The State of Women in Computer Science
Computer science careers have been on a steady rise, and the number of opportunities in the industry is expected to continue to grow. By 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of jobs in the field will have increased by 19%. While this is a positive outlook for the computer science field as a whole, the same can’t necessarily be said about the current participation rates of women in computer science.
Despite the high demand for jobs and the push to have more women taking STEM subjects, women earn only 18% of all bachelor’s degrees in computer science.
Why Aren’t More Women Involved In Computer Science?
In the 1970s, women accounted for 13.6% of undergrads in computer science, and the numbers rose to 37% by 1984. Today, the percentage stands at 18% despite computers being a commonplace feature of the 21stcentury.
Studies show that the interest and willingness to learn STEM subjects is equal in boys and girls in lower grades. However, things change when the kids reach high school; a report by The National Science Board shows that more males than female students take up computer science, engineering, and Advanced Placement (AP) computer science classes. From there, the gender disparity in the field only widens, peaking at 18% in universities.
So, why aren’t more women involved in computer science? Well, there isn’t only one reason responsible, but rather a combination of real and perceived obstacles stopping women from joining the field. Here are a couple of possible causes.
The “anti-social nerd” stereotype
Although it may not be politically correct, a common myth is that computer scientists are pale, thin, and nerdy males with poor social skills. We see them in movies or read about them in books, spending entire days in front of their computer screens and trying to avoid human interaction as much as possible. Of course, some of these characters exist in the field, but they don’t define the entire computer science workforce.
Many computer science-related computer jobs involve collaboration and team work, so if you are a woman who enjoys working with others, this stereotype shouldn’t hold you back. Computer science allows you to work in teams and gives you the chance to meet women and men from all walks of life and mingle with different personalities.
The “computer science isn’t feminine” stereotype
Unfortunately, technology careers have usually been associated with men. Even when personal computers were becoming popular, their marketing was geared more to the male populace, and studies showed that parents were more likely to buy a PC for a male child than they were for a female child. This helped push the stereotype that technology and tech-savviness are male characteristics, discouraging women from picking up tech-related career paths like computer science.
The belief that the work environment is hostile to women
When men dominate a field, some young women may believe it could involve a hostile work environment. While cases of gender bias do occasionally occur, they don’t define the typical computer science workplace.
Standing out in a field may leave you open to unwarranted criticism and bias, but it can also giveyou extra visibility and power. If you are brave and full of bright ideas, you can use that to your advantage to push your career in computer science.
The college curriculum
Researchers are finding that college curriculums play a significant role in discouraging women from picking computer science. This is especially the case in introductory computer science courses, which tend to focus more on the technical aspects of programming. This can deter female students that are interested in the broader, multidisciplinary applications of computer science.
Women who feel that the field is incompatible with their interests are less likely to major in computer science. Therefore, a curriculum that balances both the technical and non-technical aspects of the domain is necessary if universities are to attract more female students.
Fortunately, we are seeing a revolution in introductory computer science classes. For instance, the University of California at Berkeley changed their “Introduction to Symbolic Programming” class into the “Beauty and Joy of Computing.” The number of women in the class recently outnumbered men for the first time.
Lack of female role models
Most young persons with a dream have one or more people they look up to and want to emulate in their careers. Computer science doesn’t have enough examples of women thriving in their jobs simply because fewer women enter the field. As a result, young girls may lack enough female role models that inspire the confidence to succeed in a historically male-dominated field and end up skipping computer science as a major.
Why More Women Should Consider Joining Computer Science
Despite all the misconceptions about computer science, there are many reasons why women should join the computer science field.
Women make the majority of buying decisions
According to a study by Deloitte, women’s choices are responsible for up to 85% of buying decisions in the United States. Given that the underrepresentation of women in any particular field means that the needs of women in the marketplace are often ignored, computer science needs a higher integration of female perspective if firms in the field are to succeed. More women in computer science will lead to a better understanding of the consumer market, which naturally translates to higher revenues.
When looking to launch a career, an essential consideration for many women is finding the perfect balance between work and life. In tech, being unable to find this balance is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Research shows that since many tech companies are open to non-traditional work procedures, they are more likely to provide a healthy work-life balance. This is especially the case with startups, which offer flexible work hours and allow employees to adjust according to their schedules.
Another challenge faced by women looking to succeed in their careers is family. The common misconception is that you can’t have a successful career and a rewarding family life, but the tech field has proven this wrong time and again. Tech companies provide some of the best parental leave policies in any industry, allowing their female employees to start a family without affecting their career progress.
Facebook is an excellent example. The tech giant provides four months of paid maternity leave and six weeks of paid leave to care for sick children or family members. Apple offers 18 weeks of paid and nine weeks of unpaid maternity leave, far above the industry standard of 11 weeks of paid and nine weeks of unpaid maternity leave. SAS also has an excellent parental leave policy—twelve weeks of paid maternity leave. Those who adopt children receive eight weeks of adoption leave.
These policies may not be universal in all tech companies, but the general outlook is quite encouraging. When you combine improved company policies with the flexibility of working in the tech industry, you will have the chance to be a great mother while simultaneously succeeding in your field.
What Should We Do to Get More Young Women Interested in Computer Science?
With the proportion of women in computer science bordering an all-time low, steps need to be taken to reverse this trend. Here are a few suggestions on how educators, parents, and the industry can work together to increase the number of young girls and women interested in computer science.
Enact Mentorship Programs
To boost the resolve of girls entering male-dominated fields like computer science, educators can start by creating mentorship programs, bringing in female speakers, and using examples of strong and successful women thriving in their careers as case studies. This will help instill confidence in girls, allowing them to pursue a job they would otherwise have been too intimidated to consider.
Encourage interest in girls from a young age
As stated earlier, girls tend to lose interest in STEM subjects as they ascend the educational ladder. If more women are to join and succeed in the field, we must find ways to foster this interest before it dies out. There are several programs out there doing just that, such as Girls Who Code, GEMS, Girls, Inc., SciGirls, and Girl start.
Redefine the field
Over the years, women have shifted from STEM-related degrees to those focused on humanities and liberal arts. To counter this trend and attract more women to computer science, schools should find a balance between pure technical programming and other creative opportunities within the field.
Despite the declining number of women in computer science, we need more women in the field. Computer science provides opportunities for women to better themselves and stand out as strong examples to young girls considering a STEM career. Forget the negative stereotypes, be willing to alter society’s perception of the field, and challenge the status quo.
At VanHack, we work hard to match qualified female professionals with the role of a lifetime. The equality paradigm in programming is shifting, and women now enjoy equal opportunities and compensation as men. Apply today and join our community of VanHackers!