In any computer science class, you’ll likely walk in to see a male majority sitting behind computers. I knew this would be the case when I walked into my first computer science class and then I wondered why that was the case. I decided to delve into some of the research centered around girls in computer science and why there is such an extreme gender gap in that field. These are some of the large-scale reasons I’ve found for the computer science gender gap:
Computer Science being dominated by males is shown to begin prior to high school, but it has been quantified for late high school students by Advanced Placement test. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, 56% of Advanced Placement test-takers are female, while only 18% of AP Computer Science test-takers are female. There is an increased emphasis for schools to require programming and coding classes, so the expectation would be that programming classes would spark an interest in more women. However, this trend almost mirrors the trend for the makeup of women completing STEM bachelor’s degrees and the percentages of women completing computer science and mathematics degrees. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, 50.3% of STEM bachelor’s degrees are merited by women compared to 17.9 % of computer science bachelor’s degrees being merited by women. As expected, the amount of computer science degrees earned by women has translated into a similar gender distribution in the computer science workforce. Men outnumber women 4 to 1 in computing and programming jobs. What accounts for the lack of interest in computing fields for women?
Factors that have discouraged women from pursing computer science degrees include the media’s portrayal of programmers, occupational segregation, and societal expectations of perfection. Media primarily portrays programmers and computer scientists as geeky males. This portrayal is said to stem from the idea that computer science, video games, and programming are crafted for men. The video game industry is extremely targeted toward males and thus, the media stereotype of the “geeky male” developed. Over the years, as this stereotype continued, it enforces the idea that women don’t belong in programming positions and has contributed to the underrepresentation of women in the computing workforce.
Additionally, there is a tendency for women to strive to be perfectionists. Programming is a very black and white process because either a code is functional, or it isn’t. A non-functional code is a frustrating experience for anyone, but women tend to become discouraged about their own abilitieswhen a code doesn’t function. Confidence in programming is a huge factor that contributes to the gender gap. A UCLA study on women in computer science states, “female students in these [introductory computer science] classes may also be made to feel as if they aren’t allowed to make mistakes.” Women tend to be wary to jump into computer science fields because of the lack of confidence in their skills and because being a perfectionist isn’t practical when starting out. The third major factor contributing to the gender gap for women in computer science is occupational segregation; the distribution of genders and ethnicities over occupation. Occupational segregation is one of the largest factors contributing to the gender wage gap, as the highest-paying occupations are traditionally held by men. Occupational segregation discourages women and minorities from striving for higher paying and atypical jobs and thus, contributes to the gender gap in computer science. Once an occupation has a connotation that is associated with a specific gender, it is extremely difficult to remove that stigma. This reason especially contributes to women feeling as though they do not have a place in a computational field.
I am a female freshman in college who recently declared a minor in computer science. My experience so far has been extremely positive because of the amount of one-on-one help I’ve been able to receive from my professor. In addition, most of my out-of-class assignments are collaborative, which has been essential to understanding the material. Collaboration and discussing assignments with other people has made my Intro to Computer Science experience more enjoyable. However, I have felt the frustration associated with perfection and fear of making a mistake. I felt, walking in, that I had to prove myself in this class and I was afraid to ask for help at first. I still question whether or not computer science is the correct path, but I am extremely glad I decided to take the first step and enroll in an intro class. I feel that computer science will provide me with invaluable skills for my future, so I would strongly encourage any girl with a mild interest in programming to take the leap and enroll in a class.