While the number of women enrolling in male dominated programs, such as mathematics and biology, are currently close to par, women continue to have very little visibility within the computer science field. Actually, statistics show that women’s representation in the field seems to be shrinking. According to the National Science Foundation in the USA, in 1985, 38% of computer science B.A.’s went to women, in 2003 that figure fell to 28%.
An article in the NYT yesterday dove into the issue and tried to address some of the factors that might be causing this situation. Apparently the two most commonly given reasons to explain the problems are not it; the dot-com bust and the off-shoring of high-tech jobs. To disprove the “dot-com bust” theory, Jan Cuny, a computer scientist at the University of Oregon said that more people are involved in the field now than they were at the height of the dot-com boom. Today virtually all industries heavily rely on technology and computer-sciences, so the demand should be greater. As for off-shoring, Ed Lazowska, a computer scientist at the University of Washington said that the move abroad has less to do with cheap labor and more to do with accessing talent.
The article also discussed how the field has a poor image (the “geek factor”), one that tends to scare people off, particularly women. AP classes for computer sciences seem to be an issue as well, since many tend to focus on teaching Java programming, which some lots, but others hate.
But there are some success stories; Carnegie Mellon seems to have found an effective way of attracting women to their computer science program. Their enrollment of women has gone up from 8% to 40%. The University of Washington has set up a webpage about computer sciences that highlights only women, therefore trying to break the stereotype. Brown University has an organization called Women in Computer Science @ Brown which runs the Artemis Projects. This project brings in 9th graders from all over the city to the campus for five weeks each summer and teaches them concrete computer skills and abstract computer science concepts.
The article is here.