Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where did the women go?

This article in NY Times has new numbers on the participation of women in the computing/programming work force. New and much worse than I had realized. The decline of the percentage of women who have jobs in software engineering was a shock to me perhaps because the particular place I work does have closer to 20% women and they work as both senior managers, researchers and engineers. The gains in technical fields by women stand in stark contrast to the decline in the computing related disciplines. WTF is going on? The article presents several theories but no consensus or even much breadth of agreement is reported for any of these ideas:
  • The popular perceptions have changed from computer-as-tool in business or science due to the rise of computer gaming which is culturally male.
  • The notion that computing is a geeky pursuit has become more wide spread and girls are turned off to that.
  • Nursing, for instance, is more attractive in terms of employment prospects.
  • In order for women to feel uninhibited about pursuing a computing career, it helps for them to have been raised in a home where both parents had careers in technical fields and computing was a visible activity in the household.
If that last notion held water, my daughter would be in computing instead of ecology...a well adjusted upbringing is a not a predictor of career outcomes but quite the opposite since it is the greatest granter of freedom to choose an interest.
I don't buy any of those explanations. The "build a computer game girls like and you will wind up with women programmers" seems a slight favorite among the researchers queried but it strikes me as terminally male-chauvinist: Just because the gaming route is an attraction to the field for men does not mean it should be for women.
I will buy and review Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming when I my projects at work stop spilling over into my hours at home;)

DOH! its the friggen hours! Its the unbalance of work and home life?

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