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Decoding Femininity in Computer Science in India

Decoding Femininity in Computer Science in India, illustrative photo

Credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman, The Christian Science Monitor / Getty Images

In the U.S., the share of bachelor's degrees awarded to women has declined by 10% since 2000; in 2011, women earned only 18% of bachelor's degrees awarded in CS.4 It is thus no surprise that much research has focused on the underrepresentation of women in CS education, often portraying CS as a man's field.1,2,5 However, this characterization is society-specific, not universal. Unlike in the U.S., women's participation in CS education in India has increased in the past 15 years in most nationally accredited institutes and universities;6,7,8 for instance, women constituted 42% of undergraduate students in CS and computer engineering in 2011 in India.3 They were and still are not the odd ones out, as the masculine perspective might hold. Rather, they enroll in CS because men and women alike see CS as a woman-friendly field.

To understand why women in India are attracted to CS education, we carried out a qualitative study in 2007–2008, conducting in-depth interviews with 60 female undergraduates majoring in CS at two technical institutes and two universities granting four-year undergraduate degrees in CS. One campus is the top national technical institute, the other a well-known regional technical institute. To ensure minorities in India were included in the study, we included a third university that is historically Muslim and a fourth university that is predominantly Sikh. (Due to the University of New Mexico Institutional Review Board requirement that granted us permission to conduct interviews, we cannot disclose the names of the institutions.) We used random sampling to select 15 subjects at each. We recorded interviews that were transcribed and processed through the NVivo software package from QSR International for data analysis. Two independent coders coded the same data to ensure reliability. Here, we present key findings, along with frequency of response.


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