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Women's computers were heavy

Computer science wasn't always dominated by men. "In the beginning, the word 'computers' meant 'women,' " says Ruth Oldenziel, a professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who studies history, gender and technology. Six women programmed one of the most famous computers in history -- the 30-ton Eniac -- for the United States Army during World War II.

But as with many professions, Dr. Oldenziel said, once programming gained prestige, women were pushed out. Over the decades, the share of women in computing has continued to decline. In 2012, just 18 percent of computer-science college graduates were women, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

This lack of women has become of greater concern in the industry for a number of reasons. For one, the products that the tech industry creates are shaping the future for everyone. "Women are increasingly consumers; they're not going to like products that don't work for them," said Londa Schiebinger, a Stanford professor who runs the Gendered Innovations project, which encourages engineers and scientists to consider gender when developing new products.

"My general issue with the coverage of women in tech is that women in the technology press are talked about in the context of being women, and men are talked about in the context of being in technology," said a technical woman who would speak only on condition of anonymity because she did not want to be part of an article about women in tech.

"I'm also very good at my job, and as a technologist, I want to be recognized for that and not because I have breasts."

Lea Verou, an incoming Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at M.I.T., wrote in a much read essay that women-only conferences and hackathons "cultivate the notion that women are these weak beings who find their male colleagues too intimidating."

"As a woman," she wrote, "I find it insulting and patronizing to be viewed that way."


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