IT Employment

IT gender gap: Where are the female programmers?

Justin James presents data points and theories about why more women aren't getting into and staying in development roles, particularly in Western cultures.

 

My friend Chris Eargle spoke at the Cairo Code Camp several weeks ago, and when I watched the slideshow from the event, I was amazed that nearly 50% of the attendees were women. Based on my experience, reader feedback, and news reports, I believed the number of female IT pros was declining.

Interesting data points

I decided to research the IT gender gap. I learned a number of facts -- many of which lead to even more questions.

Looking at the BLS numbers, it is interesting that these professions attract more women (as a percentage) than software engineers (20.2%):

  • Bailiffs, correctional officers, jailers (26.9%)
  • Chief executives (25.0%)
  • Database administrators (35.3%)
  • Biological scientists (45.1%)
  • Chemists and materials scientists (30.0%)
  • Technical writers (50.4%)

Even the professions that are said to have a glass ceiling (such as CEO) have more women in them than software development. Based on the number of science positions listed in the BLS data with substantial numbers of women in them, it is clear that the myth that women are afraid of math or science is just plain wrong (even if less than 1% of mathematicians are women). And given the bizarre outlier of DBAs at 35.3%, and technical writers at 50.4%, we can see that women certainly do not dislike computing fields in general.

Theories about why more women aren't in IT

F/LOSS-specific reasons The fact that only 1.5% of free/Libre/open source software (F/LOSS) developers are women is quite befuddling. In his Datamation article, Bruce Byfield makes it sound like a lot of the gender gap was because male developers are much more willing to spend their free time programming. This makes some sense if you stick to the gender stereotypes that men have more enthusiasm for technical subjects, and that women think of it as "just a job," but it falls apart when you consider the fact that 75% of Linux code is coming from people paid to work on it.

So if women are 20% of the programmers, and paid developers are 50% (or more) of the F/LOSS contributors, it would seem fair to see 10% of the F/LOSS contributors being female, but a 1.5% rate screams out that there is something else going on here. Here are several theories that I read:

  • The F/LOSS community is hostile to women and discourages their participation.
  • Women developers are not attracted to the typical F/LOSS project. (Given the range of F/LOSS projects out there, I can't take this one seriously.)
  • The companies that typically pay developers to contribute to F/LOSS also happen to not hire many women. (This is doubtful, considering that a company the size of IBM would have a hard time being a discriminatory employer on that scale.)
  • Female developers do not do the kind of work that F/LOSS project require. (For example, maybe most F/LOSS projects require C/C++, and maybe few women know C/C++).
Geek culture

Byfield's article about female F/LOSS developers also mentions the culture in F/LOSS projects as a reason for the gender gap. He writes, "...listen to the horror stories female developers tell about sexist remarks or being asked out for dates. Look at the constant trolls on the mailing lists for female developers." This made me think about recently published research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that found the stereotypical IT environment (empty Coke cans, lava lamps, ThinkGeek items, etc.) discourages women from wanting to work in IT or study computer science. Ouch.

Crash and burn projects

It looks like "crash and burn" projects also play a large role in turning women off from development; that said, I do not know many men who like these kinds of projects either. I really do not know why men are more likely to put up with these environments, but my experience has been that mismanaged development projects are the rule, not the exception.

Cultural reasons

Environment certainly plays a role in the gender gap; however, not all cultures seem to have this issue. In June 2002, the Association for Computing Machinery published an excellent article by Vashti Galpin discussing women in computing around the world (membership is required to read the article). These are some of the key data points from the paper:

  • In 1996, females in India were 11.3% of the IT related graduates; in 2002, they were 20.3% of the IT related graduates (nearly doubling in six years).
  • 41% of Iranian CS graduates were female in 1999.
  • In Australia in 1994, 22% of IT graduates were female; by 1998, only 19% of IT graduates were female.
  • Western European countries show females as being less represented in the ranks of computing undergraduates (Germany: 10.5% in 2000, United Kingdom: 19% in 1999, Netherlands: 6.6% in 1999) than in the United States (26.7% in 1998); Northern Europeans (Norway, Sweden, etc.) show the same or more women graduates (Sweden: 30% in 2000, Norway: 23.2% in 1999) as a percentage than the United States for the same years (26.7%).
  • India's percentage of female IT undergraduates doubled (from 12% to 24%) from 1997 to 2000; South Africa had an impressive 32.1% graduates in 1998; Mexico's 1999 number was a whopping 39.2%; and Guyana had an astounding 54.5% of female CS graduates in 2001.

Even though these numbers a bit dated, and in some cases they only studied one or two institutions, we can compare North America's numbers from the 1990s and early 2000s -- in Canada, 12% in 1997 and 24% in 2000, 26.7% in the United States in 1998, and 20.4% in the United States and Canada in 2000 -- to these numbers and get a fairly good understanding of a fundamental idea: the differences in CS graduation rates track cultural boundaries.

One source that I read explained that in India, programming is seen as a "clean" profession in comparison to working in a factory or a farm. Perhaps then what we are really seeing in the United States is that enough professions in fields that women find more attractive than IT have enough open positions so women do not need to go into IT if they want a mentally challenging, high-paying job. For example, 92% of registered nurses in the United States are female, according to the BLS statistics.

Lack of encouragement

In addition to the workplace environment issues, a recent survey shows that a majority of women have been actively discouraged from going after careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. After reading the full report, I had a negative impression of female college students. The report made it seem like the female students are giving up because they lack confidence, or don't feel like they are doing a good job, despite good grades. The report suggests that professors need to act as cheerleaders.

Maybe this rubs me the wrong way because I am a very self-motivated person, but I believe that if you require someone else's approval to know that you are doing a good job, you are probably going to struggle in any challenging career. In my jobs, I have only been told what a super job I was doing at the end of a project or during a review. The way it works in the real world is that you are (hopefully) told when you are underperforming, and you stay employed when you meet or exceed expectations. The idea that college professors need to actively encourage students is laughable.

Here are viewpoints from two women in IT, whom we asked why they think there aren't more women in developer roles.

