Why so few women in computing? A literature Review

Why So Few Women in Computing?: A Literature Review.


The number of women in science and engineering is growing, yet men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professionals. Though the high school numbers are roughly equal, by graduation, men outnumber women in computer science. Only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women.[3] Only 60 percent would attempt to get to the industry considering the conditions and from those joined, 40 percent of women leave the IT industry completely.[2] Women leaders are fewer. Trade journals and academic research have confirmed that women in IT fields are concentrated at the lower and middle levels and are under-represented at the higher levels.[2] This review is a brief summary of the recognized causes affecting this issue and mostly highlighted suggestions to improve the situation.
Early in the pipeline At very young ages schoolgirls become familiar with male-dominated computer labs. While boys tend to “jump in” and explore computers without explicit permission, girls wait till they are told to do so. Equal access to computers is also not given, where boys dominate computer labs. Girls voluntarily give up, thinking they have less ability, unknowingly creating more space for the boys to learn. [1] In common with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), computing is equally competitive among girls and boys in the preschool, elementary and middle school. More girls are negative towards computing later. Middle school is thought by researchers to be where the challenge of women in ITis most critical. This is where girls begin to believe technology is something they consume, not create.[2]


Positive attitudes towards computers can influence greatly for a female student to continue computer studies. Those who spend more time with computers have a more positive view than those who don’t.[1] Most people associate computing as a “male” field and this common implicit bias, negatively influence individuals’ attitudes toward computing. Computer professions, like scientists and engineers are recognized as “masculine” positions, which creates a negative attitude even in women who are good at it.[3] There is a significant difference in results of STEM, when girls are told before that they have a less competency with boys and when they are not told before conducting the examinations on STEM.[1][3]

Computer experience

Large number of female students enter college with lesser experience than boys. It is noted that games and free-time exploratory use cited as the primary causes of boys’ greater computer experience.[7] As previously mentioned, boys like to experiment stuff without permission while girls wait to be told to do so. In Collis’s work, it is found that girls expressed general confidence in female abilities with regard to computers, but did not display the same confidence in their own abilities as individuals, displaying a ‘we can, but I can’t’ syndrome. [22][18]

Mentoring and Role Models

Not having enough role models will negatively influence women’s choice of IT as a carrier, due to the resistance to experience new things. They like to see female who have already done and faced it successfully.[2] It is also doubted that the reason for lack of mentoring and role models is because female mentors dislike to interact and share knowledge.[4] But it is good to note that mentors like to work with same sex people.


A lack of self-confidence affects any student in continuing and liking a subject. In computing, girls lack confidence since priority is given to boys in class or lab since they forwardly give answers. Boys tend to haze girls when they lack knowledge of the “basic” concept boys know. Also, there is significant amount of embarrassment when a boy makes a mistake and a girl does so, which causes discouragement of the girl.[1][2] This is seen at both student and employee levels.

Teachers can respond to this matter by giving equal chance for the female students to answer questions and treating in a gender equal manner. Lack of self-confidence also occur in families. Parents keep computers at places easily reachable to boys in the family. Also, mothers play a major role in young daughters’ lives from the way they react to new technology and the attitude they display towards stereotypes.[1]
These factors build less self-confidence in girls towards computing. Societal Influences
Social and structural factors interact to produce barriers for women to enter or remain in computing.[4][1] Stereotypes in society such as computing is for nerdsor male only, girls should be “girly” and avoid computing field, creates “stereotype threat”. Two main stereotypes are, girls are not as good as boys in computing and computing is better suited for boys. Most of the girls tempt to embrace these which results in poor performance.
Though there is not much variation across geography to this matter, it is noted that the “I can’t but we can” paradox varies depending on countries and culture. More Asian girls tempt to believe that male and non-Asian people ignore them and male dominate technology while non-Asian girls believe that they are the focus of sexual harassment and unwanted positive discrimination.[23]

Working Environments

In working environments, female are rated low and less competent when they work. This is not seen in gender neutral environments.[11] Also by default women want to observe other women at work, and not be isolated.[2][4] Especially in work staff gatherings and bonding, which is outside of office work. During carrier advancement stage, a lack of female-friendly environments and networks negatively influence female.[4][11][2] Sheer isolation in the working environments, with no female mentors, no buddies and being surrounded by men who don’t appreciate them, leads to discouragement.[2] It is noted that 63% of women are sexually harassed in these male dominating environments, which is a really high rate. These prevent women from entering to the field and rather cause the ones who are working to leave.[2][6]

Work and family balance

More than other industries, computing jobs require long working hours, travel and constant updating of skills. Employees are bound to be present atunexpected times of technology failures or deadlines. The average workweek is 71 hours.[2] This creates work-family conflicts. It is also hard for young girls and mothers, due to scheduled times of kids, family and the society bounds.[10]

Half-Truths we hold dear

Here are some of the myths the society believes in general about the qualities of female leaders. “It’s possible if you are just committed enough”, “It’s possible if you marry the right person”, “It’s possible if you sequence it right. You can have it all, but not all at once”.[10] It is observed that this is not the case when it comes to practical situations. This is possible for women entrepreneurs or rich women, but not in general, since a lot of external factors affect the working and educating environment.


