Women in computing in Canada

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Canada shares many of the concerns particularly prevalent in the developed and developing world about the current and future roles of women in computing, especially as these occupations increase in importance. As in much of the world where computing and information technology is a large industry, women have historically faced underrepresentation in education and industry. As a result, some Canadian women pursuing careers in these fields have had a lack of role models and faced sexism. There are many institutions and initiatives in Canada, however, which seek to increase representation for women in computing fields, as well as the fields of natural science and engineering in general.

Inequalities[edit]

In education[edit]

As is typical in North America, the enrollment for women in computing disciplines at the post-secondary level is significantly lower than for males. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, there were 33,219 students nationwide enrolled in “Mathematics, computer and information sciences”, with only 9,075 of them being women (27%).[1] This is significantly lower than 3 years earlier (2005/2006), when the percentage of women was 37%. The fact that, in general, the enrollment of women in computer science and related disciplines is actually declining is mirrored in the US.[2]

Another summary published by Statistics Canada shows that this trend is not recent; between 1992 and 2007, the number of annual female university graduates in computer science has remained roughly constant (with a slight increase between 2000 and 2004), whereas the number of male graduates has increased approximately 50% (with the 2004 value almost double that of the 1992 value).[3] Relatively speaking, there were about twice as many male graduates as female in 1992, and three times as many in 2007.

A study looking at enrollment based on program and gender was done at the University of Waterloo in 2010, and the results were especially egregious (even compared to the nationwide statistics from the previous year). At Waterloo, the percentage of the undergraduate population in computer science that were women was only 11.5%, with a slight increase at the Master’s (18.4%) and PhD (17.1%) levels.[4] Waterloo, being one of the only universities in Canada to have a higher percentage of male students than female, is an extreme example, but the trend is constant across many computer science departments in the country.

In the workforce[edit]

As of 2011, the GDP of the Canadian Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector was $62.7 billion, and grew at an annualized rate of 3.8% between 2002 and 2011 compared to 1.9% for the overall economy, reflecting the importance of the industry in Canada.[5] Despite this importance, the percentage of women working in the industry unsurprisingly mirrored that of the percentage of women receiving computing education. Statistics Canada reports that in 2012, there were approximately 1,299,300 people employed in the “Professional, scientific and technical services”, of which only 548,800 were women (42%). This category also includes those working in legal and accounting services (which are typically much more gender balanced), so the actual percentage working in the computing field is likely much lower than this.

Attempts to address inequalities[edit]

Although the reasons for the lack of participation of women are multifaceted and are not fully understood, it is accepted that they partly stem from the perceived image of the field, a lack of understanding of what work in the field consists of, and a lack of encouragement.[2] Correspondingly, many institutions (both ones that are independently organized and ones that are funded by the Government of Canada through universities) have come into existence to inform and encourage potential computing students. As well, many universities and other organizations offer gender-specific scholarships in attempts to increase enrollment numbers.

Institutions and organizations[edit]

A Ladies Learning Code workshop in Toronto.

Canada has several not-for-profit organizations dedicated to supporting women in computing disciplines.

  • Ladies Learning Code is a Toronto-based not-for-profit which hosts events for women in computing and has a community outreach program. The same founders also have recently formed Girls Learning Code, which hosts technology camps and workshops for "Toronto’s most creative 9 to 13-year-old girls".[6]
  • Chic Geek is a Calgary-based not-for-profit which creates opportunities for women to explore their geeky sides, inspire one another, and build meaningful personal and professional relationships. They organize technical workshops for women and girls as well as networking events. [7]


Many Canadian universities also have resources designed for women in underrepresented disciplines such as computer science.

  • The University of Toronto hosts monthly lunches for all female students and faculty in Computer Science, and a mailing list.[8]
  • The University of British Columbia has a “Focus on Women in Computing (FoWCS)” committee which aims to increase the participation of women in computer science “at all academic levels”.[9]
  • The University of Waterloo has a Women in Computer Science organization (WICS).[10]
  • The School of Computing at Queen's University has a Women in Computer Science organization (WISC).[11]

Initiatives and scholarships[edit]

Several scholarships exist for Canadian women in computing (some of which being international).

