Computer Science Article
Why are so few women pursuing tech careers?
The Press Democrat
01/15/2017 – Page B11
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A major problem that has been gaining attention lately is the lack of women in the tech industry. In 2015, only 17 percent of people pursuing computer science degrees were female, as opposed to 15 percent in 1965. While this may seem like an improvement, this number is much lower than the 37 percent seen in the 1980s. Clearly, just stating the need for more diversity in tech careers is not enough to actually solve the problem. If we want to begin fixing this problem, work must be done on a societal level.
Why does this diversity problem exist? The simple answer would be to blame it on a lack of interest. However, one source of the gender divide stems from deeply ingrained societal teachings. As children, certain interests are labeled as either “masculine” or “feminine.” Boys are encouraged to pursue more exploratory interests, such as math, science and technology, while girls are steered toward nurturing activities, such as nursing and teaching. Because boys are encouraged to aspire to “masculine” careers, we see an overwhelming number of men who decide to pursue careers in the tech sector. Because men have historically dominated these fields, men have a plethora of role models while women have very few.
Also these female role models are often overshadowed by their male counterparts. This gender gap perpetuates because women are not encouraged by society and lack the substantial number of role models needed to inspire the drive to break into the male-dominated tech field. Seeing that this problem is so deeply rooted in our society, fixing it is not a simple task that can be achieved overnight.
One major step we can take is to have teachers from early childhood through college make a conscious effort to overcome unintentional biases. In the classroom setting, women are more likely to be interrupted than men and are often asked fewer or easier questions. Denying that these biases exist only allows for their perpetuation and hurts those affected by them.Another important step we can take is to have a substantial representation of women in the tech industry for women to aspire toward in their careers.
In addition to providing role models, an important step we can take is to not only encourage women but to actively support them in their endeavors. Women tend to have lower self-esteem than men, and this lack in faith can stop many from even trying. However, if we make the effort to include, mentor and value their work, then they will be more likely to excel.
One such way we can work to include women is to shift the classroom from a competitive one to a cooperative one. In an environment that already sends women the message that they aren’t as valuable as their male counterparts, many women see the competition to be the best student as one they can never win and therefore give up along the way. If we encourage students to work together to solve problems, a method that is extremely common in industry, not only will all students be better prepared for when they graduate, but women will also have a fighting chance at succeeding.
Ashley Rosenberg is a senior computer science major at the University of Portland with a focus on artificial intelligence and game design. She lives in Windsor.