Current State of Women and Technology

Understanding the Bro Culture in Tech

Women face a large struggle in technological fields. In fact, only about twenty percent of computer programmers in the US are female.1 There are many reasons for this disparity, but one common claim is that men in computer science-related fields actively persecute women in computing by discouraging their involvement through a cultural phenomenon known as “bro culture” or the “bro code”. In short, bro culture is a form of social interaction that perpetuates masculinity over femininity. In his film The Bro Code, Thomas Keith, an anti-sexism activist, filmmaker, author, and lecturer, has theorized that “forces in [popular and] male culture condition boys and men to dehumanize and disrespect women.”2 (more…)

Female Characters in Video Games

When it comes to the characterization of women in video games, several sources suggest that to be a female characters are the background eye-candy for the player, the damsel in distress to be saved rather than one who directly takes action. The female character, in contrast to the powerful, dominant male hero, is portrayed as requiring constant aid or rescuing over the course of the story, often exhibited as an overtly sexual figure to be desired and lusted after. This is apparent when examining how female characters are portrayed via their clothing or appearance in video games as many are “dressed in such a way as to bring attention to their bodies, particularly their breasts”.[1] This provocative look, in turn, takes away notions of the women as characters and portrays them more like objects or goals for the player to reach.

In many cases, “while there are instances in which female characters are portrayed as positive role models, in general most games minimize the roles of females,”[2] further creating the sense of women as passive inactive objects for the player to court and protect. Furthermore, women in video games are often considered lesser in comparison to their significant male counterpart, the character of Ms. Pacman being a prime example. According to Anita Sarkeesian, the example of Ms. Pacman articulates the principle of the ‘Ms. Male Character,’ a female character “defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts”.[3] In terms of the Ms. Male Character principle, the female character exists only because of the popularity or relevance of her male counterpart, once again submitting the notion that women in video games lack a distinct, strong identity.

However, I find myself feeling more optimistic on the subject, taking characters such as Ellie from The Last of Us or Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as female characters that are more than simple sexual tools or Ms. Male characters. While the claim that female characters are not considered as important as male characters might seem like a statement with strong evidence, I like to believe that things are not so black and white. Many good franchises exist out there where there are women who do more than just fade in the background or exist to motivate the male characters. As we grow and evolve as a society, I am confident that more female characters will begin to pop up and thrive as powerful, strong figures in video games.

[1] This quote can be found in Berrin Beasley and Tracy Collins Standley’s Academic article on clothing as an indicator of gender and stereotyping in video games. Mass Communication and Society, Vol. 5 Issue 3 (2002): 279-293.

[2] This quote can be found in Tracy L. Dietz’s academic article on Violence and Gender Portrayals in Video Games. Sex Roles, Vol. 38 No. 516 (1998): 425-442.

[3] This quote taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqYLfm1rWA and features an intellectual discussion and examination of the Ms. Male Character principle.

Building the Future of Women in Technology on the Global Stage

The disparity of women in the fields of computer science and technology is much more than a national issue. The distinctly unbalanced ratio of men to women in the technology field is a global pattern that spans from modernized first world societies like the U.S. to developing African nations like Ghana.

In the U.S., the recent surge of increasing the participation of women in the areas of programming, critical thinking, coding, and executive level leadership has taken key steps to meet the growing demand for technology professionals. Recognizing the lack of encouragement for young girls to become interested and passionate about STEM fields, many programs from Google’s Made with Code program, to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Code Camp, and even local startups such as the San Antonio VentureLab, have begun to address this issue by targeting younger generations of girls.

