Women in Computer Science and Engineering: A Transformational Leadership Approach to Gender Equity


  • Lindy Ryan Rutgers University
  • Eduardo R D­az CETYS Universidad
  • Arron P. Grow Clover Park School District




The underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed from an educational perspective. Within the domains of computer science and engineering (CS&E) the gender imbalance is even more acute as the underrepresentation of women not only persists but has increased over the past few decades (Corbett & Hill, 2015; Master et al., 2016). In this paper a discussion of the current situation of women’s underrepresentation across broad CS&E domains is presented. This will be demonstrated through a review of research into the historical factors and institutional practices that have been ongoing barriers to the inclusion of women in CS&E. Then, a discussion of how transformational leadership theory can serve as a tool for change to help scholars better understand the present situation, and then guide practitioners in overcoming it, is presented. To this end, the paper concludes with a discussion of how diversity and inclusion ideas, based on a transformational leadership approach, can improve gender equity in CS&E.

Keywords: underrepresented, women, gender, transformational, leadership

Author Biographies

Lindy Ryan, Rutgers University

Award-winning Professor of Information Management and Business analytics. She currently teaches in the Masters of Professional Science program at Rutgers University and is an active researcher at the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute. She is the author of The Visual Imperative (2016) and Visual Data Storytelling with Tableau (2018). Contact her at lindymryan@gmail.com.

Eduardo R D­az, CETYS Universidad

Associate Professor in the School of Business and Administration at CETYS Universidad. He teachers Leadership and Management Theory. Author of Leadership Self-Efficacy: A Study of Male and Female MBA Students in Mexico, published in Advancing Women in Leadership journal. Correspondence author: eduardo.diaz@cetys.mx.

Arron P. Grow, Clover Park School District

After two decades in university administration and teaching in international programs, leadership studies, and teacher education, Arron Grow now serves as an elementary school teacher in the Clover Park School District of Lakewood, Washington, USA. Author of several books including Change or Go: How to Stop Non-Team Player Behavior at Work, published by Leaderboard Publishing. Contact: arrongrow@hotmail.com.


Abdulai, M., Youngsun, K., & Junghoon, M. (2012). Intellectual capital and firm performance: An empirical study of software firms in West Africa. African Journal of Information Systems, 4(1), 1-30.

Agarwal, S., Mittal, N., Katyal, R., Sureka, A., & Correa, D. (2016). Women in computer science research: What is the bibliography data telling us? ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, 46(1), 7-19.

Aguinis, H., Ji, Y. H., & Joo, H. (2018). Gender productivity gap among star performers in STEM and other scientific fields. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

Ahuja, M. (2002). Women in the information technology profession: A literature review, synthesis, and research agenda. European Journal of Information Systems, 11(1), 20-34.

Ahuja, M. K., & Thatcher, J. B. (2005). Moving beyond intentions and toward the theory of trying: Effects of work environment and gender on post-adoption information technology use. MIS Quarterly, 29(3), 427-459.

American Association of University Women. (2009). Separated by sex: Title IX and single-sex education (position paper). Washington, DC: AAUW Public Policy and Government Relations Department. Retrieved from http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/position-on-single-sex-education-112.pdf. Accessed on 2 June 2016.

Antonakis, J. (2012). Transformational and charismatic leadership. In D. V. Day & J. Antonakis (Eds.), The nature of leadership (2nd ed., pp. 256-288). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Athalye, R. (2009). Transformational leadership through role models: How B-schools can teach new paradigms of leadership. SIES Journal of Management, 6(2), 1-10.

Balyer, A. (2012). Transformational leadership behaviors of school principals: A qualitative research based on teachers' perceptions. International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 4(3), 581-591.

Bangari, R. S. (2014). Establishing a framework of transformational grassroots military leadership: Lessons from high-intensity, high-risk operational environments. Vikalpa: The Journal for Decision Makers, 39(3), 13-34.

Barker, L. (2009). Student and faculty perceptions of undergraduate research experience in computing. ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE), 9(1), 5.

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Blair, E. E., Miller, R. B., Ong, M., & Zastavker, Y. V. (2017). Undergraduate STEM instructors' teacher identities and discourses on student gender expression and equity. Journal of Engineering Education, 106(1), 14-43. doi:10.1002/jee.20157

Bottia, M., Stearns, E., Mickelson, R., Moller, S., & Valentino, L. (2015). Growing the roots of STEM majors: Female math and science high school faculty and the participation of students in STEM. Economics of Education Review, 45(2015), 14-27.

