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Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

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Replies to: Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

  • ordinarylivesordinarylives Registered User Posts: 3,158 Senior Member
    @MWolf my D thought that post was hysterical and very true
  • Data10Data10 Registered User Posts: 2,715 Senior Member
    edited March 14
    Men: "Why are there so few women in CS?"
    Women: "widespread misogyny and constant low level harassment"
    As noted in the first post and title of this thread, CS used to have much better gender balance. ~40% of CS majors were women back in the mid 80s. The decrease since then has occurred in a few key periods that don't correlate well with "widespread misogyny and constant low level harassment." The first of these sharp decreases occurred in the late 80s which dropped the % female down to 30%. I suspect the home computer was a key factor. The 2nd sharp decrease occurred following the dot com crash in the early 2000s in which the percent female dropped from ~28% to ~20%.

    While "widespread misogyny and constant low level harassment" is real (I have heard stories from female software engineers than some on here would not believe) and an important factor in the low female tech %, it doesn't well explain these two key periods for the decrease in female CS enrollment; nor does it well explain why many countries without the tech pro culture show a similar pattern, or the pattern among younger children. I don't think there is a single simple explanation. Instead there a variety of contributing factors.
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 565 Member
    @Data10 You're absolutely no fun with all your facts and stuff...
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 74,612 Senior Member
    MWolf wrote:
    @Data10 You're absolutely no fun with all your facts and stuff...

    Of course... most people will believe one well-told anecdote over all of the data in the world, whether the anecdote was representative, an outlier, or a coincidence.
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 565 Member
    @ucbalumnus Which is why advertisements with a couple of personal stories are much more effective than those that give statistics.

    Regarding the two drops in women enrolling, the first was when the stereotype of a computer person as a male nerd was widely advertised. That was when all the very first "nerd" movies came out, that's when misogyny started spreading in the tech world (there are a number of historical studies on that). With the dot com crash, and the drop in the number of jobs, who do you think are going to be fired first in a misogynistic community, and when they can only hire a few people, who do you think they will hire? If you answered ""women" on the first, and "men" on the second, you're likely correct.

    The 2000s were also the time of the rise of the internet, and the spread of misogyny on the multiple nerd boards that arose. For example, 2003 saw the launch of 4chan, which, among other things, popularized "Rule 16 of The Internet: There are NO girls on the internet". 4chan has been a center of misogyny ever since.

    So yes, the drops in women in tech in the 1980s and in the 2000s are definitely related to processes that cause, aided, and abetted misogyny in the tech world.
  • Data10Data10 Registered User Posts: 2,715 Senior Member
    Regarding the two drops in women enrolling, the first was when the stereotype of a computer person as a male nerd was widely advertised. That was when all the very first "nerd" movies came out, that's when misogyny started spreading in the tech world
    The Commodore 64 is the best selling computer system of all time, and was released in 1982. With the popularity of the home computer, students started coming in to college with programming experience. However, the degree of that experience was not the same among both genders. For example, one Carnegie Mellon review on the gender imbalance in the 90s reports that 40% of males at CMU placed out of intro CS through AP credits, while none of the female students placed out. Women who start out with less CS HS experience are less likely to major in CS and less likely to persist in the major. Colleges that have had success with dramatically increasing female CS % usually initiated a plan to target this specific issue in their intro CS class. The white male nerd stereotype (Revenge of the Nerds) is an important factor in why women as whole had less CS HS experience, as is the fact that nearly all computer gaming and most computer products were primarily marketed to males during this period. Misogyny is one contributing factor, but far from the only one.
    With the dot com crash, and the drop in the number of jobs, who do you think are going to be fired first in a misogynistic community, and when they can only hire a few people, who do you think they will hire? If you answered ""women" on the first, and "men" on the second, you're likely correct.
    The previously listed drop was in terms of % female bachelor degrees, rather than % female employees. The % females in computing employees also dropped following the dot com crash, but by not as large a degree as did the % female CS majors. Its possible that female college students assumed misogyny in hiring decisions would be a big probelm following the dot com crash, but weren't as concerned about misogyny in hiring decisions during other periods. However, it seems like a stretch to assume misogyny in hiring as a single reason for the decline of CS degrees following the dot com crash, rather than one of many contributing factors.

    For example, the first study that came up in a Google search for CS motivations was https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324884447_Gender-specific_motivation_and_expectations_toward_computer_science (female authors) . It mentions the following. If a group is more likely to drastically underestimate their CS abilities, then it seems reasonable that the group would be more sensitive to a perceived scarcity of jobs following the dot com crash, like the only hiring "best of the best" comment earlier in the thread.
    "Girls and women consistently underestimate their abilities in mathematical, technical, and science subjects, resulting in reduced interest to pursue one of these careers [14,21,27,40]
    ....
    This lack of confidence even goes as far as that female students who major in computer science nonetheless consider their computing skills lower than men who are not computer science majors [7]. Furthermore, Lehman et al found out that women in computer science assessed their academic ability lower than women in other STEM fields [40]."

    In the CMU CS gender studies which occurred just before the dot com crash (one of them is at https://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/project/gendergap/www/papers/sigcse97/sigcse97.html ), men and women also describe different motivations for CS. The author summarizes by saying the following. The male description makes it sound like that group would be less concerned with scarcity of jobs following the dot com crash, and the female international description explicitly mentions being more concerned with future employment than males.
    "Several males describe epiphany moments from their earliest (before 10) computing experiences, sometimes receiving the sense that this is what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. They become consumed early on and their computer activities become a consistent part of their identity.
    ...
    The female stories have a very different sound: When the first-year females talk about their personal history with computers, their narratives are not filled with long and detailed accounts of all the different activities they have done at the computer. They do not describe years of unguided exploration. They contextualize their interest in computer science, instead, within a larger purpose: what they can do in the world.
    ...
    Perhaps the most interesting finding in our interviews concerns the international women. Among this group, pragmatic factors (employability, the image of CS as a pragmatic choice among math, science and engineering-related fields) dominate both attachment and choice of major. "

  • yucca10yucca10 Registered User Posts: 976 Member
    It's natural for people to look for a single reason explaining a complex societal phenomenon. But there's rarely just one reason.
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