Women in Computer Science

Building off of a discussion on ‘Girls Who Code’ from the ‘The Decline of Tech Literacy and What We Can Do About It’ topic: As a Science & Technology teacher, I frequently face the struggle of attracting / encouraging / motivating girls into the STEM field. For the sake of discussion, I’d rather we focus on strategies and advice targeted towards building girls’ interest in CompSci, Technology & Web Development.

According to the ‘Girls Who Code’ website:
“In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%. The percent will continue to decline if we do nothing. We know that the biggest drop off of girls in computer science is between the ages of 13 and 17.”

I have thoughts and experiences regarding this, but for now am just opening up conversation.


13-17 is when young people are encouraged to give serious consideration to how they’ll spend their adult lives enriching the already wealthy, and I think a lot of girls are looking at STEM work and deciding that it isn’t worth doing.

I don’t blame them at all.

I think the work culture is the problem, as somebody who has been in this trade for over 25 years and regrets it most of the time. I still haven’t figured out if mental illness is a prerequisite for working in this trade or an occupational hazard.

  • I think society as a whole still looks down on people who do STEM work, like we’re dirty, nasty Morlocks who live underground while the nice, clean, pretty Eloi frolic in the sun. (Never mind that as far as Morlocks are concerned, Eloi are good eatin’.)
  • There’s still too much emphasis on passion in developers, to the point where if you see that word used in a job ad you can safely assume they expect you to be passionate about working unpaid overtime.
  • Obsession with obscure and recondite concepts that are not generally and practically applicable is more often the rule than the exception.
  • Did I mention the unpaid overtime? It gets worse: some shops bill for your time by the hour but pay you a fixed salary and expect you to do additional non-billable work for the firm after you’ve done a minimum of 40 billable hours.
  • Working in tech is often an exercise in building cathedrals on quicksand from blueprints sketched on bar napkins. Investing this work, which you will almost certainly outlive, with meaning is additional and unpaid emotional labor that you will be expected to do and nobody acknowledges this.
  • The myth of the Real Programmer is alive and well. Do you mainly do PHP or JavaScript? There are people who will insist that you’re not a real programmer. Do you only code when you’re getting paid? Definitely not a real programmer.
  • The continuing education requirements for programmers are almost as stringent as those teachers face, but at least teachers are unionized – and also not paid nearly as well was programmers because teaching is still considered “women’s work” and under patriarchal capitalism bosses think it’s OK to pay women less for work that’s often far more essential to a worthwhile society than the work a lot of men do.

I had posted something in the other thread about how smart women stay well away from STEM because it’s basically a shit job and doing shit jobs are what men are for. I had deleted it because of the mess RisingThumb made, and because what I didn’t include was that it was something my grandmother had told me. Before she retired she was a mainframe programmer for Boeing in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She saw how the field was changing and got out while the getting was good.

What intelligent, personable girl would want to go into STEM when there are more appealing ways to earn a living that are less amenable to outsourcing and automation? Hell, if I had half the intelligence my wife ascribes to me and charisma wasn’t my dump stat, I sure as hell wouldn’t be coding for a living.

It’s thankless work, and an AI capable of replacing me would refuse to do so because taking my job would be beneath its dignity.


This is the backend framework I use.

I’ve never had any association with this group but I know about it because I use the tools.


I just read a very interesting article about women in another traditionally male-dominated area of employment: construction work.

'Any mistake can take your life’: the immigrant women working construction in New York

Apparently more immigrant women are coming to New York City, and increasing numbers of those women are entering the construction industry (although no exact figures are given).

Now, what’s all this got to do with women in STEM? Well, we can extrapolate from this article how women enter other stereotypically masculine fields. Higher pay, access to training and greater numbers of women in the field are all mentioned - as is the fact that construction workers generally work mornings and afternoons.

