Fostering Computer Science Success Among Women and Minorities (Abstract)
Author(s): Debra Clingingsm
Statistics show a decrease in the number of students enrolled in computer science courses. This decline has been attributed to a decrease in the enrollment of women students in computer science. The decrease has been linked to female students' "turnoff" to math at an early age and their tendency to avoid computing courses and clubs in high school.
Studies show that very few women enroll in computer science majors and the few who enroll generally switch to nontechnical majors after the first year. The Campbell and McCabe study ("A Comparison of Male and Female Computer Science Students' Attitudes Towards Computers") has shown that the ratio of males to females in introductory computer science classes is approximately 2:1. This ratio increases in favor of men as the level of difficulty of the courses increases. From this, McCabe and Campbell conclude that males are better able to deal with more demanding situations than females. Evidence exists to prove that the answer is more complex than this.
Gender Studies in Computing
Teachers were asked to design software for boys, girls, or children of an unspecified gender. The results of the investigation were:
- Programs for boys emphasized time, eye and hand coordination, and competition.
- Programs for girls emphasized conversation and goal-based learning.
- Programs for children in general had the same structure as programs for boys.
- More situational stress was experienced by students who use software designed for the opposite gender
- Situational stress arose in both genders when the program was used in public and not in private; however, the females' level was much higher than the males'.
Two major conclusions were drawn from the study:
- A gender bias in favor of males exists in educational software regardless of whether the creator is male or female.
- Social setting influences performance and stress levels. For women, the social setting is one in which they are not expected to perform well at computer- and science-related tasks. This fosters lowered self-esteem and reduced success in such fields.
Antecedents of Computing Success
The following is a list of factors that influence the differences in the success rates of males and females:
- A gender gap exists between the self-esteem of boys and of girls, and this gap increases with age.
- The declining sense of well-being strongly inhibits girls' actions and abilities. Boys are more likely to "speak up." This higher self-esteem translates into higher career aspirations.
- Relationships between teachers and female students are important in the development of the female students' self esteem.
- Gender stereotypes are still a major factor in shaping the career aspirations of young women. Women "learn that they are not as good in these subjects (science and math) as boys." Their enthusiasm for these subjects drops much lower than boys'.
Impact on Women of Color
- In an executive summary report the AAUW examines the differences in the treatment of male and female students. The report has two major conclusions:
- Female students receive less attention than males.
- Females of different ethnic/racial backgrounds perceive sexism differently. Women of color face the problem of sexism within the context of racism.
The AAUW report notes that more studies focusing on women by ethnic group must be done.
Strategies for Change
To obtain equity for females in computer science, the following should be done
- Teachers should be made aware of gender differences in learning styles.
- Projects should be designed to determine what types of computer environments relate to boys and what types relate to girls.
- Educational software which is gender appropriate and which models ethnic diversity should be developed.
- Classroom computer projects should be introduced in a socially relevant context
- Timetables should be made which allow males and females equal access time to computer facilities.
abstract by Rae Lewis
Cite this page:
"Fostering Computer Science Success Among Women and Minorities (Abstract)"
Online Ethics Center for Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
Accessed: Wednesday, May 22, 2013