It seems difficult to imagine now, but women were leaders in computer science for decades – but in 1984 they began to disappear from the field in dramatic numbers. What on earth happened?
Gender stereotyping could well be the answer.
If you’re old enough to remember the very first personal computers, you may recall that they were not much more than toys. Can you remember the marketing too? Almost exclusively aimed at boys and men.
We can’t put ALL the blame on the marketers though, because at around the same time computer geek culture also began to emerge and that led to TV shows, movies, and video games that were, sadly, reaffirming that computers were the domain of the males of our species.
So, it follows that, 1984 saw a generation of students, who could have owned a home computer, entering further education – most of them boys. Researchers had already concluded that parents were much more likely to buy computers for their boys than their girls. Naturally then, many more boys had programming experience to take along to college and university … leaving young women already significantly behind their male peers. Since computers were now pretty much considered the domain of males, young women would often face discouragement from parents, other students, and educational professionals.
This is rather sad since women were very active in the computer science up until this time. Indeed there was a large increase in their numbers between 1970 and 1984 (by which time 37% of computer science degrees were awarded to women). According to the Computing Research Association, that number fell to 12% by 2011.
Listen to “When Women Stopped Coding”, visit http://n.pr/1rOiDB6 a 15 minute podcast that helps us to truly understand what happened during this period. Caitlin Kenney and Steve Henn unravel the mystery of what happened to cause women to drop out of computer science in astounding numbers.
For parents who would like to encourage their Mighty Girls’ interest in technology, early exposure to programming is highly recommended since many children only interact with technology passively. A great way to introduce kids, ages 9 and up, to programming is via new DIY systems that allow you to build real programmable computers on your own such as the “Raspberry Pi Ultimate Set” and “Sparki: The Easy Arduino DIY Robot”
For a wide variety of toys that introduce programming concepts and electronics to kids, check out www.amightygirl.com, particularly: “Wrapped up in Science: Top 40 Science Toys for Mighty Girls”
Little Bits sets are another way to get girls excited about technology — to check out their new “Gizmos and Gadgets Kit,” for ages 10 and up,
To inspire her with many stories of girls and women in technology, visit the amightygirl.com’s “Science & Technology” book section at http://amgrl.co/1Mw9BGB
Included in the selection is a fantastic new picture book about the world’s first computer programmer Ada Lovelace: “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine,” for ages 5 to 9 at http://www.amightygirl.com/ada-lovelace-thinking-machine