Gender disparity in computing

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Women attending the British Computer Society Women Wikipedia editathon at BCS London.

Gender disparity in computing has become a global concern due to the emergence of the Information Age. Main concerns arose due to the growing gender disparity in the field of computing. The field of computing increasingly has developed a gender gap. This gender gap has made the field become more male dominant. With the decline in women pursuing education within the field of computer science and women working in field, lack of diversity in field emerged. Concerns of improving perspective in the field, creating more diversity, and attempting to close the gender gap motivated public policy debates addressing gender equality due to the growing importance of computing and technology in society. This dialogue helped to expand information technology innovations and to reduce the consequences of sexism. Growing concerns about the disparity in computing has allowed for the rise of organizations creating their own initiatives to bring women into the field of computer science.


In the early days of computers and computing, women were well-represented in the field.[1] Women often worked as "human computers," making complicated calculations and working in large groups, such as the Harvard Computers.[2] Women also worked on ballistics calculations and cryptography.[3][4] In 1946, the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical engineering and the United States Army Ballistics Research Laboratory began to research the trajectories of projectiles. 200 women had been involved in this research.[5] Human computers who were women could be paid less than their male counterparts.[6] By 1943, the majority of human computers were women.[7] Due to the lack of labor resources during the Second World War, women were actively recruited into computer jobs that would traditionally gone to men.[8] Finding jobs in the computer science field allowed women to find higher opportunities in the workforce. Early programmers on machines such as ENIAC, were mostly women.[1] The reason that women were involved as programmers and human computers was because "they expected programming to be a low skill clerical function," and that the difficult work was the creation of the hardware, which male engineers largely worked on.[1] The programmers of the ENIAC, six women who designed the public demonstrations and prepared the machine for its public debut were not fully recognized for their contributions by the media.[9]

Two women reprogram the ENIAC.

Computer science was the fastest growing college major and popular STEM discipline among women from the 1970s until the 1980s.[10] According to the National Science Foundation's data of women receiving a Bachelor of Science degree spanning four decades (1966-2006), computer science is the only STEM discipline facing a downward slope after its highest peak in 1984 with 37% of women receiving their degrees in compute science.[10] Similar patterns exist in the computing workforce as well with a peak of 38% in 1987.[10]

By the 1960s, while computer programming was still touted as a good field for women to go into, major shifts were beginning to take place that would help push women out of the field.[1] Men who were programming started to make the field more "prestigious," creating professional associations, education requirements for work and by actively discouraging hiring women in the field.[1] Hiring tools were introduced in which answers were shared among all-male groups and clubs.[1] Another way to push women out of the field was to use personality tests that favored people who were not interested in working with others, which was slanted towards a certain type of male applicant.[1] According to Janet Abbate, the work that the ENIAC women did during World War II was considered menial because of preconceived gender notions.[11] Women were not allowed to work in developing hardware and so, over time, it became associated as a man's job.[11] Software development was new and women worked that job because they had prior experience as 'human computers'.[11] After these trends were entrenched in the industry, it has continued to perpetuate itself into the modern day.[1] Some computer science programs, such as Princeton, in the mid-1960s wouldn't even admit women into their program.[12]

Gender gap[edit]

A survey, conducted by SWIFT ("Supporting Women in Information Technology") based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, asked 7,411 participants questions about their career choices. The survey found that females compared to males have lower levels of interest and perceived ability in computer science. This study (as well as others) provides a strong base for a positive correlation between both level of interest and perceived ability with career choice.[13] From 1971 to 2011, survey data was collected to document trends from majors in computer science, discover individualities of both males and females who selected computer science as their majors, and identify the cause of gender gaps. A key timeline between the 1990s to 2011 revealed a significantly low representation of women.[14] In general, women who pursue a Computer Science degree actually feel less confident then male when using a computer. The study shows that non-majors male students have more confidence than females when computing.[15]

A project based in Edinburgh, Scotland, "Strategies of Inclusion: Gender and the Information Society" (SIGIS) released its findings based on research conducted in 48 separate case studies all over Europe.[16] The findings focus on recruiting as well as retention techniques for women already studying in the field. These techniques range from the introduction of role models, advertisement campaigns, and the allocation of quotas, in order to make the computing field appear more gender neutral.[17] Educating reforms, which will increase the quality of the educating body and technological facilities, are also suggested.[17]

Research suggests that Malaysia has a much more equal split that varies around the half-way mark.[18] A job in the computing industry also implies a safe work environment. Strong belief by the previous generation that IT would be a flourishing sector with many job opportunities caused parents to encourage their children to take a computing career, no matter the gender.[18]

