I have a relatively simple argument to present, but one that seems to not be of common consensus in computer science. There are a few specific people who have demonstrated, in separate instances, this lack of understanding as to why there are fewer women than men in computer science.
To the person who told me that even in egalitarian countries (they don’t exist, but for the sake of argument) women aren’t in technology because they just aren’t as good:
Suppose there are fundamental biological differences between genders. These biological differences affect our natures to such an extent that men and women’s performances would differ significantly in computer science. Perhaps the stereotype of female
nature - or maternal instinct - would imply women are empathetic, prioritising relationships with people, in jobs such as teaching, or nursing. In contrast, the stereotype of the paternal instinct would imply that men would be more aggressive and prefer high-risk jobs in competitive sectors, such as finance or computer science. However, if we consider individual situations in stereotypically masculine industries – take computer science - some women perform better than their male peers. Unless we want to claim that these individual women are fluke exceptions, the biological differences in general between men and women cannot be that marked. If the differences aren’t that marked after all, then they should not affect our professional performances. From that, we would imply that left simply to nature, there would not be significant differences in gender ratios in any industry.
To the person who told me that men are distracted by video games, and women do makeup:
Let us grant that differences in gender ratios in computing might be due to lack of interest. Not being interested in something can either be due to an ingrained way that our brains work – some kind of preconditioning – or because of what we are cumulatively exposed to during our lives. As previously discussed, the differences created by biological predetermination of our natures are not significant enough to reflect the gender inequality. So this lack of interest (if it exists) must be due to what we are shown and do as a result. We start being interested in what society presents to us when we are children, and we then decide to pursue this as adults. Typically – although public discourse has recently shed light on this issue – girls are presented with doll-like entertainment as children; boys are more likely to have trucks or construction sets and the likes. Such biases over time mean that girls tend to develop social skills and experience in relationships; boys tend to develop problem-solving skills and improved spatial awareness. If we consider that these skills go on to impact our professional successes and competences, then the division mentioned previously between the interests of males and females follows. Therefore, the lack of gender equality in computer science could clearly be attributed to the stereotypical hobbies both parents and larger society imposes on either gender, eventually leading to genuine natural lack of interest.
To the person who wanted to protect me by deliberately changing my peer group from all males to more females:
Suppose that the gender differences in computing arise from the different priorities that men and women share with regards to work-life balance. Our values are often influenced by the people surrounding us, regardless of whether we decide to reject or accept them. For better or for worse, these people are our role models. If throughout someone's education, women act as role models in ‘softer sciences’ or art, an ingrained bias starts to develop, simply because they lack the role models to see how a woman could fit into tech, for example. The media inevitably worsens this effect through the representation of gender roles and stereotypical jobs assigned to each gender. Men in computer science may follow the perception that the industry fits the competitive and independent values that the media or their role models impose. And when the more well-known ‘computer scientists’ are all men – Alan Turing, Tim Berners Lee, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs – it’s easy to see why fewer women would feel inspired or encouraged. Women are simply still more likely to be educated in such a way that they are led to believe that they are better adapted to less stereotypically ‘antisocial’ industries, and the lack of women in the industry is clearly a further deterrent. Women lack a support network that most men do not feel inclined to provide, due to their ingrained assumptions that women are unlikely to take the industry seriously in any case because of stereotypical perceptions of what each gender should value. The solutions to such issues could fill another entire post, but my aim was to first expose the true source of the gender inequality.
Finally, to the person who told me to shut up because they couldn’t accept my arguments… thank you for motivating me to write this post.
By Stella Mortarotti