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The Hidden Engineering Gender Gap 807

Posted by kdawson
from the tech-needs-women dept.
ifindkarma writes "Joyce Park, CTO of invitation site Renkoo.com, has written a two-part essay exploring why there is no pipeline of self-taught female engineers entering the tech industry via Open Source or other individual efforts. In The Hidden Engineering Gap, she asks why there are so many self-taught male software engineers in startups, but no similar pool of women. In A Modest Proposal, she discusses a potential short-term fix to the problem: a one-year, co-op, certificate-granting program for women set up and sponsored by Silicon Valley companies."
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The Hidden Engineering Gender Gap

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  • facial hair (Score:3, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:25PM (#17638850) Homepage
    Joyce Park, CTO of invitation site Renkoo.com, has written a two-part essay exploring why there is no pipeline of self-taught female engineers entering the tech industry via Open Source or other individual efforts.

    There are, but they don't look much different from the men, if you know what i mean.
    • Re:facial hair (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:35PM (#17638964) Homepage Journal
      There are, but they don't look much different from the men, if you know what i mean.

      First Post confirms that a big part of the problem is that women are judged by their appearance rather than engineering skills.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Penguinshit (591885)

        I've known some gorgeous female engineers with ... huge tracts of land.

      • by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:58PM (#17639290)
        Please, its a compliment: Who would you rather trust your system with? The clean-shaven guy from ITT Tech who knows how to install Windows and that's pretty much it? Or the bearded overweight dude from his mom's basement from whom Linus stole the original source code (or so he claims?) Bearded dude for the win!
        • I'll take the competent unix guy who knows what soap is and shaves regularly, TYVM. If the unix guy is in fact a girl (even with bright pink hair), that's fine too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Gription (1006467)

        There are, but they don't look much different from the men, if you know what i mean.

        First Post confirms that a big part of the problem is that women are judged by their appearance rather than engineering skills.

        Why is it so intrinsically difficult for people to recognize that even being human that we are still animals with animal drives? In order of strength the drives work out to: #1 Drive to eat (or survive); #2 Drive to mate

        As a species we don't tend to get all secretive and weird about the eating thing. (excluding rarities such as anorexia, bolimia, ...) When we get to drive #2 we go all weird probably because the competition for that rather limited defining resource (the opposite sex) is infused with all o

  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:26PM (#17638856) Journal

    I think complaining there aren't emough women in tech is disingenuous and a little condescending towards women. There has been a wide open door for women for years, self-taught, or otherwise. To claim otherwise ignores so many other attempts and programs.

    The reason there aren't more women in tech, self starters or otherwise is because they don't want to be and aren't interested! No program, encouragement, coersion or other methods will change that.

    Consider a telcom I worked for... In the mid-80s a memo was circulated admonishing IT for the "underutilized" women. An IT policy was thus implemented picking women from myriad other jobs (call centers, anywhere!). These women were given free training, often at universities and were given 6 weeks and more to be trained. Most of these women were looking at more than a doubling in salary, all they had to do was "participate"...

    Even with that policy, we could not even approach fifty percent of women in the IT work force.

    (As an aside, an unexpected (to management) side effect of this monumental effort was a flood of women (those that signed up), only a small fraction of whom had any interest at all in tech, and only a fraction of those hitting stride in any reasonable time join It without even close to the skills necessary to contribute. We burned a lot of money to skew a population and saw productivity tank.)

    It is no reflection of women's abilities. I know it's really cliche, but some of the very best IT people I worked with were women. But, as in the male population, many women were incompetent as were men. The difference isn't in ability, it's in the proportion choosing a field... For some reason men choose computers, women don't.

    Ultimately, if you build it (the program), they will come, but not in droves. Like it or not, there seems to be a difference in wiring between the sexes. And, as in any large population, there will always be exceptions. IT welcomes (at least in my experience) women as much as men.

    In the meantime, these old harangues only condescend to women who have chose not to enter IT as a career choice. They do have the options today... they're still not choosing it. Nudging them with these initiatives somehow implies their non-IT choices weren't valid, or good.

    This hand-wringing is as silly as wondering why more police officers don't enter the tech fields (and some do as a recent /. article pointed out -- a state trooper wrote a traffic ticket application). They didn't/don't because they like being police officers better.

    • by KermodeBear (738243) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:34PM (#17638950) Homepage
      To be more blatant, males and females are different; physically, emotionally, intellectually, men and women are not the same. It is silly that people are constantly trying to treat them as if they are. Certain types of work are going to be more appealing to the different genders. Just because the general population is close to half male, half female doesn't mean that every discipline and job needs to be the same way.

