68 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM | FEBRUARY 2009 | VOL. 52 | NO. 2
in our field? In large part, out of self-
interest. Diversity often leads to en-
hanced abilities to perform tasks,
greater creativity, and better deci-
sions and outcomes.17 Sadly, bias and
stereotyping—often unconscious, but
nevertheless pervasive—continue to
affect the gender and ethnic composi-
tion of our talent pool and thus limit
the possibilities of technological inno-
vation around the world. Meanwhile,
demand for computer scientists and
computer engineers in the U.S. is ex-
pected to grow 37% between 2006 and
2016,4 despite the overall economy’s
present travails. Clearly, society re-
quires the contributions of women as
well as men to computing.
On the Plus Side
Around the world, women have made
some progress in the field of comput-
ing over the past decade. Women now
play a heightened role in technology
leadership, and they have gained rep-
resentation at many important points
in organizational hierarchies.
The number of women earning
U.S. undergraduate computer science
(CS) degrees increased from 7,063 in
1995 to 11,235 in 2005.25
Some countries are making gains
in the numbers of women majoring
in math or CS, but because data is
often unavailable for computer sci-
ence alone, related percentages are
not exactly comparable to U.S. figures.
Indeed, the percentage of U.S. female
bachelor’s degree recipients in math
is much higher than that of CS—44.6%
versus 22.2%.25 Thus grouping math
with CS may be masking lower partici-
pation in CS.
In Asia (including only those
countries for which data is available),
women earned 43% of first univer-
sity degrees in math and CS in 2004.23
Women’s representation in technical
fields is growing in India—the per-
centage of female engineers graduat-
ing from ITT Bombay has grown from
1.8% in 1972 to 8% in 2005. In the
Middle East, women earned 43% of
first-time math and CS degrees.23 In
“WOMEN IN COMPUTING: Where Are We Now?”—an
article by Maria Klawe and Nancy Leveson in
the January 1995 issue of Communications—
addressed women’s representation at the time,
as undergraduate and graduate students and in
the work force, in computing fields. That article,
part of the issue’s special section on Women and
Computing, described successful activities and
offered recommendations for future programs.
In this article, 14 years later, we assess the changes
that have since occurred, including both positive
and negative trends; we present strategies shown
to be successful for the recruitment, retention,
and advancement of women in computing; and
we explore promising new initiatives for further
increasing women’s participation. While the 1995
article focused on the U.S. and Canada, as does the
present one, we now also include data from other
parts of the world.
Why should computing professionals be concerned
about women and other groups underrepresented
Inspiring, recruiting, and retaining women for
a career in computing remains a challenge.
BY MARIA KLAWE, TELLE WHITNEY, AND CAROLINE SIMARD
FEBRUARY 2009 | VOL. 52 | NO. 2 | COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM 69
Western Europe, while the overall per-
centage of math and CS undergradu-
ate degrees going to women is just
30%, some countries have been doing
significantly better—Portugal was at
41% in 2004, Finland 42%, Greece 40%,
and Italy 43%. In North America, Mex-
ico also fares reasonably well, with
38% of math and CS undergraduate
degrees awarded to women.23
The total number of female CS
graduate students in the U.S. grew
from 9,881 in 1997 to 12,061 in 2005.
The proportion of women awarded
CS master’s degrees rose from 26.4%
in 1995 to 28.5% in 2005, and the pro-
portion of women awarded CS doc-
toral degrees rose from 16.5% in 1997
to 19.8% in 2005,25 pointing to some
The proportion of newly hired
women in U.S. and Canadian CS facul-
ty increased from 18% in 1995 to 24%
The proportion of women in full CS
professorships more than doubled be-
tween 1995 and 2007, from 5% to 10.9%.6
The number of women in signifi-
cant academic leadership positions
has increased. For example, the pro-
portion of female university presidents
in the U.S. rose from 18% in 199531 to
23% in 2007.1 In recent years, some
high-profile research institutions—
including Brown, Harvard, Michigan,
MIT, Princeton, Penn, RPI, and several
University of California campuses—
named their first woman presidents.
