How We Might Address the Decline of Women in Computing

By Paula Bernier

The presence of women in the computing field is not just lower than that of men, it’s actually on the decline.

That’s not good for women, and it’s not good for the tech workforce, as there is a talent shortage for people with computing jobs. More than 500,000 such jobs were open last year, and there were less than 40,000 new computer science graduates to fill them.

Even with projected growth of 15 to 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, most computer science jobs will be pursued and filled by men, notes Women in Computer Science. Women now represent 47 percent of the workforce, but only 12 percent of engineers are female, the organization adds.

“As STEM-related industries on a whole add over 1.7 million jobs in the coming years, there continues to be a notable absence of women in the field. This trend begins well before entering the job market: girls account for more than half of all Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers, yet boys outnumber girls 4:1 in computer science exams. In Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming, not a single girl took the AP Computer Science examination in 2014.”

Accenture LLP and Girls Who Code together work on the “Cracking the Gender Code” report, which surveys girls aged 12 to 18, undergraduate students, and key influencers. The partners note that women made up 18 percent of U.S. computer sciences majors, down from 37 percent in 1984. And they say that the number of women in computing is expected to decline to 22 percent from 24 percent in the next decade.

“Despite unprecedented attention and momentum behind the push for universal computer science education, the gender gap in computing is getting worse,” said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. “The message is clear: a one-size-fits-all model won’t work. This report is a rallying cry to invest in programs and curricula designed specifically for girls. We need a new mindset and willingness to prioritize and focus on our nation’s girls, and we need it now.”

Interventions could triple the number of women in computing to 3.9 million, growing the share from 24 percent to 39 percent in the next decade, according to Accenture and Girls Who Code. That could include such steps as encouraging junior high school girls to get into this space through opportunities to get involved in it and discussions with parents and teachers; sustained engagement in high school; and offering all undergraduates in all majors the opportunity to take computing and coding classes, Accenture and Girls Who Code suggest.

Designing computer courses with women in mind is another approach that has succeeded for such organizations as University of California, Berkeley. Wired in early 2015 reported that women outnumbered men in one of the school’s introduction to computer science courses as a result.

Providing female college students with financial support is another, more obvious way, to encourage women to pursue computing and coding degrees. One example of this is the Applied Computer Security Associates and Hewlett-Packard Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security program.

 

 

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