datascience@berkeley explores the history and influence of women in computing and reviews the state of the gap between women and men in computing today.
Timeline of Women’s Achievements in Computing and Computer Science
ADA LOVELACE expands on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. She is widely considered the first computer programmer.
ENIAC PROGRAMMERS program the first all-electronic, programmable computer for the U.S. army. The six women were not credited for their work.
GRACE HOPPER invents the first computer compiler.
KATHERINE JOHNSON performs the orbital calculations needed for John Glenn’s orbital space mission.
SISTER MARY KENNETH KELLER is the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in computer science in the United States.
CAROL SHAW becomes the first professional female video game designer.
RADIA PERLMAN invents the Spanning Tree Protocol. She is referred to as the “Mother of the Internet.”
ANITA BORG founds the Institute for Women in Technology.
RUCHI SANGHVI is hired as the first female engineer at Facebook.
JOY BUOLAMWINI authors research uncovering large racial and gender bias in AI services. She is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League.
Women and Computing Education
The computing field, and women’s involvement in it, predates traditional computer science education. The first department began at Purdue University in the 1960s, almost 100 years after Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program.
Today, degree programs are prolific. But the data about the students involved with them reveals large gender gaps at all levels of schooling.
In 2000, females were about 54 percent of all Advanced Placement exam test-takers. That same year, they were 45 percent of AP Calculus test-takers and 15 percent of AP Computer Science test-takers. Since then, the percentage of all test-takers who are female has risen to almost 56 percent. In 2020, females were 47 percent of AP Calculus test-takers and 31 percent of AP Computer Science test-takers.
As students rise through the education system, gender gaps in computing persist.
In 1971, only 14 percent of computer science bachelor’s degree recipients were women. The proportion of women receiving these degrees peaked during the mid-1980s — in 1986, 36 percent of all recipients were women. Since then, the number has declined. As of 2019, 21 percent of computer science bachelor’s degree recipients were women.
Today, women’s participation in computing occupations varies by position.
In 2020, women comprised 36 percent of computer systems analysts, 12 percent of information security analysts, 21 percent of computer programmers, 19 percent of software developers, 28 percent of web developers and 29 percent of database administrators and architects.
The employment gender gap is larger for women of color. In 2020, the computing workforce was 3 percent Black women, 2 percent Hispanic women and 7 percent Asian women, according to WIT by the Numbers 2021.
Why are girls and women not pursuing computing as often as their male counterparts?
Research does not have a conclusive answer, but survey data points to some of the differences in how men and women value their careers.
For example, women were significantly more likely than men to cite, “I am interested in helping people or society” as a reason for pursuing a computing degree, according to a Girls in IT report from Microsoft.
But even this preference cannot stand on its own. The Microsoft report states that “girls do not come by these perceptions, interests, and career decisions innately or in a vacuum. Indeed, these are shaped by the larger society and local environments in which they learn about computing and technology.”
The report shows that abstract curriculum fails to connect the social influence of computing to the profession; a tendency toward independent, non-collaborative learning; and unconscious biases about “innate” talent all contribute to an industry that systematically favors boys’ development and learning.
In the C-suite, women are slowly getting more seats at the table. Korn Ferry analysis of largest U.S. companies reveals that women make up 18 percent of CIO/CTO positions among the top 1,000 U.S. companies (based on revenue), up from 16 percent the prior year. However, among C-suites in the tech industry, women are just 10 percent of CIO/CTO positions.
Below are some curated resources, toolkits, and organizations dedicated to helping women pursue and navigate computing careers in a male-centered workforce.