Recent studies and research show that though undergraduate enrolment in computer science will increase rapidly around the globe, the proportion of women enrolling is unlikely to rise. Ironically, the percentage of women majoring in other sciences, including engineering, biological sciences, physics and math has constantly risen from the 1980s up until 2005. It isn't a substantial increase, but it is there. In computer science, however, the percentage has remained stagnant, and now is even falling.
After research and studies, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has concluded that women stop their training and education in computer science earlier than men. This is why we have differences in the percentage of enrolments, particularly at higher levels of education. While women presently receive about 30% of the bachelor's computer science degrees, much fewer receive graduate degrees, and fewer stay to pursue doctorates. This implies that there are many more male computer science professors, academicians and educators than female ones, which worsens the existing male-dominated environment of computer science.
Reasons for such disparities.
Why do fewer women choose the computing field?
Women are often not encouraged to explore anything technical. Think back to the toys that girls played with as children and compare them with the toys that boys had while growing up. The boys had tool kits with screwdrivers and hammers, video games and Lego kits. At a young age boys are encouraged to think logically, to build and create things. The girls had toys such as Barbie's dream house, jump ropes and Baby Alive, a doll that will actually wet its diaper when fed from its bottle. Girls have been encouraged to grow up and become gentle, loving women who will take care of the family. That is a major reason why many women do not think about taking up a major like computer science in college. Starting from childhood, women and men need to be exposed to similar challenges, such as building a city out of Legos or playing video games that involve strategy.
Moreover, in today's society, computers and all forms of technology are introduced early in an individual's life and assist the development a child who might later even work with it. Unfortunately, most software for the young is also crafted and developed almost completely for boys. The computer industry hold's a large part of child's attention, and as a child grows, the industry is coming up with software and games that mainly target boys.
Another major factor is the general mindset towards the computing field and the people in it, what experts call the nerd factor. When high school students think of computer scientists they think of geeks and nerds, bespectacled males staring into a computer screen filled with computer code, in an isolated cubicle all their lives. This discourages members of both sexes but perhaps the image of the antisocial nerd who sits in front of a computer discourages women more. There's a perception that it is not a good field to be in.
It is also possible that many students think that computing is all about programming and don't look at computers as a way of revolutionizing everything from medicines to transport. Computing is present everywhere and scope for its use is tremendous.
Another crucial factor is the pre-university courses and introductory college courses in computing that are often very rigorous and monotonous. With an extreme emphasis on programming student get the wrong idea about computing in the beginning itself and as many do not continue the course, there is no further opportunity to correct the perception.
The lack of female mentors and networks, long seen as a disincentive to entering the field to begin with, makes it more difficult for women to find new jobs in a tough market. Women have less access to informal networks in technology jobs, face gender-based stereotypes and a lack of role models. Fellow male employees frequently doubt a similar positioned female employees' dedication to the job and also usually underestimate her skill, knowledge and abilities. Unfortunately, a women's self-esteem is usually lower, more easily crushed, making such obstacles a major threat to the presence of females in the field of computer science.
Besides, if there are not a lot of women at the top, then there won't be growth at lower levels. If the barriers are not broken, then women have to carve out paths themselves, which makes progress is very slow.
There is also the more prevalent issue of handling home and work. Women with careers in computing find it increasingly difficult managing their jobs and their families due to the demanding nature of the work. Besides that, returning to IT after being out of work or taking time off to have a baby can be tougher than coming back to other fields because the pace of change in technology makes it harder to stay current.
Reducing the differences
The difference can be made at a very basic level. Equal access to computers should be encouraged from a young age. More educational software and computer games should be developed to increase a girl's interest in technology and computers.
Presently, Google is working on and developing material that school teachers can use to tell students, particularly female students in schools, about the challenges, opportunities and avenues in computing and IT. They are developing this material for teachers of mathematics, science and English because many girls have decided against the field before they get to computer science even in high school.
Some universities have now put in place programs which bring high school girls to their campuses each year for a few months in summer. Their goal is to help girls strengthen their computer skills and break any stereotypes about women in computer science.
Universities across the world are now improving and altering their selection procedure to ensure greater participation from women. When Carnegie Mellon shockingly discovered that the number of male computer science undergraduates named 'Dave' outstripped the total number of women computer science undergraduates, it decided to make serious changes which produced surprisingly good results. For example, the department changed its admission policy to place less emphasis on prior experience in computer programming and place a bigger emphasis on a broader spectrum of talents, which might not include much programming experience.Carnegie Mellon also hosted summer training courses for high school computer science teachers, devoting 25 percent of the curriculum to issues of gender equality.
To improve the situation of dwindling participation of women in computer science, schools, families and teachers need to encourage open-mindedness and stereotypes of men and women which continue the gender differences must be busted. Also, with more women in the computing field, other women who want to pursue computer science will have more role models to seek inspiration from.
Impact of gender disparities on the field of computing.
The trend of fewer and fewer women in undergraduate and graduate computer programs as well as in the industry is a major concern for analysts. They are concerned not only because they want to see more women participating actively in the field of computer science but also because it is a big loss to the field when such a large pool of human resources remains untapped.
With the greater use of computers and technology, the demand for computer scientists, professionals and programmers shall surely increase in the coming years. By holding back nearly one half of the population of possible contributors, the field of computer science is losing out on tremendous development opportunities. Women can be considered to be canaries in a goldmine. They hold tremendous potential that is not being utilized completely and might hamper the progress of this science.
Also, many factors that are today driving women away from computing might tomorrow drive the men away as well.