Why don’t women study Computer Science?

It is the fault of TV shows!!! Who knew?

Princeton University Dean of Engineering and Applied Science, Maria Klawe, said so.

In contrast, Klawe said the number of women in law and medicine has reached parity with men. Why? “I think there is a correlation with TV shows,” that even when Klawe was a teenager, showed women happily at work in those fields. “I think computer science is a lot more creative than the jobs doctors and lawyers have,” she said, asking why Hollywood doesn’t do more with the IT field.

Of course, some will want to distinguish Computer Science and IT. I won’t go there because a large number of Computer Science graduates (as well as other fields such as Physics for that matter) go into IT. It stands to reason that if you have no interest for IT, you might consider a law or medicine major.

Ok. But I still don’t buy the TV show explanation. What about relatively modest salaries, long hours, and the macho caffeine-induced buzz? I’m sure several women don’t mind working 90 hours a week, but if you are to attract women to the IT profession, you better come up with better working conditions: higher salaries, lesser outsourcing threats, more flexible hours and so on.

Maybe having fewer graduates might help the working conditions. Of course, we could always object that outsourcing will quickly compensate and keep wages low. Maybe. It is hard to predict where Information Technology will take us.

However, it is true that Information Technology and Computer Science is really the current driver, or as Bill Gates said it:

Computer science is the change agent of the time.

It is simply not the case, currently, that the profession is very appealing for women.

Thanks to Fred for pointing out the article.

Update: Scott vouched for Maria, so maybe the TV show idea is not so silly. Still, higher salaries would help!

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Why don’t women study Computer Science?”

  1. To find out more about what makes women tick with IT and Free Software specifically, don’t miss this Sunday in Montréal Libre à Elles. I’ll be forwarding your post, thanks for post 😉

  2. At first glance, the correlation with TV may sound like a bit of an off-the-top-of-the-head, brain-fart kind of idea. But … Maria was the CS department head at UBC for most of the time I was there (before moving to higher positions at UBC, then to ACM president, then to Princeton dean). She is one of the most amazing people I have ever had the good fortune to know: dynamic, witty, formidable, incisive, deeply compassionate, and just plain smart. She was concerned about female enrollment in CS way back then (~1990), and did some relevant research of her own. She was mainly engaged in HCI-style research on electronic games for education in math and science (e-gems), and in that context most of her work focused on gender differences in game play. She was trying to understand (among other things) where the difference in attitude toward IT begins. So if she is now saying that she thinks TV has something to do with it, then there might just be something to it.

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