Why do we not have enough women programmers?

Without being a sexist, if I were to ask you the number of intelligent women programmers that you know of, how many do you think that would be. Of course you can argue that more men work at IT companies, so the number will be obviously low. You can also argue that more man get educated than women, so more men make it to IT jobs.

No matter what your argument is, the data on this issue says another story. A story, which is a real concern

  • In the U.S. in 2009, women earned 57% of all undergraduate degrees, 52% of all math and science degrees, 59% of the undergraduate degrees in biology and 42% of mathematics degrees, but only 18% of all computer and information sciences undergraduate degrees.

  • Women’s quit rate in technology exceeds that in other science and engineering fields; 56% of women in technology companies leave their organizations at the mid-level point (10-20 years) in their careers.

  • 57% of the professional occupations were held by women in the workforce, but 25% of the computing workforce were women in 2011

  • In Stanford, in 2011, 56% of test-takers were female, 46% of Calculus test-takers were female, and only 19% of Computer Science test-takers were female.

The last point is particularly worrying, because there is a direct correlation between mathematical ability and proficiency in computer science. Why are there so few women in technology?

Surveys by various agencies brought the following points to light

  • 74% of girls were interested in STEM fields and subjects.

  • About half of all girls feel that STEM isn’t a typical career path for girls. 57% of girls say that if they went into a STEM career, they’d have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously.

  • 81% of STEM girls are interested in pursuing STEM career, but only 13% say it is their first choice.

So there are few inferences from the above data

  • Women can do everything that it takes to be awesome at coding.

  • Even if they do become awesome at it, most of them quit half way.

  • Over time, careers in computer sciences have become less interesting to women.

  • However, STEM is still interesting to women; they only don’t want to work on it.

  • Male dominated workplaces seem to be a contributing factor to this.

So what do the women who have made it big in technology have to say about this? I interviewed Lynn Langit, who’s one of the first Google Cloud engineers, and had been an exec at Microsoft as well, and she said something shocking -

“My parents were farmers and they discouraged me from further pursuing it. They’d say ‘honey girls don’t do maths’. This has changed drastically over the years and I am quite old, but I believe that to a large extent the belief still exists.”

One of Sheryl Sandberg’s greatest lines on the issue was - “We don’t raise our daughters to be as ambitious as our sons. Last month, there were t-shirts sold [at Gymboree] that said 'Smart like Daddy' for the boys and 'Pretty like Mommy.' Not in 1951. Last month.”

So, it’s cultural.

It has been carried forward, generation after generation, and I think we can arrive at a consensus that women in general have not been encouraged to take their careers seriously. They were expected to lead on the family front, where they would build homes, as the patriarch would be the breadwinner, hence taking their profession more seriously.

Newsflash - this has changed!

Men and women are equally independent and the society presents both genders with the same opportunities when it comes to building a career. But the systems that run the society haven't changed.

I think it's coded into a woman's DNA to not take their careers as seriously as a man and the change of that mindset starts at home. Treating children of both genders in the same way with respect to academics and career can change that. Make the girl child feel that they must earn a living for themselves by doing something that they love to do. And IT being the lucrative industry that it is, will automatically attract woman talent.

Also talent is created at school. Schools must teach children the art of picking up subjects on their own. Education must lay emphasis on creativity and innovation, and not so much on grades. Getting good grades and learning a subject well is slowly losing correlation, as it is easy to mug up answers to a theoretical question. We must teach our children to apply what they've learnt and children will innovate; male and female alike.

Of course, the points that people like Lynn and Sheryl raise are true for people who are already a product of this system. But it is difficult to change. If there is any hope for an equal representation of genders in IT, it has got to change from the grass roots level.

If you've reached this point, some of you are probably thinking, what difference will women bring to technology. Well, I don't know about difference, but there will be more developers, which is always a good thing. But on a larger level, equal representation of genders is a sign of how evolved a society is. An evolved society empowers everyone with the choice to do whatever they want to. And if 81% of women in education are interested in pursuing a career in STEM, then they should be empowered with the right conditions to do exactly that.

Until we can do that, we will never evolve as a society.

Data source - http://sheplusplus.stanford.edu/sheStatistics.pdf

About the Author

Raghu Mohan
Raghu is an engineering grad handles Marketing at HackerEarth. Prior to this, he was an editor at YourStory.com. When he’s not working, you can find him at the nearest music shop having a jam session.
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