In India, a growing number of women are studying and taking careers in technical fields. The percentage of women engineers graduating from IIT Bombay grew from 1.8% in 1972 to 8% in 2005.[19] Arab women made up 59% of students enrolled in computer science in 2014 at government universities located in Saudi Arabia.[20] Women in Eastern Europe, especially in Bulgaria and Romania, have high rates of pursuing coding and technology.[21] However, women remain underrepresented in information technology fields.[22]

Based on recent as well as ongoing research involving the gender gap in computer science, a significant contribution is families, mainly parents. Other contributions come from friends, as well as classmates. They encourage women to both choose and continue in their studies in computer science. Some women who choose to study in the discipline experience a lack of provision during their schooling. They have very few peers to call for help. The lack of support can weaken women's pledge to the field. When circumstances in the department are negative, those with frail assurance leave at a higher rate than ones who have adequate support to overcome it. Faculty can discourage women with unintentional comments or with expectations based on assumptions that men's conduct, and knowledge are the basis of thriving in computer science (Cohoon, 2002).[23]

Statistics in education[edit]

In the United States, the proportion of women represented in undergraduate computer science education and the white-collar information technology workforce peaked in the mid-1980s, and has declined ever since. In 1984, 37.1% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women; the percentage dropped to 29.9% in 1989–1990, and 26.7% in 1997–1998.[24] Figures from the Computing Research Association Taulbee Survey indicate that fewer than 12% of Computer Science bachelor's degrees were awarded to women at U.S. PhD-granting institutions in 2010–11.[25] When looking at the percentage of women earning master's degrees, it peaked around 2000 at 33% and dropped to 27% in 2008.[26] Computer science holds one of the lowest proportion of women holding a doctorate's degree in the field.[27]

Within the United States, the representation of women in the computing field has declined over the past thirty years. Currently, women only make up 18% of graduates with a degree in computer science.[28] In a study based in the United States, "Anatomy of an Enduring Gender Gap: The Evolution of Women's Participation in Computer Science", researchers found an overall decline in women's intent to major in the computer science field. They found that by 2011 only 0.4% of women planned to major in computer science compared to 3.3.% of men.[28] The study also found, as of 2011, only 15% of women were computer science majors.[28]

Although teenage girls are now using computers and the Internet at rates similar to their male peers, they are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career or plan on taking post-secondary technology classes.[29] The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) reports that of the SAT takers who intend to major in computer and information sciences, the proportion of girls has steadily decreased relative to the proportion of boys, from 20 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2006.[30] While this number has been decreasing, in 2001, the total number of these students (both boys and girls) reached its peak at 73,466.

According to a College Board report, in 2006 there were slightly more girls than boys amongst SAT takers that reported to having "course work or experience" in computer literacy, word processing, internet activity, and creating spreadsheets/databases.[31] It was also determined that more boys than girls (59% vs 41%) reported course work or experience with computer programming, although this may likely be caused by false reporting. Of the 146,437 students (13%) who reported having no course work or experience, 61% were girls and 39% were boys.

More boys than girls take Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science exams. According to the College Board in 2006, 2,594 girls and 12,068 boys took the AP Computer Science A exam, while 517 girls and 4,422 boys took the more advanced AP Computer Science AB exam. From 1996 to 2004, girls made up 16–17% of those taking the AP Computer Science A exam and around 10% of those taking AP Computer Science AB exam.

In England females made up 20% of GCSE and 10% of Alevel computer science cohorts in 2019.[32][33] Females outperformed males at GCSE computer science, but when controlling for their achievement in other subjects, i.e. attempting to compare males and females of similar grade profiles, males achieved significantly higher grades in computer science.[34] Across all UK universities, females achieved significantly fewer first class degrees than males, a pattern not seen in other degree areas.[35]

Statistics in the workforce[edit]

Women's representation in the computing and information technology workforce has been falling from a peak of 38% in the mid-1980s. From 1993 through 1999, NSF's SESTAT reported that the percentage of women working as computer/information scientists (including those who hold a bachelor's degree or higher in an S&E field or have a bachelor's degree or higher and are working in an S&E field) declined slightly from 33.1% to 29.6% percent while the absolute numbers increased from 170,500 to 185,000.[36] Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Catalyst in 2006 indicated that women make up 27-29% of the computing workforce.[37][38] A National Public Radio report in 2013 stated that about 20% of all U.S. computer programmers are female.[39] In open source fields, only 10% of programmers are women.[40]

Benefits of gender diversity[edit]

