Why cutting computer science in Geneseo is bad for women

Geneseo’s computer science program is set to vanish in May 2014. While the cut disheartens many, it also reminds us again that the college has misguided missions that cause more confusion than anger – women in entrepreneurship being one of them. First, some background information: A study published in mid-November by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reported that there remain heavy disparities among gender participation in computer sciences and engineering. Specifically, women represent less than 30 percent of people who receive computer science and engineering degrees at the undergraduate level. That number is decreasing, and it’s even lower for minority women.

At the same time, Geneseo recently began touting itself on entrepreneurialism when the college endowed a $2.5 million chair for entrepreneurship and offered a class to School of Business majors, MGMT 385: Special Topics in Entrepreneurialism.

The class consists of groups that will actually build start-up companies, and today, start-up means a lot more than a business mindset; it means serious high-technology innovation. In other words, the ability to code.

And let us be reminded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is luring start-ups to upstate New York. Cuomo is allowing them to operate tax-free for 10 years on New York college campuses. Cuomo is hopeful the state can rebuild communities surrounding higher education institutions.

But let’s look at the facts of high-tech start-up companies that are now well on their way, if they haven’t done so already, to creating job growth and economic activity. The percentage of technology start-ups founded by women is 5 percent, and only 35 percent of start-up businesses have female owners.

Job listings for young start-up companies call for internships for those with experience in web design, coding and everything in between – all things that are not offered to students at Geneseo.

It’s not surprising. Admit it: You don’t need data to know that start-ups are a male-dominated high-tech industry, and that’s fine, but the lack of women is insanely inefficient.

Women 2.0, a platform for female founders of technology start-ups, reported that tech companies with female executives receive higher returns on both investment and venture capital. A Harvard Business Review survey report showed that, at all levels, women are rated higher in “competencies that go into outstanding leadership.”

This was all reported after a 2011 piece written by Vice President Lesa Mitchell of the Kauffman Foundation. She said, “Despite recent gains, women still lag behind men on key measures of startup activity, and their firms tend not to grow or prosper nearly as much.”

The bottom line is, without a computer science department, students as a whole aren’t gaining necessary skills for entrepreneurship. Women are especially at risk from their lack of introduction to this market.

Geneseo picked up its slack in departments that were once heavily male-dominated, like biosciences and mathematics, but the college still isn’t making connections where there is untapped potential for women to considerably excel. The aforementioned programs are only useful if students and faculty understand where improvements can be made.

Mitchell also noted, “The returns will increase when more women contribute to the process by bringing their ideas to market and building high-growth firms around them.”

That is true and very ideal, but Geneseo will not be a contributor to this change without a computer science department to offer women the skills they want to grow as high-tech entrepreneurs, no matter how many tax incentives they’re provided.