The Internet is Convincing Women Not To Study Computer Science

A summary from YodasEvilTwin on Slashdot:

"The internet is dominated by sexist men, which discourages women from getting involved in related fields."  

I add a bunch more caveats, references and empirical data, but that is a good summary of how I interpret the evidence.


There is currently a responsibility-dodging contest between industry and academia over who is to blame for the declining enrollment of women in Computer Science and declining employment of women in software development. I hear people in industry bemoan the "empty pipeline", while academics maintain that women aren't entering their programs because of perceptions of the industry.  I have compiled some data that may help resolve the question by highlighting a third factor common to both: access to an Internet-based culture of computing.

9 responses
I wonder about a few things in terms of the education levels examined, which would be a place to do more research.

First, does the same correlation occur in Computer Science programs in Technical Colleges? I noted substantially more women in technical programs at two year colleges than similar programs in universities. The majority of students were still men, but there was a stronger presence of women.

Secondly, what about women taking computer science as a minor, or computer science classes as electives while pursuing other degrees? Are more women moving from computer science as a major course of study to something else while still taking some of the coursework? Or are they abandoning the study of computer science entirely? A woman who elects to get a business degree with a minor in computer science, and then goes on to be a project manager, is arguably still going into computer science as a career, just from a different angle.

Finally, are there any numbers for gender in certifications? I know that Cisco and MS certifications are male dominated, and always have been, but are Java certifications also male dominated? In other words, there are many men with History majors working as programmers. Does something similar happen with women, or do women slide into IT from unrelated degrees just as rarely as they graduate with BS-CS?

Great posting! I think you mean South African (not American). A response:
Thanks Joseph! You are right about the error too: thanks for catching that.
Just relating my own personal experience, as someone with a 4 year computer science degree. There were painfully few women in most of my classes, maybe three max including myself. There were far fewer on the majority of work sites I have been privy to working in. At times it is truly shocking to see the rampant under-representation of women in computer science among so many venues, all of which I can recount. This is especially true since I recall so many outstanding female honor students in the math and science arenas among my high school peer group. Obviously something happened along the way, either they were discouraged, made to feel unwelcome in some regard or otherwise prohibited from actively participating in the broad forum of computer science.
This is really interesting, thanks!

I do want to quibble with some of the library & information science stuff, though. (I have a library degree and work for a startup doing a mix of technology and library things; increasing librarians' knowledge of code is a huge passion of mine, which is what brought me here -- the question of involving more librarians in code is inseparable from the question of involving more women in code, because of the demographics of the field.)

The linked article talks about undergraduate degrees conferred in a variety of IT-related fields, including LIS. But undergraduate degrees in library science have not been accredited by the American Library Association for some decades and have no professional relevance today -- I'm surprised to see there's *anyone* still conferring them. The relevant degree is a masters degree, and there are several thousand of those conferred per year (compared to the under a hundred undergrad degrees listed in the table).

And as for gender. Also. Well.

The article rightly notes that LIS is overwhelmingly female -- about 80%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics information. However, technology involvement is not evenly distributed in libraryland. I'm in two library technology organizations -- one broad-based but mostly involving technology-based service delivery to users, technology planning and management, etc.; the second focused on people with at least some code skills. That first organization (where lots of people have power-user or low-grade sysadmin skills, but are rarely coders) is about 50% female. The second? Closer to 20%.

20% is still more female than my software engineer friends' work environments, and the culture in library tech is different in many ways from the culture in other-tech. But the fact that the ratio shifts as I turn up the code skills knob is *not subtle*. (Same shift as I turn up the level of technology leadership, by the way -- library management, prominent speakers and authors, and leaders in these organizations skew male as well, and it is *not subtle*.)

I would LOVE to see more support for library technology skills and culture. That's part of what I do. But the picture is a lot more complex than "LIS is overwhelmingly female".

Have you considered the possibility that "has internet access" is just a proxy for "wealthy"? Other research has shown that self-segregation of the genders into different professions increases with wealth, overall development and (surprisingly) equality in the wider society.
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