      There is no crisis, there is no emergency, there is no problem. I wish people would stop trying to force a non-issue onto the rest of us.
      • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:05PM (#17639398)
        Quite. As a generalisation, boys and girls are wired differently and when we're talking % of populations then it is the generalisations that matter. Modifying engineering to appeal to a bigger % of girls will completely change what engineering is. Some of the best engineers I have met are female.

        How is it that nobody bitches when there are so few female trash collectors?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bill_kress (99356)
        You are right that men and women are very different. I totally agree that women are not choosing certain careers due simply to tastes... However, in response to this:

        It is silly that people are constantly trying to treat them as if they are. Certain types of work are going to be more appealing to the different genders.

        No matter how different they might be, you MUST treat them as equal. Just because women generally don't choose tech careers, doesn't mean we should in any way discourage individuals from doing

        • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @10:17PM (#17640280) Homepage
          does it hurt to give a little plus to someone who's nationality, race or gender is underrepresented in your group?

          Yes.

          If you are hiring someone to do a job, you should select the candidate who is best for the job. If you do anything else, you don't have the best man (or woman) for the job.

          A core American value is not to discriminate based on race, or gender. You suggest doing exactly that, and you are exactly unamerican for doing so.
        • by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @10:19PM (#17640320) Journal

          I don't think anyone is arguing that women should be excluded or treated unequally. I think the point is that there's a fine line between trying to provide equal opportunities and trying to shoehorn people into jobs, education, etc. where they just aren't good fits. Anyone who has ever witnessed a badly implemented affirmative action program knows what I'm talking about. Real progress in terms of equality (racial, gender, etc.) takes generations; it doesn't happen overnight, and anyone who says they can make it happen overnight is probably just trying to win a lucrative government contract.

          Programs to encourage women in IT are certainly welcome, but beyond a certain point, you will see diminishing returns. I think we're already at that point (if not past it), considering that probably 10% of the folks in CS programs at both my undergrad and grad school were women. That's not a small number of people, and it certainly isn't a small enough number to suggest widespread discrimination in any meaningful sense.

          The reality is that engineering fields like CS/CE tend to be self-selecting, and people---male or female---who are naturally adept at these sorts of thought processes tend to gravitate towards those fields, while those who aren't tend to gravitate away from them. Thus, trying to go significantly beyond guaranteeing equal opportunities for women is not likely to result in any meaningful gains, and the people you are likely to get as a result will tend to be those who will not do as well in the field as their self-selected (male or female) counterparts. It's pretty basic sociology, really.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sp3d2orbit (81173)
      The reason there aren't more women in tech, self starters or otherwise is because they don't want to be and aren't interested! No program, encouragement, coersion or other methods will change that.

      There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. One can't say that all women are not interested in tech. But, in general, you're right.

      However, I would ask, why incite them to join? So what? There are many more women than men in law school and medical school. For years, it was the other way around. Incentive progr
    • by rdean400 (322321) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:42PM (#17639046)
      One of the problems with society today is that there is a cultural imperative to look equal, even if that equality is totally superficial. Many so-called "diversity" initiatives judge an organization, at least in part, on how well it represents a cross-section of the population. It doesn't matter if every single one of them were raised on the same city block in Podunk, Arkansas, as long as there are a variety of skin tones and a roughly equal number of each species propagation device.

      I see this study as another of these wrong-headed assertions that because there aren't equal numbers, something must be wrong.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rsclient (112577)
      Well, on the one hand we can pretend that there isn't a problem. Hey, maybe we'll get lucky, and it isn't a problem. Or, maybe our profession is, in fact, lousy for women-in-general, and there might even be something we can do about it.

      Now let's look at probabilities and some history. Lots of other professional bodies that discouraged women have discovered that letting women do traditionally male work has worked out just fine. I can't think of any where allowing women was later decided to be a mistake.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by maddskillz (207500)

        Which is it? Are we (as a profession) are being jerks? Or is it that women "just can't do it". Personally, I know which side I'm on: somehow, we're being jerks. And I wish the rest of you would stop it!

        There is a third option: They don't want to do it.
        Maybe IT doesn't fill a part of them that needs to be satisfied. I am sure there are just as many women as men capable of doing IT, but they choose not to.
        If places weren't allowing women into the field based on their gender( or race or whatever) that is wro

    • by OzRoy (602691)
      But why aren't they interested??

      Look at the industry, it's extremely broad. Two people can say 'I work in the IT industry', but their job descriptions would be completely different, and they may not even have any idea how to do the other person's job. Why does an industry so varied drive them away?

      You can't say "It's because women aren't interested in Maths type jobs", because that is crap. There are plenty of other Maths/Logic/"Male Oriented" jobs that have plenty of females. I can't think of any other pro
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by maddskillz (207500)
        I can't think of any other profession where the ratios are so unbalanced.

