[Scientific American] Gender Gap in Computer Science continues.

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Thu, 6 Aug 1998 07:10:11 -0700

It occurs to me that two years ago we dropped a conversation about women
in computing


that I'd like to briefly pick back up.

This month's Scientific American includes an article on Tracy Camp's
study of the dwindling pipeline of undergraduate female computer science
degrees (Klassa, remember Tracy Camp?), online at


and included below. Note that Tracy published "The Incredible Shrinking
Pipeline" in CACM last October, and that article includes a lot of the
statistics quoted in the SciAm article; for the interested, you can read
that paper online at


but for now I'll just include the Scientific American article...

> Access Denied
> After all the advances toward equality for women, you've got to assume
> there are lots of women programmers, right? After all, it's not as
> though computer science were a discipline that required more brawn than
> brains. But no: according to statistics compiled by Tracy Camp, an
> assistant professor of computer science at the University of Alabama,
> the number of undergraduate degrees in computer science that is awarded
> to women has been shrinking steadily, both in real numbers and as a
> percentage of degrees awarded.
> For instance, in the academic year 1981, women obtained 32.5 percent of
> the bachelor's degrees in computer science; the figure for 1994 was
> 28.4 percent, a drop of 12.6 percent. Calculated from the peak year in
> 1984, when 37.1 percent of the degrees went to women (representing
> 32,172 B.A. and B.S. degrees), the decline is an alarming 23.5 percent.
> This decline is, Camp notes, true even though other science and
> engineering fields boosted their recruitment of women. From 1981 to
> 1994, the percentage of physics degrees earned by women rose 36.6
> percent (from 24.6 to 33.6 percent of recipients) and those in
> engineering by 44.7 percent (from 10.3 to 14.9 percent).
> As in many other disciplines, there has been a "shrinking-pipeline"
> effect for women in computer science, who make up half of the high
> school computer science classes but who in 1994 constituted only 5.7
> percent of full professorships. The percentage of M.S. degrees
> (logically) peaked in 1986, two years after the B.A. and B.S. degrees
> peaked; women earned 29.9 percent of the master's degrees awarded that
> year. Ph.D. degrees peaked at 15.4 percent in 1989. Those figures
> decline further through the ranks of faculty members.
> But Camp's research highlights a different problem: women are
> progressively staying away from computer science as a profession. Even
> though the absolute numbers of M.S. and Ph.D. degrees awarded in
> computer science have continued to increase, these numbers are likely to
> begin decreasing soon, reflecting the fewer undergraduate degrees
> awarded.
> The pattern is not unique to the U.S. In Britain, says Rachel Burnett, a
> TKTTK of AFFILIATION, the decline of women in computer science is even
> more marked. "The intake of women into university IT
> [information-technology] courses has declined," she says. "It used to be
> a third--it's now about 5 percent."
> The question is why. To find out, Camp, who heads the Committee on Women
> in Computing for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM),
> conducted a survey of ACM members. This is not, as she herself said when
> she presented the survey results at the ACM's Policy 98 conference in
> Washington, D.C., in mid-May, exactly the right sample. To be realistic,
> you need to ask the people who didn't join the profession.
> Still, the ACM respondents provided similar answers that plausibly
> explain the drop in women. They agreed that in the 1980s, computer
> games, which tend to be male-oriented, gave boys more computer
> experience. The nonstop long hours typical of programming jobs, the
> gender discrimination, the lack of role models within the profession and
> the antisocial image of the hacker have also tended to steer women to
> other areas. One issue that was not on the survey but that was brought
> up frequently by many conference participants was sexual harassment,
> which is perceived to be higher in the computer industry than in other
> fields.
> Camp argues that this shrinking pipeline does matter. There is currently
> such a severe shortage of computer scientists that the industry recently
> lobbied Congress to grant more visas to would-be immigrants. Proposed
> solutions to raise the percentage of women who enter the profession
> include making more visible the female role models that exist, improving
> mentoring and encouraging equal access to computers for girls from
> kindergarten through the 12th grade. Perhaps then the existing pool of
> talent won't inadvertently seep away.
> --Wendy M. Grossman in Washington, D.C.
> WENDY M. GROSSMAN, a freelance writer based in London, is the author of
> net.wars.

Afternote: in April we FoRKed a NYT article on the influx of high-tech
immigrants alluded to in the article above...



War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the
physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in
critical moments that man measures man.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson