Current State of Women and Technology

Computer Science Education is the Answer

Computing is a huge industry in the U.S. with lots of potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an 18% increase in projected employment[1], which translates into 1.2 million job openings by 2022[2]. However, women only make up a fraction of the computing workforce. In 2013, women represented 57% of professional occupations but only made up 26% of such occupations in computing[2]. What gives? We have heard many possible explanations, however I argue that one of the larger issues is a lack of computer science exposure in education.

In today’s digital age, every profession uses computers in come way, but that reality is not being translated to schools. Not a single state in the US requires a computer science course in order to graduate despite many educational studies calling on secondary schools to take such action[3]. Fourteen states don’t offer any upper-level computer science instruction whatsoever[3]. The Association of Computing Machinery has called on the nation to implement computer science in schools arguing that it will help us in turn grow economically[3]. I fully support this initiative and further argue that in order to get more women in computer science, early exposure to computer science in school will help change the current outlook.

So, how exactly does computer science education help get more women into a male-saturated field? Early exposure shows girls what computer science is all about and shows them that it can be learned. If students realize that computer science is not an innate ability, girls are especially more likely to think they can succeed in it[4]. I believe we have failed a generation of girls by not introducing them to the world of computer science, where creativity and code can translate into real world solutions. If girls fall in love with computing early, in middle or high school, I doubt any silly bro-culture stereotype could sway them from entering such an amazing field.

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Computer Programmers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm (visited September 19, 2014).

[2] National Center for Women and Information Technology, By The Numbers, on the Internet at http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/btn_02282014web.pdf (visited September 19, 2014).

[3] Association for Computing Machinery, Running on Empty: Computer Science in the Digital Age, on the Internet at http://runningonempty.acm.org/fullreport2.pdf (visited September 19, 2014).

[4] Schwartz, Katrina, Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick, MindShift, on the Internet at http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/04/giving-good-praise-to-girls-what-messages-stick/ (visited September 19, 2014).

Why Women Leave Tech Careers

We often hear of the shortage of women in the science, engineering, and technical (SET) fields and it is easy to be discouraged by such dismal statements. However, we are wrong to assume that these smart, tech-savvy women are not attracted to this career field. In fact between the ages of 25 and 30, 41% of the young talent with credentials in science and technology are female.[1] This is surprising news, given the fact that we tend to underestimate how many women are in these fields. And yet, of these women more than half leave their careers in their mid-30s to early 40s. Why is that?

In an interview with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York, Hewlett re-examines some of the factors that contribute to this claim. Hewlett is best known for her work on a research project called the Athena Factor[2], a global study that examines the career trajectories of women in these SET fields. The study found that women are instrumental to the industry, often more likely to than their male counterparts to value contributing to society. So what happens later on down the road for these women? The falling out happens through what Hewlett outlines as 5 key factors or “antigens” that include: hostile macho cultures, isolation, mysterious career paths, systems of risk and reward, and extreme work pressures.[3]

Each of these adversities are problems that cannot always be addressed so easily, especially when it comes to changing the ingrained mindsets of the macho culture. The manner in which women are treated branches out through these instilled stereotypes. In order for women to overcome these issues, I believe that there must be more women in leadership, who in turn mentor the younger, entry-level women who are in danger of feeling “stuck or stalled” in these fields. If there were more respected female role models in higher positions, the younger women would be more inclined to stick through the negativity because there would be a clearer picture of what their own careers could achieve.

[1] Melymuka, K. (2008, June 16). Why Women Quit Technology. Computerworld. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from http://www.computerworld.com/article/2551969/it-careers/why-women-quit-technology.html

[2] CTI Athena 2.0 Launch. (2014). YouTube. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=farVyP3vgBA

[3] Hewlett, S. A. (2008). The Athena factor: reversing the brain drain in science, engineering, and technology. Boston: Harvard Business School.

One Industry, Two Genders and All Kinds of Games

Gaming has traditionally been dominated by men but the gap has decreased year after year with 2014 being another landmark year of growth for the entire industry and for women. There are a lot of pervasive stereotypes in the gaming industry and community but a big one that I have always had is one of age and sex. It is easy to think when playing most first-person shooters or browsing some dark corner of 4chan that the majority of gamers are teenage boys who have not fully matured yet. In fact, that seems to be completely wrong and more people should realize how diverse the gaming demographic actually is. In fact, there are almost as much women playing games than men.

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Women of Color in Computer Science

Despite being a powerful force, racial and gender discrimination has led to women of color being underrepresented in the field of technology, currently they lag in obtaining computer science degrees.

