When thinking about diversity within the techie fields, I tend to put technical people into one of two categories: part of the solution or part of the problem. Bill Gates? Part of the problem (in the sense that the models of computing success we hold up are overwhelmingly white, male, and "socially challenged"; not in the "Microsoft is bad and evil!" sense). Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher? Part of the solution ("we saw a problem with gender diversity at Carnegie Mellon and we worked really hard to fix it. Here's what worked for us."). I also tend to bin the ambivalent people into the "part of the problem" category (lack of obvious mentoring for female and underrepresented students in STEM fields is as bad as blatantly negative mentoring). But lately I'm faced with a whole new category of people: the "I Give Up"s. These are people who care, or say they care, or once cared, about diversity, but whom have grown weary or discouraged at the lack of progress and thus are ready to just give up. "What difference does it make, anyway? I've tried and tried and there still are so few women and people of color. I'm tired of not making a difference."
Achieving diversity is hard. It's hard because we're in essence fighting against so many societal factors, against indifferent teachers, against toxic classroom computing environments. We're fighting a world in which girls are constantly told that Math Is Hard and that it's not cool to be smart, much less into computers or robots or whatever. We're dealing with students who grew up in homes where the family computer was probably in the boy's bedroom, not in the girl's bedroom. We're dealing with students who were not encouraged to take math and science, or who did not have the "right" math and science classes at their school and have no realistic chance of success in any STEM field. We're competing against "easier" academic majors, against programs where the gender diversity is better and where the classrooms and labs are not ruled by alpha male geeks with few social skills. It's an uphill battle, dammit, and it is *hard*.
But when I hear comments from the I Give Ups, it makes me very sad. Because I know that every female student or student of color that we manage to get into our classrooms is a victory. Because even though a few is nowhere close to great, it's better than zero. Because the only way we're going to change anything is to keep pushing for climate change, to keep strongly encouraging our students to take our courses, to *explicitly* mentor the students who need that extra push, to be continuously vigilant, to keep asking "What else can I do to improve the situation?"
I'm tired, too. But I'm not giving up. This is not a war that I'm willing to concede. The stakes are way too high. This is definitely not the time to give up.