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Women in Computer Science

December 6, 2008

Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists?”, a 124-page paper by an MIT graduate student Ellen Spertus was published in 1991. Only 20% of computer science undergraduates at MIT were female at the time. Now even fewer women are entering the field.

Women with bachelor’s degree – All science and engineering fields
1984-1985: 39%
2004-2005: 51%

Women with bachelor’s degree – Computer Science
2001-2002: 28%
2004-2005: 22%

Many computer science departments report that women now make up less than 10 percent of the newest undergraduates.

Last week, Ms. Margolis said that “a lot of the girls who were doing computer science came from families of computer scientists and engineers.” Her explanation: “It was in the air. There was the expectation that they could do whatever they wanted.”

Young women earlier had felt comfortable pursing the major because the male subculture of action gaming had yet to appear.

“The girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys’ toys’ and that true girls didn’t play with computers.”

Ms. Cassell identifies another explanation for the drop in interest, which is linked to the pejorative figure of the “nerd” or “geek.” She said that this school of thought was: “Girls and young women don’t want to be that person.”

“Women choosing not to go into computer science is fine,” she said, “if there aren’t artificial barriers keeping them out.” She lamented the recent decision of one of her outstanding computer science students who chose to major in nursing because of what the student perceived as better prospects for finding employment.

Source: What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science? (NY Times)

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2 comments

  1. I’m a bit suspicious of the “science and engineering” graph. Engineering still seems to be overwhelmingly male. I wonder how science vs engineering will work out.


  2. Indeed, it might be the case that engineering is mostly male, but sciences balance it out. Sciences is a very broad category.



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