A gender-diverse team is more likely to create products that meet people's requirements.[citation needed] When women are underrepresented, many technical decisions are based on men's experiences, opinions, and judgement, resulting in a male-slanted bias.[41] In addition, a review of research on gender-diverse teams reveals that gender-diverse teams are more productive, more creative, and more able to stay on schedule and within budget, compared to homogenous teams,[42] while other research review suggests that the results are mixed, with many studies showing no result, non-linear results or even negative results of gender diversity on team performances.[43] Research conducted by McKinsey & Company showed that companies with women in top management were more financially successful,[44] in contrast, analysis of sample major US companies showed no effect of inclusion of women (or minority members) on financial performance; these varied results give no conclusive evidence of the purely financial benefits of diversity.[45]

The book Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide states that the lack of participation of females in computing excludes them from the "new economy", which calls for sophisticated computer skills in exchange for high salary positions.[46]

In an article titled, "Diversity in Computing: Why It Matters and How Organizations Can Achieve It, Wendy M. DuBow looks into the benefits of gender diversity in the field of computer programming. In the article, DuBow found there to be missed potential when a workforce is not diverse.[47] DuBow also found having a diverse team, in culture, gender and race, allowed for more creativity, innovation, and productivity.[47]

"Innovative Potential: Men and Women in Teams", a study produced by The Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Business and the London Business School, found that teams with equal gender membership, from 21 different companies, were more efficient in their goals and more experimental.[48]

Factors contributing to lack of female participation[edit]


Diminished participation by women relative to men in computer science dates from about 1984[49] following mass marketing of personal computers to boys as toys to play games. Fiddling with computers by boys resulted in increased interest and readiness for computer science classes by young men.[50]

A study of over 7000 high school students in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada showed that the degree of interest in the field of computer science for young women is comparably lower than that of young men.[51] The same effect is seen in higher education; for instance, only 4% of female college freshmen expressed intention to major in computer science in the US.[46] Research has shown that some aspects about computing may discourage women. One of the biggest turn-offs is the "geek factor". High school girls often envisage a career in computing as a lifetime in an isolated cubicle writing code. The "geek factor" affects both male and female high school students, but it seems to have more of a negative effect on the female students.[52] In addition, computer programmers depicted in popular media are overwhelmingly male, contributing to an absence of role models for would-be female computer programmers. However, in 2015, computer science has for the first time become the most popular major for female students at Stanford University.[53]

In part to qualify for federal education funding distributed through the states, most U.S. states and districts now focus on ensuring that all students are at least "proficient" in mathematics and reading, making it difficult for teachers to focus on teaching concepts beyond the test. According to a Rand Corporation study, such a concentration on testing can cause administrators to focus resources on tested subjects at the expense of other subjects (e.g., science) or distract their attention from other needs.[54] Thus, computational thinking is unlikely to be taught either standalone or as integrated into other areas of study (e.g., mathematics, biology) anytime in the near future. The National Center for Women & IT distributes free resources for increasing awareness of the need for teaching computer science in schools, including the "Talking Points" card, "Moving Beyond Computer Literacy: Why Schools Should Teach Computer Science".[55]

In 2014, Kelly Ward, Cornelia Dragne, and Angelina J Lucas conducted a study in Romania that examined gender disparity in computing. The article features statistics of female enrollment in computing programs at Romanian universities. The main topics of the article are representation, equality vs. equity, and the masculine image of computing and how it affects opportunities for women.[56]

Female and male perspectives[edit]

A women sitting down, while using her computer. The sticker reads, "No, this is not my boyfriend's computer."

According to a 1998–2000 ethnographic study by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher at Carnegie Mellon University, men and women viewed computers very differently. Women interviewees were more likely to state that they saw the computer as a tool for use within a larger societal and/or interdisciplinary context than did the men interviewed. On the other hand, men were more likely to express an interest in the computer as a machine.[51][57] Moreover, women interviewed in this study perceived that many of their male peers were "geeks," with limited social skills. Females often disliked the idea that computers "become their life."[51] The students observed and interviewed in that study were probably not representative of students in general, since at that time, in order to be admitted to CMU Computer Science a student needed to have some programming experience. More research is needed to understand the ability to generalize Margolis' and Fisher's findings.

A two-year research initiative published in 2000 by AAUW found that "Girls approach the computer as a "tool" useful primarily for what it can do; boys more often view the computer as a "toy" and/or an extension of the self. For boys, the computer is inherently interesting. Girls are interested in its instrumental possibilities, which may include its use as an artistic medium. They express scorn toward boys who confuse "real" power and power on a screen. "I see a computer as a tool," a high school girl declares. "You [might] go play Kung Fu Fighting, but in real life you are still a stupid little person living in a suburban way."[58] Still, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed as far back as 2000 that boys and girls use computers at about the same rates, albeit for somewhat different purposes.