The U.S seems to be on the forefront of the global movement to integrate women in STEM fields. With approximately 82% of the population having Internet access in the U.S, the accessibility of getting young kids, particularly girls, involved with educational programs is highly achievable.[1] In comparison, African nations represent only 9.8% of the total world’s population with Internet access. [2] These conditions are particularly discouraging for the advancement of women in STEM fields in African nations, mainly because of the lack of resources that are critical to teach younger generations about technology. African women and young girls in particular are at a severe disadvantage, as they are not often encouraged to pursue a professional career in general. However, the first ever pan-African Women in Tech took place recently on August 2, 2014, in which multiple live viewing events in Uganda, South Africa and Ghana connected women across the African continent to discuss matters of technological initiatives to raise awareness and reach potential African women interested in STEM related fields. [3]

As these tech initiatives begin to gain momentum in the U.S, other countries look to follow along with startup organizations of their own. One noteworthy recent startup is gaining momentum in African nation of Ghana. Here, Regina Agyare has taken Ghana’s first steps to invite young women into the world of technology with her mentorship program, appropriately named Tech Needs Girls.[4] Recognizing that the technology industry is a fast growing and highly lucrative field, Agyare feels it is imperative to introduce young girls to critical thinking technological-based skills.

Building upon her personal experience in the technology industry- Agyare was the first female IT specialist at the International Bank of Ghana in Accra- she knows first-hand how difficult it is for women to break into this male-dominant field.[5] After six years of working as an IT specialist for the International Bank, a very high paying job for a woman in the technology business, Agyare left her job in 2012 and begin her own software development company called Sornoko Solutions.[6] Literally translated, Sornoko means unique in Agyare’s native language of Twi.

Agyare, the company’s founder, and lead software developer, has continued to expand Sornoko Soultion’s very unique mission of integrating technology into Ghanaian communities so that individuals can learn to use technology to enhance their everyday lives.[7] In particular, Sornoko has developed apps and software for the disabled. Recently, Sornoko has been working on developing an app that will convert text into sign language for deaf individuals.[8] In the non-profit sector, the skills development program, Tech Needs Girls, aims at teaching the next generation of women to “speak up and stand tall” while claiming their place in the STEM fields, according to Agyare. [9] Agyare’s involvement in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders encouraged her to use an interdisciplinary approach when introducing younger girls to the technology field. [10] The incorporation of technology skills with fields such as engineering, design, math, social planning, and entrepreneurship broadens the horizon of potential careers for young girls involved with Tech Needs Girls, and other similar programs for girls around the world.

Entrepreneurial tech companies such as Sornoko, in association with programs teaching younger generations, such as Tech Needs Girls, have begun to build a foundation for advancing the female percentage in STEM fields. As this trend spreads from the US to African nations like Ghana and to other parts of the world, there is great hope for a future of women in technology because of the efforts and leadership of women like Regina Agyare.

 

[1] Internet User Trends. (2014) Provided by International Telecommunication Union , United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India, and The World Bank. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

[2] http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ (see footnote 1)

[3] Ninyeh, Albert A. ( July 30 2014) “3 Countries Team Up For First Pan African ‘Women In Tech’ Meetup” InfoBoxDaily. http://infoboxdaily.com/index.php/component/k2/item/1672-3-countries-team-up-for-first-pan-african-women-in-tech-meetup

[4] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (26 March 2014). “5 reasons technology world needs more geek girls.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/tech/5-reasons-tech-needs-geek-girls/index.html?iref=allsearch

[5] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[6] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[7] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[8] Soronko Soultions. “Apps for the Disabled” http://www.soronkosolutions.com/apps.html

[9] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[10] U.S. Dept. of State. Young African Leaders Initiative: Meet the Fellows https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/meet-the-fellows-regina-agyare/

Women led start-ups less likely to receive venture capital funding

When someone says ‘high-tech entrepreneur,’ the first thought that comes to my mind is not typically ‘woman.’ More often than not the first things are probably, ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ or (more generally stated) ‘men.’ This is because often times, companies started and run by women are overlooked or discredited by investors simply because women are at the helm. Now, this is not always an overt display of discrimination[1], but rather investors invest in what they are comfortable with; a practice called “pattern matching,” or “trying to invest in founders who remind them of other successful entrepreneurs”[2]. And even though high-tech start-ups founded and run by diverse groups are more likely to succeed[3], women led start-ups are far less likely to receive venture capital funding. [4]

