Why are there so few women in computing?

Open navigator

1. Jobs for the boys?

Women have come a long way in the workplace in the last few decades. Traditional men's jobs such as being a plumber or fighting on the military front line have become more open to women.

But despite improved access to education and work, women make up a very small part of the computing sector, occupying less than a quarter of the jobs across the world.

Yet women have played a key role in the development of computing, as far back as the early 19th Century. So why is it still seen as a job for the boys?

2. Trailblazer

One of the earliest pioneers of computing was Ada Lovelace who is credited with coming up with the idea of writing computer programmes. Mathematician Hannah Fry investigates Ada's life and the contribution she made to computer science.

3. World War Two and beyond

Over the next century Ada Lovelace was largely forgotten and women didn't have much impact in the computing world until World War Two when they were needed for the war effort.

They were particularly in demand at Bletchley Park where many women became code breakers. One of the best known was Joan Clarke who worked on cryptanalysis, and helped to break the Enigma code with Alan Turing.

In America Grace Hopper also made a great contribution to computing during the war. But she made her biggest impact after the war, inventing one of the first modern programming languages called COBOL which revolutionised computing in business.

By the 1970s girls were getting more equal access to education and work, but it was boys who were encouraged to study science subjects. Later, when there was often just one computer in the classroom, teachers found it was monopolised by the boys.

In the 1980s as the software and computing industry took off, it was men - who had been studying science and maths - who were best placed to take advantage of it. Some women were put off by what was often seen as solitary work.

4. Role-models for women in computing today

One woman who broke the mould in the late 20th Century was Professor Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley. She set up her own software company which mostly employed women but she had to adopt a male name in order to succeed.

But despite such achievements, in the world of computing women are still in the minority. There are a number of theories why this should be.

For example, in Silicon Valley in America, where three-quarters of the workforce is male, women say they are discouraged from pursuing jobs in technology because of the laddish 'bro-grammer' culture imported from college campuses.

Men are still more likely to choose science subjects such as maths and computing, which perpetuates the problem. A Stanford study in 2007 showed women are less likely to join a field where they are outnumbered and they feel they don't belong.

But there are signs of change. Female role models are leading technology companies around the world, like Marissa Mayer, the CEO at Yahoo!

Events like Grace Hopper Celebration Day and Ada Lovelace Day are now held each year to celebrate the work and ambitions of women in computing, and remind us of great role models from the past.

Many companies now accept there is an issue and are taking action with better recruitment policies and working conditions. And groups like Stemettes have been set up to inspire other women to move into technology jobs. All this is driving a culture change and making computing a much more female-friendly environment.

5. Why don't women choose computer science?

Click below to investigate the reasons why men outnumber women in technology and computer science jobs.

Computing culture

You selected

Computing culture

‘Brogrammer’ culture – unwelcoming or aggressive male dominance is driving women away from the industry.


You selected


A recent survey showed more than half of women leaving tech jobs cited motherhood as a reason. The industry could do more to support mothers who want to work.


You selected


Are subject choices being offered in a way that pushes women away? Physics, maths and economics show a clear male bias, reducing female graduate numbers.

Is the work too difficult?

You selected

Is the work too difficult?

Although there is a minority of women in the computer science industry, there’s no evidence that women are not capable of doing the work.