Lack of Women in Computer Science Field

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My son is home from his first trimester at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University.   He’s in the Computer Science department and hopes to go straight for a PhD in that field.   At dinner the other night I asked him how many women were in his major.   He said just three.   Northwestern’s Computer Science program is pretty big and influential and there’s only three women?   With medical and veterinary schools enrolling about 50% or more women each year (to say nothing about law schools), I wonder why there are so few women in a prestigious computer science program.   My son claims there’s no overt prejudice but he isn’t involved in recruiting or admissions.Anyone have any thoughts about this (women in  computer science, NOT computer engineering which is a whole different field and where there are more women enrolled)?

-Ralph Michael Stein

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0 Responses to Lack of Women in Computer Science Field

  1. rkitt says:

    I work with a mid-level consulting Information Technology consulting firm with a national practice. My position requires that I be heavily involved in recruiting and training, as well as project engagement with our clients. Our greatest concern is not finding clients or getting the work. It is finding the people. There is a significant and growing shortfall of IT talent, not just in this country but throughout the world.

    Adding to the shrinkage of this talent pool (and it is shrinking, why is not really understood), is the lack of involvement of women. Moreover, the representation of women in the IT area does show some interesting patterns. In certain areas, such as systems analysts, women are over represented, while they are very rare as technical architects.

    Another area where women are showing increasing presence is in the area of IT management. In the past year I visited or engaged with 64 different potential or actual clients and in 38 of those, a women was the manager or director with primary influence on decisions. (Interestingly, 16 of those visists were to state or federal government offices, and in only one, a state office, was the director a woman). In the meetings with female managers, their technical leads, with one exception, were all male.

    On an anecdotal note, I lost one very promising woman, with 5 years of excellent IT experience, to law school. The reason she gave to me for the move was that ‘it wasn’t the money, I just want to have a more satisfying career’.

  2. Broce says:

    This is a fairly easy one, I think. For the record, I’m female, and I’m a systems engineer.

    While it’s a good paying gig to work in the engineering end of IT…the demands on your time and personal life are tremendous. It’s 24 x 7 x365.

    That’s very difficult on a home life, and since women still bear the brunt of the responsibility for home, relationship and children, the demands on us are prohibitive. And while I know that both lawyering and doctoring are demanding jobs, the hours are not as disruptive because they tend to be better clustered, for lack of a better word. I’m routinely woken several times a night when I’m primary on-call, and those weeks I average 2-3 hours a sleep a night, usually not all at once. Two weeks on call, three off is the schedule. 100 hour weeks are far from uncommon even in the weeks we are not on call, and the requirement is that we be logged in within 5 minutes of receiving a page or a call. Effectively that means during primary and back up on call weeks, you don’t leave the house, period. And we are certainly not nearly as well paid as your average doctor or lawyer. It’s often noted what brutal hours medical residents put in…but residency ends, it doesnt stay that brutal for the doctor’s entire career.

    It’s really a hard thing for a spouse or significant other to deal with, and it’s very tough on kids. In my company, there are 23 engineers on my team. To a man, the guys all are married and most have wives who stay home with the kids and handle the house – those whose wives work outside of the home all work only part time. Of the six women on the team (we have an unusual number of women), one is married and has no children and no plans for them, two are single without kids and don’t plan to change that, and the other three, including myself, are single parents who headed in this direction because we could make a decent living for our kids, though we recognized the trade off was that we would not *have* personal lives. Our responsibilities to our kids and our jobs are it, period. At least in my age range (Im 49) most men arent about to put up with a significant other who spends two weeks out of every five as a zombie, and whose pager is going to wake them up several times a night.

    In a lot of companies, women are still seen somewhat as interlopers in the “hardcore” IT positions. It’s not at all unusual to find women as lower level systems analysts or as programmers, or security people, because those jobs are less demanding on your life, and still pay a decent wage. In the earlier part of my career, I saw a lot of bright, capable women step *off* this track and into programming or security especially after they decided to have kids. (Doing this job pregnant is *NOT* something you’d ever want to contemplate). I received a lot of subtle pushing from management towards those lower-paying, lower-prestige corners of IT…I don’t know if thats the case for women starting out today, but it seemed that management (which was almost all male in those days) were *stunned* at the very idea that I’d want to be an engineer, and did everything they could to discourage that. I’ve heard the same history from other women doing my job. “You don’t want to do that – the hours will kill you” or “How can you raise your kids and do that?” or “You know, I wouldnt put up with it if *my* wife wanted to work that kind of job – you’re single now, but when you remarry” or “You know, your personal life will suffer if you do that – heck, I wouldnt date a woman who had to work these hours ha ha ha.”

  3. Mary2again says:

    I know this is late, but I just found this blog today.

    I work in IT. I work on a team of 91 people. 4 of us are women, 2 of which actually work on the same shift in the same building. The amount of sexual harassment/hostile work environment crap that goes on here is astounding, and nobody seems to care. If you do raise an alarm (as I did), the retaliation is swift and brutal, and nobody cares that it’s illegal. I was told I could just leave if I hated it so much. I’m just hanging on until I can find another job with the same or higher pay.

    Broce was also correct that most of the men I work with are either married with a stay-at-home wife, or single and likely to stay that way. Of the 4 women, 2 are single/childless and will stay that way, and 2 of us are married… and both of our husbands are stay-at-home dads.