It seems clear that women will enter traditionally masculine fields if it suits them. Another issue (not explored in this article) is retention. I don’t have numbers to hand, but I think it’s fairly common for women who enter male-dominated fields to leave within a few years, ground down by a hostile work culture, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and a lack of maternity leave options.

This pattern has played out in some areas of big tech which are dominated by women. But more on that in a follow-up comment…


In my (transgender, not a girl but I face many of the same issues women face in my day-to-day life) experience, it’s a culture thing. The culture around most male-dominated fields- of which the ones I have experience in are STEM and trades- really has to change, as I’ve seen firsthand in both. It’s misogynistic, isolating, and can really take a blow on your self-esteem. There’s expectations that come with being ‘the only girl’ in the room. It’s difficult to make friends or be included in things without being objectified.

I don’t blame young women for not wanting to deal with that bullshit, but it really is a shame. More diversity in the workplace leads to less of these issues over time; but god, the process to get there is grueling.

This really is the big one for me, I feel like. Plenty of women love technology, and working with their hands, and all the stuff that goes into STEM and trades. But when you go into those fields, you know it will be difficult. The school I go to (a trade college) has something like 80% men. There are no women in my classes. I want more people from all walks of life to come here, but it really is just hostile. It is difficult to change a school’s/company’s/field’s culture just by policy alone. You really need people leading by example. And that’s a hard job to take up.

I think the workshops people host directed at girls and young women are a really great start. My school ran some of those, but got threatened by some parents over ‘excluding boys’. So now the workshops are mostly male-dominated again! You need things directly targeting girls and women. A clear indicator that ‘you are welcome here, you are wanted here, what you have to do and say is valuable’ is vital to encouraging more women in STEM. Because that message is not the default.


The culture around most male-dominated fields- of which the ones I have experience in are STEM and trades- really has to change, as I’ve seen firsthand in both. It’s misogynistic, isolating, and can really take a blow on your self-esteem.

Being a cisgender (but not uber-masculine) man, I would love to walk away from the tech industry, too. The pay isn’t that great unless you’re working for Big Tech, the hours are little better, and the culture belongs in a petri dish used by a pharmaceutical researcher testing new antibiotics. Unfortunately, if I wanted to reskill for a different job I’d have to put aside my life and go back to college, and since I’m middle-aged I’d be starting from zero while dealing with ageism.


In that article about construction workers, multiple interviwees mention that women in construction are generally more concerned about health and safety procedures than male workers - and health and safety is a consistent issue in construction, with a consistently high rate of serious injury and death.

Traditionally, gains for women at work are presented as losses for men at work - that’s actually where the housewife comes from, women were systematically excluded from the workplace in the 19th century because they were considered to be undercutting the wages of male workers. But it’s possible that women entering the field will improve conditions for all workers. Maternity leave leads to paternity leave, for example.


I would never suggest that women should be excluded from STEM because they undercut the wages of male workers, but it seems that whenever a field is woman-dominated, bosses under patriarchal capitalism think they can get away with paying women less than they would men.

Why else are teachers paid so poorly despite their work being essential to the country’s future and despite being one of the few professions in the US to still have something resembling a strong union? Why are nurses paid less than doctors even though doctors depend on nurses? Why is childcare so poorly paid despite its necessity and the requirements workers in that field must meet?

I’m just a bit cynical about bosses saying that more people should learn to code. I can’t help but suspect they’re pushing for more people to work in STEM because STEM workers have historically commanded relatively high wages and salaries, and bosses don’t want to pay workers any more than they absolutely must. I don’t think bosses actually care if more women enter the field as long as they can pay less and make the work more unpleasant and precarious.