Nearly 1000 students in University of Akron were surveyed, and it was discovered that females hold a more negative attitude towards computers than males.[46] Another study assessed the computer-related attitude of over 300 students in University of Winnipeg and obtained similar results.[46]

This is thought to contribute to the gender disparity phenomenon in computing, in particular the females' early lack of interest in the field.[46]

Barriers to advancement[edit]

Measures like experience, aptitude tests, and college degrees were used by companies to hire people for the job in the 1960s and onwards.[11] The requirement of college degrees was not helpful for women to get a job.[11] Many did not either think of pursuing further studies because of the societal expectation that women should be married and raise children.[11] Not having adequate resources to attain a four-year degree also played a factor in not furthering their education.[11]

When word processors came into being in the 1980s, job titles and duties had to be reorganized.[59] With more advanced machines to learn and use, receiving a college education became a must for prospective workers to be considered for a position.[59] This left out women who weren't as educated or possessed enough money to afford higher education.[59]

Research on the barriers that women face in undergraduate computing[60] has highlighted such factors as:

  • Undergraduate classroom teaching in which the "weedout" practices and policies privileging competition over cooperation tend to advantage men.
  • Laboratory climates in which women are seen as foreign and not belonging at best, and experience blatant hostility and sexism at worst.
  • Well-meaning people who unwittingly create stereotype threat by reminding students that "women can do computing as well as men".
  • Strong resistance to changing the system in which these and other subtle practices are continuously reproduced.

Just like in the pre-college situation, solutions are most often implemented outside of the mainstream (e.g., providing role models, mentoring, and women's groups), which can also create the perception among women, their male peers, and their professors that to be successful, women need "extra help" to graduate. Most people do not realize that the "extra help" is not academic, but instead access to the kind of peer networks more readily available to male students. Many women decline to participate in these extracurricular support groups because they do not want to appear deficient. In short, the conditions under which women (and underrepresented minority students) study computing are not the same as those experienced by men.

Lack of acknowledgment and promotion of skills[edit]

The need for experience helped women a lot better than the requirement of a college degree.[11] They had more chances of gaining experience at a workplace than attaining a college degree.[11] Aptitude tests were also a measure used by companies to determine who had the skills necessary for the job.[11] It also made it easier for women to land jobs in the computing field because of its nature of objectivity, but it did not necessarily mean better treatment of women than men in the field.[11]

Societal and institutional assumptions of what gender and its capabilities were, were most likely to influence the positions of the women in the workplace then.[61] As it changed over time, so did what women were capable of doing. The marriage bar and assumptions that women would not stay in the workplace for long after marriage became reasons for companies to deny promotions and increased salaries to women.[61] With the advancement of technology, the complexity of the jobs also rose.[62] This led to many women being unable to pursue those jobs as the companies handed them over to men.[62] Pre-conceived notions of the abilities of men and women affected these decisions.[62]

Punch-card operations were mostly a woman's job in the second half of the 20th century.[61] The conditions associated with this job - noisy rooms, heavy manual labor, no opportunity for growth, less pay, unfavorable work environments and behaviors - forced many women to eventually leave their jobs.[61] A Harvard Business School report stated that due to negative experiences of keeping up with horrible work conditions, pressure to complete the work on a tight schedule, and dealing with male-dominated behaviors, half of the women joining the workforce left their jobs after working for ten years.[63]

Women in technical roles often feel that the skills and feedback they bring to their jobs are not valued. According to a Catalyst report called "Women in Technology: Maximizing Talent, Minimizing Barriers", 65% of females in technical roles felt that those they reported to were receptive and responsive to their suggestions, as compared to 75% of women in non-technical roles.[38] This also speaks directly to the retention of females in the industry as females will commonly leave a company when they feel that what they are offering a company is not valued.[38] The report shows the concerns felt about this by sharing the following quote from an interviewee: "I would like to be involved with more projects than I am currently involved in; I feel that I am being underutilized. I would prefer my supervisor give me an opportunity to expand my skill sets and my responsibility at work".[38]

However, it is not enough to just acknowledge skills. Women also lack the support and advocacy needed to promote these skills.[64] Women feel alone and at a loss because they lack role models, networks, and mentors.[64] These support systems not only help women develop talent and opportunities for career advancement, but they are also needed to promote women to more senior roles.[64] It can be understood that advocacy is a major player in the advancement of females into senior tech roles.

