The Best of Systers Blog New Evidence on Why So Few Women in Computer Science
Most of the people in Computer Science are classified as engineers, including myself. And, as engineers, we think that if only we can deconstruct the problem (like we would a broken remote control) that, of course, the answer will become apparent. Isn’t a problem only the sum of its parts?
When it comes to the problem of the lack of women in computing, the problem has been dissected into many different parts: recruitment, retention, gender biases, stereotype threat, simple stereotypes, attrition, biology, and countless others. The problem is that these constructs are just a bit on the fuzzy side in terms of what they mean. For instance, what does it really mean for there to be negative gender stereotypes about women and their ability to do computing? And, how does this affect how women think about their own abilities? Then, how does this translate to them choosing computing and persisting in the field? These are hard questions without simple answers.
Yet, there is hope about what may be causing some of the problems. This recent article covers the research of Susan Silbey’s research into why female students might not want to enter the engineering workplace. In studying women and men at four Massachusetts universities, she found that it isn’t necessarily the fear of work-life-balance that is keeping women away from joining engineering. Instead, Silbey found a key factor was how the women perceived that they would be treated in the workplace.
Just the other day, when someone asked me what I do, I said I’m in computing. They then asked me what it was like to sit in my cube all day. I also know that I’ve been called “little lady” more than once while doing my job. The difference between what is “perceived” and what is real in regards to gender stereotypes looks like it is a critical concern and one that just isn’t affecting those of us who are already in computing. It is stopping those who are interested from ever joining the game. That is some serious negative press.