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Communications of the ACM

India Region Special Section: Big Trends

Bringing the Missing Women Back: CS Education for Women in India's Engineering Institutions

schoolgirls at keyboards in a classroom

Credit: PMK2K7 / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The problem of underrepresentation of women studying STEM subjects is well known and is being faced by several nations across the world. The field of computer science is no exception to this deteriorating gender ratio, nor is the Indian case. The male:female population ratio in India is 1.06, but the ratio of females making it to engineering institutions is lower, at 1.79.1 In absolute numbers, India produces around 1.5 million engineers from its 6,000+ engineering institutions across the country.2 When it comes to employ-ability, 4.03% of male engineering students are employable by IT product firms, while only 2.54% of females are employable by these firms, and 16.67% of males as against 15.49% of females are employable by IT Services organizations. If we shift our focus to the employability of the graduates of top engineering institutions in the country—Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), National Institutes of Technology (NITs), and other leading engineering educational institutions including International Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs)—employability among fresh graduates in IT product roles increases to 22.67%, and in IT Services roles, it is 36.29%.1

These numbers clearly indicate that the pipeline of engineers possessing skills relevant for current-generation computing jobs is leaky. The problem of underrepresentation of girls in Engineering starts at the higher secondary levels in India, with stream choice at this level shaping subsequent possibilities at the college level. National-level data reveals a gender disparity in school-level stream choice, with girls favoring Humanities over Science and Commerce, leading to gender gaps in undergraduate streams.3 An already-skewed pipeline from high school gets further narrowed through the stringent entry criteria of the IITs. At this stage, women are affected adversely by the need to attend coaching classes towards qualifying in these tests: due to the restrictions imposed on their mobility, women experience this burden differently than men.4 For all of these reasons, as of 2016, only 28% of students studying in various engineering institutions were girls; further, in the IITs, this was a mere 8%.5 We see there aren't enough female engineers graduating from (top) engineering institutions, and so even fewer of them are employable and in a position to ascend the career ladder or pursue research.


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