The percentage of U.S. informa-
tion-technology patents obtained by
en among CS degree recipients has
remained flat.6 Across genders, the
proportion of African-American Ph.D.
recipients in the United States and Can-
ada has remained unchanged at 1–2%
since 1995, and Hispanic representa-
tion has dropped from 3% to 2%.23
The proportion of female CS grad-
uate students in the U.S. remained flat
at 27% from 1997 to 2004 and declined
to 25% in 2005.23 Similarly in the Euro-
pean Union, the proportion of women
earning math and CS doctorates has
stood at 24%.31
Women in CS faculty positions at
U.S. four-year institutions remain un-
derrepresented, at just 15.8% of all fac-
ulty and 11% of full professors.6 Ethnic
minority women are doubly underrep-
resented on faculties, with Asian and
just 3% of faculty positions. Hispanic
and Native American women are virtu-
ally nonexistent among CS faculty.25
Disparity in faculty salaries across all
disciplines has remained unchanged
since the 1970s—women faculty earn
81% of men’s salary for equivalent
female inventors rose from 4.4% in
1995 to 6.1% in 2005.22
The Bad News
The gains listed here, while encourag-
ing, stop short of achieving equal rep-
resentation and point to the fact that
much work has yet to be done.
The proportion of undergraduate
CS degrees received by women has
declined sharply—from 37% in 1985
to 22% in 2005.25 In research-intensive
CS departments that participate in the
annual Taulbee Survey conducted by
the Computing Research Association
(CRA), the number dropped from 19%
in 2001 to 11.8% in 2006–2007.6
Interest in CS as a major is at an
all-time low both for men and women.
In a 2007 teacher survey, a lack of stu-
dent interest at the high-school level
was cited as the number-one chal-
lenge.5 Intention of women freshmen
to major in computer science dropped
from 2.8% in 1985 to 1.3% in 1995 and
to 0.4% in 2006.23, 25
Since 1995, the representation of
African-American and Hispanic wom-
This “Wordle“ was created by ManyEyes.com, a site by
Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg as part of IBM’s Collaborative
User Experience research group.
“My slogan is: Computing is
too important to be left to men.”
KAREN SPARCK-JONES: PIONEER IN INFORMATION RETRIEVAL
AND NATURAL LANGUAGE PROCESSING. 1935–2007
76 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM | FEBRUARY 2009 | VOL. 52 | NO. 2
to ensure that grantees comply with
Title IX by performing several compli-
ance activities, such as investigating
complaints and providing technical
assistance, but most agencies have
not conducted all the monitoring ac-
Publicly advertise the agency’s di-
versity programs and its proportion of
women in leadership positions.
Stay aware of new policy and leg-
islative initiatives, even in advance of
their demonstrated impacts.
The House Diversity and Innova-
tion Caucus, whose mission is to help
generate policy ideas for addressing
the underrepresentation of women
and minorities in the STEM fields, has
held a number of briefings.
The America COMPETES Act
of 2007 (Creating Opportunities to
Meaningfully Promote Excellence in
Technology, Education, and Science)
seeks to strengthen research, provide
technical training for 21st-century oc-
cupations, and attract the best and
NSF’s ADVANCE program, in
place for about a decade, contributes to
the development of a more diverse tech-
nical work force (see www.nsf.gov/fund-
The BPC program, while rela-
tively new, is having significant im-
pact on many computing educators
and professionals. Its largest initia-
tive is NCWIT, whose organizational
structure includes a set of alliances—
within participating communities in
K–12, academia, and industry—that
have been very successful. For exam-
ple, the Stars Alliance is a partnership
of over 20 southeastern universities
that share best practices for recruit-
ing students to computing and retain-
ing them. The goal of the Alliance for
Access to Computing Careers is to
increase the field’s representation of
people with disabilities.
Every computing professional, male
and female alike, can contribute to
the increased participation of wom-
en in the field. At the very least, each
of us should do more to encourage
women with whom we daily interact.
For those readers not well informed
about practices and programs that
help attract women to our profession
and retain them, we hope this article
has provided useful information and
indicated actionable steps pertinent
to one’s particular circumstances.
By way of encouragement, know that
institutions that have already made
decisions to implement these kinds
of practices are seeing significant in-
creases in the participation of women
in computing at all levels. Thus we en-
courage our colleagues to work to ef-
fect positive change, both locally—in
individual institutions—and globally.
Long-term success depends on our en-
tire community taking responsibility
for making computing a broadly sup-
portive and inclusive discipline.
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Maria Klawe is president of Harvey Mudd College,
Claremont, CA. Prior to joining HMC, she served as dean
of engineering and professor of computer science at
Princeton University. She is a former president of ACM.
Telle Whitney is president and CEO of the Anita Borg
Institute for Women and Technology, Palo Alto, CA.
Caroline Simard is director of research at the Anita
Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto,
© 2009 ACM 0001-0782/09/0200 $5.00