Boyle-Baise, M., Bridgwaters, B., & Brinson, L. (2007). Improving the human condition: Leadership for justice-oriented service-learning. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40(2), 113-122. doi:10.1080/10665680601152808

Brock, S. E. (2010). Gender equality for learning leadership in undergraduate business schools. Advancing Women in Leadership, 30(9), 1-13.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). College enrollment and work activity of 2014 High School graduates [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm.

Burns (2010). Leadership. New York, NY, Harper Perennial Political Classics.

Buxton, C. A. (2010). Social problem solving through science: An approach to critical, place-based, science teaching and learning. Equity & Excellence in Education, 43(1), 120-133. doi:10.1080/10665680903408932

Cardador, M. T. (2017). Promoted up but also out? The unintended consequences of increasing women's representation in managerial roles in engineering. Organization Science, 28(4), 597-617. doi:10.1287/orsc.2017.1132

Carter, M. Z., Self, D. R., Bandow, D. F., Wheatley, R. L., Thompson, W. F., Wright, D. N., & Junting, L. (2014). Unit-focused and individual-focused transformational leadership: The role of middle leaders in the midst of incremental organizational change. Journal of Management Policy & Practice, 15(5), 44-53.

Cavero, J. M., Vela, B., Cáceres, P., Cuesta, C., & Sierra-Alonso, A. (2015). The evolution of female authorship in computing research. Scientometrics, 103(1), 85-100.

Cerf, V. G., & Johnson, M. (2016). Enrollments explode! But diversity students are leaving. Communications of the ACM, 59(4), 7. doi:10.1145/2898431

Charyton, C., Elliott, J. O., Rahman, M. A., Woodward, J. L., & De Dios, S. (2011). Gender and Science: Women Nobel laureates. Journal of Creative Behavior, 45(3), 203-214.

Chism, B., & Pang, V. O. (2014). Transforming education and supporting equity through opportunity to learn standards. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 27(1/2), 19-30.

Cohoon, J. M., Nigai, S., & Kaye, J. J. (2011). Gender and computing conference papers. Communications of the ACM, 54(8), 72-80.

Corbett, C., & Hill, C. (2015). Solving the equation: The variables for women's success in engineering and computing. Washington, DC:: AAUW.

Debebe, G. (2010). Creating a safe environment for women's leadership transformation. Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings, 1-6. doi:10.5465/AMBPP.2010.54501114

Demir, K. (2008). Transformational leadership and collective efficacy: The moderating roles of collaborative culture and teachers' self-efficacy. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research (EJER), (33), 93-112.

Denner, J., Werner, L., O'Connor, L., & Glassman, J. (2014). Community college men and women: A test of three widely held beliefs about who pursues computer science. Community College Review, 42(4), 342-362.

D­az, E. R. (2018). Leadership self-efficacy: A study of male and female MBA students in Mexico. Advancing Women in Leadership, 38, 27-34.

Dimitriadi, A. (2013). Young women in science and technology: The importance of choice. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 2(5).

Dockterman, E. (2014). Cracking the girl code. Time, 184(6), 44-46.

Domingue, A. D. (2015). 'Our leaders are just we ourself": Black women college student leaders' experiences with oppression and sources of nourishment on a predominantly White college campus. Equity & Excellence in Education, 48(3), 454-472.

Eagly, A. H., Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., & van Engen, M. L. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 129(4), 569-591. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.4.569

Espinosa, L. (2011). Pipelines and pathways: Women of color in undergraduate STEM majors and the college experiences that contribute to persistence. Harvard Educational Review, 81(2), 209-240.

Fatourou, P., Papageorgiou, Y., & Petousi, V. (2019). Women are needed in STEM: European policies and incentives. Communications of the ACM, 62(4), 52-57.

Fortenberry, N. L., & Cady, E. (2009, July). Working directly with engineering departments to increase diversity. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research, pp. 6-8.

Gailliard, B., & Batmanian, N. (2016). The marginalization experiences of women in STEM. Proceedings from Rutgers Scholarship on Diversity and Inclusion: Current Findings and Future Considerations. Newark, NJ: Rutgers University.

Gandolfi, F. (2012). A conceptual discussion of transformational leadership and intercultural competence. Review of International Comparative Management / Revista de Management Comparat International, 13(4), 522-534.

