Women and Computers Today

The current situation is subject to debate. Some argue that there is mounting evidence that many women opting for careers in computing either drop out of the academic pipeline or choose not to get advanced degrees and enter industry instead. Consequently, there are disproportionatly low numbers of women in academic computer science and the computer industry. The situation may be perpetuated for several generations since studies show that girls from grade school to high school are losing interest in computing.

Accordingly to Betty M. Vetter, executive director of the Commission on Professionals in Science and technology in Washington, DC, the number of bachelor's and master's degrees awarded in computer science are dropping steadily for both men and women. The concern for women, however, is that degrees awarded to women are dropping faster, so they are becoming a smaller and smaller proportion of the total.

Bachelor's degrees awarded to women peaked at 35.7% in 1986, along with masters degrees which reached 29.9%. These percentages have been continually declining for both these degrees and are expected to continue to drop. In 1987, 14.4% of all computer science Ph.D's went to women; this number declined to 10.9% the following year. The number almost doubled between 1988 and 1989 with women receiving 17.5% of Ph.D's. Since these figures include foreign students who are principally male, women constitute a smaller percentage of that total than they do of Ph.D's awarded to Americans. But while American women received 21.4% of Ph.D's awarded to Americans, that is not encouraging either, says Vetter. Again, the number of American women awarded computer science Ph.D.'s was minuscule, at 72. And taking a longer view, the awarding of significantly fewer bachelor's and master's degrees to women in the late 1980s will be felt in seven to eight years, when they would be expected to receive their Ph.D.'s.

Despite these academic statistics of a decade ago, the number of female IS managers in the U.S. has risen from just 2% in 1985 to 22% today, according to the Department of Labor. Similarly, the number of minority managers in the work force now stands at 17%, up from just over 1% in 1985. A 1994 study, The Equity Equation by Cross University Research in Engineering and Science, found that women comprise nearly 30% of systems analysts and computer scientists and 33% of all programmers. To put these numbers in perspective it is important to realize that women make up 45% of the overall work force.

Despite these Department of Labor Statistics and the Cross University Research results, there is remains a general concern that women and girls are not getting seriously involved in the process of designing computers, and that they remain users, not makers. The percentage of women involved in this process is still far below 50%.


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last updated 9/8/98