Denne funksjonen er fullstendig ubrukelig!

I don't know about you guys, but here at Microsoft we hear a lot about “diversity in the workforce“.  It's something I think about rather a lot -- it's hard not to when you work with smart, talented people who were born quite literally all over the world.  Strolling east to west along just my hallway I pass offices of coworkers who grew up in Jordan, the United States, Canada (that would be me), Italy, England, Mexico, India, Russia, the Philippines, and Australia -- and that's just one hallway! 

Across the hall from me there are a series of signs written in English, Italian, Arabic, Chinese and Norwegian giving translations for useful phrases, like "this feature is totally unusable!" and "Where the hell is Andrew? I need that spec by Thursday!"  Yesterday a bunch of us got into a conversation over lunch about historical and modern differences between Islamic and Italian banking systems -- which is actually more interesting than it sounds.  One of my favourite perks of this job is that I get to work with people of such varied life experience brought together by a common passion for developer tools -- it certainly is odd how life works out, isn't it?

That's not to say that this isn't a little worrying though.  Two things worry me.  First, recently naturalized Americans and/or foreign nationals (like me) are expensive -- I have a stack of green card paperwork in my filing cabinet that I wouldn't want to drop on my foot, and the lawyers who produced that paperwork didn't come cheap.  Second, men outnumber women on my team even more so than the foreign-born outnumber the domestic-born.  My team has women in all disciplines -- development, testing, program management, user education and product management -- and they are all talented, smart, and fun to work with but for some reason there simply are not very many.

Why so many foreign nationals?  Why so few women?  Hard questions.  I don't know the answers.  I thought I might poke around the web and see if I could find some data.

I found this fascinating table which lists the number of computer science graduates in the United States broken down by degree, year and sex since 1966:

Here's a graph of Bachelor degrees awarded by American universities in CS/Math each year from 1986 to 2000.  (I was unable to find more recent figures -- if anyone has them, I'd love to see them.)

Two trends immediately come to mind.  The first is that, though there has been a considerable recovery since the immense trough of the 1990's, the United States is still pumping out fully ten thousand fewer people per year with CS/Math degrees than the 1980's.  (And that trough confuses the heck out of me.  There was massive investment and huge buzz about information technology in the 1990's, fortunes were being made and yet students fled the field in droves, only returning when the bubble was about to burst.  Why?)

The second trend, is that the percentage of CS/Math degrees granted to women has fallen every single year since 1985 (except for an insignificant bobble in 1991), falling from 39.5% to 33%.  2000 was worse than 1966 on a percentage basis!

Clearly this data has something to do with the fact that I work with so many foreign nationals and so few women.  But the above is a pretty facile analysis of very thin data, I know.  If any demographers out there have better data, or explanations of what's going on here, I'd be interested to hear your opinions.


Comments (14)

  1. A few thoughts: One reason for the slump in CS/Math degrees granted during the ’90s could be that the job market was so good, a lot of people didn’t bother finishing their degree, or didn’t even start. Another reason could be that CS/Math doesn’t account for all of the people employed in IT in general, there’s more general IT degrees (usually business related) that account for a lot of the overall workplace. Second, your work environment is a product of the interviewing practices and corporate culture, so it’s hard to extrapolate your environment from overall figures without discounting the possibility for things like self-selection (we prefer to be around people like ourselves) or general skillset (your environment is different from your average IT department). Finally, it’s traditional for occupations to be gender dominated one way or the other, even though that domination can change over time, for instance, secretarial work used to be male dominated, and became female dominated later on. I don’t have an explanation for why computing is male dominated, just that it’s not unique to IT.

  2. Raymond Chen says:

    During the 90’s, sure all that infrastructure was being built and all that buzz about technology, but it wasn’t "cool" to be a computer person, and computer people didn’t get mondo salary packages. CS became appealing *because of* the bubble. "Wow, computer people are making zillions of dollars off of stock options. I want in on that!" These aren’t necessarily people who actually like or are good at CS. They’re in it for the money. It’s all about fashion and money.

  3. Julie says:

    When I got my CS degree in, let’s see, must have been ’95, we had a sorta CS group meeting at the beginning of school… I remember being impressed with the number of women in the program. After Programming101 (whatever they called it which, at that time, was a C class) I would say at least a 1/4 of the women had dropped out. By halfway through, at least another 1/4 had dropped out… by the time we walked up to get our diploma, I remember there was only a handful of us ladies left.