Maria Ong, who specializes in the experiences of women of color in STEM in higher education and careers,[1] explains that “among U.S. citizens and permanent residents receiving 2008 degrees in the computer sciences, women of color fared worse compared to their White female counterparts at both the bachelor’s and Ph.D. levels.”[2] Another problem is the “decline of Hispanic women earning Ph.D.s in CS [computer science].”[3]  In fact, research shows that “over the past decade…their numbers peaked in 2004 at nine Ph.D.s but have declined since, and they received only two of the [computer science] Ph.D.s awarded in 2008.”[4] Ong’s reasons for writing this article seem to be the further exposure on the challenges women of color face in the field of computer science and STEM, and to begin discussion on how to improve this situation.

Women of color “face barriers and obstacles related to both race and gender, a so-called ‘double-bind.’”[5] These can include “racial/gender discrimination, lack of access to resources and facilities, questions about skill due to one’s gender/race, isolation, endorsement of negative stereotypes about one’s own background, and a lack of diverse mentors, peers, and role models.”[6]

In fact, according to a survey by the National Science Foundation on the amount of employed doctoral scientists and engineers in 2013, out of a total of 21,900 people in computer/information sciences, only 4,000 were women.[7] Out of those 4,000 women, 100 were Latina, 1,500 were Asian, 100 were Black or African-American, 2,200 were White, and 100 were classified under other race. Out of the 4,000 employed doctoral women scientists and engineers, over half were white women and less than 5% were Latina and Black women. This wide gap shows the lack of women of color employed who already received a doctorate; even after getting to the same level of education as their colleagues, women of color are still not highly represented in computer science.

Some companies, like Google, seem to be trying to retain women and people of color by “extending maternity leave for women and establishing employee resource groups for minority employees.”[8]  Programs like Black Girls Code, a non-profit that aims to teach young girls of color how to code and program, also shows a step forward in improving the situation of women of color in computer science and technology.

Despite there being many women of color in computer science and technology who are doing amazing things, we are still underrepresented compared to white women and men in general. However, I believe through the creation of more resources for women of color in the form of educational nonprofits, tech/computer science conferences, more resources and facilities in schools with predominantly students of color, as well as to raise awareness about the great women already in the field who can serve as mentors and role models for future computer science students the future of technology will benefit. I believe these suggestions could help raise the number of women of color earning computer science degrees, along with more girls of color showing an interest in computer science which may help combat negative stereotypes women of color must deal with when entering technology fields.

[1] description provided at the end of her article on Page 34

[2] Ong, Maria. “Broadening Participation The Status Of Women Of Color In Computer Science.” Communications Of The ACM 54.7 (2011): 32-34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[3] “Broadening Participation The Status Of Women Of Color In Computer Science.” Page 32

[4] “Broadening Participation The Status Of Women Of Color In Computer Science.” Page 32

[5] Scott, Allison. “Diversity Data Shows Need to Focus on Women of Color.”The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 July 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-scott/diversity-data-shows-need_b_5571685.html&gt;.

[6] Scott, Allison. “Diversity Data Shows Need to Focus on Women of Color.”The Huffington Post.

[7] National Science Foundation. (2013). Survey of Doctorate Recipients [electronic file]. Retrieved from http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/doctoratework/2013/.

[8] Sullivan, Gail. “Google Statistics Show Silicon Valley Has a Diversity Problem.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 29 May 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/29/most-google-employees-are-white-men-where-are-allthewomen/&gt;.

Prominence and Power Positions

In July of 2013 Samara Lynn released an article titled “There Are Plenty of Women in Tech, You Just Haven’t Noticed”. In her article, Lynn makes the argument that the “real” problem with Women in Tech is the lack of social media representation, attention and approval given to the women occupying actual “techie” jobs.[1] However many people have argued that even when women do manage to enter the tech industry, they are pushed into management and business roles rather than purely technical positions. This raises the question: which of the two claims is true? Are women more inclined to take on jobs that require “soft-skills,” or are “techie” women simply underrepresented?

Lynn writes that “whenever I come across one of those ‘Top Women in Tech’ lists… it’s usually filled with ambiguous titles such as Director of Citizen Participation. Where are the programmers, system administrators, storage gurus, or networking engineers?” This seems to at least acknowledge the claim that women in tech generally take on the role of “managing people and bridging the business and engineering divide.”[2]

While personally perusing Forbes’ list of “Most Powerful Women in Tech” by Zheyan Ni, this claim certainly seems to ring true.  The list consists of eighteen women focused exclusively on COOs, CEOs, CFOs, Presidents and Chair Members.[3] And while this ranking is very likely be dependent on an association between these particular titles and power, it is noteworthy that none of the women on the list were coders or engineers; people who according to Miller “get the respect in the tech industry.”