Nelly Yusupova, the CTO of Webgrrls International, had this to say, which seems to be right inline with the report:

I believe the problems start in a girl's early teen years when they are most influenced and I think it comes down to not having enough positive role models, negative pop culture imagery, and not having access to mentors.

Without positive role models, the problem is self-perpetuating. Girls will not see the opportunities for themselves in technology will not choose careers in technology and therefore there will be fewer role models, and on and on. We are losing out on the pipeline where if you get girls involved early enough in computers and technology, they will have an interest in careers in technology.

Also, girls are inundated with headlines, news stories and by imagery of celebrity, and their debauchery and antics, that is often what today's girls are emulating. The "coolness" or "hip factor" is currently not associated with computer programmers or developers.

"The smart girls don't get the guy" and "the guy is intimidated by the smart girl", those are the messages on TV, in the movies, in music and that is what is happening in real life...our priorities are being influenced by pop culture and that is the message in nearly all of entertainment...

Most actually grow up with a negative stereotype about the technology industry and being a geek. They tend to imagine that, computer professionals and those who work heavily in IT live in a solitary and antisocial worlds, which is not a very appealing image for a young girl growing up.

Arquay Harris, the Director of Engineering for CBS Interactive (TechRepublic's parent company), said:

I think that more women aren't developers because, from a young age, they are not encouraged to pursue the subjects that would allow them to succeed in those roles. The key to being a strong developer is having strong analytical skills. Mathematics and Science are both areas that foster development in those areas and research has shown that those tend to be more male dominated fields. I also think that engineering can be an intimidating profession because there is the perception that it is "too hard" or something that boys do.

While one of the above cited studies shows that 40% of women had experienced some sort of discouragement from pursuing STEM careers, I would love to know what exactly discouragement meant and how it compared to men interested in STEM careers.

For example, if a math teacher took a student who was failing the class and said, "you are not cut out for this kind of work," there is nothing wrong with that -- it is just a statement of truth. But if a teacher said to a student, "you know that you'll never make it in software development because you are a woman," then I think we have found the proverbial smoking gun. But in the numbers I have found and the anecdotes that I have read, I did not find a citation of outright discouragement along those lines. I am sure that this happens; I am positive that there are some parents or teachers who tell young ladies, "Whatever you do, don't go into software development. You'll never find a job and, if you do, the pay will stink because you are a woman." I suspect that it's even more common for the discouragement to be more subtle; for instance, family members and educators asking, "why are you interested in that?" or "wouldn't you rather go to nursing school?" It's interesting to see that the two women we talked to cited a lack of encouragement as opposed to active discouragement.

I think that someone of strong character is going to follow their dreams regardless of what others think. When I was growing up, working with computers wasn't cool regardless of your gender; it also wasn't cool to play Dungeons & Dragons, and I got picked on for doing both activities.

It comes back to culture

My experience and opinion is that female immigrants, and the daughters of immigrants from countries with high numbers of STEM workers (such as East Asia) are a bit overrepresented in the field of software development (I was not able to find concrete numbers that support or disprove this observation).

I feel that the underlying problem is culture and not education or work environment or lack of encouragement; that is, the underlying attitudes towards this kind of work that girls pick up while being raised in the United States and other Western nations.

It's possible that Western students are cheered on and encouraged every step of the way and give up without that constant praise. I have seen this behavior in a number of young people. One study I read a few months ago showed that U.S. students have higher self esteem and rate the quality of their work higher that students in China, India, Japan, etc., but in reality, the quality of their work is sub-par.

I feel like the economic wealth in the United States plays a large role in allowing "coolness" to influence these decisions. Looking at the countries with a lot of female developers, they tend to be poor or developing countries: the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The places with lower rates of female developers are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other wealthier nations. In a poor or developing nation, when there is a chance to do better for yourself, you might be more likely to go for an IT career, regardless of how hard it might be or what other people think. In the United States, for example, people are much more likely to be able to take a "cool" or easier path than IT and still do well for themselves.

Little hope for the future

In a number of articles that I read, there were assertions that women perceive IT and software development to be jobs with little future; it is easy to see where this impression might be coming from, with all of the talk about offshoring and such. But again, we have a perception problem. The BLS expects to see a 22.2% growth in the computer-related job market between 2008 and 2018. When you compare that to the expected 10.1% growth in the job market overall, you see that software development jobs are going to be growing at double the average rate. Furthermore, CS jobs are predicted to account for 60% of the job growth in professional jobs between 2008 and 2018 (Communications of the ACM, March 2010 Vol. 53 No. 3, page 17).

Lack of pay and promotion opportunities Another explanation for the gender gap is that women tend to leave the sciences sooner than men. In a new paper, Jennifer Hunt provides compelling evidence that contrary to popular wisdom, 60% of the excess rate of abandoning the field has to do with pay and promotion opportunities (the paper is gated, and without being a member of a subscribing institution costs $5). Here we are seeing a problem with perception not reality, at least in terms of promotion opportunities. This is an excerpt from the paper (copyright 2010 by Jennifer Hunt):

Excess female exits from a field are not influenced by the field's working hours, wages, or share of workers in management, though these are all positively correlated with the male share. The implication is that a lack of mentoring and networks, or discrimination by managers and co-workers are the more promising of the existing explanations for excess female exits, and that explanations hinging on the precise nature of engineering work should be discarded. The slight excess female exits from science for family-related reasons are not accounted for by the share of trained scientists that is male.

Although women often cite a lack of promotion opportunities and pay gaps as their reasons for leaving science fields, the numbers show that the actual numbers regarding "working hours, wages, or share of workers in management" have nothing to do with "excess female exits from a field." The author takes this to mean that women are simply not getting the right mentoring and networking, although I find this hard to believe given what I see as the overrepresentation of women in management.

My take is that either women are not seeing the reality for what it is or the potential mentoring and networking simply is not happening for whatever reason.

Is this actually a problem?

