The benefits in school and the job market
so far outweigh any potential gender bias
that few women are deterred.
BY ROLI VARMA AND DEEPAK KAPUR
IN THE U.S., the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded
to women has declined by 10% since 2000; in 2011,
women earned only 18% of bachelor’s degrees awarded
4 It is thus no surprise that much research has
focused on the underrepresentation of women in CS
education, often portraying CS as a man’s field.
1, 2, 5
However, this characterization is society-specific, not
universal. Unlike in the U.S., women’s participation
in CS education in India has increased in the past
15 years in most nationally accredited institutes
6–8 for instance, women constituted
42% of undergraduate students in CS and computer
engineering in 2011 in India.
3 They were and still are
not the odd ones out, as the masculine perspective
might hold. Rather, they enroll in CS
because men and women alike see CS
as a woman-friendly field.
To understand why women in India are attracted to CS education,
we carried out a qualitative study in
2007–2008, conducting in-depth interviews with 60 female undergraduates majoring in CS at two technical
institutes and two universities granting four-year undergraduate degrees
in CS. One campus is the top national
technical institute, the other a well-known regional technical institute.
To ensure minorities in India were
included in the study, we included
a third university that is historically
Muslim and a fourth university that is
predominantly Sikh. (Due to the University of New Mexico Institutional
Review Board requirement that granted us permission to conduct interviews, we cannot disclose the names
of the institutions.) We used random
sampling to select 15 subjects at each.
We recorded interviews that were
transcribed and processed through
the NVivo software package from QSR
International for data analysis. Two
independent coders coded the same
data to ensure reliability. Here, we
present key findings, along with frequency of response.
All students we interviewed were
young unmarried women age 19 to 22
in their second-to-fourth year of CS
studies. Other than being full-time students, none held a job at the time of
the interview. A large majority of them
characterized their family background
as middle class or upper middle class.
Almost 75% were born to Hindu families, with the majority from middle and
˽ CS is viewed as a liberating major and
profession for and by women in India.
˽ Our study demonstrates how
women’s experience in CS differs
according to sociocultural, economic,
and historical context.
˽ It also outlines challenges women in
India face to do well in CS education
and seeking related employment.