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Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing by Thomas J. Misa

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Gender Codes

Prospects for Change

CAROLINE CLARKE HAYES

Why have the proportions of women earning undergraduate computing degrees, and working in the computing workforce, been dropping since the mid-1980s—when women’s participation in nearly all other technical disciplines is on the rise? This question is of great concern to educators, employers, funding agencies, and the U.S. federal government because a sizable, diverse, and creative information technology workforce is critical for continued participation in the high-tech, global economy. Contributors to this volume aimed to shed light on this question, if not to answer it completely, providing insights into possible causes of the current situation and outlining ways to reverse this trend.

It is important to remember that women are scarce only in some aspects of computing. To think of “computing” as a single profession, as such, hides the richness and complexity of the true situation, and this framing may also obscure solutions. For many decades, women have comprised the majority of many low-status, low-paying segments of the computing workforce such as data entry and word processing. Conversely, women have persistently been underrepresented in high-status, high-paying segments such as hardware design and upper level management. There are many professional layers within computing, each with its own distinct story.

This volume identifies several of these layers, and tells the story of each layer’s evolution with respect to gender ...

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