Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Why aren’t more girls interested in computer science?

January 27th, 2014 / in Uncategorized / by Shar Steed

50643It is a long-standing issue the computing community struggles with that is attracting national attention. A recent study showed just how alarming the diversity statistics are for girls in computer science. Barbara Ericson, director of computer outreach at Georgia Tech, was recently on HLN Weekend Express to break down the numbers and explain reasons for the gap and what can be done to start improving gender diversity in computing.

Here are few statistics on high school AP Computer Science classes:

  • Boys out number girls four to one
  • In three states no high school girls took the AP Computer Science test (Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming)
  • The highest percentage of girls taking the test in a state was 29% (Tennessee)

For decades, women have been underrepresented in computer science. While these statistics are not surprising, the breadth of the gap is startling. Some reasons for the gap Ericson highlighted were:

  • Computer science is an elective. It does not count toward core requirements.
  • Stereotypes discourage women from participating.
  • Computer science classes sometimes require more abstract, individualized work, whereas girls typcially prefer more practical, and social activities.

This is a national issue because the United States is not meeting the current and future demands of the computing workforce. Computing jobs are expected to grow twice as fast as average, leaving an estimated 1 million unfilled jobs. Women may miss out on high paying, creative, exciting career opportunities. Research teams with low diversity suffer as well. Diverse teams bring a variety of perspectives, skills and experience that can together find more innovative solutions to challenging problems.

How can we help close the gender gap?

  • Make computer science a core requirement. It’s required to graduate at Georgia Tech
  • Train more teachers – provide more access for students

CRA and CCC have been active in several activities that address society’s need for a continuous supply of talented and well-educated computing researchers.

Why aren’t more girls interested in computer science?
  • Mark Smith

    I see this issue coming up on a weekly basis. I think this is a lot simpler than typically is presented, but then I tend to see things from a supply/demand perspective.

    It’s like this. People that really excel at computers tend to be aspy. Aspy people are enamored of abstractions; it’s a natural fit. And aspy people are skewed toward males.

    It isn’t a stereotype if the skew is in the population. I suspect the entire gap is due to this skew.

    It would be good to attempt a study that controls for aspy, but I haven’t seen one; until then, I think it’s best to ignore the noise–especially from those who suggest mandates. “Training more teachers” seems to me to be a particularly suspicious request–after all, the boys don’t seem to need more teachers to be trained, do they?

  • David Koelle

    If one of the gaps is “girls typically prefer more practical and social activities,” then “make computer science a core requirement” is not a solution to that problem. The software engineering side of computer science is extremely practical, and everything from social media to mobile applications for disaster relief and connecting to other people is very social. And as a career, computer scientists in the right job do a lot of engagement with other people – users!

    Yes, students would have to learn abstract things like finite state machines and lambda calculus and recursion along the way, but I doubt these are what turn girls away from computer science.

    Focus on the extremely strong practical, social, and people-oriented aspects of computing. Break the stereotypes that might have been true in the 1970’s but are vastly different today.