The fact is, 40 percent of privately owned businesses are owned by women, but only about 10 percent of “venture-backed start-ups” are led by women.[5] In a report published by Illuminate Ventures, a venture capital firm that seeks out “innovative business ideas led by committed and talented teams,” the author found that not only were women-led, high-tech companies successful, they were also more “capital efficient than the norm.” The study found that the “average venture-backed company run by a woman” had similar “early-year revenues,” using an average of “one-third less committed capital.”[6] In a separate study sponsored by Dow Jones, start-ups with “five or more” women were 61 percent successful compared to 39 percent that failed.[7] However, research conducted by the Kauffman Foundation revealed that between 2004 and 2007 women started merely three percent of technology firms, and one percent of high-tech firms.[8]

These numbers are staggering, especially considering that in 2012 “an estimated 126 million women were starting or running new businesses in 67 economies around the world.”[9] Where is that statistic in the high-tech industry? Where are women venture capitalists? All of the shortcomings found in The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report can be attributed to status expectations and gender roles in business and in the technology industry. It is unfortunate, but true that these gender biases exist in modern business. Women should not be discriminated against (either overtly or covertly) because of their gender. Venture capitalists need to be more aware of the changing climate for business; it’s no longer an all-boys-club. As the trend obviously shows, if venture capitalists intend to make money in the years to come, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to look to new, innovative, and women-led companies.

[1] Kelley, Donna J., Candida G. Brush, Patricia G. Greene, and Yana Litovsky. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report. Rep. The Center For Women’s Leadership, 31 July 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

[2] Chafkin, Max. “The Ugly Truth about Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem.” Fast Company. N.p., 12 May 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.

[3] Canning, Jessica, Maryam Haque, and Yimeng Wang. Women at the Wheel: Do Female Executives Drive Start-Up Success? Rep. Dow Jones and Company Inc., Sept. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

[4] Gates, Lisa. “Do Women Have a Unique Genome for Startup Success?” Forbes. Forbes, Inc., 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[5] See footnote 4

[6] Padnos, Cindy. High Performance Entrepreneurs: Women In High-Tech. Rep. Illuminate Ventures, 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[7] See footnote 3

[8] Robb, Alicia M., and Susan Coleman. 2009. Sources of financing for new technology firms: A comparison by gender. The Kauffman Foundation.

[9] See footnote 1

Girls Need More Encouragement

One of the reasons women are a minority in tech-related fields is that they are rarely encouraged to pursue a career in STEM at a young age. Providing role models for young girls and encouraging them to explore their options in a science-, math-, or technology-related field is key to closing the gender gap and getting more women involved in these careers.

Multiple journalists agree that the answer to closing the gender gap depends on the kind of education young girls are getting. Alicia Chang, a writer for huffingtonpost.com, mentions in “Bridging the Gender Gap: Encouraging Girls in STEM Starts at Home” how “the majority of studies show no differences in STEM ability, a large divide in perceived competence starts [at an early age]” [1]. She argues that growing up, women do not feel as confident to go into STEM-related fields because they are not as encouraged by parents and teachers. Forbes writer Heather Huhman also wrote an article asking “where is the female equivalent of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg?” She also mentions how the lack of female role models in computer science inhibits the closing of the gender gap in this field[2]. She argues that girls will be less likely to follow in the steps of someone they can’t relate as a role model. Stereotypes and pop culture also play important roles. Media seldom portray women in computer science and rely on portraying programmers as geeky men.[3] The environment in which girls are growing up is not helping them believe they have the potential to become computer scientists or engineers. In a The Baltimore Sun article, Danae King, agrees that women need to be more encouraged by those around them to become interested in math and science and adds that “many girls’ interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math wanes as they get older because of socialization and lack of exposure and access” [4]. In her article, King also praises Towson University’s tech camp that include female instructors to serve as role models for young women interested in the field[5]. These kinds of camps are important to closing the gender gap since they present STEM fields as something attainable and fun for girls.

Confidence and belief in one’s capabilities is important for personal growth and development. If women are not encouraged more often by their parents, teachers, and friends that they  have the potential to become engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, the gender gap will still be present in the future. Tech companies are doing a good job at trying to reach out and get girls interested at an early age, but there is still a lot to be done.