Two things that came up in discussions elsewhere was, "is this actually a problem?" and "how would you fix it if it were a problem?" I am not sure if it is a problem. I am concerned that software development is rapidly becoming a cornerstone of modern economies and that more than 75% of the U.S. population finds the field unattractive; this forces companies to hire H-1B workers or send work offshore if they want programmers with CS degrees.

Given that the numbers show that women are being turned off from CS programs, my feeling is that women are not attracted to programming at all as opposed to being shut out from jobs. While I have heard lots of people talk about having a hard time being hired due to their age, I have yet to hear someone say that their gender made finding a programming job more difficult. If there is actual discriminatory hiring going on, I have not seen the evidence.

How can we reverse this trend?

The companies I have worked for with lots of female IT workers were those firms with in-house training, tuition reimbursement, and formal programs to train talented employees to perform IT work. I think that employer-provided training and mentoring may be the best way to bring women into software development. Once women get into the workplace, they will hopefully find that the programmer stereotype and geek culture is not as bad as they heard.

If the underlying problem really is that the geek culture is not a workplace that women want to work in, should it be changed? The study that showed that women do not want to work in that environment also showed that men did not prefer it either but in much lower numbers. So it would seem that the stereotype of programming (which is rooted in reality, in my experience) is a deterrent to women and men. Unfortunately, these studies did not index the participants' workplace preference to their technical ability. It may very well be the case that, say, the top 10% of CS students overwhelmingly favor the stereotype. And given then the top programmers are twenty times more effective than the worst (Code Complete, 2nd Edition, page 548), it may be better to turn away most women and many men programmers in order to attract the best workers. That said, it seems like the stereotypical development environment exists just about everywhere, but those top programmers really are not everywhere.

Share your thoughts about the IT gender gap

I look forward to hearing readers' views, especially women in development roles, about this topic.

How many female developers are there in your organization? If you're a woman in a development career, what are some of the benefits and the drawbacks to working in IT? What do you think is the primary deterrent for women not going into development: geek culture, programmer stereotypes, discrimination, lack of encouragement, pay, or something else? How do you think we can reverse this trend get more women to consider programming jobs and then keep them in the field? Let me know in the discussion.

More women in IT resources

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides; he has a contract with OpenAmplify, which is owned by Hapax, to write a series of blogs, tutorials, and articles; and he has a contract with OutSystems to write articles, sample code, etc.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Get weekly development tips in your inbox Keep your developer skills sharp by signing up for TechRepublic's free Web Developer newsletter, delivered each Tuesday. Automatically subscribe today!

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

279 comments
McForloopFace
McForloopFace

In many things there is a habit to attempt to identify a single problem or a primary cause. This makes it seem easier but in reality makes an already difficult problem harder. In the real world not everything has a prime cause and concerns cannot always be separated. There are thousands of subtle interactions that produce a whole and these span across society, culture and biology. Not only do these things interact with the problem space but with each other creating complex and convoluted patterns. For example, feedback patterns of culture reinforcing biology and biology reinforcing culture appear creating a chicken and egg paradox. You'll find this is a hard problem because every woman you ask assuming each is honest will have their own reasons and many of them will be wrong about themselves, let alone other women. I doubt you'll find a meaningful consensus. It is not a tool for science. They will choose the answer that makes them feel good and this will be culture.


This is a nice article but you've excluded biology and all of the interplay between that and this issue. The aspect of biology is not merely related to the neurological potential for each gender to successfully perform programming tasks but also significantly plays upon motivation, interest and so on.


I agree that women are under-represented in programming but I also believe they will always be less-represented due to biological factors. This will always create a problem because the higher-representation of males will foster a more male compatible environment and make it more economical to invest in that. I do not actually believe it's fair to over invest in a minority as a solution. This is not particularly fair. There are other female dominated professions that men don't complain about. Most rubbish bin collectors are men so why are women not as interested in this area as they are in programming? Even in a male heavy profession like IT, there's nothing so grotesque that stops a woman entering the arena if she really wants to.


Biologically you can't ignore the fact that more men suffer varying levels of autism, a trait that makes them prime candidates to become elite or savant programmers. Nor can you deny that in general there are neurological differences between men and women. The science does not at all support a difference body same brain scenario. It is proven as a matter of fact that this is not the case. Ironically, it may seem like this in the IT industry because science does support a female body but more male brain scenario and vice versa. Go figure, what kind of women will you find in the IT industry?


I happen to be one of those elite programmers with strong autistic traits. I am an experienced professional male that has trained a number of female programmers giving hands on mentoring and yes, I have seen them move on into more general management positions more often than males. I'm not a homosexual and actually for me it is a serious problem that I am segregated from normal women. Having autistic traits combined with the anxiety this raises after years of failure to socially integrate resulting in constant persecution, I lack the social skills to interact well casually. I only have good opportunities to interact within the scope of my work. I can tell you that I really wish it was a minor matter of culture but the sad fact is, it isn't. This is a problem that has serious negative consequences for me. I do not want to put women off by pointing out that they are more likely to be less innately suitable but I do not want to lie even more.








Gabriel Sharp
Gabriel Sharp

This was a great article, I have a daughter and she shows interest in C/C++, I plan on making sure she succeeds in whatever IT field she decides to go into. I know there are alot of people out there who are pathetic developers looking for dates, i hate those guys, so, I told her just ignore them, its not different than the abuse I have taken in the past from other arrogant developers, in some cases it can be just as bad to be male. I think women really hate arrogant men, and there is NO shortage of that when it comes to IT people... the most arrogant group of sobs on the entire planet, even if they are right and know everything, doesn't give 'em the right to be that way to others... then when you confront them about it they say you are just jealous of them.. think about women/men relationships in general and you can probably see right there why women would get discouraged.

Dkont
Dkont

When I was in grade school I was told that boys are good at math and girls are good at language (this was in Czech Republic, but I imagine the Western world teachers told similar generalization to their students). Despite having great grades in sciences and decent in math, I became a marketing professional. 

