Monday, November 17, 2008

News Flash: Less Women in CS


There's a NY Times article about the lack of women in computer science. It's a good (though short) survey of some of the literature on this topic and emphasizes something I frequently forget - in the early 1980s there were almost as many women entering computer science as men. Yet another counter-argument for those who believe women aren't in computer science because we can't handle it or just don't have the "intrinsic aptitude" for science.

One thing I think the article missed in its emphasis on the hypothesis that gaming as a guy's thing drives away women's interest in the field is the use of the computer as a communication tool. (Because we all know women like to communicate more than men.) It seems that instead of trying to come up with some game that will make girls think gaming isn't only a guy's thing it would be more productive to emphasize the communication aspects of computing and link those to computer science.

Also, the article was in the business section. To me, that seems appropriate.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Depressing. The easy solution invovles money (give free tuition to all women enrolling in CS undergrad). Its easier to whine and do nothing...

Anonymous said...

The graph is very nice, it shows that for some reason the enrollment in CS dropped sharply in 82, both male and female, then in 95 male enrollments grow sharply while female do not. To be more useful we also need the total number, not just percents. The drop in recent year is not that much strange, since both of them decreased around 5 times. The main question is why female enrollment didn't grow as fast as male enrollment in 95? And it doesn't really mean that CS community is not doing well, it might do bad *relative* to other areas which might have caused the decrease in CS whereas total enrollment of male and female in all areas didn't changed much. One should see where female students chose other areas during 95-99 and learn what they did to achieve this.

femigeek said...

interesting graph!

I'm guessing the effect we're seeing in the 90s is due to the fact that most women just don't think it's fun to sit in front of a computer screen and program all day long (which is the public perception of jobs for CS majors) while guys say "whee, we'll to play with gizmos for 16 hours a day. Sign me up!"

By the way, what's the percentage of men who declare English lit as a probable major, relative to women? Is anyone coming up with plans to draw guys? I'm not being annoying or argumentative. I am very much against any sort of discrimination. However, the two sexes have typically different preferences. I would try hard to make sure that male lawyers' wages are equal to female lawyers', etc. . Females currently don't want to go into CS. We can try to draw them in, but I really wouldn't be surprised if it's just because of the long hours and techiness.

Josh said...

I agree somewhat with femigeek, but I think that the "long hours and geekiness" are not a necessary component of a flourishing CS community. Unfortunately, as femigeek essentially points out, this is a self-perpetuating culture.

A question I've often wondered is: why is it that CS has this stereotype much more than biology or chemistry? In the past, say, 50 years those two fields have seen dramatic increases in the relative fraction of women, but CS not as much.

As to the comments about female gamers: see this article, which (amongst other things) mentions that ~38% of U.S. gamers are women. Yet nowhere near that proportion of women go into CS...

George said...

@femigeek I think there are a lot of guys in english lit if you take into account the larger number of women in college in general. As far as the humanities goes, the only discipline that can compare to the deplorable state of computer science is the mostly male dominated field of philosophy (although I haven't seen data recently, I think it is not nearly as bad as CS). More importantly, I don't think english lit is viewed as a "female" field the way CS is often viewed as a "male" field.