[1] Chang, A. “Bridging the Gender Gap: Encouraging Girls in STEM Starts at Home.” Huffington Post. Dec 27 2013. Web. Sep 16 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alicia-chang/bridging-the-gender-gap-encouraging-girls-in-stem_b_4508787.html

[2] Huhman, H. “STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?” Forbes. Jun 4 2012. Web. Sep 16 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-gap-where-are-the-women/

[3] Huhman, H. “STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?” Forbes. Jun 4 2012. Web. Sep 16 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-gap-where-are-the-women/

 

[4] King, D. “Tech Camps, Other Programs, Hope to Keep Girls Interested in STEM Fields.” The Baltimore Sun. Jul 25 2014.Web.Sep162014.http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-women-in-stem-20140725,0,280615.story

[5] King, D. “Tech Camps, Other Programs, Hope to Keep Girls Interested in STEM Fields.” The Baltimore Sun. Jul 25 2014.Web.Sep162014.http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-women-in-stem-20140725,0,280615.story

 

Stereotype Threat and Its Effect on Women in STEM

Today, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, are largely dominated by men. Though there are many claims as to why more men than women pursue jobs in these fields, one important claim is that there is a negative stereotype that men are smarter and will be more successful in these subjects than women, which discourages women and can lower their performance in these areas.

One crucial study that supports this claim was carried out by Steven J. Spencer and Claude M. Steele in an attempt to test how women’s awareness of negative stereotypes, or stereotype threat, affected their performance on a math test. The study showed that when men and women participants were told of gender differences (men testing higher than women in the past), women performed poorly in comparison to men. However, when the participants were not told of gender differences, men and women performed equally well.[1] Another study by Toni Schmader and Matthias Mehl showed that when female scientists talked to female colleagues, they sounded completely competent, but when they talked to male colleagues, their speech sounded uncertain. Schmader and Matthias suggest that women sounded more uncertain when talking to male colleagues because they were aware of the stereotype threat and were worried about sounding incompetent and confirming this stereotype.[2] Finally, a study carried out by Anne Maass, Claudio D’Ettole, and Mara Cadinu, tested the performance of females in two online chess matches. Although this study did not test performance in a STEM related subject, it showed that when female players were unaware of their opponent’s sex, they performed equally well with males, but when the females knew their opponent was male, their performances weakened.[3]

I think this claim is completely valid and has strong evidence supporting it. In high school, my calculus class had mostly male students and was taught by a male teacher. I can think of times when I felt I was not as smart as some of the boys in my class and thinking that it was just because they were more mathematically gifted than me. From having this experience and reading these studies, I think it is important that we encourage an open mindset in STEM classes and that we encourage girls from a young age to explore their interests in STEM fields.

[1] Spencer, Steven J., Claude M. Steele, and Diane M. Quinn. “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 35.1 (1999): 4-28. Web. 16 Sept. 2014

[2] Vedantam, Shankar. “How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science.” NPR. NPR, 12 July 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2014

[3] Maass, Anne, Claudio D’ettole, and Mara Cadinu. “Checkmate? The Role of Gender Stereotypes in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport.” European Journal of Social Psychology 38.2 (2008): 231-45. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.

Women and the Bro-Culture

The field of technology is still very male-dominated, and because of this, a culture has developed, specifically a “bro-culture,” the equivalent to a stereotypical fraternity mixed with the tech world.[1] Over the past decades, the number of women in tech continues to decline partially because women feel ostracized and threatened by the “bro-culture.”[2]

The reasons for this feeling of isolation are simple. One, many male leaders and employees of start-ups use sexist jokes at conferences and in advertisements.[3] Second, women, who try and call out this behavior, are often verbally attacked and, thus, other women, who continue to witness this sexism, choose to suffer in silence or to just give up.[4] At one particular conference, a 28-year old executive at the social media company Path proceeded to give a talk about adding value to one’s startup. Within this talk, he made jokes about not holding “gangbang interviews,” and about sending “‘bikini shots’ from a ‘nudie calendar’” to get a job.[5] There have been other instances of offensive behavior at conferences, including a joke app called “Circle Shake,” which “measures how hard someone can shake a phone.” This required the designers to stand up a stimulate masturbation during their talk.[6]

Now these are just a few instances, where women may have been isolated by the “bro-culture.” There have been others that continue to push women to the boundaries of tech. But, when these women try and call out these male leaders on their sexist and inappropriate behavior, they are often attacked. Adria Richards, a developer for the company SendGrid, was fired after she tweeted about two male developers who made sexual jokes while sitting behind her at a conference.[7] After conference officials proceeded to escort both men out of the conference, many people took to social media to criticize Richards for “not being able to take a joke.”[8] Being harassed, threatened and, subsequently, fired are just a few things that the majority of people wish to avoid. I believe that today women continue to leave tech, or avoid it, because of “bro-culture,” which permits this kind of behavior and label it as “professional.”