        Nursing
        • by dabraun (626287) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:55PM (#17640034)
          Daycare providers

          Construction workers

          Flight attendents

          It's amazing how well all the massively unbalanced professions fit the legos vs. dolls model so well (these are all generalizations, and the generalizations create the percentage results. I totally respect that individual people make individual choices and there's nothing at all wrong with that.)

          Before I had children I thought that boys and girls had basically the same odds for any skill set and that the difference when they grow up was largely based on how parents expose boys vs. girls to different things and create different expectations.

          I have two children now, a boy and a girl, and I know how wrong I was. It's not just the differnece between my own children (which is, itself, blatantly dolls vs. legos just like the stereotype) - it's also what I've observed is virtually every other set of children I've been around in playgroups, malls, playgrounds, museums, etc. Most girls have a set of interests and behavior that is very different from most boys.

          I've bought my daughter legos, I've tried to work with her to build them, I've tried to keep her interest - it can't be done - she thinks they're mildly fascinating since her brother has them but will not sit still to play with them, she frankly wants to put her doll in the stroller and push her around the house. I've even found her Dora Legos (on ebay, they don't make them anymore, can you guess why?) - she likes the dora character pieces, wants to carry them around, doesn't actually want to build anything.

          My son (at 5!) has built a ~3100 piece star destroyer and is embarking on building a ~3500 piece death star (among many many other lego sets he's built) - I couldn't pry his interest from this if I tried.

          Software programming is all about building things piece by piece from a limited set of basic shapes. System administration and building up IT infrastructure is also about putting pieces together to build something better and more interesting. Now, IT as a general profession has a wider array of jobs and skill requirements, and as such you do find more women in "people-centric" IT positions (marketing, IT HR, usability, call centers for non-techncial areas - those that haven't been outsourced anyway). In my area of work there is clearly a larger imbalance the more "technical" the job requirements are.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aafiske (243836)
      I have multiple female computer science friends. They all have repeated experiences where they were seen as lesser engineers, or needed a slower explanation simply because they were female. Someone who is new to the job would be normal to the guy he worked with, and condescending to the girl.

      It's not just because they don't want to. It's because there is often an unpleasant atmosphere. How would you feel if all your fellow engineers suddenly got all quiet and reserved when you joined them at the bar after w
      • by MadAhab (40080) <slasher@@@ahab...com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:27PM (#17639674) Homepage Journal
        Bullshit. Women are making major inroads into many professions where the atmosphere was/is far more hostile. Law and finance, for example. If you are a female who really wants to make it on Wall Street or serious NYC-based finance, you had goddamn well better be OK with going to strip clubs to socialize with your peers after work.

        The difference in my experience is that women tend to be more "credential" oriented than men. That's why more women are going to college and getting advanced degrees than men these days. It's also why in heavily administrative, bureaucratic areas, women hold their own with men and are even taking over...

        But real IT - administration, design, and programming - frequently means working without directly relevant credentials or road map, and without any peer support when it comes to learning. For whatever reason, men are more willing to do this.

        Frankly, if it weren't for biology - men can't bear children - women would be earning more than men by now, except at the very highest levels.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dptalia (804960)
      I tutored Comp Sci in College, and I tutored both men and women. The men were taking programming because it was required for their EE/Physics/ whatever degree. The women were taking programming because it was their major. If you need tutoring in your major, it's probably not the correct major. I've met plenty of mediocre programers in my life, both men and women, but the male programmers tend to last a shorter period of time than the women. I have some guess why, but I'd rather not be labeled as insens
    • by Ironica (124657) <`pixel' `at' `boondock.org'> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:50PM (#17639962) Journal
      IT welcomes (at least in my experience) women as much as men.
      Hmmm... I'd love to hear more about your experience as a woman pursuing a career in IT.

      I can tell you about my experience in that regard, if you're interested. It's a long story, and it ends with me going for a Master's in Transportation Planning, and hauling my IT experience over to a line of work where people appreciate it, rather than looking at me like "isn't that cute, she thinks she knows what's wrong with the network!"

      The field is still quite hostile to women. Society in general is very hostile toward women with technology experience and knowledge; look at the first post in this article (when reading on +2 anyway), implying that the women who are in tech jobs all have beards! Maybe that's because it's really tough to get or keep a tech job, or be taken seriously in one, if you don't look like a guy?
  • Self-taught? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lithgon (896737)
    Wouldn't co-op and training defeat the purpose of being self-taught? I think it could be that men are typically more interested in engineering than women are and so they are more likely to go out of their way to teach themselves.
  • Hidden? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:31PM (#17638912)
    What's hidden about it? I am a heterosexual male who just recently finished my B.S. in computer science and I can certainly say there were almost no distractions whatsoever in any of the engineering classes I took. The gap does not qualify as "hidden" in my opinion.
  • Better question: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:33PM (#17638940) Homepage
    Why does it matter? What is the business reason for developing more female engineers?

