Inspiring, recruiting, and retaining women for
a career in computing remains a challenge.
BY maRIa KLaWe, teLLe WhItne Y, anD CaRoLIne sImaRD
in our field? In large part, out of self-interest. Diversity often leads to enhanced abilities to perform tasks,
greater creativity, and better decisions and outcomes.
17 Sadly, bias and
stereotyping—often unconscious, but
nevertheless pervasive—continue to
affect the gender and ethnic composition of our talent pool and thus limit
the possibilities of technological innovation around the world. Meanwhile,
demand for computer scientists and
computer engineers in the U.S. is expected to grow 37% between 2006 and
4 despite the overall economy’s
present travails. Clearly, society requires the contributions of women as
well as men to computing.
“WoMen in coMPUting:
Where Are We Now?”—an
article by Maria Klawe and Nancy Leveson in
the January 1995 issue of Communications—
addressed women’s representation at the time,
as undergraduate and graduate students and in
the work force, in computing fields. That article,
part of the issue’s special section on Women and
Computing, described successful activities and
offered recommendations for future programs.
In this article, 14 years later, we assess the changes
that have since occurred, including both positive
and negative trends; we present strategies shown
to be successful for the recruitment, retention,
and advancement of women in computing; and
we explore promising new initiatives for further
increasing women’s participation. While the 1995
article focused on the U.S. and Canada, as does the
present one, we now also include data from other
parts of the world.
Why should computing professionals be concerned
about women and other groups underrepresented
on the Plus side
Around the world, women have made
some progress in the field of computing over the past decade. Women now
play a heightened role in technology
leadership, and they have gained representation at many important points
in organizational hierarchies.
˲ The number of women earning
U.S. undergraduate computer science
(CS) degrees increased from 7,063 in
1995 to 11,235 in 2005.25
˲ Some countries are making gains
in the numbers of women majoring
in math or CS, but because data is
often unavailable for computer science alone, related percentages are
not exactly comparable to U.S. figures.
Indeed, the percentage of U.S. female
bachelor’s degree recipients in math
is much higher than that of CS— 44.6%
25 Thus grouping math
with CS may be masking lower participation in CS.
˲In Asia (including only those
countries for which data is available),
women earned 43% of first university degrees in math and CS in 2004.23
Women’s representation in technical
fields is growing in India—the percentage of female engineers graduating from ITT Bombay has grown from
1.8% in 1972 to 8% in 2005. In the
Middle East, women earned 43% of
first-time math and CS degrees.
68 CommunICatIons of the aCm | feBRuaRY 2009 | vol. 52 | No. 2