Succeeding as a Woman in Computer Science

Woman in gray hoodie sitting at a desk working on desktop computer

With increasing awareness of widespread gender inequities, different industries have engaged in internal discussions about how to bridge gaps in salaries, promotions and workplace experiences. Like many sectors, computer science has several areas for improvement when it comes to healing gender divides. Some helpful strategies can facilitate success for women entering or pursuing careers in computer science.

What Percentage of Women Are in Computer Science?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts computer science research professions will grow 19% by 2026. According to recent studies, only 20% of computer science professionals are women. Furthermore, women only assume 18% of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the US. 

Although these statistics may be troublesome, opportunities exist for women in computer science. For example, according to the American Association of University Women, computer science has one of the smallest pay gaps between male and female professionals, with women earning 94% of what men earn. Additionally, the New York City Economic Development Corporation found women working for tech companies typically achieved better work-life balances. 

Learning to Code Requires Time and Work

Like writing a book or completing a piece of art, completing code takes hours of hard work and concentration. Although many fields entail detailed tasks, coding is particularly based on meticulous formulation. This fact is vital to understand prior to entering a computer science field that involves time-intensive coding.

One key strategy to prevent wasting precious productivity time is to adopt a coding standard. Proper code standards typically involve uniform formatting and naming rules. If you’ve advanced through some coding training, you can certainly derive a custom coding standard. However, publicly-available coding standards like the PSR-1 coding style exist to streamline the process and make your coding more interpretable by other computer science professionals. 

Be Confident

Another vital component of excelling in a computer science career is confidence. As computer science skills require hours of trial and error, it’s essential to maintain a positive attitude toward the learning process. When studying computer science subject matters, peers inevitably showcase different skill levels, so refraining from comparing relevant abilities is key to improving one’s confidence.

According to Drexel University Assistant Teaching Professor Tammy Pirmann, PhD, “Women entering CS courses should be aware of their confidence level and how it affects them…I have seen two students earn the same score on a test, say an 80, and the confident one will say, ‘I will do better next time’, when the unconfident one will question whether they should change majors. The reality is that they are both doing fine and will get better over time!”

Secretary of Drexel’s Women in Computing Society Salamata Bah, Class of 2024, adds, “In computer science, it is easy to compare yourself with others, hence comes the importance of having a growth mindset – focus on your own learning and improvement, utilize your school’s resources to the best of your abilities, and never be afraid to ask questions.”

Embrace Math

To pursue a computer science career, you don’t necessarily need to be great at math. However, acquiring high-level math skills can provide you with a neurological advantage: you can better understand algorithms and how they work. 

Math is needed for several areas of computer science. For instance, data scientists use statistics to analyze trends and report significant differences. Also, understanding discrete mathematics can better equip you to understand the foundation of computer programming.

Lastly, mathematics equips coders with vital analysis skills. Problem-solving is an essential strategy when it comes to excelling at math, preparing computer science students for rationalizing complex computer challenges.

Question Workplace Bias

If you are a woman entering or pursuing a computer science career, chances are you may find yourself in workplace situations as the only woman in the room. After years of being a male-dominated field, computer science is a career path in which you may encounter implicit biases in the office and during professional interactions.

Dr. Pirmann says, “If you encounter bias, even unconscious bias, from your team mates, you should point it out. For example, if in a team of four students, you are the only woman and one of the men asks you to take notes or assume another clerical task, you can ask "Why me? What skills do I have that make me particularly suited to that task?" This can help people self-reflect and realize they were expressing an unconscious bias. This type of discussion is not confrontational, but genuinely curious.”

Apart from professionally addressing implicit gender biases, it’s also important to actively self-advocate. “This takes work to be willing to speak up in meetings and remind people of what you have accomplished or what you had suggested. Do not let it go if you make a suggestion and a man at the table makes the same suggestion a minute later and gets applauded. You should immediately thank him for restating or supporting your suggestion. At this point, the meeting may experience a moment or two of silence. Let it go on, this time gap is for individuals rewinding the past few minutes and coming face to face with their reactions and biases,” Dr. Pirmann explains.

Start Competing to Learn New Skills

If you’re interested in pursuing computer science studies in college, a great way to improve coding skills is to enter a competition. Organizations like ProjectCSGirls hold frequent contests for girls to test their computer skills. These programs are often open to girls in middle school and high school, and provide opportunities to implement computer science strategies in individual and team environments.

Getting active in coding and computer science early can help you feel confident in your skills and act as a resume-builder when you apply to higher education institutions. These computer education programs also feature insightful workshops and other learning opportunities for girls beginning their computer science journeys.

Why Should Girls Study Computer Science?

Computer science is a growing field with lots of opportunities for women. Coding is a skill that takes time and effort to learn, so starting early is a great way to get ahead of the competition. Make sure to work on your advanced math skills and compete, when possible, to test out methods.

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