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Why are There so Few Female Computer Scientists?

© 1991 Ellen Spertus


Women pursue education and careers in computer science far less frequently than men do. In 1990, only 13% of PhDs in computer science went to women, and only 7.8% of computer science professors were female. Additionally, the percentage of female computer science students appears to be increasing at only a slow rate or even decreasing. Apart from ethical concerns at women's lack of participation in computer science, the demographics of the country are such that the United States will not have enough engineers and scientists unless underrepresented groups increase their participation. This report examines the influences against a woman's pursuing a career in a technical field, particularly computer science. Such factors include the different ways in which boys and girls are raised, the stereotypes of female engineers, subtle biases that females face, problems resulting from working in predominantly male environments, and sexual biases in language. Finally, I discuss effective and ineffective ways to encourage women. A theme of the report is that women's underrepresentation is not primarily due to direct discrimination but to subconscious behavior that tends to perpetuate the status quo.

This is MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Technical Report 1315.