Gender in Computer Science

Gender in Computer Science

Colette Wanless-Sobel (University of Minnesota & Inver Hills Community College, USA)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch095
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Computer science (CS) is defined in wikipedia as a branch of human knowledge “relating to computation, ranging from abstract analysis of algorithms and formal grammars, to subjects like programming languages, software, and computer hardware” (Computer Science, 2005). Computer science emerged as a distinct field in the 1940s and 1950s with the development of the first electronic digital computers. To limit computer science to just computer use or its knowledge bodies, however, is reductive; CS is embedded in a complex, unquantifiable cultural context, including socio-economic and gendering practice. Computer hardware and software are designed to complement and supplement human activity and processes such as warfare, industrial applications, information management, including education, the Internet, a knowledge commons, and most recently biotechnology. Although CS is typically considered neutral and scientific, its episteme and practice is androcentric or male centered, often to the exclusion of females (Herbst, 2002). Female attributes have not typically been associated with computer science or computers. Although there is general agreement that women are as intellectually capable as men in CS, the fact remains that women today do not have equal participation in CS majors, CS engineering, programming, software design, Web site construction, or computer repair. (Jepson & Perl, 2002). In the technetronic 21st century, when computers are becoming standard for education and in symbolic analytic jobs, women’s enrollment in CS has declined, and many women do not feel confident using computers for more than e-mail transmissions, e-commerce, and social interaction in forums or newsgroups. Women who do not have knowledge or confidence in their abilities to work in CS not only have unrealized potentials in CS but also are left out of employment activities. Reasons for gendering in CS are complex and debated. Socialization, overt and tacit discrimination, and epistemological plurality are three dominant explanations. CS industries, educators, cognitive scientists, parents, and women professionals in CS are some of the groups currently working to attain gender equity in CS.

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