Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Increasing Female Presence in the Tech Industry: An Alternate Perspective

It’s no secret that the field of technology is widely dominated by men – in fact, the lack of women is a widely circulated issue in of itself. Articles in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Valleywag among other sources blame the phenomenon on male-directed sexual harassment and an unwelcoming environment. This lible, however, is most effective in its ability to drown out alternative explanations for the gender difference, such as the first and foremost reason why few women are working in the technology industry today. Studies carried out by several research groups have cumulatively reached a conclusion: the main reason for the lack of women working in the tech industry is simply that women are largely not interested in it. A field will only be gender-neutral once both sexes develop an even desire to participate in it, and today the tech industry is by far male-dominant. Limited female interest in the field of technology is the reason for their absence, and to remedy this, the idea of technology must be presented as a gender-neutral subject at a young age.

A stereotype seems to loom over the tech industry that women and careers in technology are incompatible, which is a broad and unfair statement to the multitudes of capable women who could potentially work in the field. Regardless, this statement seems to be hardly challenged: there are simply not enough women pursuing a tech career in the first place. Research-based consultancy Penn, Schoen and Berland conducted a study with the Girl Scouts of America, surveying their members as to what their first job choice would be – a sparse 13% responded that they would consider a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) career. Further, IT Manager Daily emphasized that only 18% of females going for a STEM career in their study pursued a tech degree in college, whereas over 80% of males decided to do so. This difference in numbers is far too large to ignore: if there is a demand for more women to be working in the tech industry, then there should be more women attempting to enter the industry in the first place.  

The reason why women are not pursuing the field of technology is rooted in early education – the inherit interest is not developed in high school alongside other subjects. Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org, brought to light in a blog post that there are three primary issues that keep young women from developing an interest in technology. 

1.      Computer science is not taught in U.S. schools (as a required course)
2.      As an elective, it doesn’t contribute to graduation requirements
3.      The nerd stereotype is proven to drive away women.

This matter is further supported by the fact that with topics that are part of the school curriculum or count towards graduation requirements like calculus, biology, and chemistry, female to male participation is nearly 50/50. If computer science was to be taught as a required subject in school, there would undoubtedly be an influx of female participants due to early integration in the field. Furthermore, with females not pursuing the field in the first place, younger girls see no appeal in the field and therefore have no desire to attempt it. With boys consistently participating in computer science courses and clubs, younger males develop an interest through their older peers and as a result dominate the field. This results in computer science being attached with an overarching masculine ‘nerd’ stereotype, which rebuffs female interest. The odd girl who gains an interest in computer science and rejects the stereotype will be confronted with instruction directed towards male interests, alienating her as she is an anomaly within a usually consistent field. The very issue of having too few females in the technology industry is derived from the fact that there are too few females making an attempt to join it in the first place. 

What can be taken away from these revelations is that if there is a desire to have greater female presence in the tech industry, then there must simply be efforts made to garner female interest in the field. Complaints and blame of sexism and exclusion can be traced back to what normally occurs when an imbalance of any social type takes place: the majority rejects the minority. Men in the tech industry do not need to change – the male stigma hanging over the field of technology itself must be removed. If computer science and technology courses were taught to children as gender-neutral subjects, there would undoubtedly be a shared interest in the future for men and women alike. In essence, a de-masculinization of the concept of technology must occur, and in doing so will create an even playing field men and women alike.

Hadi Partovi’s discoveries:

Sexism in STEM fields, Perception or Reality?

When I started as an architect in my home country, I worked in a civil engineering company, which I was the only female working alongside of twelve men.  Given my interest in architecture, I continue to work in my role despite the harassment or comments I heard most days. I used my interest and expertise to change the environment; I worked and receive the respect that I deserved. 

After many years of struggle, nowadays, women play a major role in our society alongside of men.  Recent studies of higher education graduates indicate a higher number of women graduating from our schools than men. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), women comprise 48 percent of the U.S. workforce but just only 24 percent of STEM workers. (STEM is an abbreviation of academic specialization in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields).

According to the article, “Technology’s Man Problem” Among the women who join the STEM field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men, according to research from the Harvard Business School.

Given the data provided and many other examples, we witness a clear indication of discrepancies that exist in employment and involvement of females versus men in STEM fields. For many, provided these discrepancies, is easy to draw the conclusion that we are facing a real scenario of sexism in STEM fields. To further this thought, some public speakers and opinion shapers in the industry are also playing a significant role in advancing this argument. For example, in the article “Technology’s Man Problem”, Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described working in tech; “I’ve been a programmer for 13 years, and I’ve always been one of the only women and queer people in the room. I’ve been harassed, I’ve had people make suggestive comments to me, I’ve had people basically dismiss my expertise.” She continues, “A lot of times that makes me want to leave… and is it right for me to have to leave when I’m not creating the problem?”

I truly agree that different degrees of sexism exist in all type of industries.  Howev that is not limited to only one industry or nation. In my personal experience, when I was studying architecture in my home country, as part of my research in building material, I had to interview one physicist after another. But when I was almost done with my research, I came to realize that although I had interviewed many physicists, none of them were female. So this problem is not limited to our boarders. 

But here, I would like to make my case that although such discrepancies exist, the problem is not the perceived sexism but it is the reality of shortage in female candidates in the field.
Social scientists believe there are various reasons for the existence of this gender gap in STEM fields, and seeking ways to increase diversity within STEM fields. According to a recent study in the “Journal of Hormones and Behavior”, we see a significant role biology plays in influencing our interest in things, which explains women innate interest in people related careers.  Specifically, according to the “Department of Labor” website in year 2010 stat shows, 91.1 percent of registered nurses comprise of female, also 80.8 percent of social workers.  In my opinion, most these nurses and social workers are also facing suggestive comment, harassment and verbal abuse, but yet majority of these roles are fulfills with females.  So I argue women real interest in these fields overcoming the problem their face at work.

 According to the recent study in the “Journal of Hormones and Behavior”, they found that genetics play a key role in the career choices we make.  In short, men become astronauts and women prefer nursing because of our biological nature, not just environmental factors. Biological explanations tend to provide better answers for gender differences in our career.  For example, Biological studies in this zone showed that women have less Three-dimension imagination than men. It means females have difficulty picturing ideas or shapes in forms of 3D in their mind. But same studies have also shown that such skills can be thought and developed in women given systematic exercises and practice. 

Despite growth in entrepreneurship, women lead only 8 percent of technology start-ups.  And while women obtain the majority of college degrees, they represent only 15 percent of senior management in all industries.  Given the significant role we have seen biology plays in influencing are interest, I believe we need to raise the interest of females in STEM careers in there early age.  We need to create an environment, which interest in science and technology can grow by nature at a young age, so girls won’t stand out on the sidelines as the boys participate in science fairs.

Therefore I argue that we should find ways to show females ways in which their interest in people is compatible with STEM careers.