Stereotyping computer scientists[edit]

Different forms of media played a part in unconsciously discouraging women from entering the computing field in the late 20th century.[65] Advertisements promoted the idea of the women doing the grunt work in computing while the men oversaw the women's work.[65] For example, men were shown to be using the phone while in front of the computer, while women were using the keyboard to do work on the computer.[62] As women slowly became experts in the field, journalists started writing about the fewer number of men who were experts in the field, while writing pieces about women's lack of expertise, shifting the narrative.[62]

Other research examines that undergraduates' stereotype of the people in computer science and how changing this stereotype through media can influence women's interest in computer science. Through this study they concluded that the image of computer science majors that is most prevalent in popular culture and in the minds of current undergraduates is someone who is highly intelligent, primarily obsessed with computers, and socially unskilled. This image can be considered to contrast with the more people-oriented, traditionally feminine image. According to this study, students continue to generate and propagate this stereotype when asked to describe people in computer science. Based on the results of their experiment based on this idea, they took a group of women and men undergraduates and had them read a stereotypical article and a non-stereotypical article. They found that women who read the non-stereotypical article were much more interested in computer science than those who read the article with the above-mentioned stereotypical computer science student. Overall, they concluded that the underrepresentation of women in computing is not due to women's lack of interest. The study contests the perception that college major decisions are free choices, instead they discuss the implications that the major decisions are more constrained by the prevalent stereotypes. This has a negative consequence such that it prevents women from developing an interest in these technical fields. The finding suggests that the stereotypical image of the computer scientists is unattractive to women who would otherwise be interested if presented with a true representation or role model from the computer science field.[66]

Racial stereotyping is also an issue, as computer scientists can often be thought of as white or Asian males, which can make it difficult for people who fall outside of those ethnicities to get hired. Non-white or Asian women may experience additional difficulty because they fail to match either half of the stereotype.[67] Nonetheless, it has been found that a women's race is less likely to affect the probability of her choosing computing or a related field.[68]

Some cases that subvert the stereotype of typical people in computing include the person coming from a family that is already involved in computing or a related field.[69] Also, coming from a family of a higher socioeconomic status is correlated to a higher likelihood of women choosing computing or a related field.[68] Yet, many computing companies only search for employees from prestigious schools, which leaves fewer opportunities.[67]

Technological Advancements[edit]

The ENIAC not only initiated the rapid development of technology, but also the shift of computing work from females to males.[59] Before 1954, MetLife had a large number of women workers in their punch-card division.[59] A majority of women in this division received an annual salary of $3,400 (approximately 55 women) while the highest salary possible was $6,700.[59] After the company converted its punch-card division to a computer division, there were less than 10 women in the division and the highest annual salary possible was $5,400.[59] More men were appointed in the department and the highest salary possible was over $9,000.[59] Many women were assigned to other routine jobs in the department or let go once the transition was made.[59]

The women still working after the transition were mostly appointed in data entry.[59] It continued to be a low-paid, difficult, high-pressure, and time-dependent job that required a lot of accuracy because the machines were only as good as its input.[59] This further added to the stress because if the machines gave inaccurate information, it was assumed that the women were making mistakes in the calculations during the input process.[59] Even though the technological advancements continued well towards the 21st century, an advancement in better opportunities and work environments continued to stay the same, discouraging women to enter or continue in the field.[59]

Fraternity-like startup environments[edit]

The disproportionate number of startups in the computing industry, and the disproportionate hiring of primarily young workers, have created an environment in which many firms' technical teams consist largely of workers who are recent college graduates, sometimes giving the businesses fraternity-like cultures, leading to sexism that discourages female participation.[70] The phenomenon of fraternity-like environments among technology teams of startup firms has been termed brogrammer culture.[71]

Psychological differences between genders[edit]

Women, on aggregate, prefer people-oriented careers.[72] while their male counterparts show a preference for thing-oriented careers.[73] The difference between male and female interests is larger in gender-egalitarian countries than in non gender-egalitarian countries, which suggests the theory that these differences are due to societal roles isn't entirely explanatory.[74] Other work around this, including discussion of the Gender-equality paradox, has shown that this may be a naive interpretation of results, which instead can be explained by the study's methodological choices and confounding factors.[75]

Bringing women into computing[edit]

Three women repair computers in Lilongwe, Malawi.

