Retrospective: Have Opportunities for Women in Technology Decreased Since 1990

WITI News Staff

July 21, 2019

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By Sophia Schneidman

In 1990, the number of U.S women in technology hit an all-time high by filling 31% of all tech jobs (Giles, 2016). Among the 31% of women in the tech space included Anita Borg and Patricia Bath. (Claudio, 2019).

In 1987 Anita Borg founded Systers, the first "email network" for women in the tech space. Seven years later, she founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Patricia Bath was the first female African American to receive a patent for a medical invention. Bath discovered that blindness in African Americans was double that of any other patients. Upon making her discovery, Bath was able to invent the LaserPhaco Probe to remove cataracts from eyes painlessly. This machine is still in use today (Claudio, 2019).

Over the past 30 years, women have strived for equal rights and opportunity in every aspect of their lives. In 1993, all 50 states eliminated the spousal exemption for rape. In 2009, women earned the right to file a complaint against pay discrimination, and in 2013, the military ban for women in combat ended.

As women have been gaining more and more opportunities in other aspects of their lives, they have been gaining less and less power in the technology space. According to the online publication Medium, the number of women in the tech space today has plummeted to only 25%. Why, after so many steps forward in the fight for women's equality, has the percentage of women in the U.S. tech force decreased?

Not only have working women stopped pursuing tech careers, but the number of women pursuing computer science in school has dropped by nearly half since 1984 (Henn, 2014).

Girls Who Code has reported that in 1984, the number of women computer science majors comprised 30% of the total graduating class. Today the percentage is only 18%. Also, women today make up only 5% of CEOs for technology companies (Henn, 2014). There is a trickle-down effect occurring. Girls are not encouraged to love technology in school. So, they don't pursue technology in university and then they don't get involved in the tech space later in life.

An NPR article written by Steve Henn tries to unpack the reasoning behind why this trickle-down effect is occurring. From his research, Henn was able to correlate the fall in computer science majors to the introduction of personal computers. According to Henn, "In the 1990s, researcher Jane Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programs in the country." According to Margolis's research, she found families were more likely to buy computers for boys because that was the target audience (Henn, 2014).

One student at Johns Hopkins University experienced the setbacks of not growing up playing with computers. According to Henn, "when Ordóñez got to Johns Hopkins University in the '80s, she figured she would study computer science or electrical engineering. Then she took her first intro class, and found that most of her male classmates were way ahead of her because they'd grown up playing with computers" (Henn, 2014).

In my own life, I have noticed this correlation. From a young age, boys are taught to love computer games. When I attended a co-ed high school, my male counterparts could be in their rooms all day playing Fortnite. My girlfriends, on the other hand, would much rather watch a movie with their friends, or go shopping. In the future, to increase the number of women in the technology world, there is a necessity to reprogram young girls' minds from an early age to enjoy playing with computers.

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Work Cited

Buttice, Claudio. "5 Women Who Changed the History of Technology.", 20
May 2019,

Giles, Ian. "Women in Tech: Why So Few? - The Crossover Blog." Medium, The Crossover
Blog, 4 Nov. 2016,

Henn, Steve. "When Women Stopped Coding." NPR, NPR, 21 Oct. 2014,

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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