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The Unexpected Entry and Exodus of Women in Computing and HCI in India

Nithya Sambasivan*
Purva Yardi
Pratap Kalenahalli Sudarshan
Kentaro Toyama
SIGCHI, ACM (2018)


In India, women represent 45% of total computer science enrollment in universities, almost three times the rate in the United States, where it is 17%. At the same time, women make up an estimated 25-30% of the HCI community in India, almost half the rate in the U.S. We investigate the complexities of these surprising phenomena through qualitative research of Indian computer science and human-computer interaction researchers and professionals at various life stages, from undergraduates to senior scientists. We find that cultural norms exert a powerful force on the representation of women in the tech sector, which is expressed in India as a societal whiplash in which women are encouraged to go into computing as students, but then expected to exit soon after they enter the tech workforce. Specifically, we find among other things that Indian familial norms play a significant role in pressuring young women into computing as a field; that familial pressures and workplace discrimination then cause a precipitous exit of women from computing at the onset of marriage; and that HCI occupies an interstitial space between art and technology that affects women's careers. Our findings underscore the societal influence on women's representation in the tech sector and invite further participation by the HCI community in related questions.