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The Real Reason There Aren’t More Women In Tech

January 5, 2014

Update: I’ve adding a link to a whitepaper called “Girls in IT” at the bottom that not only highlights the issue, but what can be done to help solve it. 

After reading a lot of nonsense on this topic, I came across this great article by Hadi Partovi, who is a co-founder of Code.org. As opposed to diving in to stereotypes, like other posts and articles have done over the last couple of weeks, Hadi cuts to the real reasons.  The first reason he cites as being the primary cause:  Computer Science is not taught in US schools!  Duh…  He’s so spot on I don’t know where to begin!  I’ve worked with lots of young women as part of TechStart Education Foundation’s Oregon Game Project Challenge and girls are interested in learning to program in K-12.  One key problem is that by 7th and 8th grade there are just not that many opportunities to get plugged in.

Please give this a read and then learn more about how to support #STEM programs and code.org in your local K-12 classrooms.

Here is a whitepaper called “Girls in IT”.  It talks about the shortage of women in technology and trying to narrow the gap.  http://www.bespokesoftware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/GirlsinIT_white_paper.pdf (via @ShimCode).

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From → Education, Software

One Comment
  1. Jean permalink

    Mark, this time you’ve got me going. You left out some equally—if not more–important stuff from this article:

    “Problem #2: It’s an Elective
    “In 33 states, computer science doesn’t even count towards high school graduation. When it’s only an elective or after-school activity, girls often don’t even try it, because they’re not seeing other young girls, or college students a few years above them, or women in careers, doing it either.”

    When, as a sophomore or junior in high school (yes, it’s so long ago I don’t quite remember, I signed up for the electronics class, the first day in class was quite an eye opener. Of course, I was the only girl. My very presence cast a silent pall upon my classmates. Finally, a bold one spoke up and said, “What are you doing here?” I looked at him and said, “The same thing you are.” Yes, I’ve been just this cocky for a very long time now. My father was an electrician, and I had an aunt (a very rebellious aunt) who went to work for Boeing and then moved to the Bay area where she became a chip designer. So, I could see myself doing something similar.

    And, fortunately, I was raised by a man who did not believe in the weak woman myth (which can help). Unfortunately for him, he has raised three daughters who are so self-willed that they frustrate and confound him. Fortunately for me, though I was also raised in a pretty redneck environment where women were expected to be tough, independent, but still know their place, goshdarnit, the computer industry was just taking off when I was getting my high school and early college education. In some ways, I would say that made it easier for me to enter the field, and I entered through a female-typical avenue: communication. Having taken BASIC programming as an undergrad probably helped, too. The school I went to was famous for turning out accountants and teachers, not computer scientists. But I wanted to learn what I wanted to learn, and part of what I wanted to learn about was how things work. I already knew how to bake a cake. And, yes, when I was in school, home economics was required for girls and shop was required for boys, and they were often offered in the same period. (Like, why would that be a problem, right?)

    “Problem #3: The Nerd Stereotype Drives Away Women
    “The problem isn’t nerds — I was a total nerd myself. But when boys dominate the few computer science courses or clubs that are offered in American schools, the odd girl who braves the stereotype sees instruction catering to male interests. Studies have shown that a male-dominated classroom, the nerd stereotype, or even simple appearances such as the decor of a room impact female enrollment in computer science. The stereotype, reinforced by mainstream media, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

    What I see in geek feminism movement today, when I pause to check in there, amazes me. I wonder if this community was around 20 to 25 years ago. There is some pretty nasty stuff that goes on for women, some of it dangerous, and senior managers and leaders must be looking the other way for it to happen at all. Similar nonsense happens in the military but on a larger and more virulent scale.

    At the same time, there are feisty young women who are socialized to take manipulating technology to their will for granted and are doing some amazing things. One heartening example of women making free with technology was this YouTube video (http://www.ittybittyurl.com/1mjG) of a young woman hacking a knitting machine. You’ll note that this is end-use programming, not compiler programming, BUT it does teach some interesting basic programming concepts. I wonder how the guys would respond to learning about programming through hacking deeper and deeper into knitting machines?

    To some extent, estrogen and testosterone are part of the problem. You can force a young woman to take computer programming classes, but if that doesn’t contribute to, rather than detract from, her attractiveness to prospective male partners, she just might flunk out or not apply what she learns in the marketplace. Perhaps you are unaware of the range of studies and books for the popular business press about women who felt they had to lie about or suppress their accomplishments (including advanced degrees) in order to appear non-threatening and acceptable to others? Even better: there are those that TEACH women how to do this.

    I’m not saying don’t fund computer science in the K-12 classroom, though it would be nice if our high school graduates could just read at the 12th grade level and do basic math when they graduate, too. What I am saying is that, once she has the education, the likelihood remains that girls, unless they are both rebellious and supported by at least few authority figures and exemplars in their lives, will often succumb to the “yes, dear” problem, rather than found software companies and target international markets. It’s the same for boys, but they’ve already got Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and, well, you, Mark. Who remembers now that COBOL was created by Grace Hopper and the philosophical problems of machine translation (now handily mastered by Google, among others) were first described by Alice Koller? Quick, name the top three executive women in tech without using the web.

    So, aye me, it’s an old problem. I appreciate your interest in getting computer science in the classroom funded, but I don’t see that funding is going to change this situation. To some extent, it’s up to women currently practicing in the field to push the change through mentoring, among other things. It wouldn’t hurt for the men to do some critical thinking around the issue and their contribution to the problem, as well.

    Now, back to the trenches . . .

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