Gender in computer science
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Gender in Computer Science. SIGCSE. SIGSCE is the S pecial I nterest G roup in C omputer S cience E ducation I attend the SIGCSE annual conference each year A common theme, this year and every year, is attracting women to computer science—and keeping them

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Sigcse l.jpg

  • SIGSCE is the Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education

  • I attend the SIGCSE annual conference each year

  • A common theme, this year and every year, is attracting women to computer science—and keeping them

    • There was very little new this year, so I’m just using last year’s slides (with minor modifications)

  • Many of these same comments apply to other minorities

  • I am very interested in this problem

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What I can do

  • Not much :-(

  • Most losses occur during the second year

  • I can give you:

    • some facts and figures

    • some research results

    • some opinions

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  • Enrollment in computer science programs reached a peak in 1986, then declined until 1996

    • There has been an upward trend from 1996 to 2000

    • We don’t have good figures past 2000, but the trend is downward again

    • At this university, the trend is definitely downward

    • In 1986, female enrollment reached a peak of 40%

  • During the period 1986 to 1996:

    • Men majoring in computer science dropped by 33%

    • Women majoring in computer science dropped by 55%

    • Other minorities also dropped by larger amounts than white males

  • Why?

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  • Both men and women incorrectly believe that men in CS have higher GPAs than women

    • Fact: There is no difference in GPAs

    • Fact: In my MCIT program, there is no gender difference in GREs of admitted students

  • Women who succeed in CS are often viewed as “exceptional”

    • Fact: Women and men are equally capable

      • Both groups do equally well on assignments

      • Both groups do equally well on examinations

    • Fact: Women do not have to be “better than men” to succeed

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Myths II

  • Myth: Some people just have a “computer gene”

    • Fact: From a biological standpoint, it’s obvious that there is no such thing

    • Fact: As with anything, there are individual differences in ability

      • It is commonly believed (among teachers) that anyone can be taught to program

    • Fact: If you work hard, you will succeed

      • No one is born with these skills

    • Fact: Many computer “hotshots” aren’t really very good

    • My belief: There is a positive feedback loop between enjoying an activity and being good at it

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Myths III

  • Myth: Computer programming is for “loners” and is basically an antisocial (or at least nonsocial) activity

    • Fact: Prospective employers shun loners and look for people who work well with others

    • Fact: Large programs are group efforts

    • Fact: Most programming methodologies are about how to best organize the programming team

    • Fact: In an educational setting, we typically insist on individual effort, mostly in an attempt to grade fairly—but this does not reflect “real world” practice

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  • Stereotype: Computer science majors are intelligent but lack interpersonal skills

    • Fact: Like all stereotypes, there are individuals who fit the stereotype—but most do not

  • Stereotype: Successful computer science majors “don’t have a life” but spend all their time at the computer

    • Fact: Almost all computer scientists do have a life

    • Fact: However, CS majors do spend significantly more time on schoolwork than non-CS majors

    • In my personal experience: Obsessive programmers are less likely to succeed

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Gender NON-differences

  • Research results show no significant differences between men and women in:

    • College GPA

    • ACT math, science, and composite scores

    • Interest in majoring in CS

    • Belief that CS is a worthwhile major

    • Number of hours per week spent on schoolwork

      • But: CS majors spend more time than non-majors

    • Age of first computer use

      • But: Males generally have more access to computers

    • Knowledge of what CS is all about

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More gender NON-differences

  • Estimate of how many hours computer scientists work

    • But: There are differences in estimated compensation

    • Fact: Women are, on average, not as well paid as men

    • Fact: The difference is much less in the computer field than in most other, non-technical fields

  • Importance placed on having a family

  • Belief that family life and career would be compatible for women

  • Stress level

  • Support and encouragement from others

  • Self esteem

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Real gender differences

  • Research results show these statistically significant differences

    • Men have higher educational aspirations

    • Men value extrinsic rewards (e.g. money) more

    • Men are higher in aggressiveness and dominance

      • But:No difference in kindness or nurturing

    • Biggest difference: Men are more confident of their own ability

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Especially interesting: High-scoring female CS students vs. low-scoring male non-CS students