I certainly agree with Lynn’s claim that women are just as capable as men in occupying “techie” jobs, however the title of her article is misleading. The fact remains that only “twenty percent of software developers are women… Comparatively, 56 percent of people in business and financial operations jobs are women.”2 According to Harvey Mudd’s President, Maria Klawe, women tend to stray away from careers in technology because they think it’s not interesting, they think they won’t be good at it, and they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn’t feel comfortable of happy working with.[4] With those three major contributing factors in mind it’s no surprise that women would feel more comfortable pursuing careers in management or business considering that according to the United States Department of Labor “the largest percentage of employed women (40.6 percent) worked in management, professional, and related occupations.” Simply put- these fields are far less male-dominated than technology, and by extension more accessible and inviting towards women.

[1] Lynn, Samara. “There Are Plenty of Women in Tech, You Just Haven’t Noticed.” PCMag.com 24 July 2013. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2422200,00.asp&gt;.

[2] Miller, Claire. “Technology’s Man Problem.” New York Times 5 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/technology/technologys-man-problem.html?_r=0&gt;.

[3] Ni, Zheyan. “The Most Powerful Women In Tech 2014.” Forbes 28 May 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/zheyanni/2014/05/28/the-most-powerful-women-in-tech-2014/&gt;.

[4] Fidelman, Mark. “Here’s the Real Reason There Are Not More Women in Technology.”Forbes 5 June 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/markfidelman/2012/06/05/heres-the-real-reason-there-are-not-more-women-in-technology/&gt;.

Lack of Interest or Lack of Influence?

When you ask a young child what they want to be when they grow up, you hear the usual answers of “president,” “a cop,” or maybe even “a superhero.” If this young child is a girl, you might also hear answers like “a princess,” or “a ballerina.” However, as she grows older, she realizes that her chances of becoming a princess are pretty slim, so she has to decide which real career path to take. Unfortunately, the chances of her choosing to become a computer scientist are rather slim as well, as the number of young women who choose to pursue fields related to computer science is dwindling, and an overall lack of interest in tech seems to be prevalent.

In 2010, Google created Made with Code, an initiative to influence and encourage young girls to consider pursuing paths in tech fields related to coding. Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, posted on Google’s official blog stating that “fewer than one percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science.”1

In hopes of changing this statistic, Google has not only created their own campaign, but has also given millions of dollars to programs such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Code.org, and Technovation.1 Girls Who Code, a program designed to immerse teenage girls in the world of coding, states on their website that “women represent 12% of all computer science graduates” and that “in 1984, they represented 37% of all computer science graduates.”2 This suggests that as time progresses, we are seeing a decrease in the level of interest in computer science fields by young women.

I agree that there is a significantly lower number of young women who express interest in computer science when they are young and still in school, but I wonder where the influence for that is really coming from. Could it be that their parents do not work in those fields? Is it that there are not enough female role models in the tech world? Or could it be the lack of exposure to coding in their high school classes? I’m not yet sure where the lack of influence lies, but with more organizations being created to increase the participation of young women in computer science, I am hopeful that more young women will become engaged and stay engaged in these fields as they choose their career paths.

1 Wojcicki, Susan. “Things You Love Are Made With Code.” Google Official Blog. 19 June 2014. Web.
2 “Girls Who Code.” Girls Who Code. 2014. Web.

Push for Young Girls to Code

Recently in the field of K-12, there has been a cry for computer science to be within the curriculum in not just high school, but elementary and middle school[1]. Along with the major pushes for an expansion across districts, there is another push for greater girl involvement in computer science. This has resulted non-profits, public, and university-sponsored introducing young girls to the field of computer science, most often, coding. These programs are working hard to brand computer science as girl friendly and child friendly.

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Gender Bias in the Workplace

Computer science has a major problem. Women who are entering computer science fields are quickly leaving them after the gender bias at the workplace, among many other things, makes them feel unwelcome. Women are already underrepresented in the STEM fields with approximately 28 percent of computer science degrees going to women in 2011.[1] The computer science field cannot afford to alienate half of their potential employees because of this growing gender bias.

