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What’s Keeping Women in STEM?

According to a national survey conducted by the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP), 15 percent of undergraduate women in a computing major thought about leaving their major for a non-computing major, compared to only 9 percent of men. 

It’s not surprising. A lack of diversity in computing deters women from entering the field and makes them more likely to leave the field at some point in their career. 

There are two questions about this trend: 

  1. Why did they think about leaving? 
  2. For those who stayed, what helped them decide that? 

Both are equally important to understand. It is somewhat more common to encounter discussion of the former compared to the latter. CERP’s data from more than 3,500 women indicate that one of the most important reasons why they persisted in their field was a strong support structure. They also listed job security, resource investment and passion for the subject matter as other important reasons to stay in computing when they had thought about leaving. CERP’s data indicate there are many ways women found support to persist.

Not alone

“I voiced my concerns with a few friends, and we all shared our stories,” one respondent said. “I never felt happier knowing I wasn’t alone and that my feelings weren’t stupid or trivial.”

“Finding a friend who was willing to help me out when I struggled,” said another. “That was a game changer. It’s important to have people who will take the time to help teach you things and talk you through mental breakdowns.”

Have support

“My dad helped me stick through it by encouraging me and mentioning about the future of technology, which inspired me a lot,” said one woman.

Another credited “counseling, encouragement from parents and deciding that I was tired of giving up on things I was passionate about just because one person discouraged me.”

Find mentors

“Three things: my continued enjoyment of the subject, particularly the programming assignments; the sense that I have a community within the department; and the knowledge that majoring in CS confers a relatively concrete / employable skill-set.”

“My mentor advised me to keep pushing through even though things may seem hard at the moment. She had insight on the course load and reassured me that things will get easier. I took her advice and pushed through and passed the course. Today I am still continuing classes in computer science.”

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