This was one statement by one teacher, but children are impressionable and you never know what exactly they will remember and what will end up guiding their lives. Bottom line, it is not about "encouragement"/"discouragement" or about personal motivation, this is about stereotypes that permeate our every day lives. Teachers can't perpetuate them if they want every student to feel treated equally. To do that, I'd agree with the study cited -- first teachers need to actively encourage equal treatment of all students, which in this case may mean giving female students a bit more encouragement. Once it becomes the norm, they can stop. Same theory goes for male nurses, by the way. 

grayrain
grayrain

I'm Indian. A lot of Indian women go for IT/tech jobs because it's indoors and safer than being outside in India. I'm sure everyone reads the continuous stories about rape and constant misogyny in India.


Mathematics/programming was all about women back in the days for the USA. All the calculators for the military programs were female, ENIAC was programmed by a majority of women, Grace Hopper created the modern day compiler, etc. Since then, the culture changed - programming/mathematics used to be considered 'feminine', but not now anymore. Men came back from the war, needed jobs, and quite literally pushed all the women back home.

What really sells anyone, male or female, to a job is if they see their sex performing the job role, especially early on as a kid. Their reality of the job and consideration of it being 'normal' register; both sexes generally avoid being socially castigated, so go with what fits their environment. IT culture is a bit of a unique specimen though - misogyny is rampant. I do personally think it's a side-effect of current geek culture; most of it is about objectification of women, so if women start getting more involved with it (both IT and geek culture), then ideologies are clashing. The misogynists see their food fighting back essentially. (This is more of a Western thing - there isn't really a geek culture in India for example, and in places like Japan geek culture is an entirely different beast).

Anyways, everyone has interests in all job roles and futures. People will typically go with the 'easiest' route however. If you start creating shows/posters etc. with females in programming roles, as much as we do for advertisements of female doctors, lawyers, managers, other high level professionals, etc., then you'd see a cultural change. Then when young girls see their mom as a programmer, it becomes completely normal to them.

It will be interesting to see, in the next hundred years and so forth, how job roles and gender roles will continue to change. That's even if gender still exists.

And yes, the lack of females in any job sector is a problem, just the same as there is a lack of any men in any female-dominated profession. How many Grace Hoppers have we lost because we stopped women from going the programming/IT direction? It's all about allowing different people/perspectives into sectors to foster variety and innovation.

And just like our genetics, it's variety that carries us forward and protects us.

Swampgrass
Swampgrass

I've been in IT for 42 years and a programmer for 34 years. Have coded everything from Fortran, Assembler, Cobol, Visual Basic, C# and really enjoyed myself. What I see happening to females in IT is FEMALE BOSSES. They are a NIGHTMARE to be frank. What happened (and I hate to say it) is a lot of women who got into IT weren't too technical and the result is devastating to all OTHER women. I see it in action everyday where I work. The female bosses DON"T LIKE COMPETITION from other women and they only seem to mentor and promote MEN. I worked for male bosses for 30 years with NO problems, the last 10 have been a nightmare with 3 female bosses.. PICK PICK PICK PICK queen bees. I hate to say it but ask some of the men for a HONEST answer and you will get the same result.

ethele
ethele

Discouragement can be confusingly similar to encouragement, and not at all visible. Here are the two main ways I was discouraged from STEM: 1) Male bragging about their programming prowess. I decided I wouldn't be any good at programming based on how male relatives bragged about learning C++ and other computer stuff. I think this was because it's very easy, when talking about computers, to throw around lots of arcane terms like 'C++', 'memory allocation', and so on. As a child, I thought that the fact that I didn't understand what this meant was evidence that I wasn't any good at that stuff. These guys would even start to 'explain' things to me . . . but even the explanations required vocabulary that I lacked, and (as women often do) I attributed the fault to myself - not to their explanations. Should I have been discouraged? Obviously not - but I was anyways (I still planned to go into STEM, though, as I clearly had a talent for math). Discouragement is not necessarily rational, especially in childhood. 2) When I was getting ready for college, I planned to go into Aeronautical Engineering, because rockets are cool and engineers get to use computers . . . and I really liked computers, so even though I 'knew' I would 'never be able to be' a programmer, at least I could work with them every day. A family member was concerned about my career choice, and suggested that maybe I should go into something that would use my writing skills more heavily, like technical writing, or maybe a 'softer' science like biology , rather than engineering (yes, I know . . . biology requires crazy math skills, etc., yet it's still perceived as 'softer', and more 'normal' for women. Whatever.). I was a little shocked at the encouragement to do something I really wasn't interested in, but this time did ignore it and push on. Why did I end up going into computer science after all? Fortunately, that aeronautics class included a basic programming class as a requirement. Although I expected to barely pass (truly, women really do discount their abilities like this), I was excited to try it - and aced it. And then enjoyed it so much I was doing the extra credit before my other classes basic homework. Part of this was the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers and graduate students assisting those teachers - they clearly loved doing this stuff, and that passion and emotional energy was addictive! By the second intro class, I realized I *had* to try this, it was just too much fun - so I dropped Aeronautics (a non-competitive major) and applied to both CS and Electrical Engineering. I thought I would probably end up going in to EE when the CS department rejected me (EE was easier to get in to) and wasn't thrilled by working on hardware when software was my true love, but at least I would be able to look myself in the eye and say "I tried". So glad I did . . . I did fine during school, and I'm 7 years into my career now. While it hasn't been perfect, I really don't get why more women don't go into programming - especially intelligent, family-oriented women. It's a flexible job that usually supports occasional telecommuting, there are plenty of workplaces that don't go over 40 hours a week most weeks, and I've been able to balance work and family far easier than most women - I have four children, and am the sole financial support for my family but still have time to spend with my kids, with my husband, and on hobbies. Geeks do have a masculine culture, but it is generally genteel (other than the 'F' word in older acronyms - RTFM, FUBAR, etc.); sexist jokes occur, but not nearly so frequently as in other male-dominated workplaces. It might just be the Seattle culture, though - maybe these work-conditions aren't the norm?