González, O. T., & Pau, B. (2011). "Techo de cristal" y "suelo pegajoso". La situación de la mujer en los sistemas alemán y español de ciencia y tecnolog­a. Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnologia y Sociedad, 6(18), 1-23.

Guiso, L., Monte, F., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2008). Culture, math, and gender. Science, 321(5888)1164-1165.

Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Women.

Hughes, R., Nzekwe, B., & Molyneaux, K. (2013). The single sex debate for girls in science: A comparison between two informal science programs on middle school students' STEM identity formation. Research in Science Education, 43(5), 1979-2007.

Hyde, J., Lindberg, S., Linn, M., Ellis, A., & Williams, C. (2008). Diversity, gender similarities characterize math performance. Science, 321(5888), 494-495.

Jesse, J. K. (2006). The poverty of the pipeline metaphor: The AAAS/CPST study on nontraditional pathways in IT/CS education and the workforce. In Women and information technology: Research on underrepresentation, J. M. Cohoon and W. Aspray, Eds. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jogulu, U. D., & Wood, G. J. (2006). The role of leadership theory in raising the profile of women in management. Equal Opportunities International, 25(4), 236-250. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02610150610706230

Kim, K., Fann, A., & Misa-Escalante, K. (2011). Engaging women in computer science and engineering: Promising practices for promoting gender equity in undergraduate research experience. ACM Transactions on Computing Education, 11(2), 1-19.

Kotnour, T., Hoekstra, R., Reilly, C., Knight, R., & Selter, J. (2013). Infusing leadership education in the undergraduate engineering experience: A framework from UCF's eli2. Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(4), 48-57. doi:10.1002/jls.21310

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How extraordinary things happen in organizations. (Fifth edition). San Francisco, CA, Leadership Challenge.

Lagesen, V. (2008). A cyberfeminist utop­a? Perceptions of gender and computer science among Malaysian women computer science students and faculty. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 33(1), 005-027.

Lewis, K. (2018). Gender-gaps, gender-based social norms, and conditioning from the vantage point of leadership theories. International Forum of Teaching & Studies, 14(1), 17-25.

Little, A. J., & León de la Barra, B. A. (2009). Attracting girls to science, engineering and technology: An Australian perspective. European Journal of Engineering Education, 34(5), 439-445. doi:10.1080/03043790903137585

MacKie, D. (2014). The effectiveness of strength-based executive coaching in enhancing full range leadership development: A controlled study. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 66(2), 118-137. doi:10.1037/cpb0000005

Margolis, J., & Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the clubhouse: Women in computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Master, A., Cheryan, S., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2016). Computing whether she belongs: Stereotypes undermine girls' interest and sense of belonging in computer science. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 424-437. doi:10.1037/edu0000061

McKinney, V., Wilson, D., Brooks, N., O'Leary-Kelly, A., & Hardgrave, B. (2008). Women and men in the IT profession. Communications of the ACM, 51(2), 81-84.

McInnes, K. (2009). Student paper: The evolution of leadership and mentorship from 1975 - Present. Integral Leadership Review, 9(4), 1-23.

Morganson, V. J., Major, D. A., Streets, V. N., Litano, M. L., & Myers, D. P. (2015). Using embeddedness theory to understand and promote persistence in STEM majors. Career Development Quarterly, 63(4), 348-362. doi:10.1002/cdq.12033

Ng, E., & Sears, G. (2012). CEO leadership styles and the implementation of organizational diversity practices: Moderating effects of social values and age. Journal of Business Ethics, 105(1), 41-52. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-0933-7

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). New York: Sage.

Okcu, V. (2014). Relation between secondary school administrators' transformational and transactional leadership style and skills to diversity management in the school. Educational sciences: Theory & Practice, 14(6), 2162-2174. doi:10.12738/estp.2014.6.2128

Ong, M., Wright, C., Espinosa, L., & Orfield, G. (2011). Inside the double blind: A synthesis of empirical research on undergraduate and graduate women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Harvard Educational Review, 81(2), 172-208.

Pawley, A. L., Schimpf, C., & Nelson, L. (2016). Gender in engineering education research: A content analysis of research in JEE, 1998-2012. Journal of Engineering Education, 105(3), 508-528. doi:10.1002/jee.20128

Psychogios, A. G. (2007). Towards the transformational leader: Addressing women's leadership style in modern business management. Journal of Business & Society, 20(1/2), 169-180.