Headlines about tech companies are rife with articles about sexism in the workplace. It is common to encounter articles that tell of women seeking investment only to be shown “a picture of [the investor] on a boat—without clothes” or an investor asking about the effects of competitive biking on “her husband’s reproductive capabilities” as Candace Fleming experienced.[2] She remarked that it was incredibly hard for her to be taken seriously when she was looking for an investor for her start up company, Crimson Hexagon, in 2007. Unsurprisingly even though women account for 40 percent of private business, they only generate 8 percent of venture capital. [3]

However, the problem does not end there; even outside the workplace women face unnecessarily severe backlash when reporting on inappropriate behavior. For Adria Richards, this backlash meant her job. At a tech conference Richards was attending a panel about Python, the most popular introductory programming language.[4] Halfway through the panel she tweeted a photo of two men behind her to the conference conduct board saying, “Not cool, Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big dongles’. Right behind me #pycon”.[5] Even though the two men were escorted out of the conference, replies of people reading the tweet have been less than cordial, with the most polite replies being called “a disgrace to women everywhere” and another suggesting, “she could have moved [or] she could have asked them to speak quieter”.[6]

If the computer science industry wishes to have more diversity among their employees, it must address the gender bias problem. Not only are women not welcome in the office, they are also singled out at computer programming events such as conferences. Even if computer science succeeds in getting more women interested in the field by targeting coding programs toward young girls, the women who grow up and aspire to work in coding will be in for a nasty surprise if the tech industry cannot change its ways.

[1] Mitchell, R. (2013, April 4). Women computer science grads: The bump before the decline. Retrieved September 16, 2014.

[2] Miller, C. (2010, April 17). Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley. Retrieved September 16, 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Guo, P. (2014, July 7). Python is Now the Most Popular Introductory Teaching Language at Top U.S. Universities. Retrieved September 16, 2014.

[5] Richards, Adria [adriarichards]. (2013, March 17). Not cool, Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big dongles’. Right behind me #pycon [Tweet]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/03/25/adria-richards-fired-donglegate_n_2948161.html

[6] Woman Fired In ‘Donglegate’ Row. (2013, March 25). Retrieved September 16, 2014.

The Complexity of Women Helping Women In the Tech Industry

When looking at the numbers of  women in technology, especially computer science, we find that they are far outnumbered by male associates and CEOs[1]. And it can be discouraging for women pursuing careers in this industry. This is particularly applicable to the female entrepreneurs at the investment stage of a new technology company. For example, when pitching to an audience full of male investors, women are often turned away without real consideration for their products or ideas regarding technology, simply because they are female[2]. One straightforward solution to this problem is that women should pitch to women, or rather startups that cater to women, and they will have better luck. While this might be true and very beneficial to female entrepreneurs, it is a complex solution.

This solution appears beneficial on a surface level, but in reality it also reinforces women as the “other” in the world of entrepreneurship and startups. It almost gives male investors an excuse to push aside female startups and direct them to female investors. Many women realize this and openly acknowledge that this furthers the idea that women can’t thrive in a male-dominant field.  In the article by Issie Lapowsky, “This is What Tech’s Ugly Gender Problem Really Looks Like” from Wired, Danielle Weinblatt, Founder and CEO of the company Take the Interview, admits she is frustrated with this so-called solution[3]. Before she closed the deal for her company, Weinblatt was often redirected to female investors. She understood this was meant to be a solution to her being turned down by male investors, but it made her “feel like being a woman is something to overcome”.[4] In other words, it might be comforting for women to seek other women on the grounds that their gender won’t be held against them, but it also means that women are unable to break through the “bro-culture”.

Part of the complexity of women entrepreneurs seeking funding specifically for women, is admitting that we need these companies. There are empowering and progressive intentions behind these companies[5]. Yet at the same time, it says something about how women may not be able to go past this. Women should eventually be able to pitch to male investors without any concerns that gender could hold them back.  According to Scarlett Sieber, vice president of Operations at Infomous, if we keep business exclusively between women, we aren’t making as much progress as we could if we included men[6].  If there was a balance of sorts, perhaps as long as we encourage female and male investors, it won’t necessarily be understood as a handicap to some. As we have often said in class, in order to make some major changes, we have to start small. Perhaps starting small means admitting that sometimes women need to help women, while also including men in the conversation about the gender gap.

[1] Miller, Claire. “Technology’s Man Problem”. New York Times. 5 April 2014. Web 16 Sept. 2014

[2] Lapowsky, Issie. “This Is What Tech’s Ugly Gender Problem Really Looks Like”. Wired. 28 July 2014. Web 16 Sept. 2014

[3] Lapowsky

[4] Lapowsky

[5]  Casserly, Meghan. “Tipping the Scales: Women Angel Investing Reaches All-Time High”. Forbes. 25 April 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014

[6] Sieber, Scarlett. “Including Men in the Conversation About Women”. Huffington Post: The Blog. 02 June 2014. Web 17 Sept. 2014.