Gender Discrepancies through the College Years Chapter uri icon

Book Title

  • Selected Readings on Database Technologies and Applications


  • Women made significant contributions to the beginning of the computing revolution. For example, Ada Byron Lovelace helped write the first subroutine, the women of the ENIAC age programmed the first computer during World War II, and Admiral Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler. While there have been female pioneers in the field, today men dominate the world of information technology (Riemenschneider, Armstrong, Allen, & Reid, 2004). Gürer and Camp (2002) report that many science fields hold women in low esteem, and attempt to reject them. Moreover, women are actually declining as part of the technology workforce: they made up 41% of the information technology workforce in 1996, but in 2002 that proportion was down to 35% (Cockburn, 1999). Furthermore, the number of female university students currently studying information technology and computer science will not lead to an increase of females in the profession: in 2002, only 28% of all degrees in computer and information sciences went to women (NCES, 2003); in 2003, only 19% of computer science students were female (Wilson, 2003) and only 28% of the undergraduate students in information science were female (Saye & Wisser, 2004). In a time where women make up the majority of university students (NCES, 2003), why is information technology seeing the opposite trend (Zeldin & Pajares, 2000)? There are a number of theories as to why so few women have chosen to pursue a career in technology (Acker, Barry, & Esseveld, 1990; Cooper & Robinson, 1985; Wilson, 2003; Zeldin & Pajares, 2000). Furthermore, nearly all studies on the subject have been done in the United States (Irani, 2004; Lips, 2004; Wilson, 2003) while only one study cited here explored the gender gap among university students at the University of Hong Kong (Huang, Ring, Toich, & Torres, 1998). A number of feminist researchers believe that science (including technology) has a language that is masculine in nature (Acker et al., 1990). Furthermore, since our society understands gender as binary—that is, what is masculine is not feminine and vice versa—the very nature of science leaves women out. Once women get into the IT world, they face issues of personality and confidence that differ by gender. One theory, to be explored in depth here, is that women enrolled in introductory programming courses have less confidence in themselves than do their male counterparts and that the confidence level of female students decreases significantly between secondary and post-secondary education (Lips, 2004). In addition to being shaped by their comparisons of their performance with the performance of their male peers, women’s self-confidence is likely influenced by their experience of stress in their technology-oriented courses. These influences, combined with inaccurate views of IT careers, are influential in whether or not college students decide to work towards an IT-related major or choose another discipline all together (Irani, 2004; Zeldin & Pajares, 2000).

publication date

  • December 1, 2008