Recently, Google published a study that dove into what factors influence a woman’s decision to pursue Computer Science and how we can encourage more women to enter the field.
In 2012, women made up only 26% of Computer Science professionals and although recently more women are pursuing STEM degrees, the participation of women in Computer Science has fallen from 37% in the 1980s to 18% now.
Not only is it important to foster greater diversity in the field, but the need for Computer Science professionals is far exceeding the current number of graduates.
To better understand this problem, Google studied 91 factors that could potentially influence the decision to pursue Computer Science and found four that were most influential: social encouragement, self perception, academic exposure, and career perception.
According to the study, social encouragement, meaning positive reinforcement from family and peers, accounts for 28% of explainable factors that influence a young woman’s decision to pursue Computer Science. Interestingly, the technical background of those doing the encouraging was statistically insignificant. For example, parental occupation did not play a major role in influencing the decision. Peer encouragement (11%) was almost as important as familial encouragement (17%).
The study showed that a young woman’s interest in and her perceptions of her own abilities in math and problem-solving account for 17% of explainable factors. According to Google, “This positive self-perception translated to internal encouragement in the form of ongoing confidence in one’s abilities.” The more confident young women are in the skills relevant to Computer Science, they are more likely they are to pursue it as a major.
Exposure to Computer Science, such as high school courses or after school activities, accounts for 22% of explainable factors. The study found that women who had an opportunity to take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam were 38% more likely to pursue a degree in Computer Science. In addition, the study found that no matter how they were exposed (classes, clubs, camps, etc.), women who had opportunities to learn about CS were more likely to consider it as a future major.
A woman’s perception of Computer Science careers makes up 27% of explainable factors. Obviously, young woman who don’t have an accurate understanding of what Computer Science is can’t make an informed decision about pursuing it. They may also have a flawed perception of the discipline that steers them away from CS altogether. Women who were familiar with Computer Science associated it with words like future, fun, and exciting, where as those unfamiliar saw CS as boring, hard, and difficult. The study stated that the latter women (those who were unfamiliar with CS) have a difficult time visualizing a career in Computer Science as one that “fulfills both the academic and the intangible, social passions.”While increasing the number of women pursuing Computer Science won’t happen overnight, the study does provide some hope. The biggest factors influencing the decision to pursue CS are both controllable and actionable, which means that we can actively take steps to make a difference. Uncontrollable factors, like having a family member in a CS field, account for only 5% of influence. Instead, it’s the factors that we’re able to change that make the difference. Photo Credit: Georgia Southern University via Compfight cc