November 13, 2019

Why Are There So Few Women in Computer Science?

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Today, we think of computer science as a field dominated by men, but the women have a long and important history in the field. In fact women were many of the very first computer programmers, played a hugely important part in the development of computing during World War II and the space race, and ran the one of the first computer software companies. So what changed? Watch the episode to find out!

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Written and Hosted By: Danielle Bainbridge
Graphics By: Noelle Smith
Directed By: Andrew Kornhaber
Produced By: Kornhaber Brown (

Works Cited:

Front Page

“Just Like Planning a Dinner Party”: When Computers Were Women’s Work

Ensmenger, Nathan. The Computer Boys Take over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise. MIT Press, 2012.

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40 thoughts on “Why Are There So Few Women in Computer Science?

  1. And if you are perceived as a woman in STEM, you will likely be subject to a lot of harassment and sexism. I am a trans man and I was still 'female presenting' when I first started my chemistry degree, and even though I did all the work and excelled in tests and lab work, TAs and professors would overlook it and/or flat out give the credit to male students.

  2. This actual propaganda cobbled together to look like real scholarship. I'm surprised PBS is pushing this, what she's saying towards the middle of the video is full of selectively picked motivated reasoning. It's actually dishonest.

  3. I want to enter the field of computer science. I didn’t even know that few women join until not too long ago I found out by going to a computer science mock class and saw there were only guys. The professor was a woman and pointed out that it was rare to find females interested in joining. like ❤️ If your a female that is interested/ inspired to join the field of computer science😆👩‍💻💁‍♀️💻🔬

  4. I love the phrase "you cannot be what you cannot see" – so true! When I was little, Captain Planet was all the rage and it had so many depictions of women in STEM. Dr Blight in particular, but also Linka was very good with computers. I think this show single-handedly made me see computer programming and science as girl things. I learned to program very young (<12 years old), starting with HyperTalk, then BASIC, Pascal, JavaScript, then assembly, Java and C when I got to uni (I'd recommend python to anyone starting out in programming). People tend to look at the low numbers of women in STEM and just say "women don't want to do STEM" and assume that they're born that way, when role models in TV and real life can have such a strong effect on what a child can see themselves doing. I've taken the Harvard Implicit Association Test and it showed that I do actually automatically see STEM as feminine and I swear this is down to the TV shows I used to watch when I was little.

  5. I'm a female Computer Science and Math double major. I go to a mostly female school, but somehow my major classes are mostly male.
    I will say for the record that my love life has suffered since I mostly like women and there aren't a lot of women (and therefore even less queer women) who share my interests. This seems a rather unimportant side issue since I'm not exactly in the field for dating reasons, but it does make me rather sad that I might not be able to come home and talk intelligently with my wife about what we do at work.
    I keep giggling at the idea that if I have kids, they might feel like CS is a woman's field since one or both of their moms will work in CS.

  6. I think part of the problem is that men are still not taught who paved the way for the tools they're using to build hardware and software. Forget Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The computer revolution really would not have happened if it wasn't for women paving the way in programming. One that I'm reminded of from time to time in computer networking is Radia Perlman. Basically my career as a network admin would not exist if it wasn't for the work she has done as the computer networks we use at work and what students use at school simply would not have been possible without what she has achieved. Also there's a good chance the Internet wouldn't have grown so rapidly either.

    I look forward to where can have a 50/50 split between women and men in IT. Some of the biggest turning points in computer science have been achieved when men and women work together and not against each other.

  7. 2:36 Compared to programming building hardware is the real skill-oriented job. It's much more demanding area, to this day.

    3:15 "when did we start assuming that computer programming can only be done by men?" — Who started assuming this? Who is saying that, straw-man?

    I find most of this video quite biased, and kind of sexist. I don't see why women specifically should be encouraged to work in IT/CS? Why not encourage people in general? Jobs should be based on merit, not genitals.

  8. Unfortunately more and more of the IT / Programming jobs are being moved to other countries to take advantage of cheap labor. Not a very encouraging market to be in currently, unless you are the "best of the best".

  9. Having worked in the Information Technology field for twenty-six years before retiring, I have worked with many female IT personnel at every level and more than 50% of my supervisors were female. If there is a bias towards men in any area of IT it's made up for in other areas. Programmers, although important in the field make up a small part of the IT industry. I am basing this not only on my own experience, but also on : which provides statistics that say outside of computer systems design (which is a subset of engineering for the hardware systems) most other areas women are at about 42% of the workforce. While not a 50/50 breakdown, it's closer than the 73/27 percent breakdown you stated. As a matter of fact, only one small area of these statistics agree with your numbers. That's the aforementioned engineering/IT overlap area. Yes it is the only one that uses the word, "computer," but it's such a small portion of the information technology industry that is very misleading to use that set of numbers to represent IT as a whole. You are discounting the myriad of women who work in IT everyday.

  10. Great video, my husband is a pen tester and I go to company meetings and the have there programmers and as a whole I see a lot of women , which I think is so cool.

  11. Wow. These videos are just amazing…. more please??? Also, I fully agree with this video – I'd seen the sexist ads, but never really noticed them before; while also wondering (and asking) why there aren't more women in information technology fields. Thinking back on growing up in the 80's, there WAS a very strong push that computers were for boys, and girls did other things, like play with barbies or whatever. This is so wrong… we need to make this better.

  12. Whoa, that was way more complex I expected! It goes to show just how interesting sociology can be.

    You've just got another sub. This format — the clear, logical, and motivated development based on questions — is top-notch, and not just on youtube, but even most academic work fails to be this well-written.