Ranger, S. (2014, June 18). Women in tech: Underrepresented and paid less. Tech Republic. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/european-technology/women-in-tech-under-represented-and-paid-less/.

Rapa, L. J., Diemer, M. A., & Banaies, J. (2018). Critical action as a pathway to social mobility among marginalized youth. Developmental Psychology, 54(1), 127-137. doi:10.1037/dev0000414

Reidsema, C., Hadgraft, R., Cameron, I., & King, R. (2013). Change strategies for educational transformation. Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 19(2), 101-108. doi:10.7158/D12-008.2013.19.2

Reuben, E., Sapienza, P., Zingales, L. (2014). How stereotypes impair women's careers in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, 111(12), 4403-4408.

Riley, T. A. (2014). Boys are like puppies, girls aim to please: How teachers' gender stereotypes may influence student placement decisions and classroom teaching. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 60(1), 1-21.

Rosch, D., Collier, D., & Zehr, S. (2014). Self-vs.-Teammate assessment of leadership competence: The effects of gender, leadership self-efficacy, and motivation to lead. Journal of Leadership Education, 13(2), 96-124. doi:10.12806/V13/I2/R5

Saint-Michel, S. E. (2018). Leader gender stereotypes and transformational leadership: Does leader sex make the difference? M@n@gement, 21(3), 944-966.

Sax, L. J., Zimmerman, H. B., Blaney, J. M., Toven-Lindsey, B., & Lehman, K. J. (2017). Diversifying undergraduate computer science: The role of department chairs in promoting gender and racial diversity. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 23(2).

Self, T. B., Matuszek, T., Self, D. R., & Schraeder, M. (2014). The weaver's loom: A conceptual framework for facilitating transformational human resource management through the strategic integration of knowledge management and continuous improvement. Journal of Business & Management, 20(1), 87-104.

Sekaquaptewa, D. (2011). Discounting their own success: A case for the role of implicit stereotypic attribution bias in women's STEM outcomes. Psychological Inquiry, 22(4), 291-295. doi:10.1080/1047840X.2011.624979

Selzer, R., Howton, A., & Wallace, F. (2017). Rethinking women's leadership development: Voices from the trenches. Administrative Sciences (2076-3387), 7(2), 1-20. doi:10.3390/admsci7020018

Shapiro, M., Grossman, D., Carter, S., Martin, K., Deyton, P., & Hammer, D. (2015). Middle school girls and the "leaky pipeline" to leadership. Middle School Journal, 46(5), 3-13.

Spielhagen, F. R. (2008). Having it our way: Students speak out on single-sex classes. In F. R. Spielhagen (Ed.), Debating single-sex education: Separate and equal (pp. 32-46). Baltimore, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.

Stappenbelt, B. (2010). The influence of action learning on student perception and performance. Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 16(1), 1-11.

Stevens, C. W. (2011). Using transformational leadership to guide an organization's success. Employment Relations Today (Wiley), 37(4), 37-44. doi:10.1002/ert.20319

Szelényi, K., Denson, N., & Inkelas, K. (2013). Women in STEM majors and professional outcome expectations: The role of living-learning programs and other college environments. Research in Higher Education, 54(8), 851-873.

Tajlili, M. H. (2014). A framework for promoting women's career intentionality and work-life integration. Career Development Quarterly, 62(3), 254-267. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0045.2014.00083.x

Valian, V. (1999). Why so slow? The advancement of women. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Vela, B., Cáceres, P., & Cavero, J. M. (2012). Participation of women in software engineering publications. Scientometrics, 93(3), 661-679.

Wang, M. & Degol, J. (2017). Gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): Current knowledge, implications for practice, policy, and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 29(1), 119-140. doi:10.1007/s10648-015-9355-x

Watts, M., & Corrie, S. (2013). Growing the 'I' and the 'We' in transformational leadership: The LEAD, LEARN & GROW model. Coaching Psychologist, 9(2), 86-99.

Zafar, B. (2013). College major choice and the gender gap. Journal of Human Resources, 48(3), 545-595.

Zamudio, M., Rios, F., & Jaime, A. M. (2008). Thinking critically about difference: Analytical tools for the 21st Century. Equity & Excellence in Education, 41(2), 215-229. doi:10.1080/10665680801957378

Advancing Women in Leadership Journal