small CRA logo CRA Government Affairs
Advocacy | Policy Issues | Budget | Congress | Executive Branch | Archives | Home

CRA Testimony on the Underrepresentation
of Women and Minorities in Computing

given by Edward Lazowska, Chair, Department of Computer Science & Engineering,
University of Washington, and Chair, Board of Directors, Computing Research Association

before the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science,
Engineering, and Technology Development

October 6, 1999

Good afternoon, Ms. Mendoza and other members of the Commission. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I'm Ed Lazowska. I'm Chair of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington.

I'm also Chair of the Computing Research Association, on whose behalf I'm speaking today. CRA is an alliance of nearly 200 academic and industrial organizations involved in computing research. I also chair the National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for computer science, and serve on the four-person Technical Advisory Board for Microsoft Research.

The Computing Research Association has run a number of active and effective women's programs for roughly a decade. Anita Borg, who sits on the Commission, is a member of our Board of Directors, and has spearheaded many of these activities. More recently, we've introduced a number of programs addressed at minorities, patterned after our women's activities.

Over the past ten years, we have learned a great deal about the sorts of programs that work, and the sorts of programs that don't work. Another thing we have learned is that much more needs to be done.

My charge from you this afternoon is to talk about one strategy that would be effective in increasing the participation of women and minorities in the science, engineering, and technology educational system and workforce. My recommendation is that special and prominent attention be given to programs that address the underrepresentation of women and minorities in computing.

I know that every individual scientific and engineering discipline would like to see special attention given to their own field, but I believe there are compelling reasons that set computing apart from all the other scientific and engineering disciplines. I also believe that attention to computing will lead to improvements in the participation of women and minorities in all other fields. Let me set out six reasons that justify a special focus on computing:

  1. Computing presents the best job opportunities of all scientific and engineering fields.

    There is currently a severe shortage of information technology workers in the United States. This shortage has been documented in recent studies by the Commerce Department, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Information Technology Association of America, the Computing Research Association, and others.

    This shortage can be expected to persist, because of fundamental changes in the nature of the world in which we live.

    Information technology jobs are high-skill, high-paying jobs. In the State of Washington, for example, the average wage in the software industry in 1998 was $287,700! (That includes salary, plus the value of exercised stock options.) Washington's total software industry wage base is greater than Washington's aerospace industry wage base, but has only 1/5th as many employees. And Washington State's software industry wants to double its employment over the next three years!

  2. The nation's economic well-being depends on an adequate supply of information technology workers.

    Information technology industries have become a critical part of the U.S. economy, playing a strategic role in the growth process.

    According to the Department of Commerce's latest Emerging Digital Economy report, IT-producers accounted for less than 10 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, yet contributed 35 percent of the Nation's real growth over the period 1995 to 1998.

    At present, IT industries rely to a certain extent on immigrant workers to meet their employment demands through the controversial H-1B visa program. The Administration and the Congress are seeking policies that would reduce the IT industry's reliance on foreign workers.

  3. Computing has perhaps made the least progress in increasing the participation of women and minorities in the past decade of all scientific and engineering fields.

    According to National Center for Education Statistics, in the 1984-85 academic year, women comprised 37percent of the bachelors degrees, 29percent of the masters degrees, and 10percent of the doctorate degrees awarded in computer and information science. According to this same source, in the 1993-94 academic year, the percentage of doctorates who were women had increased to 15percent, but at the bachelors and masters levels the percentages had dropped - at the bachelors level from 37percent to 28percent (and at the masters level from 29percent to 26percent).

    At the research universities, which produce about one-third of all undergraduate degrees in computer science, the percentages are even worse. According to the Computing Research Association's annual Taulbee Survey, only 18percent of the bachelor recipients in computer science at these institutions were women in 1993-94. Recently, the percentages have dropped even more, to 15percent in 1997-98.

    And the situation for minorities was even worse than that for women. Just to cite one indicative statistic: in 1996-97 the total national output of computer science doctorates included six African Americans, three Hispanic Americans, and zero Native Americans, out of a total of roughly 1000 Ph.D.s.

  4. If information systems are to meet the needs of all people, then all people must be engaged in the creation of information systems.

    A diverse workforce is essential to this field, not only in order to address workforce shortages, but also to ensure that the systems we create will meet the needs of all people.

  5. Training in computing is essential to careers in many scientific and engineering fields.

    Computing has become infused into many scientific and engineering fields. Women and minorities who have received strong training in computer science are better prepared to enter educational programs and careers in other scientific and engineering disciplines.

    The CRA study of information technology workers mentioned earlier noted that, in addition to all the information technology jobs, there was an even larger class of information technology-enabled jobs in the United States. Indeed, most service or professional jobs require some command of information technology skills; and to the degree that we can provide training in computer science to women and minorities in greater numbers than we do today, we are opening up additional skilled job opportunities.

  6. "Information Technology Fluency" will be essential for all citizens in the 21st century.

    A new National Research Council report describes the skills and concepts that comprise Information Technology Fluency. All of our citizens, if they are to be competitive in the modern world, must master these.

My main message is that a strategy that gives special attention to computing is one that is good for all of science and engineering. Let me make a few remarks, though, about how such a strategy might be implemented.

I recommend a combination of generic programs that are focused on all the scientific and engineering fields, including computing, and targeted programs specifically aimed at the computing field.

Generic programs might be ones focused on:

Targeted programs for the computing field might include:

In conclusion, let me thank you for the work of this Commission on this important national problem. Let me again urge you to place special attention to computing in your final recommendations. Thank you very much for your time and attention. I'd be pleased to answer questions you might have.

Copyright © 2004 Computing Research Association. All Rights Reserved. Questions? E-mail:

Document last modified on Wednesday, 04-Apr-2012 06:51:14 PDT.