A lot of methods have been suggested through research and experiments in the past years.[11][3] Exposing to female instructors. Having female only classrooms.[1][19] Educating the Computer Science faculty in universities to know that some students do not have the assumed prerequisite computing environment or knowledge.[1] Educating parents, instructor, having discussions in classrooms about this issue, which help gain more understanding towards the matter and stereotypes.[1] Starting from middle school, girls need to be given chance to sit with other girls and code. The results will prove how competitive the girls are and reveal their true potential. Girls should also be given leadership deliberately.[1][11]
This will help gain more self-confidence, which they lack. Presence of role models may also help understand the work-family conflict in the IT sector by getting to know ways other women tech leaders have achieved it.[4][11] To get them to interact by public talks, online, in person and even by recalling history of women in technology. Parents can play a major role, by encouraging young girls to computing, breaking stereotypes society has created. Also to encourage young female, it is suggested to let juniors have bonds and programs with senior female students in the same field.[11]
Finally, for the women to have a balanced work-family life with minimum conflict, the government rules and regulations have to be more flexible, since working in organizations is different from being an women entrepreneur. Flexible working hours should be set and penalties reduced with more flexible rules.[10] Several companies have already experimented programs with changed patterns for female in IT. Some of them are, recruiting multicultural and women to senior positions, creating women’s engineering forum at workplaces to reduce isolation, programs to provide high-potential women with carrier development resources and sponsors, programs to reach out to women who have left to rear young children.[2]
In undergraduate and student levels also, we see that these suggestions are been experimented to motivate female students.

 Institutes like Anita Borg Institute, ACM-W, Girls who Code, IEEE Women In Engineering, Black Girls Code are internationally recognized institutes that encourage female students in computing by conducting programs and giving scholarships.


The loss of women in computer science is a complex and multi-faceted global problem. Two ways why few women remain in technology are either they don’t choose computing or they leave the field. There is no single solution to this problem. Many issues combine to drive women away from computer science.

There has been considerable research on why women leave or do not enter computer science. Considerable amount of suggestions has been recommended as solutions to encourage more women to this field. We see that it was worth while conducting these researches, since more space is being created for women in the near past, and more is expected in the near future!


1. T.Camp, D. Gurer, "Investigating the Incredible Shrinking Pipeline for Women in Computer Science,"
2005. [Online]. Available: http://womendev.acm.org/archives/documents/finalreport.pdf [Accessed 10
June 2015].
2. K. Melymuka, "Why Women Quit Technology," 16 June 2008. [Online]. Available:
article. [Accessed 10 June 2015].
3. C. Hill, C. Corbett and A. S. Rose, "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics," AAUW, Washington, DC, 2010.
4. M.Ahuja, “Women in the information technology profession: a literature review, synthesis and research
agenda”, Europian Jorunal of Information System, 11,20-34, 2002
5. L. M. Freehill, C. Brandi, M. A. Lain and A. Framton, "Women in Engineering," 2010. [Online]. Available:
http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/swe/summer10/#/50 --- 2009 lit review SWE. [Accessed 9 June 2015]
6. J. Evans , "Women In Tech: It’s Not Just A Pipeline Problem," 23 August 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://techcrunch.com/2014/08/23/just-another-white-dude-writing-about-diversity/. [Accessed 7 June
7. J. Sanders, "Gender and Technology in Education: A Research Review," June 2005. [Online]. Available:
http://www.josanders.com/pdf/gendertech0705.pdf. [Accessed 7 June 2015].
8. T. MAY, "Women and the future of IT," 7 January 2015. [Online]. Available:
http://www.computerworld.com/article/2866426/women-and-the-future-of-it.html. [Accessed 10 June
9. E. Valentine, "Gender Differences in Learning and Achievement in Mathematics, Science and Technology
and Strategies for Equity".[Online]. Available: http://www.iwitts.org/proven-practices/retention-sub-
[Accessed 9 June 2015].
10. "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All: The Reader’s Digest Version," Reader’s Digest, pp. 23-24, 28 June
2012.11. G. C. Townsend , S. Ball and L. Kuh , "One Hundred One Ideas for ACM-W," 2013. [Online]. Available:
http://women.acm.org/ACMW-Webpage/Chapters/Files/100Best2013.pdf. [Accessed 8 June 2015].
12. C.Corbett., ”Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education”,[Online] Available:
http://www.aauw.org/research/where-the-girls-are/ [Accessed 11 June 2015]
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= [Accessed 9
June 2015].
14. Krotoski, "Women in tech: why female representation matters," 6 March 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/women-in-tech-female-representation. [Accessed 10
June 2015].
15. B. Costello, "Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in STEM at
Community Colleges," 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.iwitts.org/proven-practices/retention-sub-
stem-at-community-colleges. [Accessed 11 June 2015].
16. R. R. McCarthy and . J. Berger , "Moving Beyond Cultural Barriers: Successful," Journal of Technology
Education, Vol. 19 No.2, Spring 2008.
17. C. Christi, "Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing,"
2010. [Online]. Available: http://www.aauw.org/research/solving-the-equation/. [Accessed 11 June 2015].
18. M.Ahuja, C.Ogan, C.Herring, C.Robbinson, “Gender and Career Choice Determinants in Information
Systems Professionals: A Comparison with Computer Science,”2006. [Online]. Available:
http://www.itwf.informatics.indiana.edu/Papers/ahuja.2006.pdf [Accessed 11 June 2015]
19. 123helpme.com, "Females and Technology," 11 June 2015
http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=25800. [Accessed 11 June 2015].
20. A.Miller,“Transforming The Conversation On Women In Computer Science” 20 Dec 2014 [Online] Available:
[Accessed 11 June 2015]
21. F. Marissa, "What Happened to All the Women in Computer Science?," 22 OCTOBER 2014. [Online].
Available: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-happened-all-women-computer-science-
1-180953111/?no-ist. [Accessed 8 June 2015]
22. R. H. Kay, “An Examination of Gender Differences in Computer Attitudes, Aptitude, and Use,”
1992.[Online] Available: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED346848.pdf [Accessed 7 June 2015]
23. V. Galpin, “Women in Computing around the world”, SIGCSE Bulletin Vol. 34, No.2, June 2002

Written by Dilushi Piumwardane in May 2015


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