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Women in Computing . Netiva Caftori Northeastern Illinois University 2004. The reality. There are less women in computer science programs in universities and high schools. There are less women in industry working in development and design of software, for example

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women in computing

Women in Computing

Netiva Caftori

Northeastern Illinois University


the reality
The reality

There are less women in computer science programs in universities and high schools.

There are less women in industry working in development and design of software, for example

The numbers are actually dropping, from already low numbers, throughout the country and the world.


gender socialization
Gender Socialization

Male claim to the field of computing and the erosion of girls’ and women’s interest can be understood by looking back to the roots of gender socialization.

e.g., Kindergarten boys’ and girls’ behavior; a parent who seeds the budding interest; boys’ early success in science; parents’ and teachers’ expectations; boys are raised to take risks; girls to be cautious.

what helps further boys claim and women s retreat from computing
What helps further boys’ claim and women’s retreat from computing:
  • Adolescence
  • Peer relationship
  • Computer game design
  • Secondary schooling
in universities computer science curricula
In universities Computer science curricula

Computer science curricula don’t offer what women are interested in or concerned with.

The “geek culture” alienates women who resist it. Some find it repulsive. Many see the geek culture as the norm.

As a consequence, women’s confidence and interest are extinguished in the college years.

myopic focus on computers
Myopic focus on computers

Some men also resist a narrow orientation but do not question their ability to become computer scientists because their gender has not rendered them suspect.

The social history and culture of computing contribute to boys’ sense of belonging and girls’ sense of “outsidership” in computer science.

The model of a successful CS student is viewed through a male prism.

confidence and promise
Confidence and Promise

Drops in confidence precede drops in interest.


The computing field can hold much promise and pleasures for women.

results of a study
Results of a study

At Carnegie Melon University: In 5 years a big rise in numbers of women:

7 women (7%) out of 96 in 1995 to

54 women (42%) out of 130 in 2000

Concluding that what prevailed before the study is that:

One group of people can claim a realm of power, delegating others to outsiders.


Teachers and parents need to engage and protect girls’ interests and change computer science into a field that is engaging and interesting for a much larger and more diverse group of students.

the goal
The goal

The goal should not be to fit women into computer science, as it is currently taught and conceived. Rather, a curricular and cultural revolution is required to change computer science so that the valuable contributions and perspectives of women are respected within the discipline.

what was done at carnegie melon
What was done at Carnegie Melon
  • Curricula: Different levels of entering the curriculum depending on level of experience
  • Admission: Experience is not a prerequisite
  • Good teaching is especially important to women: e.g., better more experienced teachers in earlier courses; a unit on diversity, particularly gender equity in TA training classes
carnegie melon cont
Carnegie Melon: (Cont.)

Contextualizing computer science:

  • Realistic settings
  • Interdisciplinary courses
  • Promote diverse teaching methods

Promote a different and diverse culture. Change the image of a computer person from a hacker (which may be repulsive or discouraging to some) necessarily to maybe something else, just as favorable if not appealing to women.

  • The absence of women in computer science has large societal implications and is a social justice issue.
  • The social conditioning that many girls receive runs very deep. It takes a lot to uproot it.
  • Since everything is affected by the onslaught of technology and since men invent and women use what men invent, a cyberspace society will inevitably reflect the desires of men to the exclusion and often denigration of women.
  • Something has to be done.

We hope that teachers of all levels, parents, students, computer people of all walks will begin conversations about these findings, and will ask themselves why so few women and girls study computer science, how early gender socialization and schooling restrict the options of many girls, and what women can add to the world of computing.

  • J. Margolis & A Fisher: Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. MIT press, 2003