lucifee83
lucifee83

As the only woman in a 12 person IT department (4 of which are programmers), one of the largest gaps is the social one. Most women are social, but have different interests and talking points from their male counterparts. Being accepted as 'one of the guys' is very difficult, even if you watch ESPN 24/7 and are an avid gamer. The other issue I find is that female opinions are not regarded with the same level as those of men, regardless of their expertise. You're almost always trying to 'prove' yourself. Then, of course, there's the "boys club".

shahidkarimi
shahidkarimi

Developer needs mind and attitude refreshment during working hours. So, we can add girls as a refreshment tool for programmers at work places.

bnetreader5210
bnetreader5210

A few points... I can only speak from my experience as a female computer programmer. Discrimination does exist. Sometimes it is subtle; sometimes it is blatant. For example, I remember a college math class where the lecturer would routinely randomly call on students to answer a question. If a female answered incorrectly the response was always, "No, that's not correct." If a male answered incorrectly the response was much more likely something like, "Well, that 's a start." or "You're headed in the right direction." or "That's a creative approach but..." That is the subtle discrimination. Blatant discrimination? In my first paid programming position, my first day on the job one of my fellow programmers said to me, as he showed me around the office, "I don't believe that women are logical enough to be programmers." Is the lack of women in programming a problem? Yes, it is. Men and women think differently and you need input from both to achieve success. For example, so many software projects fall far short of user expectations because while men might be good at figuring out how to write elegant code they are often not able to understand how to write elegant code that does what users need done in a way that is clear, straightforward and intuitive. I have lost track of the number of times users have thanked me for "finally giving me a software solution that makes sense to me and that I don't have to work around" or "finally explaining [insert whatever] in a way I can understand" or for "not talking down to me and making me feel stupid". What women bring to the field is sorely needed and this is why efforts should continue to bring more women into IT. Also, it is my firm opinion that excellence in math is overrated as a prerequisite for programming. The required abilities are analysis and effective problem-solving. Much of the software developed unfortunately serves only to demonstrate the results when these skills are lacking. If the user hates using the software, or if it takes longer to accomplish something with the software than without it, then the software is not a success. This is a rampant problem in software development and I think greater diversity would be the beginning of addressing this problem.

jerrymacoris
jerrymacoris

As far as I know, there are no female developers for my company. My guess as to why that is has more to do with the "boy's club" attitude of geek culture. I work with a lot of opinionated, tactless, emotional boys (and happen to be one myself). Of course, we all consider ourselves to be so macho in such maturity, and we bitch and groan about having to be "PC" in the workplace, but... Better that than have someone like me speak out, explicatives and all. Frankly, I would like to work with more women, since it helps douchebags shut their f**king yappers.

RayJeff
RayJeff

"For example, if a math teacher took a student who was failing the class and said, ?you are not cut out for this kind of work,? there is nothing wrong with that ? it is just a statement of truth. But if a teacher said to a student, ?you know that you?ll never make it in software development because you are a woman,? then I think we have found the proverbial smoking gun." This is an interesting example you made, especially the first part: ?you are not cut out for this kind of work,? there is nothing wrong with that ? it is just a statement of truth." I have to disagree with you on that, because in some cases, it may not be a statement of fact. In 1998, I took a general programming class at the university I was attending. It was a non-credit class for my major; I only took it for the credit hours. It was the first programming class I ever had. I wasn't doing so well in the class. Mainly because I didn't have a computer at home to do my work and I had to turn my programming assignments in late, which meant lowered grade. At the end of the semester, my professor said we could email him to get our grades early. When he emailed me back, he mentioned that he thought that I should consider another major other than CIS (I later changed to CS). It really disturbed me, so the next day I went to his office and asked him about what he said in the email. He then cleared it up by saying something like he didn't think I would be terribly unsuccessful in the major, but I would have a hard time with it. And because of that reason, I should change majors. Well, I was having problems with the work because I didn't have a computer at home, meaning I couldn't wasn't able to spend more time do my work. I wasn't able to spend nights at home during the week after classes and during the weekend debugging my programs. Fortunate for me, I didn't take his advice. The following year after that class, I was able to buy an 486DX computer that a student was selling. By that time, I had transferred to another college and enrolled in their computer technology program and I was prepared to do my programming work. After that, I did really well in my programming classes. I transferred back to the university and changed my major to CS. I took my first lower level credited programming classes. Needless to say, I did very well, much better than even I would have imagined. Justin, I agree with you when you said that regardless of what someone has said, the person will do what they are going to do. But, what if I had listened to my first professor? You know, I can even consider that my professor may have told me that as a way of encouraging me to stick it out. Maybe he saw that I could do well in programming, but gambled with his suggestion to me that I wouldn't change majors (out of computer science totally). I don't know.

RayJeff
RayJeff

I haven't read any of the comments yet and I'm sure I will be repeating many of them. But, I hope I will have a fresh perspective to add. Out of the small circle of female friends I friends that are in IT, there are maybe 2-3 that have any type of development experience. The rest work in non-development positions. When comparing the 3 women in the development positions to the majority who are in non-development positions, one thing is very clear. The reasons the 3 are in development (programming) is that they have a overwhelming like for the work. Also, more than the like, they have one of the fundamental requirements for working in programming...PATIENCE. If we were to assume that even if the teenager girls who are in high school do get the encouragement to pursue a career in a STEM career and they go to college and they take their first STEM-type class, one of two things will happen; either they will like the class and find the subject matter fun/interesting/challenging and will pursue their gold. Or, they will hate the class, hate the subject matter and or hate the professor/instructor and will drop the class, or "just make it" through the class and at the end of the semester, change majors entirely. I have several female friends, one who was a high school classmate of mine and one who is a college math instructor. Both were excellent students in high school. The math instructor was valedictorian of her high school class. Both went off to college. My high school classmate degree was dual Math/CS (early 90s when she was in school). When she took her first programming class, she hated it. Now, considering that she was very self-motivated and had much cheering on, why did she hate the class, considering that she would have no problem doing the work? Well, it was the work that turned her off to CS. The college math instructor, when she took several classes as an undergrad and in graduate school (going for MS in Statistics in late 80s-early90s)), she had to take classes in programming logic and numerical analysis, which involved using programming applications; she hated it as well. Both of my friends who had to solve mathematical proofs would be able to use that same mindset for doing programming, but it was the actual programming process that turned them off. Going from the stats over the years, I could make a supposition, at least in my circle of female friends in IT. The older the female is, the more patience, in general, to do programming work. They aren't so frustrated or I should say are better able to handle the frustration of programming work, i.e. debugging. And debugging is the one issue that was common to both my high school classmate and the college math instructor. My friends who are programmers enjoy/ed the challenge of debugging; to make the coding work. That has been one issue, even in my observation of my female classmates in my all of my programming classes that would stump them and would make them not want to go into a development position. I would tend to believe that if you put aside all of the studies and stats that go along with it, it comes to a basic issue. If the potential female programmer doesn't like the potential for hard work that comes with programming (or even scripting), then it will be a major cause of the number dwindling.