[1] Macmillan, Douglas. “The Rise of the ‘Brogrammer.’” Bloomberg Businessweek: Technology. Bloomberg Businessweek, 01 Mar 2012. Web. 03 Oct 2014.

[2] Macmillan

[3] Oremus, Will. “Brogrammers Wanted.” Slate. Slate.com. 02 Aug 2012. Web. 03 Oct 2014.

[4] Kornblum, Janet. “Get with the bro-gram, ladies.” The Daily Dot. Dailydot.com. 11 Sept 2013. Web. 17 Sept 2014.

[5] Raja, Tasneem. “’Gangbang Interviews’ and ‘Bikini Shots’: Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem.” Mother Jones. Mother Jones Mag., 26 Apr 2012. Web. 17 Sept 2014.

[6] Kornblum

[7] Romano, Aja. “In defense of Adria Richards and call-out culture.” The Daily Dot. Dailydot.com. 22 Mar 2013. Web. 17 Sept 2014.

[8] Holt, Kris. “How a ‘big dongle’ joke brought out the worst of the internet.” The Daily Dot. Dailydot.com 20 Mar 2013. Web. 03 Oct 2014.

The Technology Gender Gap and the Third World

Most of the discussion about women and technology has centered on first world and developed countries. These conversations usually involve statistics about how women are underrepresented in tech industry jobs, or how not as many women are majoring in computer science as they were 30 years ago.[1] While this is valuable discussion and a change does need to occur, there are still thousands, if not millions, of women who still do not even have access to technology, let alone the ability to work in the industry, especially in poor countries. As Wendy Boswell, a programmer from Intel, pointed out on the company blog: “Enabling Internet access for more women and girls in developing countries promises immediate, and immense, benefits.” [2]

Corinne Woods, the global director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign points out that “in low and middle income countries, a woman is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone” and that this results in disempowerment of women in less developed countries. [3] Women are also 25-45% less likely than men to be online in developing countries, depending on the area.[4] Clearly, women in developing countries have difficulty just gaining access to technologies such as the Internet and cell phones. As Boswell points out, if Internet access was made available in these countries, there would be “another 600 million women online.”[5] While this may not directly lead to more women in coding right away, if women in these areas at least become more familiar with technology and the opportunities it provides, more women may be willing to get into coding and other related computer science jobs.

Intel has started a program called “She Will Connect” with this exact idea in mind. This program will focus on teaching girls and young women in underdeveloped countries how to navigate the Internet and hopefully get them interested in coding. [6] By targeting this large population of women who do not even have access to the Internet, it can become very easy to increase the percentage of women who hold computing and various other tech jobs. If more tech companies follow in Intel’s footsteps and give women in underdeveloped countries the access to and knowledge of technology they need, the technology gender gap will begin to close.

[1] Kelly, Maura (2012). “A Girl in a Tech World.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maura-kelly/a-girl-in-a-tech-world-an_b_1443841.html

[2] Boswell, Wendy (2013). “Closing the Technology Gender Gap with ‘She Will Connect.’” Intel Developer Zone Blogs. https://software.intel.com/en-us/blogs/2013/11/01/closing-the-technology-gender-gap-with-she-will-connect

[3] Woods, Corinne (2014). “How Technology Widens the Gender Gap.” Reuters. http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/03/21/how-technology-widens-the-gender-gap/

[4] Antonio, Amy and David Tuffley (2014). “Digital Literacy in the Developing World: A Gender Gap.” The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/digital-literacy-in-the-developing-world-a-gender-gap-28650

[5] Boswell.

[6] Boswell.