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:

No comments:

Post a Comment