htheninth
htheninth

In my case, LOL means 'little old lady.' I'm not in the tech field (a retired 70-year-old educator), but have been a self-taught end-user for 25 years. I have been troubled for decades that more women are not entering all the STEM fields. It also makes me angry every week when I open Time magazine and see the disparate number of males in the photos. As a nation (us) and world, humans are far from achieving occupational gender parity nearly across the board. One of my least favorite headlines goes something like "First Woman to (fill in the blank)." I'd like to live long enough to see that headline disappear, but I expect that won't happen. There was one comment near the beginning of your article that does offer an explanation for why one does not see so many women in the IT (and other) area. You mentioned that those that excel 'play' after working hours. Typically women are not able to do that. They still carry a disproportionate share of household and childrearing tasks. They aren't able to come home and play at their keyboards. They are also not as interested in gaming in their youth. Those activities and the networking that goes along with it can be a way in and up for the males that do it. I'm not piling blame on anyone about these limitations--just pointing out that they are real barriers.

PJ Ruder
PJ Ruder

Disappointed that the author is male. I believe we'd get a better report of the female view from a female author.

CindyPsych
CindyPsych

You state, "I think that someone of strong character is going to follow their dreams regardless of what others think." But why would a young girl dream of a career in IT? Look at all of the images of computer nerds in the popular media - the only nerd girls I can think of on TV are on NCIS and 24 and neither one of them has boys lined up around the block waiting to date them. Smart young girls who do well in school dream of being doctors or veterinarians or lawyers, not programmers. They dream of being one of the beautiful, glamorous, successful women they see in the popular media. Programming is seen as a solitary, entirely unglamorous job that will guarantee you'll never have a date again. So, yes, they have strong characters and follow their dreams - as far from IT as they can possibly get. Like them, despite the fact that I really enjoyed learning BASIC programming back in 9th and 10th grade in '79 - '81, I never considered programming as a possible career choice. Programmers sit in back rooms all alone because they have poor social skills and don't know how to talk to people, right? I was nothing like that! There was NOTHING attractive about any job in computers to me and I never gave it a second thought, despite the fact that I really enjoyed it. No, I didn't get into this field until I was nearly done with my PhD in Psychology. At a certain point I realized I enjoyed messing with databases and creating web pages and fixing my computer more than I enjoyed being a therapist and decided I had better switch asap. Throughout my career I have faced repeated, continual skepticism. Even after more than 10 years in the field I still struggle with having to prove to every new person I meet at work that, yes, I DO know what I'm talking about and NO, I'm not one of those women who has somehow gotten into a tech job without actually knowing anything about technology. A struggle that I don't see my less experienced, less knowledgeable male coworkers having to deal with. As for management, as I am faced with the choice of giving up doing tech stuff on a daily basis if I want to actually move forward in my career, or continuing in a hands-on capacity and never actually advancing. So I can understand why some women feel there's no real future in it. But it is my dream, so I forge ahead, making a career for myself despite the fact that I have no female role models or mentors. And because I love what I do I hope that other girls will open their eyes to the possibilities.

herlizness
herlizness

It's totally beyond me why anyone cares what percentage of women (or men) are in any given field unless people are being kept out of it arbitrarily.

uma10
uma10

@Gabriel Sharp Please Gabriel, read the last two sentences of my comments. I work in IT and I can tell you, show your daughter to be confident, to stand up for herself. Women grow overprotected, and they are used to that since little unfortunately, my parents taught me to study and work hard but humble. In IT, that does not work.. nevertheless I am sure it can be achieved with the right education. Your daughter must transmit, confidence, ownership, self learner and not cope with situations she is not happy with. To learn how to be assertive and speak up over the males voice.  

McForloopFace
McForloopFace

@Gabriel Sharp "even if they are right and know everything, doesn't give 'em the right to be that way to others"


I interpret this as that they should pretend to be rubbish so that they don't upset others. When you put it like that it is hard to defend yourself against this:


"say you are just jealous of them"


Any programmer can be discouraged from meeting a superior programmer, be it male or female.

McForloopFace
McForloopFace

@Swampgrass I don't find them to be so bad except the ones that put up this kind of snooty barrier like "I don't want to know you." and don't really take you seriously. I've had problems with male and female bosses. Perhaps the worst bosses are the ones that don't know shit technically but still try to be on top. The better ones are the ones that are smart enough to just leave me to it.

McForloopFace
McForloopFace

@htheninth Women and children are first into the life boat. It works the other way around as well.

TMO66
TMO66

I went into systems analysis / programming at college and was considered the top developer in the company I worked for within 2 years. When I moved up from database systems they brought a guy in to do my old job. He had less experience, less qualifications and they paid him 5,000 a year more. The excuse was I was single and he had a family to support. After 4 years I got bored with programming. The fun of it was problem solving, figuring out what the user needed and making it work with only a rough idea how. It stopped being a challenge after a while and there was nowhere to go but management after that. However, as you can probably see I'm back in it again. I work for a new company now and the 4 year break has started to make life interesting again.

herlizness
herlizness

> not everyone who appears in Time is doing anything worthwhile > is that really important? By and large, what I'm seeing is that women who want to do X can do it if they want to, which is good enough for me; are you not going to be happy until the firefighters show up in a 50/50 M/F complement?

