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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