Lynce – CMU Portugal I INESC-ID

João Peixoto, Vice Rector of Universidade de Lisboa and Professor at ISEG (Lisbon School of Economics & Management), shared an overview of the institution, a sister school of Instituto Superior Técnico. Since 2013, ISEG and Técnico have been integrated into the Universidade de Lisboa, the largest university in the country, emphasizing the historical moment registered seven years ago when ISEG appointed Clara Raposo as the first woman President. The University of Lisbon Vice-Rector highlighted the institution’s commitment to supporting gender balance with a significant step taken two years ago, when ULisboa launched the Plan for Gender Equality, Inclusion, and Non-Discrimination to develop a structure, a culture, and a set of actions to create and monitor equal opportunities and the reduction of inequalities, including those arising from gender. ULisboa’s Network for Gender Equality, Inclusion, and Non-Discrimination was created to monitor the measures associated with implementing the plan and to promote the exchange of experiences, actions, and recommendations to contribute to an inclusive University. The Vice Rector highlighted that diversity, at all levels, is a key factor in driving Innovation. According to him, the next goal for the upcoming years is to have the first elected female rector at the Universidade de Lisboa. 

João Peixoto – Universidade de Lisboa

Leonor Barreiros, an MSc Computer Science (CS) and Engineering student at Técnico, spoke about her experience as a Computer Science student and some challenges girls in science still face. However, she also underlined some positive initiatives that exist nowadays to support Girls in STEM, like the “Feedzai” scholarship that she won in 2023 as a recognition of her academic effort and work. The scholarship helped her support her Erasmus experience in Munich and was a way to confirm that she is “on the right path”. According to her, these kinds of awards are a great incentive to continue working and show that dedication can be rewarded. This particular scholarship, exclusively for women, provides essential encouragement for girls to keep investing in themselves.

Leonor Barreiros – Instituto Superior Técnico

Luis Lemos Alves emphasized that awareness is crucial for cultural change, especially since many people today assume that gender balance is no longer an issue. On the contrary, this assumption underscores the need to assess and understand the problem thoroughly. The professor at Técnico advocates that, while there is no need to change curricula to make STEAM accessible to girls, there is a need to revise, implement, and evaluate existing policies. For example, although there is a clear non-discriminatory policy for STEM positions in academia, the fact that women are not applying, highlights the need to understand why this is occurring and what can be done to change it.

Luís Lemos Alves – Instituto Superior Técnico

Overall, the key message was that broad recognition of the problem motivates those seeking to create change. We all have the agency to work together on this.