1. Defining the Problem
"A pressing question that this book addresses, and for the first time with historical data and analysis, is how and when and why women's participation in computing fell so drastically. This lopsided change in computing's gender balance in the past two decades is entirely without historical precedent."
Engineering and the physical sciences have not seen the same levels of steady progress towards gender parity as the biological and social sciences yet computing as a field is unique. Women have been heavily involved in computing since World War II and starting in the 1960s entered the commercial (as opposed to military) computing industry, as programmers, systems analysts, managers, and computer executives. In the mid-1980s, women had risen from making up 1 in 10 to about 4 in 10 of the undergraduate computing cohort, were earning 37% of all U.S. bachelor’s degrees in computing and made up 39% of the computing workforce. But since then, the number of women in the field of computing has, unlike the other technical professions, been steadily falling.
"Our book is aimed- in three distinct ways- at assisting these reform efforts and, we hope, changing the culture of computing. First, we offer forceful historical data documenting the gender gap in computing. ...A second contribution of this book is to offer tools for grasping the dynamics of the gender gap. ...Finally, this book frames the problem of gender and computing in international and comparative terms."
Despite joint efforts of K-12 educators, professional associations, and organizations such as the National Science Foundation to increase the participation of women in computing and other sciences, encourage young women to study math and sciences, and to major in engineering fields, there would appear to be some "missing piece" to the picture of the gender gap in technical professions. This book provides historical insight through richly textured case studies of women's struggles, as well as their own strategies for success in education, working for and running computing companies, and women's exclusion from and marginalization within computing companies. Additionally, this book documents and unpacks the "feminization" of work and the "masculinization" of professions. Any uniquely national perspective on the gender gap grows increasingly irrelevant in the international, multicultural field of computing, so this book presents historical cases and contributions that, while modest, represent a step toward a more thorough global understanding of the gender gap.
It is important to give an account of the efforts underway already to reform the computing industry. The favored strategy aims to increase the number of women in computing professions, in the undergraduate and graduate levels of study, and in the ranks of faculty. It is not easy to determine the success of these reforms due to the persistent decline of women in computing. Social scientists and educators ave identified five "explanatory factors" in these existing reform strategies.
First, who feels welcome and who feels out of place in the computing classroom or workplace is shaped by experiences but, more strongly, entry barriers such as undergraduate computer science programs requiring prior programming experience.
Secondly, the topics covered in a computing curriculum, and the examples used to illustrate them, tend to be gender-specific, such as using baseball and football statistics to illustrate algorithmic thinking.
Third, positive role models and academic as well as professional mentoring are crucial support systems but are disproportionately comprised of men and benefit men.
Fourth, peer support is important for students regardless of gender, and research has found that women in pair-programming classes, where two students tackle programming assignments together, are substantially more likely to stay with computing classes and, if it’s their major, to graduate.
Lastly, all reform efforts must confront the distinctive culture of computing, which is highly gendered and patriarchal.