Why Did Women Stop Coding?

Robert Kim / Friday, December 5, 2014

Nowadays, it’s well known that most of the more accomplished entrepreneurs in technology are men. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are just a few obvious candidates of our generation that have reaped the greatest success. How come we rarely hear about women programmers achieving similar feats? Apparently, around 1984, the amount of women pursuing degrees in computer science plateaued and has been continually trending downward.

Around the time of WWII, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, most of the men were being enlisted to join the military. A few of the women that were also enlisting, obviously not for combat roles, had chosen to become what would later be known as, computer programmers. These women were the first to be using top secret experimental computing machines with the purpose of determining ballistics calculations, crack encrypted messages, and run complicated mathematical equations that would eventually lead to development of the nuclear bomb.  They were also the firsts to design, improvise, and debug the world’s first computer programs. Essentially, women were crucial in order to end the war and initializing the computing industry as we know it.

What happened in 1984 that caused women to shy away from pursuing careers in computer science? For decades, the amount of women studying computer science had been growing faster than the number of men. In 1984, the percentage of women in the computer science field had peaked, and has since fallen a significant amount. One of the possibilities could have started when personal computers were becoming commercially available for household consumers.

The early PCs were practically just toys for a few simple games and maybe some word processing. These were mostly marketed entirely to men and boys. It initiated social norms for computers to be primarily for boys, defining who the ‘geeks’ were, and creating techie culture. This eventually led to discrepancy where parents were less likely to purchase a computer for their daughters, while more inclined to purchase one for their sons. Since the girls were getting less exposure during their early years, they weren’t as interested in careers related to computer science. The small percentage that may have chosen computer science would also feel a disadvantage when compared with boys who probably had grown up with experience with computers.

Any opinions on the matter or how to help promote more women to pursue coding careers? Have a say in the comments below.


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