No girls allowed! (and NOT The Shining)

In today's IT Blogwatch, we look at why females aren't into Computer Science. Not to mention an alternate preview for The Shining...

Why aren't there as many women going into Computer Science? In an article in The Boston Globe, Marcella Bombardieri writes, "Diane Souvaine leapt into graduate school for computer science having taken only one class in the subject ... Next spring, when 22 computer science graduates accept their Tufts diplomas, only four will be women ... In the early 1980s, it had one of the highest proportions of female undergraduates in science and engineering. And yet with remarkable speed, it has become one of the least gender-balanced fields in American society ... [computer scientists] view the dearth of women as symptomatic of a larger failure in their field, which has recently become less attractive to promising young men, as well. Women are 'the canaries in the mine,' said Harvard computer science professor Barbara J. Grosz ... The shortage of new computer scientists threatens American leadership in technological innovation just as countries such as China and India are gearing up for the kind of competition the United States has never before faced ... A Globe review shows that the proportion of women among bachelor's degree recipients in computer science peaked at 37 percent in 1985 and then went on the decline. Women have comprised about 28 percent of computer science bachelor's degree recipients in the last few years and in the elite confines of research universities only 17 percent of graduates are women." [Despite Judi's suspicions, it doesn't seem to be a problem with unequal pay]

» Brian Scarbeau: "As a computer science educator and father of two daughters I read these type of articles with great interest and wonder if everyone in this industry does their part to make females feel welcome in their class or at work ... Do they get the same jobs as males or do they get the jobs that males don't want to do and leave? The lack of interest in computer science is not just in females but males as well. Colleges and universities see steady declines in their enrollments and more recently Tulane University in New Orleans which will open up next semester after the hurricane has dropped computer science in the curriculum ... In my web design class which has many females enroll in have had the opportunity to do some web programming in class ... As teachers we have talked to the guidance department counselors to identify students with good math scores and try to encourage them to take computer science courses. We have spoken to middle school students about high school courses ... Even after all this work, in 11 years of teaching AP Computer Science, I've had only 5 females in my class ... So what can you do to help? Get involved with your local school is a start. As a professional, you can volunteer to go to a math or science class and talk about what you do for a living." [And, if you're a CS undergrad, perhaps some of this soap might not go amiss?]

» Parker Morse: "I've known one or two women in CS, but the gender balance issue wasn't a big one for me until this semester. After all, what could I do about it? I happen to be in a department with roughly equal numbers of men and women as faculty and graduate students, which seems to be an anomaly in the field. Then, a few weeks ago during registration for the spring semester, one of the (relatively few) women in Comp 11 asked me if she should register for the next course in the series. Of course, I said, if she likes what she’s doing in Comp 11, she should take Comp 15. Then she floored me with the next question: 'How many courses will I have to take before I catch up with all these boys who already know everything?'" [A really interesting read -- if you click through to just one item today, make it this one]

» Dru Lavigne, ITtoolbox: "The reasons behind the disparity in numbers between male and female computer science graduates have been argued for several decades--with apparently little effect on said numbers. An even more interesting phenomena has developed within Open Source where the low percentage of women is even more pronounced with estimates of 2% instead of 12% ... Not being a developer myself, yet very much a technical geek, this has been obvious to me for some time. In order for any software project to succeed you need R&D, coders, testers, ... trainers, marketers, ... bookkeepers--in other words a lot of people with a range of differing skills ... As Open Source projects mature, they tend to gather more non-developers. This makes perfect developmental sense: for example, you can't document a product that hasn't been coded yet. What's interesting though is that non-developer roles have been treated as less "sexy" and are less often the subject of media interviews or conference topics within the Open Source community ... I suspect that there are a lot of women working within Open Source and the female/male ratio is much smaller within non-developer roles."

» Suresh, The Geomblog: "The other point the article makes that I really don't agree with is that a focus on programming and technical aspects of computers is what attracted male programmers (read 'nerds') to the field, to the exclusion of females. The implication of course is that if computer science education were focused more on problem solving and 'impact on society', that more women would have been inclined to enter the field. This is debatable. Any higher level 'non-programming-centric' approach to teaching computer science would involve heavy dollops of math; linear algebra, graph theory, calculus, probability, geometry, you name it, even if you never ended up doing theoryCS. Math has always had a problem attracting women students, and I don't see why shifting focus away from programming and towards problem solving (which I highly encourage, btw) would make the barrier to entry for women students any lower."

» Emily's Musings: "As a computer science major (though at a liberal arts college) who just went on to join a very female dominated field (library science), I've always been interested in gender and technology issues and am still not sure where I feel I fit into all of that."

» Joanne Jacobs:  "A Boston Globe story suggests that c.s. departments are stressing technology rather than the applications of computer science, discouraging those with weaker tech backgrounds. Women are the first to go, followed by American males ... Now that computer science is a much less popular major, professors are trying harder to attract and retain students, male and female."

Buffer overflow:

And finally...  Rejected trailer for The Shining? [In case anyone was wondering, Nizlopi's backhoe song did make it to #1 in the UK -- here's to a second week and giving Simon Cowell a bloody nose]

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at Also contributing to today's post: Judi Dey, our very own Antipodean.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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