I did my monthly post at Blog@CACM on the some of the recent data on how few women there were in computing. I suggested that things haven’t got better in the last 10 years because we really haven’t decided that there’s a problem with under-representation. The comments to that post suggest that I’m right. Blog@CACM posts don’t often get comments. Three in a week is a lot, and two of those expressed the same theme, “Women are choosing not to go into IT. Why is that a problem?” It’s a problem because there are too few people in IT, and there are many women who could do the work that we should be trying to recruit, motivate, and engage, even if it requires us to change our own cultures and careers. Computing has a bright future, and I predict that most applications of computing in our lives are still to be invented. We need a diverse range of people to meet that future, and change in our culture and careers would be healthy.
The situation is different with respect to academia. The article linked below points out that women are turned off to careers in academia are greater rates than men. Other recent work suggests that students in doctorate programs lose interest in academia the longer that they are in it. There should be more women in academia, and academia cultures and careers should change to be more attractive to a broader range of qualified applicants. But what could make that happen? In contrast to the computing industry, academia isn’t growing. The economics in academia are changing, and there will be fewer academic jobs (especially in CS). I still believe that we ought to ramp up CS faculty hiring, in order to offer computing to more people (even everyone) on campus, but the economics and organizational trends are against me. If we were to hire in academia, we should make an effort to draw in more women and more under-represented minorities. We absolutely should strive to improve the culture and career prospects in academia to retain the (relatively little) diversity that we now have in academia. But neither hiring nor retention are at the top of academia’s concerns right now. Maybe the young scientists are wise to seek other opportunities, and PhD students are figuring out that academia may not hold great career prospects?
Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as PhD candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great. Men and women show radically different developments regarding their intended future careers. At the beginning of their studies, 72% of women express an intention to pursue careers as researchers, either in industry or academia. Among men, 61% express the same intention.By the third year, the proportion of men planning careers in research had dropped from 61% to 59%. But for the women, the number had plummeted from 72% in the first year to 37% as they finish their studies.