The majority of data collected about women in IT has been qualitative analysis such as interviews and case studies. This data has been used to create effective programs addressing the underrepresentation of women in IT.[76] Suggestions for incorporating more women in IT careers include formal mentoring, ongoing training opportunities, employee referral bonuses, multicultural training for all IT employees, as well as educational programs targeting women.[77]

The number of female college entrants expressing interest in majoring in computer science decreased in the 2000s to pre-1980's levels.[78] A research study was initialized by Allan Fisher, then Associate Dean for Undergraduate Computer Science Education at Carnegie Mellon University, and Jane Margolis, a social scientist and expert in gender equity in education, into the nature of this problem. The main issues discovered in interesting and retaining women in computer science were feelings of an experience gap, confidence doubts, interest in curriculum and pedagogy, and peer culture.[79] Universities across North America are changing their computer science programs to make them more appealing to women.[80] Proactive and positive exposures to early computer experiences, such as The Alice Project,[81] founded by the late Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University, are thought to be effective in terms of retention and creation of enthusiasm for women who may later consider entering the field. Institutions of higher education are also beginning to make changes regarding the process and availability of mentoring to women that are undergraduates in technical fields.[82]

Another strategy for addressing this issue has been early outreach to elementary and high-school girls. Programs like all-girl computer camps, girls' after-school computer clubs, and support groups for girls have been instilled to create more interest at a younger age.[77] A specific example of this kind of program is the Canadian Information Processing Society outreach program, in which a representative is sent to schools in Canada, speaking specifically to grade nine girls about the benefits of Information Technology careers. The purpose is to inform girls about the benefits and opportunities within the field of information technology.[83] Companies like IBM also encourage young women to become interested in engineering, technology and science. IBM offers EX.I.T.E. (Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) camps for young women from the ages of 11 to 13.

Additionally, attempts are being made to make the efforts of female computer scientists more visible through events such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women conference series which allows women in the field to meet, collaborate and present their work. In the U.S., the Association for Women in Computing was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1978. Its purpose is to provide opportunities for the professional growth of women in computing through networking, and through programs on technical and career-oriented topics.[84] In the United Kingdom, the British Computer Society (BCS) and other organizations have groups which promote the cause of women in computing, such as BCSWomen, founded by Sue Black, and the BCS Women's Forum. In Ontario, Canada, the Gr8 Designs for Gr8 Girls program was founded to develop grade 8 girls' interest in computer science.

Twenty-first century efforts[edit]

National Center for Women & Information Technology[edit]

National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) currently leads the support of women's entry and retention in computing. The National Center for Women & Information Technology aims to help create both academic and work environments that are welcoming and fair for women. In their research, encouragement is one of the key elements to help women enter a primarily male-dominated field.[85] They also found women entered computer science due to the influence of a teacher, family member, or friend's encouragement more often than their male counterparts. They conclude that support can allow a woman to believe in her ability to compete in the field of computing. Thus, the NCWIT developed a program called Aspirations in Computing. This program provides girls with encouragement through a network of support and female role models. In a survey done, nearly half of the girls polled said they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a group or class.[86] Aspirations in Computing found that creating a sense of belonging or "fitting in" becomes a fundamental for interest and current retention. The National Center for Women & Information Technology created the Aspirations Award in order to involve women in a national competition. Awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership skills, academics, and plans for graduate schooling. Due to their reach and awareness of the program, they saw a 54% increase in the girls applying in the 2013 season compared to the previous year.[87]

Academies and organizations[edit]

In September 2013, Ada Developers Academy, a tuition-free one year intensive school in software development for women was launched by Technology Alliance in Seattle, and students could even apply to receive a $1000-per-month-stipend. The first half of the course focuses on HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Ruby on Rails and computer science fundamentals.

Having started in New York City, Girl Develop It is a network of city chapters that teach women from all parts of the country learn to develop software with HTML and CSS, Javascript, PhP, and other languages and frameworks. The organization was co-founded by Sara Chipps and Vanessa Hurst in 2010. Structural and content resources used to teach the programs have been developed and are offered for free both on their website and on

Hackbright Academy is an intensive, women-only 10-week programming course in San Francisco.[88] A Moms in Tech sponsorship for Hackbright Academy is also available for mothers who are former IT professionals and wish to retrain and return to work as a technically hands-on lead or manager, sponsored by Facebook.

Geek Girl is an organization that was started in March 2006 by Leslie Fishlock. It is an organization that acts as a technology resource for women. The organization strives to empower women of all ages through making technology easy to understand and use. These services are provided entirely by women. Though the target audience tends to be female and the organization was founded on the goal to empower women, men are also encouraged to participate in any of the events or services the organization offers.

Geek Girl hosts localized events, meetups, and conferences. The organization also supports a video channel titled GeekGirl TV that provides workshops about technological tools as well as provides coverage for their events for those who are unable to attend. Additionally, Geek Girl's website hosts a blog that provides technology-related news and information that is accessible to a reader with minimal technology experience.[89]

Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organization, founded to close the gap of gender within technology. The organization was founded by Reshma Saujani in 2012 in New York City with around 20 girls. As of August 2017, the organization is now in all 50 states with a membership of 40,000 girls.[90] The organization holds programs, like the Summer Immersion Program, where participants are paired with companies within the STEM field. They are able to gain experience and mentorship through the program. Girls Who Code also hold after school programs in all 50 states.[90]

A woman and her colleague learn how to code in a coding workshop.

