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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The growing gender gap in computer sciences

    Courtesy of Prajakta Sirasao
    Prajakta Sirasao sits for a photo at the San Francisco Botanical Garden on July 21, 2015. Sirasao, a computer science sophomore, feels under-represented in the major, along with many other women.

    The field of computer science is rapidly changing the job market. From Google’s apps and electronics to unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the United States Department of Defense, computer programming has become an integral part of the modern era.

    As society becomes increasingly digitalized, those with degrees in computer science will become more valuable assets.

    Statistics show that current college students recognize the value of computer science degrees and the value they bring to the job market. Post-secondary institutions awarded 2,388 degrees in computer and information sciences to students in the U.S. in 1971. This number exceeded 55,000 by 2014.

    Blatant displays of gender disparity have accompanied this rise in computer science education during the last 40 years.

    Of the computer science degrees awarded in 2014, less than 20 percent went to women. The number of women per year who earn computer science, math or engineering degrees has declined in the last 10 years.

    In a country that claims to be a bastion of equal opportunity, the clear gender gap that exists in the field of computer science—and how to fix it—should be a source of national debate.

    “As a female computer science student, while I have never personally experienced sexism or anything of the sort, it is a very male-dominated environment,” said Prajakta Sirasao, a computer science sophomore. “That is … easy to see.”

    Why are female computer scientists few and far between? Why do we immediately think of a man staring intently at his computer screen when we think of computer programming?

    The statistics relating to gender and computer science are of great concern and do not make sense in the context of higher education as a whole. The number of women enrolled in undergraduate degree programs has exceeded that of men since 1982.

    Beginning in the 1990s, women began earning more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s degrees. In the life sciences, specifically including biology, chemistry and agricultural sciences, women typically earn at least half of all degrees.

    The experiences of female undergraduate students reflect these numbers.

    “Oftentimes, I have been one of maybe two or three girls in a coding class or lab,” Sirasao said.

    Many people do not know a woman wrote the world’s first computer program. Mathematician Ada Lovelace helped Charles Babbage design a programmable computer in 1842. Although the machine was never built, Lovelace wrote an algorithm that the computer would have been capable of carrying out. Today, experts widely credit Lovelace with being the first-ever computer programmer.

    “Gender disparity definitely does exist in the field,” Sirasao said. “The way to fix it would be to start getting girls interested in STEM topics from an early age, when they are more impressionable and influenced by outside factors other than school.”

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