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The Epic Journey of Women in Computing

Tech wasn’t always a man’s world. Go back to the 1980s, and you’ll find that the computer industry was increasingly then a woman’s world. In fact, there were so many women in computing that the workforce was experiencing a “feminization,” researchers say. That’s because the number of women in computing almost tripled from 1971 to 1985, when they became 38% of that labor force, according to new research by William F. Vogel, a doctoral candidate in the University of Minnesota’s History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Program, where his specialties include women in tech. By the early 1990s, however, the golden era for women ended. This may be hard for some in Silicon Valley to believe, but once a upon a time, coding was viewed then as women’s work—particularly prior to 1971.

“Programming, initially known as ‘coding,’ was originally seen as a low-status clerical task and was therefore gendered female,” Vogel writes, citing previous studies. So began the perception of “feminization.” But the computer industry wanted to change how the work was perceived as “routinized, low-status, and low-paying,” Vogel said. That’s when programming underwent an image change—“the identification of programming as a masculine activity” during the 1960s, Vogel writes.

“The idealized programmer came to be typified with stereotypically male characteristics, and female programmers conversely were portrayed in a negative light,” Vogel said, citing prior research by computing history expert Nathan Ensmenger, who’s also the editor of Annals. Continue reading from IEEE Computer Society

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