Justin James
Justin James

I think that for older women (say, 25 on up), the idea that you need to "play" after work being a big problem makes sense. But it doesn't make sense for a young lady making a career decision, or in school. I just don't see that many women in college or about to go to college with households to manage, children to care for, etc. Also, if you look at the numbers of women who drop out of IT jobs entirely, family responsibilities is NOT the primary reason cited (it is cited about as much as it is in any other profession, if I recall the survey properly). So I do not think that women would be any more discouraged from IT than any other profession simply due to family matters. That being said... I think that there is a common thread or two amongst the professions that is male dominated. Yes, I do beleive that "male" industries tend to create hostile work environments for women (look at all of the salespeople that take their clients to "adult entertainment establishments"). But that does not explain why nurses are female but surgeons and physicians are men. I think that professions with long hours or the need for continuous education is definitely one of those common factors. There is a variety of potential underlying causes (family obligations, women don't like to make their careers their lives, prefer doing other things with their time, need to work two jobs more than men, etc.) but which one is the primary one... I don't know. J.Ja

santeewelding
santeewelding

That one point you make, about typically not being able to "play" on coming home, makes great sense of this. LOG in Santee.

maecuff
maecuff

I think that was me. Sorry.

Justin James
Justin James

The article is based on measurable statistics, not personal anecdotes, and that is because I wanted to present facts that could represent the entire industry, not one particular person's experiences. The whole *point* was to present actual *facts* and *data* and not the viewpoint from a female or a male view (that's what the comments have). If all I did was present my personal opinion, it would have been a useless article and no different from the thousands of other similar ones out there. Indeed, the fact that I tried my best to not present my personal experiences, and merely tried to draw conclusions *based on the data* is what makes this a fairly unique piece. J.Ja

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

This is the ironic message I get from your comment. You only confirmed the statement you responded to. You were responding more to the popular perception of IT than your OWN perception of it, and I think it's a victory for you that you finally responded to that instead of what other people think of it. I don't deny that IT has a negative perception, and I think it's justified in some cases. Psychology has a good history when it comes to the development of computing. Bob Taylor, the man who led the computer science lab at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, was a psychologist by training. They developed advanced technologies in personal computing and the internet. A few of the people who worked with Douglas Engelbart to create his NLS system in the late 1960s were psychologists by training. They developed advanced computer interaction technologies (for the time, they're commonplace today) and collaborative computing. The image of IT cuts across both genders. It's been an inside joke among men for years that any guy who gets into this field for the love of it can forget about ever "getting laid", much less kissed by a girl (this billboard at http://joi.ito.com/weblog/2003/10/24/difficult-choic.html has been referenced many times)--even though I've known plenty of IT guys who've dated or are married with kids. This perception about IT work wasn't so prevalent when I was young (I learned Basic as my first programming language in 1981 as well). The only image I had then was what I got from cartoons and movies, which showed big mainframes with indecipherable blinking lights and professonal-looking men working around them. It looked pretty intimidating. What grabbed me is when I saw a computer with a keyboard and screen that I could interact with. When I was a kid the conditioning about ANY intellectual pursuit began in school. It was broader than an interest in computers. If you were "bookish", just liked learning and being an intellectual of any sort, to the other kids you were a "geek"/"nerd" and it hurt a boy's social status with other boys and girls. Any boy got the message pretty quickly that this was not the path to being socially accepted. Yet still, a lot of boys got into programming back then. There was a spirit among educators and parents that computers and programming represented "the future", so there was that support. The part about programming got dropped in the mid-1980s, shifting to the focus you see today on learning an office suite. There were a few positive portrayals of females and technology when I was a kid, though you never saw a female being the lead user of technology. The "lead" technical characters were always male. The girls/women were always in the minority, and played "supporting" roles. When I look back at them now, it seemed like it was more a nod to feminism, "girls can do what boys can do." It's only been recently that we've seen many popular images of women being "brainy" (working with science and technology) and being portrayed in a positive way; not programming, but you see women taking on sophisticated subjects, being leaders in those roles, and figuring things out. You see it on "CSI:NY" all the time. It's a consolation. We should remember that this was rare 15-20 years ago.

herlizness
herlizness

> oh I don't think men with self-confidence have a real problem with any of this; they're still interested in dating women they find attractive > what I found was that just a few well articulated comments on a difficult technical issue made believers out of people and shifted the presumption of competence > that one cuts across gender ... and there are paths to follow for wo/men who don't want a "management" job ... writing, speaking, academia and of course the stone cold consulting expert route, the person brought in to solve the really hard problems for high fees

Pammie
Pammie

The NCIS Goth chick? Surely you jest. Yeah, I was fooled by that one. *sigh* "Smart young girls who do well in school dream of being doctors or veterinarians or lawyers, not programmers. They dream of being one of the beautiful, glamorous, successful women they see in the popular media. Programming is seen as a solitary, entirely unglamorous job that will guarantee you'll never have a date again. So, yes, they have strong characters and follow their dreams - as far from IT as they can possibly get." Lawyer? Oh yeah, being an intelligent, popular chick myself, I had to struggle between lawyer or programmer... lawyer, programmer...lawyer, programmer... Then I woke up. PS I'm a mother of 4.

