Taking up a Computer Science major– A gender based analysis
It has been established that the participation of women in almost every level in the field of computer science is drastically low in comparison to men. Although there are several factors that contribute to low participation of women in the field of Computer Science, the primary reason why women are less actively involved with computing can be traced back to their childhood and early years. This impact made in their early life is one of the reasons why fewer females choose to take up an undergraduate computer science course, and this goes on to affect the number of women participating in the field of computing at all higher levels. Females seem to make professional choices regarding computer science differently as compared to males.
It is claimed that boys' choices are mainly influenced by their relation with computers as they associate computing with computer games and gaming at an earlier stage. The most popular reasons high school girls find computer science uninteresting to study are: insufficient role models, women having other interests, women being unsure about the industry, perceived limited opportunity, negative media image and an upbringing with limited exposure to computer science. Although many researchers focus on the particular reasons for women's low participation in computing, surveys and research on the gender differences in career choices regarding computer science are much fewer. This portion tries to examine, in a more in depth manner, reasons why high school students choose to take or not to take computer science as an undergraduate degree and the gender based differences in doing so.
What has Research found?
Based on research and surveys conducted with high school girls and boys, we observe some expected and other rather unexpected responses and results. As expected, on being asked if they intended to pursue a computer science major, nearly 48% of high school boys replied in the affirmative whereas only about 28% of the girls said yes in comparison. On being probed further and asked the reasons for not choosing CS, a majority of boys and girls claimed limited interest in computing was the primary reason. However, the figure was much higher for girls at 88%. A fairly large portion of the boys claimed that difficulty in gaining enrolment in Computer Science and their limited experience in operating computers (which does seem startling in the present technological scenario) were deterrent factors. With respect to the girls, a small percentage stated the above mentioned reasons, also stating that poor performance in Mathematics and some characteristics of a computing profession (such as long and demanding working hours, constantly working before a computer screen and requiring greater specialization) also affected their choice.
REASONS NOT TO STUDY CS
Limited Interest in the Subject
Difficulty to Enter a CS School1
Limited Access/Experience in Using Computers
Low Performance in Mathematics
CS Profession’s Characteristics
Similarly, the high school students who intended to study computer science were asked the reason for their choice. A large percentage of boys and girls chose to study CS because they found it to be interesting. Girls gave greater priority to job security than boys, whereas a much higher percentage of boys than girls believed that their experience in using computers was an appropriate reason to study computer science. Other reasons for boys are the financial prospects from working in computing along with the prestige of the profession.
REASONS TO STUDY CS
Increased Interest in the Subject
Employment Opportunities of CSProfession
Experience in Using computers
Importance of Technology
Profession with Prospects
* students could choose more than one option
Computer Science – Why or why not?
Students were asked about how much their parents influenced their decisions to pursue computer science or not. It has been observed that families exercise greater pressure on boys than on girls to choose a computing-related profession, because of the lucrative opportunities that the computing profession presents. Furthermore, parents tend to provide more to their sons than to their daughters with respect to computers and computer related activities (like computer courses, computer games etc.). In more conservative societies, families are much more worried about financial security and job security for their boys than for their girls. This is probably because in such societies girls are expected to manage the household and not necessarily go out and work. Besides, girls appear to be more influenced than boys by family advice about the choice of computer science as a career such as when they see other family members using computers or studying computer science.
After that, students were questioned about how their high schools motivated their choice of computer science as a career. We see that professors who urge and encourage students to study computer science and also the school's provision of adequate infrastructure with respect to computers and technology are very strong motives for most boys and girls who chose computer science. However, many boys and girls found the infrastructure provided by their schools inadequate. Mainly girls as compared to the boys claimed that the information and education given by their school and teachers about computer science was limited and that they did not find their computer science teachers inspiring or even competent enough.
Then, students were questioned about peer influence and media influence over their decision to pursue computing or not. Although boys and girls are both influenced by their friends' interest in computing in a positive manner, lesser number of boys claim to be negatively affected by their friends' lack of interest in computer science. So, girls are more likely to study computer science if they see their friends doing so as well. As far as media influence is concerned, it seems that more girls than boys are influenced by the media.
Students were also asked about the conceptions they had of their prospects if they studied computer science. More boys than girls expect a more lucrative and progressive career in the CS industry with sufficient financial gains, whereas girls are interested in having a career mainly for the expected job security rather than financial gain (though lately, salaries have become a major factor). Additionally, boys find Computer Science a challenge that they would want to take up, whereas the same challenge would make a girl regard computing as a demanding profession.