    Do computers designed by women run quicker?

    Does software written by women take up less memory?

    Do processors designed by women emit less heat?

    Certainly we shouldn't do something that inhibits a particular gender's ability to participate in the profession of their choice. But an engineer is an engineer - why should we care what their gender is?

    Maybe there are not so many self-taught female engineers because women mature socially earlier and thus don't spend as much time talking to their monitors. Maybe women tend to be emotional thinkers and engineering doesn't jive well with emotional thinking. Maybe there's just a shortage of women who are nerds.

    And maybe there's nothing wrong with that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by quenda (644621)
      Do computers designed by women run quicker?
      Does software written by women take up less memory?
      Do processors designed by women emit less heat?

      No, no and no.
      But they do come in a wide choice of clours, not just beige.
    • Why does it matter? What is the business reason for developing more female engineers?

      Easy.

      To develop great products, to find the innovations that make things better, we need all the help we can get. Writing off 51% of humanity means that 51% of those possible innovations may never happen.

      ...laura

      • by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:54PM (#17639228) Homepage
        To develop great products, to find the innovations that make things better, we need all the help we can get. Writing off 51% of humanity means that 51% of those possible innovations may never happen.

        This would be a good example of emotional thinking. I see that you read "Women being underrepresented in engineering is not a problem", and you responded with "Writing off 51% of the population is not acceptable!"

        Unfortunately, this does not make any logical sense. Your response appears to be based on a rather poor assumption - what if developing great products, and finding innovations that make things better, also involve professions OTHER than Engineering?

        Clearly this is the case. Let's take the converse of your statement. What if EVERYONE was an engineer? How well do you think the world would function then? Not very well, I'd imagine.

        Engineers should be people who choose to be engineers. If women choose to be something other than an engineer, it's quite possible that maybe, just MAYBE, they're BETTER AT SOMETHING OTHER THAN ENGINEERING?

        Maybe to develop great products, to find the innovations that make things better, you shouldn't write off the 99% of the population that arn't engineers.

        The fact of the matter is, there are many professions, and all of them are important. We should allocate people to the professions they are best suited for, regardless of gender. And again, if women WANT to do something OTHER than be an engineer, what is wrong with that? Just because YOU wanted to be an engineer doesn't mean every other woman should want to.
    • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:39PM (#17638996) Homepage Journal
      What is the business reason for developing more female engineers?

      The potential doubling of your talent pool.
    • by AusIV (950840) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:40PM (#17639024)
      Why does it matter? What is the business reason for developing more female engineers?
      I suspect they hope products designed and developed by women might appeal more to women, and bring in more revenue.
    • by Divebus (860563)

      YEAH! What he said!

      I've known a couple of geek chicks that are total knockouts and smart as a whip but I'd hate to work for them.

    • by ChatHuant (801522) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:45PM (#17639092)
      Why does it matter? What is the business reason for developing more female engineers? Do computers designed by women run quicker?

      Computers designed by women may be more attractive to women; that will let you tap a market currently underserved and increase your customer count. That directly translates into more cash, so it matters.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Reverberant (303566)

      Why does it matter? What is the business reason for developing more female engineers?

      Because the more diverse the workforce (gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, etc), the more potential for innovative ideas. I constantly see posts on ./ and other tech sites bemoaning the lack of innovation in GUI's and other CS areas in recent years. Could that be because everyone thinks alike?

      Not to mention that the potential market for software products in the U.S. (in the aggregate) is 50% female. D

  • by rdean400 (322321) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:34PM (#17638952)
    Men and women are different. If you look at geek-dom, which populates most of the pool of self-taught software engineers, you will find many have been interested in the concepts for years.

    Although efforts like this are well-intentioned, I have to question whether the result will pan out. Proposals like this may turn up individuals with the talent to program, but they probably lack the interest level. Most self-taught software engs have a genuine interest in the art and science of the craft. These folks have an interest in continued training.

    So, the question isn't whether programs like this would be useful. The question is how do you find the type of woman who could use an opportunity like this as a launching pad into a life-long learning exercise?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:34PM (#17638954)
    julie@ElRambo:~/src/omgponies-0.3# ./configure
    checking for a BSD-compatible install... /usr/bin/install -c
    checking whether build environment is sane... yes
    checking for gawk... gawk
    checking whether make sets $(MAKE)... yes
    checking whether to enable maintainer-specific portions of Makefiles... no
    checking for g++... g++
    cheking for penis... ERROR: Penis not found.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Close, but you've got it wrong:

      julie@ElRambo:~/src/omgponies-0.3# ./configure
      checking for a BSD-compatible install... /usr/bin/install -c
      checking whether build environment is sane... yes
      checking for gawk... gawk
      checking whether make sets $(MAKE)... yes
      checking whether to enable maintainer-specific portions of Makefiles... no
      checking for g++... g++
      checking for omgponies-0.2... YOU HAVE A YOUNGER VERSION INSTALLED?!? IS SHE PRETTIER THAN ME?
      checking for *****... ERROR: if you don't know what's wrong, I'm

  • by willy_me (212994) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:39PM (#17639006)
    If the IT industry actively discouraged women from entering then such measures would be appropriate. But as it stands, the majority of university graduates are now women. At my university there is a 4:1 women to men ratio in their medial program. So the real problem is that women do not want to go into IT. They would rather make more money as, for example, a doctor. I can hardly blame them...