Grace Hopper Academy, named after Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, is another woman-only immersive programming school, located in New York City.[91] A partner school to Fullstack Academy, Grace Hopper's curriculum focuses on the MEAN stack, and through education and mentorship, aims to help women begin careers in software engineering.[92]

CodeEd is a non-profit organization that focuses on teaching computer science to young girls in underserved communities. The organization partners with schools and programs to help provide volunteer teachers, computer science course offerings, and computers. The organization was co-founded by Angie Sciavoni and Sep Kamvar in 2010. CodeEd provides courses in HTML and CSS, and provides the curriculum and course material for free under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The organization offers classes that are taught by a team of two volunteer teachers, provide lessons in one-hour blocks that may be dispensed in a way that works for the receiving school, and teachers through fun and experimental projects. Code Ed currently offers services in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco.[93]

she++ is an organization that facilitates a community driven to inspire women to take on a role in the computer sciences. The organization was founded at Stanford University by now-alumnae Ellora Israni and Ayna Agarwal, who spearheaded the organization's inaugural conference in April 2012. The conference featured female speakers who held tech positions in companies like Google, Pinterest, and Facebook and was well attended. The conference inspired its organizers to continue with and expand upon she++ and now facilitates participation initiatives through hosting additional events such as a 2013 conference, curating a video library that features inspirational stories from technology professionals, and by offering a mentorship program. The organization is run by a collection of female students and Stanford University.[94]

Nerd Girls was launched in 2000 by Karen Panetta, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University. It is an organization that is represented by a group of female engineering students each year and encourages women to take on roles in the engineering and technology profession. The organization celebrates the coincidence of science knowledge and femininity. Participating members solve real-world problems as a group by addressing and fixing technology related issues in the community.[95] Nerd Girls has gained national attention since its launch and has been approached by media producers to create a reality show based on the organization's problem-solving activities.[96][97] Nerd Girls is sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Femgineer was started in 2007 by Poornima Vijayashanker. It was originally developed as a blog that focused on engineers, which evolved into an organization that supports women in technology careers. Femgineers is now an education-focused organization that offers workshops, free teaching resources on the topic of technology, supports forums and Meetups, and a team has been developed to continue to expand on the original blog.[98] Poornima Vijayashanker is an avid public speaker and regularly speaks at technology-related conferences and events about the technology industry and about Femgineer itself. In addition to founding Femgineer, she also founded a startup called BizeeBee in 2010 that supports growing fitness businesses, teaches technology workshops for tech-driven organizations around the country,[99] and was named one of the ten women to watch in tech in 2013 by Inc Magazine.[100]

Groups such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe propose policies that support gender equality in the work field. One example being the Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality. All OSCE states follow policies to ensure gender equality in all work fields.[101]

2nd OSCE Gender Equality Review Conference

Postsecondary education organization[edit]

Numerous postsecondary education institutions have student-run organizations that focus on the advancement of women in computer science. In addition to she++ based out of Stanford University, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) supports a chapter of the organization called Women In Computing. The campus's chapter of the organization is composed of students, faculty and staff at RIT and they strive to support and further develop the culture of computing to women. This effort is not only focused on their campus, but in the larger community. They host events both on their campus located in Henrietta, New York, and within surrounding Rochester schools.[102] RIT is among a national list of schools that host a chapter of Women in Computing, which is founded in the organization Association of Computing Machinery's committee for women in computing (ACM-W).[103]

Harvard University hosts the organization called Harvard Undergraduate Women in Computer Science (WiSC). The organization aims to promote women in computing across a variety of schools and industries, educate women on the profession of computer science, and provide opportunities for women in technical fields. WiCS supports the annual conference named WECode, a conference that aims to promote women's involvement in computer science.[104][105]


In an effort to improve the gender composition in computing, the Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) created a nationwide U.S. program called "Pacesetters". Through this program, twenty-four academic and corporate organizations added close to 1,000 "Net New Women" to the field of computer science by 2012. These Net New Women are women in the sciences that had not originally intended on pursuing a computer science degree. Pacesetters is the first program of its kind where different organizations come together to identify effective ways to broaden the participation of women in computer science. There are currently more than 300 corporations, academic institutions, government agencies and non-profit organizations devoted to this cause. Together they build internal teams in order to develop and fund the needed programs and share their overall results. Pacesetters organizations include some very prestigious companies such as AT&T, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Georgia Tech, Pfizer, and IBM to name a few. These are a few examples of their results due to the work with Pacesetters:

  • Google: built a new programs for undergraduate women and held a career development panel of engineers which gave women the chance to participate in mock interviews. Due to these efforts, the number of women applicants grew and Google doubled the number of women in their software engineering summer internship program in 2011 compared to 2010.
  • Intel: piloted a program called Command Presence Workshop in which senior technical women participated in specialized training,
  • Virginia Tech: created a team of CS faculty, advisors, and student mentors to interact with potential female undergraduates and high school students. They saw a 56% increase in the number of female students who showed interest in their science programs.


