The Underrepresentation of Women in Computing Fields: A Synthesis of Literature Using a Life Course Perspective

Main, Joyce B; Schimpf, Corey
IEEE transactions on education

Using a life course perspective, this literature review synthesizes research on women's underrepresentation in computing fields across four life stages: 1) pre-high school; 2) high school; 3) college major choice and persistence; and 4) post-baccalaureate employment. Issues associated with access to, and use of, computing resources at the pre-high school and high school levels are associated with gender differences in interest and attitudes toward computing. At the college level, environmental context (classroom design, interactions with peers and role models, signals from stereotypical images) contribute to whether students will major in computing, whereas psychosocial factors (e.g., sense of belonging and self-efficacy) and departmental culture play a role in persistence in computing fields. As in other fields, issues associated with work-life conflict, occupational culture, and mentoring/networking opportunities play a role in women's participation in the computing workforce. Several initiatives and programs have been implemented to address women's underrepresentation in computing fields. While great strides have been made in making computing more accessible, the life course perspective highlights the importance of longitudinal studies in identifying students' pathways to and through computing fields, as well as how interventions across life stages may intersect or cumulate to generate trends in computing participation.