Research Output

Exploring women's motivations to study computer science

  This paper presents a study exploring women's decisions, influencers and early experiences of computing to better understand how women's motivations and prior experience affect their decision to study computer science (CS). The emergence of a gender balance target and government imperatives for Scottish university courses has challenged computer science as a discipline across the 14 universities in which computing is currently taught. The funding body target is that there should be a more equal gender balance, with no course having fewer than 25% of one gender, leading to a proliferation of gender action plans across the university sector. Of course the phenomenon of under-representation extends across developed countries in the west, albeit with a small number of high profile resource-intensive interventions making headway. At present the percentage of women studying computing in the UK is 17%. The lack of female applicants to courses suggests that subject decisions have been made through previous experiences prior to selecting a course and university. Surveying current computer science students (n=185) we explored women's and men's reasons for studying computer science, their influencers and their early experiences of computing. The aim of the study was to examine the motivations and influences that led them to a positive choice of computer science in order to find evidence on which to build a gender action plan. We found that women were introduced to computing at different stages (including home, early schooling and secondary schooling), whereas men were more likely to have been introduced to computers at home. Women also cited slightly more varying reasons for selecting CS, while men were more likely to select it based on personal interest. Both men and women were influenced by friends and family. However, men were slightly more likely than women to make the decision to study computing by themselves, not citing any other influence. The paper reviews the literature on women studying CS and describes the study and findings. It is hoped that this initial work can help universities better understand the nature of the challenge and target resources in the right places to encourage more women to study CS.

  • Date:

    07 March 2019

  • Publication Status:


  • DOI:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Smith, S., Sobolewska, E., Bhardwaj, J., & Fabian, K. (2019). Exploring women's motivations to study computer science. In Proceedings of the Frontiers in Education 2018 Conference.



women; computer science; motivations; Rational Choice Theory

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