  13. Very US-centric evidence, but the trend is seen worldwide, which makes me question the impact of presented evidence. Marketing in the 80s sure was worldwide, but in EU and USSR there has never been any sexist campigns (in fact in USSR and all it's allies sexism or any notion of it was abolished as part of the political propaganda in the beginning of the 20th century).

    I think the real reason is in the way female brain works. It is more exact and focused on details than a male brain, which is more abstract and conceptual. Just like early computing was very exact with very small margin for error but little software architecture, while modern computing is far more abstract with most details taken care of by existing systems and the overarching architecture being more important. Women are not interested in controlling or designing abstract systems, they are more interested in solving concrete low-level problems. Same reason for why less women go to science and politics or management than to economics or mathematics.

    In my personal experience(Finland, Russia) women rarely went to the IT field because it is nowadays so generic. Those that did go, stuck to one of the possible areas and didn't deviate. Modern IT industry doesn't work like that, you can't just be a programmer anymore.

  14. Discovered you thanks to Deep Look. Good channel however try to speak slower. It is not that you are not understandable, just annoying after a while. In conclusion have a good one and keep the stuff up 💪💪

  15. You should also checkout the programs like 'Outreachy' and 'Rails Girls Summer of Code' which aims at increasing diversity in open source.
    P.S. I'm an alumni of one of them and have been involved as a organizer in another one.

  16. 73% is veeery optimistic. If 1/4 of CS bachelors are girls(?), You know nothing about how many of them actually will work as real software developers(not QA, PM or HR). Maybe nobody.

  17. We are Ms. Glunz’ seventh grade English Language Arts class at Audubon Middle School in Milwaukee, WI. We just finished watching this video, which gave us amazing information on the topic we are learning about in our class. We are learning about the gender and racial wage gap in the United States. We would like to share some information that stood out to us or surprised us.
    First, we were surprised that women did a lot of work in creating early computers and the software that made them smart, but when those computers or programs were made public, they received no recognition.
    Second, we were really surprised by the rapid decrease in women programmers around the year 1984 and the continued decline through the 2000’s. We would like to see more women studying computer science!

    P.S. We thought the video was a little fast. Our teacher had to stop it several times to explain what was said. On the other hand, we learned A LOT of new words 🙂

  18. While teaching data processing (programming & systems analysis) at a technical institute in the 80s, we actively recruited women into our program because they were better at programming and far superior than the guys in systems analysis. Guy seemed to think they knew what was best and the gals tended to ask what was wanted and could explain why they might had a different solution. It is good to see things changing.

  19. What have I learned by watching these formulaic women advocacy videos? That women are goddesses who should never have to work but if they do then logically they should all work in STEM. I don't care what they really want to do, women should only want to work in STEM. So how do we brainwash women into wanting to do this? Let's create some propaganda videos telling women that men have conspired to keep them out of STEM and then fill it with women who worked in STEM, were really successful, and even achieved greatness. (Yeah, that makes sense.) Apparently women are smart enough to work in STEM, but not smart enough to know that. I would like to write more but I have attend a meeting of my secret cabal to oppress women. Busy, busy…

  20. Girl programmer here! Any others out there?

    In college my female classmates were more likely to be studying electrical engineering than CS but I loved the conceptual problem solving of software more. Now that I've been in the workforce for a decade my female coworkers are almost always 10 to 15 years older. It blows my mind that other girls didn't want to be programmers but I remember my female peers in looking down on my love of computers. It was usually the girls who criticized not the boys.

  21. Wow so interesting! My mother was a computer programmer from the mid-1970s until she retired in the 2000s. I did not know it was considered "secretarial work" when my mom was getting into the field.

  22. Awesome episode! I was lucky enough to hear Rear Admiral Hopper speak at The Ohio State University while a student there in the 80s. I would add one EXTREMELY IMPORTANT shout-out: Limor Freid (aka Lady Ada), the founder and lead engineer at Adafruit. I believe that she is a great role model and inspiration for girls and women who have interests in STEM.

  23. In the words of my dad: "The typing class in high-school was pretty much attended only by women – because why would we [guys] need to know those things?" His tone was ironic because, of course, he works in front of a computer now.

  24. I don't know about US. But in ex-soviet country, the small most IT-advanced country (Estonia) in the world, I have mostly seen women in 90s, operating and programming computers. Now after 2000 I see men more interested in programming. Its hard to find women. But operating PC-s I see equal interest. I mean those small ones, in our pockets. With LTE and Wifi connectivity.

  25. I was so lucky to be in the US Navy during the late '70's and early '80's when the PC boom started. Admiral Grace Hooper was already a hero to military computing, and became a personal hero as I started to learn computing. (I had also been in the Nuclear Navy, so Admiral Rickover was another hero. I was honored to have served while both were also still serving.)

    Wherever she was, Grace Hopper would frequently host public talks, and she'd often hand out "nanoseconds" to the attendees, which were pieces of wire just under a foot long, to illustrate the distance light traveled in a nanosecond. She later slightly shortened her wires to illustrate the distance an electrical pulse traveled down a copper wire in a nanosecond, making the illustration more concrete. (Electrical signals in a wire move 20-30% slower than light.)

    I had, and missed, two opportunities to attend an Admiral Hopper talk. I have very few regrets in life, but those are two of them!

    When I left active duty in '81' to attend college and major in Computer Engineering (all of CS + digital part of EE), I was surprised how few women there were in my classes, especially given the example of my own hero, Grace Hopper. However, just as Danielle mentioned, by then men such as Kildall, Gates, Jobs and Wozniak were the more popular "tech heroes".

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