    And a side note - regardless of gender, if you don't want to do IT you won't do a good job. You have to have a certain passion for the work. No amount of financial incentive can change this..
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by KillerCow (213458)

      At my university there is a 4:1 women to men ratio in their medial program.

      I think this raises a good point. Why are there so many more women in medicine than men? What is being done to decrease this gender gap? What programs are being created to get more men into medicine?

      I propose a one-year, co-op, certificate-granting program for men, set up and sponsored by hospitals.

      Why is it that only women get these special programs? Where are the programs trying to get men into nursing or childcare (both having

  • by Nicholas Bishop (1004153) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:40PM (#17639016)
    Er... A Modest Proposal? Perhaps we should eat some of the male engineers?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modest_Proposal [wikipedia.org]
  • by Bin_jammin (684517) <Binjammin@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:46PM (#17639100)
    I would think it would be much higher than 93% male linux userbase.
  • by stimpleton (732392) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:51PM (#17639170)
    In TFA, the author notes:

    Women often seem to gain self-confidence by pursuing institutional affiliations, credentials, and clear career goals -- rather than simply pushing forward as "lone wolves" driven by individual curiosity.

    Firstly, I think this statement discredits the true innovators of this world(past & present) who are driven by a passion to solve problems(sometimes at significant personal and social cost). These people are not just fulfilling some curiosty.

    Secondly, and this is the crux of the whole article, females, by "pursuing institutional affiliations, credentials, and clear career goals" are giving themselves the access to a future raising a family.

    By exposing themselve to this environment enhances the chances of finding a more desirable mate.
  • by brendanoconnor (584099) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:51PM (#17639176)
    Every single time I see this exact same kind of story posted, I always wonder, what does it matter? Is it so hard to accept that maybe women are not as interested in the engineering fields as men are? I don't see why there is this cry to bring women into the loop when the doors are wide open. It is not like they are not allowed in.

    Also, if we really want to think about gender gaps in professions, why are there not more male nurses? I had to spend a decent amount of time in ICU when my father was hospitalized because of his heartattack. He is very overweight and it was no small challenge for the staff there to help move him when it was required. I think there was one male nurse there who helped but he wasn't always on duty. Would it not make sense to make this position more appealing to men since it would be a boon to both patients and staff alike? Just something to think about.

    Brendan
  • by NerveGas (168686) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:52PM (#17639204)
    ... why more wearers of pink clothing are women, or why more violent crimes are committed by men.

      Men and women are different. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. And those who think that men and women need to be exactly equal in every area of life need to get over it, and stop trying: There's a few hundred thousand years of evolution working against you, and you're going to lose.

    steve
  • by jorghis (1000092) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @08:57PM (#17639280)
    Why do women need special treatment? Everyone acts like there needs to be sort of 'affirmative action' type of deal. What advantages do men have that women dont?

    When I was an CS undergrad in college I remember hearing constantly about how 'women have it tougher in cs' and so forth. In my view exactly the opposite is true. I never once saw a female getting a worse grade because of her gender. I did however see one of the schools deans go ask professors for explanations when a female was doing poorly in a class. The result of that was that professors were under pressure to make sure that female students got through which resulted in unfair grading.

    If women want to become engineers they should be allowed to and have the same opportunities as men, but preferential treatment just makes the ones that are legit look bad.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by raehl (609729)
      Why do women need special treatment?

      Because they're not as smart, duh.
  • by koreth (409849) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:00PM (#17639312)
    I would love to see more women in engineering. But I think it just ain't gonna happen, at least not to the point of anything resembling equality. Uncomfortable as it may make the "every human is born precisely equal in all possible respects" crowd, men and women are not the same. Our brains are wired differently. Obviously we don't know nearly enough about neuropsychology yet to say for sure, but it doesn't seem impossible that those physical differences might result in different interests and inclinations.

    The paucity of women in engineering is not solely an artifact of lack of opportunity, nor of cultural conditioning, though both of those things obviously have an impact. In a typical Silicon Valley tech company, you'll find far more Chinese and Indian women than white women in engineering, even though the white population is much larger than the Chinese or Indian populations in the area. So clearly culture matters, and to that extent there's a problem we can and should address. But you'll find even more Chinese and Indian men than women in those same companies -- it's not clear that culture alone can explain the gap.

