How the Issue Arose
-Is It a Problem?
-The Role of Gender Bias
-The Pipeline Effect
Is There Gender Bias?
Why is the Pipeline Shrinking?
-Academia vs. Industry
-Lack of Self-Confidence
-Personal Life, Family and Academia
-Females Who Switched Out
-Males Who Switched Out
What, exactly, is the problem?
There are a multitude of studies and web sites devoted to the "problem" of the shortage of women in computer science ,
but very few of them discuss why the shortage is a problem, or how
the current situation came about.
|Percentage of Women Faculty
Computer Science Department,
As indicated in the table to the right, the ratio of female to male faculty in the Computer Science Department is very small. However,
the low numbers alone are not necessarily an indication that there is a "problem." Certain topics need to be explored first:
One of the reasons this situation is so hard to correct is that the exact problem isn't even known:
- are there women who would like to be part of the computer science community, but feel that they have been rejected unfairly because of their gender?
- is the ratio of women to men within the computer science discipline simply an indication of some fundamental differences between men and women?
- does society artificially reinforce these notions, thus creating a circular problem?
To complicate matters, the nature of academia causes changes to occur extremely slowly. The turnover rate for professors is very low - they
don't simply come and go every few years. Therefore, departments end up with many people who have been on the faculty for a long time and retain
their attitudes and traditions from many years past.
- is it conscious gender discrimination?
- is it unconscious gender discrimination?
- are women actively discouraged from pursuing computer science (or other technical fields)?
- are women encouraged to pursue non-technical professions unnecessarilly (i.e., just because they are female)?
According to a 1989 study by the Committee on the Status of Women in Computer Science, "It is the committee's belief that the low number of women
working as computer scientists is inextricably tied up with the particular difficulties that women face in becoming computer scientists" .
What is special about Computer Science (as opposed to other disciplines)?
Although the under-representation of women is present in many fields, Computer Science can be seen as a particularly interesting case.
As Howell points out, "computers, as a new technology, were introduced into a complicated existing system of physical, organizational,
and sociocultural human settings" . The field of study was born during a period in which it was the socially acceptable to view women
as domestic wives who were taken care of by their hard-working husbands (1940's and 1950's).
From our interviews, however, anecdotally there is a notion that because computer science is so new, there has not been a history of discrimination against women. In fact, one professor went so far as to say that women were welcomed in the early days when the first computers were being developed because the people developing computers were remarkably different than the physicists and mathematicians of the day.
 Howell, Kathy. The Experience of Women in Undergraduate Computer Science: What Does the Research Say? SIGCSE Bulletin. Vol 25, No 2. Jun 1993.
 Pearl, Amy; Pollack, Martha E.; Riskin, Eve; Thomas, Becky; Wolf, Elizabeth; Wu, Alice. Becoming a Computer Scientist. Communications of the ACM. Vol 33, No 11, Pages 47-58. Nov 1990.