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The evolution of computer technology and the utter sense of pervasiveness that it exhibits in the everyday lives of human beings are considerable in context of the short period in which it has been happened.
While most people will allow that computers have a significant impact on the lives of people, not all of the effects of computers on contemporary lives have been beneficial. For example, recent studies have shown that computer culture has generally evolved along lines that favor male participants and marginalize others. By exploring this idea in context of recent and historical standards, it can be shown that computer technology is widely and actively dominated by men.
While this paper will explore the ways that men have managed to become the dominant gender in computer science, coding, and a variety of technology-related fields, it is important to explore the role of women in early computing. A fact that is of great significance in the conceptualization of women in computer fields is that women were some of the very earliest pioneers when it came to computers. Aside from having women like Margaret Hamilton, who helped program NASA computers for the benefit of the Apollo missions and beyond, women were typically heavily involved in computer fields. According to the National Science Foundation, women once represented upwards of 51% of all entrants into computer science fields in the United States up until the mid 1980s (Rampell, 2013). The women in these programs included those who would go on to work in some of the most prestigious computer companies around the globe, including Microsoft, which had several women on the founding board. However, this number started to dwindle in the early 1990s, and has fallen to about 18% of females in Bachelor Degree programs for computer sciences. There are several explanations for this gender disparity.
One of the first ways to explore the dominance of men in the development and usage of computer technology is by exploring the gender differences and stereotypes that are prevalent in the modern culture. These idealizations in regards to gender offer valuable insights into the reasons that women are being marginalized in this professional realm. Sylvia Beyer did extensive research into the reasons that women are giving up on the courses required to enter into a computer science program. One of the significant findings that were produced as a result of the research showed that women in the programs were often the victim of stereotypes regarding males and females within STEM programs as a whole. Out of the 1,319 college students that were interviewed about whether or not women would be interested in the field of computer science, 64% of the students indicated in some way that women regard computer sciences as a “male” career due to blatant gender stereotypes (Beyer, 2014, p. 172). While this provided a rich insight into the ongoing stereotypes surrounding computer technology and women, the researcher pursued a subset to explore more specific motivations.
From the larger group of students, Beyer took a subset of 128 students (68 female and 60 male) and polled them about how their choice in computer technology degrees was affected after they took the introductory college courses for computer science. The results of the study showed that the majority of the individuals who were leaving the program after the initial courses were often those who did not display self-efficacy, or the belief that they would be able to complete the courses (Beyer, 2014, p.186). From this examination, the idea that women were less likely to believe that they could complete this degree because they were less likely to be encouraged by friends, family, and even fellow students emerged. Therefore, before women even have a chance to enter into the field, they are already at a severe disadvantage. They are viewed as having to “prove” that they belong, rather than belonging simply based on their interest in the subject matter like men.
Another challenge that is facing women who want to take part in computer related courses and jobs is that men actively exclude women from computer innovations. There are generally two major thoughts that dominate this area of actively reducing women in the field. The first area is the socialization of women prior to them becoming involved in computer science classes or computers at all, while the other reason is linked to the computer and technology industries on the whole.
Millions of young women around the world have experience with engaging in online forums and games before they are ever given the choice to become involved in a computer science program. Many researchers believe that the experiences that women have in these online spaces ultimately colors their opinion on whether or not they feel as though they belong in the computer technology industry. An exploratory study was completed in 2011 that examined the ways that women were treated while they were in the phase of learning how they personally fit in online. According to the study, 30% of the college-aged participants were found to be the victims of cyber bullying at some point during their lives, with 25% of them relaying that they were the victim of sexist remarks (Mishna, 2011, 63). It is believed that there is link between the treatment that women receive while engaged in technological discovery and behavior and their willingness to engage in the field. With so many of these potential technological pioneers being told that they do not belong because they are female, the chances are that they will not pursue a career in computer sciences.
Another one of the reasons that has been given for women not being willing to take part in the fields of computer sciences is related to the people who are being touted as heroes in the technological industry. There are dozens of different males in the computer industry that have been hailed for their contributions to the field of computer sciences. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are often held up as examples of ingenuity in a difficult marketplace. However, as noted by Beede and others, women have few, if any, technological female role models who will serve as inspiration for entrance into the field (2011, p. 9). It was surmised by these researchers that if women are to be enticed into STEM fields, like computer sciences, then they need to have successful women to showcase their potential to impact the field. Much like Sally Ride or Marie Curie, a modern woman who has dominated computer systems could prove to the next generation of young women that it is possible for them to succeed in a male-dominated field of study.
While women being discriminated against while online is terrible and needs to be brought to attention and addressed, there is another aspect of marginalizing behavior that women who pursue computer degrees are often exposed to: the workplace. Aside from the tremendous forms of discrimination that women face when it comes to even entering the field, once they are actually in the workplace, they are typically not able to reach the upper levels. Part of the reason is that there is fraternization within the companies: an unspoken rule that men are the ones who are typically allowed to be promoted to the highest positions and given access to the best research projects are male. However, another problem that arises in the computer science jobs is that women are typically prone to the subversive act of not being able to rise high in positions because their jobs will not allow them to balance their family lives with their workload (Beede et al., 2011, p. 11). The jobs with computer technology have a tendency to be rigorous and require great deals of time to be put into them. Thus, if a woman wants to have a child, she is often out of work for several months on maternity leave. When she comes back, all of the projects that she was working on have been shifted to other workers. This is not to say that all women want or need to have children, but that the workplace has a tendency of making these jobs appear unwelcoming to women. This active and subversive form of discrimination simultaneously makes women less likely to enter the field and prevents the ones who do from feeling as though they have a full range of options in their family lives.
There are many ways that the computer science field is gendered so as to exclude or marginalize women. The fact that there are few role models but several obstacles to women being meaningfully included in this field shows that there are inherent troubles within the field of computer science. Therefore it is necessary for this field to undergo a transformation that sees more women in top positions and acting as role models for others so as to encourage women to get past the social barriers that prevent them from enrolling in computer sciences. Only through this and active stereotype discipline can women attain more prominent roles in this field.
Beede, D., Julian, T., Langdon, D., Mckittrick, G., Khan, B., & Doms, M. (2011). Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation. SSRN Journal SSRN Electronic Journal, 4(11), 4-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1964782
Beyer, S. (2014). Why are women underrepresented in Computer Science? Gender differences in stereotypes, self-efficacy, values, and interests and predictors of future CS course-taking and grades. Computer Science Education, 24(2), 153-192.
Mishna, F., Khoury-Kassabri, M., Gadalla, T., & Daciuk, J. (2011). Risk Factors For Involvement In Cyber Bullying: Victims, Bullies And Bully–victims. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(1), 63-70. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.08.032
Rampell, C. (2013, November 15). Women Gain in Some STEM Fields, but Not Computer Science. Retrieved June 9, 2015, from http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/women-gain-in-some-stem-fields-but-not-computer-science/