    So by all means, provide good opportunities for girls and young women who would be interested in engineering (or physics, or...) but for the lack of exposure. We all benefit from that. But please don't try to force the issue beyond the levels they'll naturally settle at when everyone has the appropriate opportunities -- even if those levels are still male-dominated.

  • does it matter (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:17PM (#17639552) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if any of the readers on this site are american, or if the majority come from oppressive countries where they are brainwashed into believing that coming from the wrong family implies implicit inferiority, or perhaps where women must be hidden because they are implicitly morally inferior, or perhpas where dark people are suitable for cleaning, but must be out of town before sunset.

    Because the thing about America is that we were born with a revolution whose basis was that the status quo was not efficient, and just because someone was not born to the proper family, and we can extend that to the proper color or gender, does not mean that the person does not have anything to contribute. Everyone of our founding fathers was forced to fight the respect they deserved, because every englishman in power assumed that anyone not of the proper family were automatically morons. No amount of money or education could change that

    It also reminds me of some people I knew and know. They were always complaining that they could not get into a good school because of affirmative action. The reality was that they were lazy spoiled gits, and the 'minorities' were just willing to work harder. Of course, now it matters not how smart you are, or how hard you are willing to work. As long as you're family has money and can hire a good lawyer, you can get into a good school. We are back to the aristocracy being more important than ability. Not that smart people don't get rejected from school, but America is very competitive. Competitiveness is one reason why america is so great, and corruption, graft, and nepotism is why much of the rest of the world is in the piss pot.

    So here is the deal. At my engineering high school there was no shortage of girls, and the valedictorian was a girl. I know a few that made it to advance degrees. In college there was a good number of women in engineering school, significantly less in the sciences. Texas A&M, along with most schools, work hard to attract women because they know what our founding fathers knew. That talent does not depend solely on how you were born, but also on the effort you are willing to make to master and apply a skill. And that throwing away a significant percentage of the population just because they were not traditionally in the trade.

    Everyone is different, and the differences, if we treat it as a benefit and an annoyance, can be a great benefit. Although I don't like the movie, many of the posts on this topic reminded me of the kids in the 'freedom writers'. They all live in fear of those that are different, and all believe that the world would be a better place if they didn't have to deal with 'the others'. I really enjoyed working for and with the women engineers and scientists.

    I will leave on a more positive note. The main impediment with attracting women engineers and scientist is that women often are not exposed to such things. This is the same of the majority of the population. Most have not been exposed to the possibilities of the art, so do not understand it. In schools boys are still more likely to be exposed to the technology, while girls will be moved to cosmetology. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, we again need to ask if our competitiveness can stand not fully utilizing human resources just because they do not meet our preconceived notions. There are those that want to protect their family by limited the competition, i.e. limiting the opportunities to those outside their family. This is not good for the country. Just like so many other things, they want to profit at the expense of the country. The graft in the contracts for Katrina and Iraq show just how willing engineering firms are to trade their profit for the good of the country.

  • by Ellen Spertus (31819) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:27PM (#17639682) Homepage

    I direct just such a post-baccalaureate program at Mills College [mills.edu] in Oakland, California, not far from Silicon Valley. It is coed, although the majority of students are women. Many successful graduates have gone on to industry jobs and CS PhD programs. The application deadline is February 1, if any Slashdotters want to apply.

    There was a recent article about the program [sfbg.com] in the San Francisco Bay Guaridan. For more information, see http://ics.mills.edu [mills.edu] and/or contact me.

  • by gvc (167165) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:42PM (#17639826)
    For whatever reasons, the software culture has evolved in a way that many women (and many men, but not in as large numbers as women) find it unattractive. That is not so say that they find computer software unappealing; rather, they never get close enough to find out. They see nerds lacking hygiene and basic social skills congregating to learn the arcane details of some system -- or combative video game -- with little thought to how the system might be used to do something useful, artistic or social. Their first exposure is, likely as not, through members of that demographic group.

    Women in general tend to be unimpressed by those whose ego exeeds their abilities -- a personality that is all-too-often rewarded in this information economy.

    Lots of people (men) want to attract women to computing but have no idea how. Bill Gates came (here) to Waterloo to try to attract non-hard-core-nerds to study CS. My daughter was very keen to see him but after he demo-ed his XBOX 360 and a fingerprint-reading PDA and a Napoleon Dynamite video she came away saying "what a dweeb!" She may end up studying CS, but if she does, it'll be in spite of efforts like that. And two year of high school CS in which she was top of her class, but learned nothing. More likely she'll study math or physics or something that she feels is more challenging and useful, and less associated with dweebs.
  • a tricky problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @09:42PM (#17639838)
    It used to be that there not enough women in law or medicine either. Now, those fields are pretty equal. Why is it that some fields (programming, engineering, physical sciences...) can't get this right?

