African-American women in computer science

Early pioneers in computing were African-American women, such as Katherine Johnson, who was hired by NASA[1] and worked on the flight path for the first mission into space in 1961. Though she co-authored 26 scientific papers, the practice in 1960 was to not list the female contributors as formal co-authors. Thus, the fact that she was listed as an author in a peer-reviewed NASA report is significant. In addition to the contributions of Katherine Johnson, there were African-American women, such as the ENIAC programmers[2] who programmed the first digital computer for the US Army, whose stories were (and are still) lost. Given the dearth of information regarding the contributions of women in early computer science, it is reasonable to believe that in addition to the contributions of Katherine Johnson, there are other African-American women whose stories have been lost; though they have made significant contributions to computer science and society.[3]

Though the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded in 1947 it was not until 1969 that Clarence "Skip" Ellis became the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in Computer Science. It was not until 10 years later that an African-American woman earned a doctorate in Computer Science. One of the first women to have earned a doctorate degree in Computer Science was Marsha R. Williams[4] who obtained her degree from Vanderbilt University in 1982.

In the mid-1980s, the representation of women in Computer Science peaked at approximately 40%.[5] The decline in the representation of women has been attributed to the increased marketing of personal computers and video games to boys. Though there has been a decline in women of different races in the United States, the representation of African-American women has remained consistently lower than that of their female peers. For example, in 1985 when the number of women in computing was at a high, 77% of the degrees were earned by White women while fewer than 8% were earned by African-American women.[6] In 2002, 1.3% of the doctorate degrees earned were awarded to African-American women.


The representation of African American women in Computer Science has been historically low and is well documented,[7][8][9][10][11] The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System[6] (IPEDS) reports the following data:

Computer Science Degree Completion Rates for African American and White Women (from IPEDS Completion Survey by Race)
Year African American Women (degrees) White Women (BS/MS/PhD degrees)
1977 139 (BS), 26(MS), 0 (PhD) 1,275 (BS), 364 (MS), 18 (PhD)
1987 1,536 (BS), 81 (MS), 1 (PhD) 9,388 (BS), 1,488 (MS), 40 (PhD)
1997 1,179 (BS), 182 (MS), 1 (PhD) 3,599 (BS), 965 (MS), 66 (PhD)
2007 1,624 (BS), 345 (MS), 12 (PhD) 3,620 (BS), 1,141 (MS), 81 (PhD)

Between 1977 and 2013 (the years in which data has been recorded by the NCES), the greatest number of African American women to earn a doctorate degree in Computer Science in one year was 10 (2008).

In 2012, the Computing Research Association (CRA) Taulbee Survey reported there were "merely 56 Black/African American computer science tenure-track faculty members at PhD-granting institutions, which includes 12 (or 0.6%), 21 (or 1.4%), and 23 (or 3.0%) Full, Associate, and Assistant Professors, respectively."

A 2010–2011 survey of Computer Science degrees awarded in US institutions found that of the 1,456 PhDs awarded in the period, only 16 (1.2%) were awarded to African-Americans.[12][13] In 2013, of the 1,563 computer science PhD's awarded, only 19 were to African-Americans.[14]

See also


  1. "Katherine Johnson - NasaCRgis". Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  2. "ENIAC Programmers Project". ENIAC Programmers Project. Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  3. "Focus on Women of Color |". Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  4. Williams, Marsha Rhea (1982). "The design of the Computer Assisted Query Language (CAQL) System". Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  5. "The Forgotten Female Programmers Who Created Modern Tech". Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  6. 1 2 " – WebCASPAR|Home – US National Science Foundation (NSF)". Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  7. Hodari, Apriel; Ong, Maria; Ko, Lily T.; Kachchaf, Rachel R. (2014). "New enactments of mentoring and activism: U.S. women of color in computing education and careers". Proceedings of the tenth annual conference on International computing education research: 83–90. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  8. Ong, Maria (July 2011). "The status of women of color in computer science". Communications of the ACM. 54 (7): 32–34. doi:10.1145/1965724.1965737.
  9. Frenkel, Karen A. "Women and computing". ACM Digital Library. ACM. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  10. Dryburgh, Heather (2000). "Underrepresentation Of Girls And Women In Computer Science: Classification OF 1990s Research" (PDF). J. EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING RESEARCH. 23 (2): 181–202. doi:10.2190/8ryv-9jwh-xqmb-qf41. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  11. Taylor, Valerie. "Women of color in computing" (34(2)). ACM. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  12. Brannon, Jody (January 15, 2013). "Black Women Computer-Science Ph.D.s? Guess What Percent". National Journal.
  13. Zweben, Stuart (2011). "Computing Degree and Enrollment Trends from the 2010-2011 CRA Taulbee Survey" (PDF). Computing Research Association.
  14. Fiegener, Mark K. (December 2014). "TABLE 22. Doctorate recipients, by citizenship status, ethnicity, race, and subfield of study: 2013" (PDF). Science and Engineering Doctorates. National Science Foundation. Retrieved April 14, 2015. External link in |work= (help)
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