Major shortage of Women in Computer Science at UW-La Crosse

The University of Wisconsin La Crosse’s computer science department celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. One of the biggest challenges the department faces is recruiting more female students.

By 2026, the National Center for Women and Information Technology predicts that there will be 3.5 million computing-related job openings, and only 17 percent of those jobs will be filled.

One of the reasons for an employee shortage is the lack of female workers in the field.

As of last year, only around a quarter of the computing workforce was made up of women and that number is going down.

The National Science Foundation found that in 1985, more than 35 percent of computer science majors were women.

By 2014, that number had dropped down to just 18 percent.

Madeline Sigl, a software engineering graduate student at UW-L said, “It can get discouraging at times.”

Sigl has been fascinated by computers since she was a little kid.

“I’ve always been interested in computers,” Sigl said.

Even though she loves technology, Sigl said it can be challenging being one of the only women in her program.

“The higher up you go, the less females there’s going to be. So, you’re usually one of one or two females,” Sigl said.

Sigl said she is constantly facing discrimination because of her gender.

“You definitely have to prove yourself more to prove that you are worthy and you are actually like doing as well as the other students,” Sigl said.

Even some of her professors have doubted her abilities.

“One professor, when I was working with a partner on a project, it was still like I didn’t get the same amount of credit the other person did. They always just kind of assumed that I wasn’t putting effort in or I was just tagging on someone else’s work,” Sigl said.

Sigl said she was being discouraged long before she went to college.

“It almost feels like women aren’t being told that going for those STEM positions, those science-based positions are even an option for them,” Sigl said.

To try to change how computer science is perceived, the university is now trying to get girls from a young age involved in programming.

Sam Foley, an assistant computer science professor at UW-L, said, “To recruit women and girls from K-12 [we] go out into the community, we’ve gone out into the library system, we’ve done a couple different high schools, we’ve done events for the girl scouts.”

Sigl just wants girls to know they can do anything they set their minds to.

“Just more educating them that they are capable of doing what the men are doing right now,” Sigl said.

Several students at the university are taking matters into their own hands by participating in a student club called Coders.

The club’s goal is to teach the La Crosse community basic computer science skills while promoting computer science to minorities.

The computer science department at UW-L is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Friday with a discussion panel and dinner.