Declination of women in computer science in Canada

Declination of women in computer science in Canada

=Overview=There is an ongoing decline in the number of women in computer science. Whether it is in the Canadian industry or at Canadian universities, the declination of women in the field is universal. For instance between 1994-1998 the percentage of girls pursuing a bachelor of science in computer science was 20%, while boys dominated with 80% enrollment in Canada. In 2002, only 24% of the Masters students at Canadian universities were women according to the Computing Research Association’s Taulbee Survey. The number of women in computer science decreases at higher levels in the educational hierarchy. Only 12% of computer science PhD graduates were women in 2002. Furthermore a mere 7% of full professorship positions in computer science were held by women at Canadian universities in 2002. Male dominance in technically oriented fields (such as computer science) is not uncommon among universities around the world. But why is that the case and what are the attributes contributing to fewer and fewer women being present in computer science in Canada?

=Causes for the decline=

Early childhood influences

There are a number of causes underlined by experts in the industrial and academic components of computer science that shed some light on the root causes for the declination. Some experts believe that there are early social and cultural factors that contribute to girls growing up less interested in technically oriented fields. For example, parents usually buy dolls, doll houses, tea party sets, stuffed animals, and other such toys for their daughter(s). Girls are not persuaded to engage in such activities as playing video games, assembling and disassembling structures (Lego), and other such activities that boys usually enjoy at an earlier age. Karen A. Lemone at the University of British Columbia argues that since girls are brought up not to open things up and investigate how they work or to put pieces together and build new things; they are prone to choosing fields of study that do not involve such technical activities. She maintains that if girls were exposed to the same sort of leisure activities as boys when they're growing up, then more girls would consider a computer science degree as a worthwhile pursuit at university.

Lack of role models

Another plausible reason is the lack of women role models in computer science (as is evident from the above statistics) that discourages future generations of women from entering the field. There aren't enough women computer scientists in high positions at the departments of computer science from whom newly admitted female students can gain inspiration. With the onslaught of heavy work loads and the lack of inspiration, newly admitted girls feel isolated and without hope in this male dominated field. Thus they resort to dropping out of computer science and pursuing other interests.

Negative stereotyping

In modern media (television, ads, etc) a computer specialist is typically portrayed as a boring and nerdy person who doesn't enjoy life to the fullest. This kind of stereotyping reflects very poorly on the computer science field. Teenage girls applying for university turn away from computer related studies because they imagine themselves becoming a nerd or a geek, which is not in the favor of most young girls today.

Lack of resources for Girls

Studies conducted by Statistics Canada indicate that girls don't have as much access to computers and the internet as boys do. Boys have about 15% more access to personal computers than girls in Canada. In the year 2000 a study carried out on 7000 Vancouver high school students indicated that girls were much less interested in computers than boys were. This is primarily due to the lack of exposure to computers that girls experienced in their childhoods.

=Measures against the decline=

Wired Women Society and others

There are numerous initiatives being undertaken to reverse the decline of women in computer science in Canada. For example The Wired Women Society has 2000 plus members across Canada. This society provides valuable training in computer related subjects such as web authoring, networking, and programming to women and girls alike. It also serves as a medium through which young girls can become acquainted with more senior women already working or teaching in the field. Other notable women's societies striving to increase women participation in the sciences and engineering fields are the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering Science and Technology (CCWEST) and the Society of Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST). Through these organizations equality in education and employment can be obtained among the genders.

Universities and Companies

Efforts by Canadian universities aimed at boosting women enrollment in both their undergraduate and graduate computer science programs are also proving effective in halting the decline. For instance Dr. Maria Klawe at the University of British Columbia has established a program titled SWIFT (Supporting Women in Information Technology) which reaches out to girls from middle school to undergrad study and beyond. It provides new and effective methods for teaching programming to young girls. IBM Canada offers summer camps and workshops at which girls can gain first hand industry insights from women working in the IT field at IBM. Another possible strategy is all female computer classes in high school. Initiated by the University of Ottawa, this approach has proven to be successful with female enrollment rising from 10% to 40% after the introduction of all female computer science classes.

The aforementioned and other similar strategies have been initiated in all provinces across Canada in an effort to shrink the widening gender gap in computer science.


*The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline, Communications of the ACM, volume 40, pp 103-110.
*Dryburgh, H. Learning computer skills. Canadian Social Trends, 2002

=External Links=
* in Information Technology
* [ Doing "IT" Around the World] - Sept 11th, profiled the lives and technology loves of 36 women across the globe, discovering what they do, how they contribute to our world and their shared passion for Innovation Technology.
* [ Doing "IT" Around the World Albums] - See women from all over the world in the IT field in this global album presentation brought to you by: "Thoughtware Australia"

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