McForloopFace
McForloopFace

As far as biological imperatives come, some male resistance may originate from that to be valuable to women they need to be doing something women generally can't. Their existence has to be justifiable. If you get more women into these fields men will just push ahead and try harder finding fields that are even harder for them but more so women to specialise in. Because men have a weaker position in society and will not be cared about, ie, are expendable unless they prove otherwise you could even argue that they should actually be protected more so than women to whom protection arrives by default.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

"But that does not explain why nurses are female but surgeons and physicians are men." Where? I'm a male nurse, and a third of our surgeons are females. Are you sure you're not stereotyping a bit, here? You've undermined your credibility significantly with that statement.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Metal music causes tornadoes and Rap music causes hurricanes... On the other hand, excessively fat chicks in 2 piece bikinis COULD cause earthquakes. (don't make me post a picture)

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is that of your having responded to this sole ass hole. Otherwise, I was mightily impressed.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

A couple things jumped out at me. One is, wow, "computer engineer Barbie" won! I think the NYT got it wrong, though, saying that this was the same as Barbie becoming a computer scientist. From my experience CEs are more trained in how to organize and deploy IT operations. They are not trained in the same subject areas as those who take CS. But you know, a typical kid isn't going to know the difference. So it's all good. I can't remember who it was (maybe it was Justin on Facebook?), but some months back someone referred to the web site where people could vote on "what Barbie should be next". I voted for "computer engineer Barbie". At the time I figured it was a throw-away vote, because, "How many in the doll's target demographic are going to vote for that one?", but I was impressed that Mattel would consider it. I had lowered expectations, but I was hopeful. She won! Cool! Another was where they described women engaging in startups later than men, particularly this quote, which they characterized as a "lack of confidence", "I have to know everything; I have to have it all figured out". Funny. I'm the same way, though I've learned to be more flexible as I gained more confidence and skill in doing my work. I remember I went in for an interview at a tech company where a friend was a manager. He joined me in the interview, and he pointed out to my interviewer that I often do this: I want to learn all I can about my subject area and get all my "ducks in a row" before I start coding and such. I didn't even realize I did that until he pointed it out. I chalked it up to just not wanting to mislead myself, plus it's how I was trained in SE courses: Get requirements first, then design, THEN code--classic waterfall model (ugh!). I've had this habit since I was young that if I'm given incomplete information I just fill in the blanks myself, not asking questions, and steering the project in the direction that I want it to go...but that's not what the other person wanted. So my response was to just hold back and ask lots of questions just so I was sure. In my last job as a contractor I really had to confront that habit, because my boss was often unavailable. I had to fill in the blanks myself, but I also had to develop a strategy of "Given the direction the customer laid out for me, what would the customer want in X situation?" I'd just figure it out from there, and often my assumptions were correct. Come to think of it, this experience did give me confidence. It showed me that I didn't need to get approval or direction from someone else for every little thing before I proceeded, for fear of making a big mistake.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You do far more on your own. ______ Syllabics.

jbauer1
jbauer1

I took a freshman honors class in Cognitive Science, and fell in love with its interdisciplinary approach to studying the mind. Indiana didn't have a CogSci undergrad major at the time, so I majored in psych, minored in linguistics and took 3-4 classes each in CompSci and philosophy. I got into the Ph.D. program at Brown, but after a year decided academe wasn't my cup of tea. So I went back to Indiana right when their Library & Information Science program started a concentration in HCI/usability. That was really just applied cognitive science, so I did a Master's in that, took a web design class as part of it, and was hired by an HMO when I graduated to be their "goddess of user-friendliness." I was working on the style-sheets for a personalized intranet when the back-end was behind schedule; in order to contribute, I taught myself Cold Fusion (the name still had the space at the time). And that's what I wound up doing for most of the last 12 years.

herlizness
herlizness

> hmmmm ... about 50% of my law school class were women, which was when our President was a law student, so I don't think "the competent woman" is exactly a new thing .. or does that not qualify as "brainy" enough? And don't forget: Carol Bartz became CEO of Autodesk in 1992. I might add that "brainy boys" never lacked any social status in my book; I never saw social grace, charm and attractiveness as being especially related to brain-power or a propensity for reading books

herlizness
herlizness

> why struggle? some of us do both ... I think Cindy is basically right about the media image, though; when I see a show titled "Laura Shelton, MCSE" or "LA Code" or some such thing featuring attractive, hip women I might change my mind ... All that said, I still don't see any particular urgency in turning women into code jockeys, DBAs, and so on; if women want to go there, I think they can, and if they don't want to go there that's fine

maecuff
maecuff

I can go to any Walmart and see something equally disturbing any time the urge hits me.

herlizness
herlizness

> well, I don't think I need the Times to do my thinking for me but all the same, I thought it was of some interest that this story appeared with so much of the same ground covered I look to the media to let me know some of what's happening, what other people are thinking and talking about ... but that's it ... I'll do my own analysis and draw my own conclusions ... if there are any to be drawn

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

I was talking about popular portrayals of women and technology, and how studiousness was perceived among children. College was another matter. You quoted me but you didn't understand what I was getting at. Note I used the word "images", which suggests a concept or representation, not reality. What I've been talking about in this thread is the disconnect between popular perception and reality. How many kids across the country know about Carol Bartz and what she accomplished? My point exactly. If anything, the only woman in technology who would probably come to mind as a positive role model for most kids is Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, or perhaps Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP. I hesitate to mention her, because she was fired from her job. Nevertheless some might see something positive in her accomplishments there, and if so, great. There can be positive accomplishments in a setting even if the ending didn't turn out well. As to your last comment, I did know a rare few girls in secondary school who I would say were scholars. The same went for boys. They were intellectually interested and enjoyed the process of learning about ideas. They appreciated and could deal with abstractions at a deep level. The majority of both genders in my experience were more interested in experiencing life. What mattered most was building social skills and relationships, and learning life skills. There were plenty of people in both groups who were smart, got good grades and such, but their goals were different, and often didn't mix too well.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I got called, "brain", so long ago. Being a brain, I simply turned it the other way around, and used my brain, to more than great effect.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

Look up the concept "meaningful relationship". Work on that, develop that, and shelve the "get kissed" and "get laid" notions as being selfish and immature and *ever* so entitled.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

I can't say definitively for the whole industry, but from my IT work experience, most of my coworkers have dated or are married, some with children, etc. There is some truth to the idea that there are some guys in the field who "have never been kissed", but I think this idea that this is most IT workers is an exaggeration.

GizmoGirl
GizmoGirl

The movie The Net comes to mind. There is an example of an pretty, intelligent woman in an IT role. Even so, I personally think the "media images" affecting "intelligent women" to such an extent is over-stated hogwash & is an insult to our intelligence. Seeing attractive women in hip roles had no bearing on my choices in a career, because I realized it was just Hollywood.

Editor's Picks