    There are lots of little reasons (time demands, male oriented, no role models...), but the big root reason is that these are just not good jobs. All those little reasons were there in law and medicine, and were overcome. Rather than ask why no women want these jobs, ask why any person WOULD want these jobs. Most reasons women have for staying away from these areas should probably keep men away as well.

    Even if you don't buy that women should be more or less equally represented in most jobs, it can be very educational learning exactly why they're staying away.
  • by Brandybuck (704397) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @10:25PM (#17640392) Homepage Journal
    As my sig says, "fair is the enemy of free". A free society tends to be a fair society. But in order to get to a state of perfect fairness, freedom must be destroyed. It's like a grass lawn. The more level and uniform you want the lawn, the more often you need to ruthlessly mow down the tall blades.

    We've done an admirable job as a society in removing coercive legal barriers against genders. Most of the remaining gender based barriers do not come from the state, but from nature and culture instead.

    We can do nothing in regards to nature based barriers, lest we end up a pathetic dystopia. The unavoidable fact is that men and women are differnt. But what about cultural barriers? Indeed, many radical feminists act strangely similar to radical cultural conservatives. Therein lies the danger. Trying to mold culture through laws is a perilous activity. We can attempt to modify culture through voluntary persuasion, but once we get the government involved, we are headed down the path to tyranny.

    If there are laws that act as barriers to women, they must be repealed. But we cannot go around punishing parents who encourage their daughters to be nurses instead of doctors. We must change that part of culture through the slow process of voluntary persuasion.
  • by Pi3141592 (942724) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @10:28PM (#17640408)
    ...aren't discouraged from this field, think again.

    I've been in IT for 27+ years, first as a COBOL programmer on a Honeywell DPS/8, then as an SCO Unix developer, and now as a Windoze developer/lead. I'm female. EVERY STEP OF THE WAY I have been discouraged, disparaged, talked down to, brushed aside. Granted, it's been less in the past 10 years than it was earlier, but it's STILL there. It's run the gamut, from my parents (who leaned on my heavily to become a secretary or bank teller), to fellow (male) students who pointedly excluded me from study groups, to clients--sight-unseen. One potential client, when told by my boss that I would be on site the next day to troubleshoot their problem, told him in a crestfallen manner "...can't you come out instead? She's just a woman..." They'd never even heard of me before - this was not related to my performance, but simply to my sex. This was NOT an isolated incident.

    YES, I love to tinker. I work on my motorcycle (CBR600RR, thank you very much) in my spare time.

    YES, I love to code, AND I'm self taught (from the time I was 12, using Basic on a CP/M system).

    NO, I wouldn't be doing this if I had listened to ANYONE who sought to "help" me by steering me toward a more "suitable" career. I know MANY women who gave up and left pursuing a computer-related career because of the discouragement. I'm too thick-headed, I guess.

    YES, it still is like this for women. I recently went back to university to pursue an advanced degree - last semester, I took an undergraduate course; the first week, one of the other women in the class was lamenting the fact that so many male students were always telling her she shouldn't be in CSE because she was a girl, and it was a "man's field." Excuse me!? This is 2006... in the United States??

    I had hoped, when I was young, that by the time I was in my mid-40s the playing field would be a bit more level. Judging from the comments here, there's still a loooong way to go.

  • by adam872 (652411) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @10:36PM (#17640518)
    Interesting article, but I remain unconvinced that any extra effort should be expended encouraging young women into engineering/science than young men. Granted, both fields have exhibited either overt or covert sexism over the years, no argument. However, if I look at my own generation (I graduated high school in 1989 and university in the mid 1990's) and the girls I went to school with, none of them were told that they couldn't or shouldn't pursue a career in the sciences or engineering disciplines. I believe that the current generation of girls will have just as many career choices as boys and that this will continue. There were at least as many girls as boys winning the prizes in maths, physics, chemistry etc, so it's not a matter of gender differences in aptitude. Girls can clearly do this stuff as well as boys.

    Yet, many of the girls chose to do a humanities subject at university. Why is that? Could it be that they are more interested in those subjects than mechanical engineering or have they been socially programmed to shy away from the hard sciences? The flip side is that there is a disproportionately high group of females now studying Law and Medicine. In fact, apparently in some Western countries (like Australia, my home), more women than men study these disciplines and there could be a time when they outnumber men in the profession itself. Once again is this a problem and that we should be encouraging more guys to take up law or med? I don't think so...

