Historically, a lot of computing pioneers, including those who programmed the first digital computers were women and for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men.
But something strange happened in 1984 which changed all that and the percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged.
According to NPR,this is exactly the same time when personal computers started showing up in US homes in significant numbers. And the problem was that they were only marketed to men and boys.
Movies like Weird Science, Revenge of the Nerds, and War Games all came out in the ’80s and they were all about awkward geek boy geniuses.
By the 1990s families were much more likely to buy computers for boys than for girls — even when girls were really interested in computers. This meant that girls grew up not playing with computers at home, which was how the next generation of programmers developed.
The paper cites Patricia Ordóñez who didn’t have a computer at home, but was a math wiz. When she got to Johns Hopkins in the ’80s, she found that most of her male classmates were way ahead of her because they had grown up playing with computers.
In the ’70s, that never would have happened because Professors in intro classes assumed their students came in with no experience. But by the ’80s, that had changed.