Relation to gender theory[edit]

There are a number of thinkers who engage with gender theories and issues related to women and technology. Such thinkers include, for example, Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant, Julie Wosk, Sally L. Hacker, Evelyn Fox Keller, Janet Abbate, Thelma Estrin, and Thomas J. Misa, among others.[107] Recoding Gender: Women’s Changing Participation in Computing, written in 2012 by Janet Abbate, examines the history of programming and how gender bias shifted the demographic of programmers.[108] A 2008 book titled Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership, uses Riane Eisler's cultural transformation theory to offer an interdisciplinary, social systems perspective on issues of access to technology.[109] The book explores how shifting from dominator towards partnership systems—as reflected in four primary social institutions (communication, media, education, and business) — might help society move beyond the simplistic notion of access to co-create a real digital revolution worldwide.[109]

A 2000 book titled Athena Unbound[110] provides a life-course analysis (based on interviews and surveys) of women in the sciences from an early childhood interest, through university, to graduate school and finally into the academic workplace. The thesis of this book is that "women face a special series of gender related barriers to entry and success in scientific careers that persist, despite recent advances."[110]

Computer scientist Karen Petrie, from University of Dundee, has developed an argument to illustrate why an attack on sexism in computing is not an attack on men.[111] Ian Gent, University of St Andrews, has described this idea which is key to the argument as the "Petrie Multiplier."[112]

According to J. McGrath Cohoon, senior research scientist for the National Center for Women & Information Technology, there are a few possible hypotheses for why women are underrepresented in computer sciences attributed to already established theories about the influence of gender and technology stereotypes. One gender related hypothesis is that women find it more difficult than men to contribute to the intellectual life of the field in the sense that reviewers of their work are unconsciously downgraded due to their status as women, or those women have lower confidence in this field that inhibits women's willingness to publicly present their technical findings. Due to this barrier of women as second-class citizens in the computing world, it creates an environment that is not accessible to women.[113] A study by the Psychology of Women Quarterly backs this hypothesis up by concluding that even the enduring effect of single, brief exposures to stereotypical role models leaves a strong mark. Their findings reported that the most important factor in recruiting women to the computer science field is that women meet with a potential role model, regardless of gender of that role model, that conveys to the woman a sense of belonging in the field. This finding suggests that support and encouragement are the two most important aspects that can influence women participation in computing. In order for women to be more receptive to the field is if the environment became a more welcoming place by their male counterparts.[114]

Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender argues that apparent differences are due to constant exposure to societal beliefs of gender difference. Fine also argues that "...while social effects on sex differences are well-established, spurious results, poor methodologies and untested assumptions mean we don't yet know whether, on average, males and females are born differently predisposed to systemizing versus empathising."[115][116][117]

Another argument for why women are less prevalent in computer science is the ill-defined nature of computing, according to Paul De Palma. In his article, "Why Women Avoid Computer Science," he postulates that women find careers in computing unattractive. He finds that among the many reasons offered, he believes the nature of computing is what drives them away. He claims that young men who are drawn to computer science and engineering are those that like to tinker, those who like to use tools to create and dismantle objects. He further claims that computing is not a true profession, that traditional career paths such as law, business, and medicine are more certain and profitable on average than computing. He compares it to using a computer, computers nowadays do not come with lengthy manuals on the inner workings of the modern day computer, in fact our tools are always more complicated than their what they are used for, thus the tinkering nature of men, the drive born from gender stereotyping from birth, has made men successful in this field for they are more inclined to spend endless hours of tinkering with software and hardware. His claim revolves around the focus that boys and girls fall into gender stereotypes, girls who are usually given dolls and boys who are given trucks and toy tool boxes. He claims that these gender roles placed on children is one of the primary causes for the gender gap seen in computer science. He postulates that if we were to see more girls playing with trucks and other "boy-related" toys that perhaps we would see an increase in this tinkering nature and therefore, more participation of women in the computer science field.[118]

A poster encouraging women to pursue technology studies at University of Valle, Cali, Colombia. It reads: "If it's not appropriate for women, it's not appropriate. Women and technology." c. 2000.

Notable organizations[edit]

See also[edit]


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