  • Confidence in ability to write a computer program:

    • Students with high math ACT scores

      • Male CS majors: 63%

      • Male non-CS majors: 60%

      • Female CS majors: 48%

      • Female non-CS majors: 44%

    • Students with low math ACT scores

      • Male CS majors: 53%

      • Male non-CS majors: 49%

      • Female CS majors: 37%

      • Female non-CS majors: 34%

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Why women drop out low-scoring male non-CS students

  • According to one study, females suffer a loss of interest in the field, preceded by a loss of self-confidence

  • Probable causes of loss of confidence:

    • Inaccurate belief that women have lower ability

    • Lack of awareness of excellent income opportunities

    • Conflict between a woman’s view of herself and (inaccurate) stereotype of “computer nerds”

    • “Stereotype threat”: Fear of confirming the stereotype

    • Less playful and relaxed attitude toward computers

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Factors undermining self confidence low-scoring male non-CS students

  • (Note: These are opinions, not research results)

  • Computer science is hard—everyone has difficulty

  • Men are less willing than women to admit to having difficulties, hence often appear more capable than they really are

  • The field is wide as well as deep: “You’re a computer science major and you don’t know that?”

  • In programming, virtually all your mistakes are stupid ones—everyone’s mistakes are stupid ones—and it’s easy to mistake this for a personal failing

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Interesting tidbits low-scoring male non-CS students

  • Percentage of women earning a bachelor’s degree is significantly lower if the CS department is in the College of Engineering rather than in the College of Arts and Sciences

  • Under-representation of women in CS appears to be a cultural problem

    • Not true in historically black colleges and universities

    • Not true in Greece, Turkey, France, Italy

  • In one study, 30% of self-rated “code warriors” failed an assignment, compared to 15% of “code-a-phobes”

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Job prospects low-scoring male non-CS students

  • The information sector has the second highest projected job growth rate. Publishing, the Internet, and telecommunications should see real output climb to $1.6 trillion by 2014. A fifth of this will be Internet-related. With real growth in the information services sector targeted to be "an aggressive 8.5 average annual percent," this part of the economy can anticipate a jobs boom. If you're technologically-inclined, your career prospects are bright.


    • The highest projected job growth rate is “home health aide”

  • New data show students' interest in the discipline is in a free fall. The number of newly declared computer-science majors declined 32 percent from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2004, according to a report released this month by the Computing Research Association, which represents computer scientists in industry and academe. Another survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the number of incoming freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent in the last four years.


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Conclusions low-scoring male non-CS students

  • These studies suggest that women lose interest in computer science because of:

    • The misperception that they are not as capable as other (especially male) students

    • The misperception that job prospects are declining

    • The (accurate) perception that they do not conform to the (mostly inaccurate) stereotype of computer “nerds”

  • The foregoing is presented in the hope that having some actual information on gender differences will help some of you in your college careers

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One more thing... low-scoring male non-CS students

  • This is a bit of personal advice, based on anecdotal evidence, rather than on research results:

  • If you are a woman, you are likely to have a much harder time if you are the first and only woman in their research or IT department

  • Mostly for guys:

    • If you think men are inherently better at computer stuff than women, get over it

    • If a woman joins the company where you work, do not assume it is her job to make the coffee

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The End low-scoring male non-CS students

  • The scientists measured the size and strength of claws of both male and female crayfish, and then monitored how they performed in competitive bouts. They found crayfish use claw size to determine the winners of the most aggressive disputes. For female crayfish the size of the claw was an honest indication of how strong they were. However, claw size of males was not a good indicator of their strength. Males were routinely bluffing their opponents with weak claws to achieve dominance. They used claws more for intimidation than actual strength. --