Women of Color in Computer Science

Despite being a powerful force, racial and gender discrimination has led to women of color being underrepresented in the field of technology, currently they lag in obtaining computer science degrees.

Maria Ong, who specializes in the experiences of women of color in STEM in higher education and careers,[1] explains that “among U.S. citizens and permanent residents receiving 2008 degrees in the computer sciences, women of color fared worse compared to their White female counterparts at both the bachelor’s and Ph.D. levels.”[2] Another problem is the “decline of Hispanic women earning Ph.D.s in CS [computer science].”[3]  In fact, research shows that “over the past decade…their numbers peaked in 2004 at nine Ph.D.s but have declined since, and they received only two of the [computer science] Ph.D.s awarded in 2008.”[4] Ong’s reasons for writing this article seem to be the further exposure on the challenges women of color face in the field of computer science and STEM, and to begin discussion on how to improve this situation.

Women of color “face barriers and obstacles related to both race and gender, a so-called ‘double-bind.’”[5] These can include “racial/gender discrimination, lack of access to resources and facilities, questions about skill due to one’s gender/race, isolation, endorsement of negative stereotypes about one’s own background, and a lack of diverse mentors, peers, and role models.”[6]

In fact, according to a survey by the National Science Foundation on the amount of employed doctoral scientists and engineers in 2013, out of a total of 21,900 people in computer/information sciences, only 4,000 were women.[7] Out of those 4,000 women, 100 were Latina, 1,500 were Asian, 100 were Black or African-American, 2,200 were White, and 100 were classified under other race. Out of the 4,000 employed doctoral women scientists and engineers, over half were white women and less than 5% were Latina and Black women. This wide gap shows the lack of women of color employed who already received a doctorate; even after getting to the same level of education as their colleagues, women of color are still not highly represented in computer science.

Some companies, like Google, seem to be trying to retain women and people of color by “extending maternity leave for women and establishing employee resource groups for minority employees.”[8]  Programs like Black Girls Code, a non-profit that aims to teach young girls of color how to code and program, also shows a step forward in improving the situation of women of color in computer science and technology.

Despite there being many women of color in computer science and technology who are doing amazing things, we are still underrepresented compared to white women and men in general. However, I believe through the creation of more resources for women of color in the form of educational nonprofits, tech/computer science conferences, more resources and facilities in schools with predominantly students of color, as well as to raise awareness about the great women already in the field who can serve as mentors and role models for future computer science students the future of technology will benefit. I believe these suggestions could help raise the number of women of color earning computer science degrees, along with more girls of color showing an interest in computer science which may help combat negative stereotypes women of color must deal with when entering technology fields.

[1] description provided at the end of her article on Page 34

[2] Ong, Maria. “Broadening Participation The Status Of Women Of Color In Computer Science.” Communications Of The ACM 54.7 (2011): 32-34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[3] “Broadening Participation The Status Of Women Of Color In Computer Science.” Page 32

[4] “Broadening Participation The Status Of Women Of Color In Computer Science.” Page 32

[5] Scott, Allison. “Diversity Data Shows Need to Focus on Women of Color.”The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 July 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-scott/diversity-data-shows-need_b_5571685.html&gt;.

[6] Scott, Allison. “Diversity Data Shows Need to Focus on Women of Color.”The Huffington Post.

[7] National Science Foundation. (2013). Survey of Doctorate Recipients [electronic file]. Retrieved from http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/doctoratework/2013/.

[8] Sullivan, Gail. “Google Statistics Show Silicon Valley Has a Diversity Problem.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 29 May 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/29/most-google-employees-are-white-men-where-are-allthewomen/&gt;.

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