    Why? If you ask *me,* from a purely personal observation standpoint, women tend to not think in the analytical fashion that getting a CS degree requires… either that or they get bored with it much more quickly than other areas of expertise concentrating more on traditionally female traits — like occupations that are more feelings based. Though it is completely unfeminist and certainly I would and will be roasted by plenty of female peers, I don’t think CS, at least, will ever become saturated with females… I actually think it is a genetic difference. I’m not claiming to be some uber-woohooo–cool female for having graduated with a CS degree but myself and many of the female programmers I know tend to also have many other stereotypical male traits or tendencies… For example, I don’t clean my house or do husband does 😉

  4. Eric Lippert says:

    I think Raymond might be on to something — it makes a lot of sense that degrees are a "trailing indicator" of economic trends, probably trailing by about four years in fact…

  5. Mike Dimmick says:

    Robert Scoble posted on the other side of the equation recently (apparently the recent trend is down) and I replied at I’m in agreement with Raymond: CS degrees were ‘hot’ in 1998-2001, less so now.

  6. MilesArcher says:

    What percentage of foreign nationals are women? Could an increase in fn result in a lower percentage of women?

  7. Just a side note: in Estonia the trend is opposite. The number of CS graduates is increasing, but because of the different sad reason. Due to some political cause our educational system is being constantly devaluated. Initially it took 5 years to get BSc and 2 years to get MSc in CS. Then it was changed to 4 + 2. Recently it was changed to 3 + 2 to comply with some standards. Everyone’s happy now – we have bigger amount of graduates and number of MSc-s is constantly increasing, but unfortunately nobody pays attention to the value of this degree anymore ;-( Guess that’s one way to solve the problem of not enough CS graduates …

  8. EricTN says:

    Re: the thin number of grads in the 90’s, you basically got it right with it being a trailing indicator. The 90’s weren’t hot, the LATE 90’s were hot. The first half of that decade was about slowly recovering from economic doldrums (sound familiar?). Also, I like to quote from some article I read many years ago that said "there may, in fact, be a limit to the number of geeks that can be biologically reproduced, and that limit is likely to be much lower than the actual need for geeks." re: the low percentage of women techies, I’d align myself with the analytical/biological/left-brained theory that just says most women are wired differently. And viva la difference! (Although it is a bummer to be employed in a profession with such little inspiration to be found wandering around — as usual, you have to go to the sales department for that!)

  9. KC Lemson says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, given that I’m a woman who at one point, majored in CS, but left college to come to msft. I think one of the reasons I was so disenchanted with my CS classes (or perhaps school in general?) was that it seemed such a narrow focus. The CS track was about coding, not developing software.

    I also tried MIS but apparently MIS is about learning how to use MS Access and a "gooey" (

    Whereas I loved my sysadmin job. I managed servers and clients and people and processes and fixed things that broke across all of those areas. I did still write some code, but almost always in order to solve a problem – the end goal is the solution, not the code.

    Plus, as a woman in CS, it is sometimes tough to find a study partner who wants to actually study. 🙂 I’m only partly joking, really. The pressure and fear of letting down your gender by being anything but brilliant are perhaps self-imposed, but no less real.

  10. Tarjei T. Jensen says:

    There is a lot of other kind of work available which women might find more to their taste.

    CS (BTW it isn’t) is perhaps not structured in a way that appeals to women. They might not get their intellectual kicks the same way as men do.

    BTW. The Norwegian title caused total confusion for me. It was not what I expected/wanted to see at the top of that page!

  11. Peter says:

    We have done the "why aren’t woman going into CS" until we bled out of our ears. We have trown so much positive discrimination at it that basically every woman going into CS in certain European coutries is almost guaranteed to make it fast track professor unless she absolutely does not want to. Still ratios remain at around 1 in 20.

    My personal conclusion is that woman are just more socialy sensitive and see the unbiased carreer opportunities for what they really are: high probability of getting a job working ridiculous hours stuck in front of a screen with collegues that on average score below 100 on a hypotetical social IQ scale.

    So why doesn’t the incredibel discrepancy between CS professor sex ratios and CS student sex ratios stare them convincingly in the face you ask? We can never be truly open about it, and being "suggestive" merely makes them think these are somehow "superwomen", very different from themselves.

  12. Much empirical data on the status of women in CS at CMU:

    Recent graduate and undergraduate enrollment trends, broken down in various ways:

    Speaking personally, I think CS as it is currently perceived and taught is unattractive to women. I don’t blame them; much of it is unattractive to me as well. Computers are plunked into high schools and elementary schools with little thought as to how they can be used educationally; boys take them over and use them in exclusionary ways (games, esoteric details of systems). The women who believe what we say about CS in our recruitment brochures come into first year and see courses focussed on… well, esoteric details of systems, and games (here called GUI projects). Why should they stay? They can go into other domains and use computers in a myriad of ways. Women made up 14% of our incoming CS class of 2003, down from a historic 20-25%.

    I am currently designing a first-year course from scratch and would welcome comment on how it can be more effective at attracting and retaining women in the profession (I am currently reading Unlocking the Clubhouse, referenced in the CMU link). But whatever I do will not be sufficient. We need a general cultural change. –PR

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