Honestly, as a young woman (ish) i have a few reasons, but i think most of them boil down to not being taken seriously. I have been practicing programming on and off since i was quite small, meaning that i had some basic knowledge. That… did not translate. I still remember going to a “girls who code” event and it being the same beginner’s stuff as always lol

A bit later on, in 7-9th, i applied to the end of year programming group every year. First choice at least two years. I got into choir, i got into sewing and… i got into sewing. Only when my teacher (loved her and still do) began complaining did i get moved (to the group that almost was enpty… it had like 4 boys…) That’s still the week i learned the most up until i started my website haha

Nowadays i am a somewhat alternative person, who’s either very feminine and dressed up or very much… skater boy, and either way i do get looked over a fair bit even in what i actually study. I dread to even consider what it’d be like if i studied coding… and it’s not like I’m dumb! Sure, I’m not the best at what i do, but i get consistent Bs with what little effort i put in… i just get talked over a lot? Funnily, girls are as bad as boys in that regard - i think being “dolled up” in the way i am is a bit frowned upon. Only the gods know why.

Besides, at this point I’m getting into GIS at uni, which is a lot of fun and essentially programming in some aspects, just with maps (i am going to be getting into it properly, maybe on my webbed site…!) And it seems to come naturally for me, so I’m happy with where i landed! The constant frustration of not being taken seriously permeates my life, though, haah… maybe i should make myself a blog post about it!


Because of the power imbalance, and this enables people to pay workers less. It’s not necessarily inherent to women, people of color, disabled folks, or anything else. I saw someone complaining about something similar recently on the fediverse, only it was about neruodivergence, and everyone was wondering about why this always happens to ND people. It’s not exclusive to any one group, just that it will happen any time there’s a power imbalance. It’s sick and twisted, yes. It also happens all. the. time.

So I don’t really think anyone should be excluded from any one group, really. Keeping people separated only perpetuates the issue.

What an infuriating story! I am also fairly feminine, and I feel you on this. I will admit I used it to my advantage when I was younger (might as well turn those lemons into lemonade, right?), but it took a long while before I started to get taken seriously. And getting there I think was a combination of finding the right environment, deciding on how to present and think about myself, and self confidence. I wish so many of us did not have to deal with this.


I know. That’s why I prefer to blame capitalism, or the kyriarchy, depending on the audience. I also think of it as the “No Lives Matter effect” after the song by Body Count.

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I have never heard the term kyriarchy, thank you! I’ve got some reading up to do now :nerd_face: I have a feeling that as the years go by we’ll shift more towards this idea for modeling and explaining the way our systems work. Especially as hard workers uncover more and more biases and the way they’re affecting different groups of people.

As part of my employment I’m required to take courses periodically on discrimination and workplace safety, etc. I don’t complain about it much because I appreciate what it does and why it’s there. But one of the things that I always remember from it is that we’re all part of some kind of marginalized group. It’s an important thing to keep in mind, and also weirdly makes me feel calmer in some way.


I think I first encountered it on Reddit’s r/menslib. I lurk there but don’t post because I can’t be bothered to keep an account more than 30 days to satisfy their stringent posting requirements. Also, /u/spez isn’t paying me to help make him richer, so be damned to him.

The way I see it, every individual is a minority of one. It doesn’t matter what your sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, etc. is; you are still you and there is only one of you. You are unique and irreplaceable even if other people can’t see it. You are sovereign, but refrain from exercising all of your rights in order to live peacefully in society and cooperate with others for the sake of shared prosperity. You possess your rights by virtue of your humanity, and nobody can give you these rights; they can only choose to uphold or violate them.

Also, I think that the individual is the atomic unit of any family, clan, tribe, race, ethnicity, nation, or society. I think that if a group doesn’t treat all individuals decently, or lets inequality get out of hand, then mistreated individuals have the right to speak up or walk out, depending on their attachment to the group. (The book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty may also be of interest.)

I occasionally read up on intersectional feminist ideas like kyriarchy because I want to stay current, and because I don’t want to have to explain my innate libertarianism (libertarian originally being a synonym for anarchist) purely in right-wing terms, because what good is a libertarianism that only concerns itself with the tyranny of church or state while ignoring that of capital, family, or society?