  • Google Canada offers the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for outstanding female Canadian undergraduates and graduates in Computer Science.[12]
  • UBC offers a scholarship for upper-year computer science, with preference to female candidates.[13]

Many universities also have programs in place to encourage interest in computer science, especially for high school students.

  • Waterloo's Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing holds an annual workshop in computer science for young women,[14] which students from across the country can apply for and are accepted into through a lottery system.

Celebrations of Women in Computing Events[edit]

Several region-based celebrations, modeled after the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women conference, have taken place over the past several years in conjunction with the ACM-W:

The Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing (ONCWIC):

  • 2010 - Kingston, ON - Chair: Wendy Powley, Queen's University
  • 2011 - Toronto, ON - Co-Chairs: Kelly Lyons & Renée J. Miller, University of Toronto
  • 2012 - London, ON - Chair: Hanan Lutfiyya, Western University
  • 2013 - Kitchener/Waterloo, ON - Chair: Kate Larson, University of Waterloo
  • 2014 - to be held in Guelph, ON - Chair: Rozita Dara, University of Guelph

The Atlantic Celebration of Women in Computing:

  • 2011 - Sackville, NB - Chair: Laurie Ricker, Mt. Allison University

The Pacific Northwest Celebration of Women in Computing:

  • 2014 - to be held in Vancouver, BC - Chair: Anne Condon, University of British Columbia

International comparison[edit]

Many of the statistics reported by Canadian studies and agencies are similar to those found in North America as a whole. In the US, the percentage of computer science degrees awarded to women dropped from 37.1% to 26.7% between 1984 and 1998. As well, a recent survey indicated that less than 12% were awarded to women in 2010-2011.[2] Like Canada, the US has many scholarships and initiatives in place to attempt to address this (e.g., the Anita Borg Institute).

Asia exhibits some different trends. In Southeast Asia, a more equal gender distribution in the discipline has been reported.[2] Cultural reasons have been cited for this, as well as the perception that computing is an employable field, which results in greater parental encouragement to pursue careers in the field regardless of gender. The percentage of students who are women enrolled in undergraduate computer science programs was 51.4% in Malaysia in 1991, greater than 50% in Singapore in 1987, and 55% in Thailand in 1998.[15] In India, women graduates from IIT Bombay in engineering grew from 1.8% in 1972 to 8% in 2005,[2] which, although still low, is the opposite of the downward trend observed in North America.

The statistics for Europe show an even smaller participation than North America for some countries, and a slightly higher participation for others (primarily Scandinavian countries). The Czech Republic had 9.6% women enrolled in 2001, Germany had 10.5% in 2000, the Netherlands had 6.6% in 1999, Slovenia had 6.7% in 1999, and Switzerland had 11.4% in 2001. By contrast, Finland had 20% in 1997, Iceland had 24% in 2000, Norway had 23.2% in 1999, and Sweden had 30% in 2000. The United Kingdom was approximately in the middle at 19% in 1999.[15]

Notable Canadian Women in Computing[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "University enrolment by field of study and gender". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e See the main article on women in computing.
  3. ^ "Trends in University Graduation, 1992 to 2007". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  4. ^ "Where the boys are and aren't". University of Waterloo Magazine. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "ICT Sector Gross Domestic Product (GDP)". Industry Canada. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "About". Girls Learning Code. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  7. ^ "About". Chic Geek. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Women in Computer Science". University of Toronto. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "Focus On Women In Computing". University of British Columbia. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  10. ^ "Women in Computer Science". University of Waterloo. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Women in the School of Computing". School of Computing at Queen's University. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "The Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship: Canada". Google. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  13. ^ "SIMBA Technologies Award in Computer Science". University of British Columbia. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  14. ^ "CEMC Workshop in Computer Science for Young Women". University of Waterloo. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Vashti Galpin. 2002. Women in computing around the world. SIGCSE Bull. 34, 2 (June 2002), 94-100.

External links[edit]