Women in Computer Science
57% of college graduates are women, yet only 14% of the Computer Science and Engineering college degrees are held by women.
The first computer programmers were not young men; rather, they were women. According to an article by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, this doesn’t reflect modern gender roles but rather an early view of software as a clerical job, and thus the domain of women. What’s interesting – and empowering – is how the societal views and stereotypes have changed multiple times in the relatively short history of computing. Computer science didn’t originally call up images of twenty-year-old men writing code in the middle of the night, pizza boxes perched askance on top of their computers. This was a common stereotype during the early part of the 21st century, but again perceptions are changing. There are a number of organizations working to shift our perspectives – and to draw a diverse group of new talent to the field.
Women in Undergraduate and Graduate Computer Science Programs
Currently, females are in the minority in computer science programs. The proportion of women to men graduating from baccalaureate computer science programs in the 2009-2010 year was 13.8%. This sounds startling, but it’s actually a slight increase over the figures a few years earlier. Another bright spot is this: More women are going on to get higher degrees. That same year, 21% of master’s recipients were female.
The proportion varies a good deal from school to school, with some programs boasting much higher rates. Schools can look to the example set by Harvey Mudd. The program has increased the proportion of female computer science students by three times since 2006; women now number 42%.
What are computer science programs doing to attract women to the profession and support them in their education? A number of schools, including the University of Illinois, Purdue, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon have campus organizations devoted to women in computer science. Carnegie Mellon has a Sisters Mentoring Program for both freshmen and upperclassman computer science students. The school also hosts Graduate Tea Hours for women to socialize and develop informal mentoring relationships.
Women now make up 42% of the Computer Science students at Harvey Mudd
Mentorship is available online to women computer science students, regardless of what school they attend. Mentor.net is devoted to increasing diversity in computer science and other science and technology fields. Systers is an online community that welcomes women who are already out in the field. Members can discuss issues specifically related to women in computer fields.
There are also scholarships designed to support women in computer science and related fields. The Society of Women Engineers offers scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate females in computer science and engineering. There are opportunities at the PhD level, too. Microsoft is among the organizations that supports graduate students in computer science.
What about after graduation? What’s it like to work in a field that is still dominated by men? It will depend in part on the company you select; the relationships you forge inside and outside the workplace will also make a difference.
Some large companies have built a reputation as women-friendly. The Anita Borg Top Company for Technical Women is given each year to a large company (2,000 or more employees) that has done an exemplary job supporting women in technical professions. The committee looks at representation, retention, and advancement – both the current level and the improvement over past years. The 2011 winner was IBM.
IBM was 2011 recipient of the Anita Borg Institute's Top Company for Technical Women Award.
Other companies that are cited as women-friendly include Microsoft and Cisco Systems. Networking can help women find additional corporations that are female-friendly. Female computer scientists may choose to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which is an annual conference. There is a career fair, career development and mentoring workshops, networking sessions and speakers, with childcare provided for those who need it.
Women are changing the face and composition of the computer science field. To learn more about opportunities for women in computer science, visit the above mentioned organizations dedicated to women in computer science,