    One thing that was interesting to observe in my time as a HS and then undergrad student was that there were far more Asian girls doing engineering than westerners. In fact of the female population in my eng/sci courses, 95% of them were Malaysian/Sinagporean/Indonesian Chinese (I studied in Australia). Even now, I work in an engineering company and most of the female engineers are of Chinese or Indian origin (we have about 20% female engineer population). The exception are the Scandinavian countries, where there there appears to be a higher proportion of female engineers than in other Western countries. The female engineers I've worked with are no more or less competent than the guys, so once again it's not a matter of aptitude.

    I think like any job or vocation, to be any good at it, you have to want to do it and do the hard work associated with it. This applies equally to pursuing a qualification or teaching yourself. If you don't have the passion for it, then you aren't going to have the single minded and borderline anti-social drive to be the best at it you can possibly be. Guys seem to do this more in the technical disciplines, particularly in the after work or school hours. Maybe girls and woman don't have the same passion for it and that their interests lie elsewhere? Should we be coercising girls into be interested in stuff like this? Hell no, in my opinion. If they are interested, they'll gravitate towards it just like some boys do.

    At the end of the day, this all starts from early childhood. In modern times, how many rational parents are going to stop girls from playing with trucks or LEGO etc if that's what they like? I'm a parent of a girl and boy (both the same age) and it doesn't worry me in the slightest. If my daughter grows up and becomes an engineer or physicist I'll be just as happy as if she pursues a career in law. She's a smart kid and will most probably be good at either.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @10:50PM (#17640670)
    Women mostly don't need to be self-taught. Colleges and educational institutions are happy to educate women. Meanwhile there's an increasing bias in educational institutions against males:

    Schoolboy's bias suit [boston.com]
    Where The Boys Aren't [weeklystandard.com]
    Why boys can't be boys [guardian.co.uk]
    The Trouble With Boys [msn.com]

    and especially

    How the Schools Shortchange Boys [city-journal.org]

    It's not a big factor in this particular case, but one reason some guys are self-taught is because they've learned education isn't for them -- rather it's against them.
  • by paroneayea (642895) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @11:34PM (#17641150) Homepage
    ...And it influenced the GNOME project to open the Women Summer Outreach program and so on...

    It was a report commissioned by the European Union of all things. Have you every checked out the FLOSS Policy Support page?
    http://flosspols.org/ [flosspols.org]

    Very interesting stuff.

    And here's the article on their on gender findings:
    http://flosspols.org/deliverables/FLOSSPOLS-D16-Ge nder_Integrated_Report_of_Findings.pdf [flosspols.org]

    Along with their recommendations...
    http://flosspols.org/deliverables/FLOSSPOLS-D17-Ge nder_Policy_Recommendations.pdf [flosspols.org]

    A bit dry perhaps, but still a very interesting, and informative, read full of thorough investigation and professionally collected statistics.
  • Venus Flytrap (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @01:23AM (#17642104) Homepage Journal
    Who cares? Management and sales are where the money is at, not sci/tech. With globalization, an already volatile career path is even more volatile. I will not encourage my daughter to pursue sci/tech. I will tell her to pursue what she likes and study it well, whether it is computers or interior decorating. If you are the best in a given field, you can do well.

    Why some give sci/tech a magic status on one hand and flood it with H1B's and offshoring on another, I have no fricken idea. Contradiction city.
         
  • by nicoh (149945) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @02:09AM (#17642454)
    First, the engineering gap is not hidden. It's extremely obvious. In 10 years of sysadmin/IT work, I've never had another female in the IT/systems groups I've worked in. I've worked in edu, consulting, high tech start ups. I have a BSCS and noticed that there were only 10 other females in my graduating class (out of ~100). I have also noticed that it is a very western thing for females not to be interested in CS/EE. I have met many, many Indian and Chinese women in engineering with CS or EE backgrounds. They seem not to have any of these "inborn" differences than western women have.

    So what if baby girls like to play with dolls and baby boys play with trucks. That says nada about future aptitude for CS or EE. I am the mother of a girl, and she loves playing trains and trucks and thinks dolls are a lot of fun to throw down the stairs while yelling "uhoh, my baby!". Basically, even if the brains are wired differently, I don't think it's enough of a difference to make technical work a non-starter for all females. There are some advantaged being socialized female brings to technical work; such as the ability to enjoy taking showers on a daily basis. As a sysadmin, I have noticed that users are often relieved when I work on their issues, instead of the BOFH type who is smug and condescending in his treatment of users.

    I am a self taught sysadmin, I worked for 6 years before going back to school to get my CS degree. I think the main reason why we lack distaff autodidacts is that they simply do not have the confidence with machines in our culture that males do. I remember learning pascal (yes, i'm ancient) and my dad telling me "Pascal?! What is that crap, if you were a boy you'd be writing compilers in assembly" when I was 14. If that's not one of those hidden sexist cultural things which undercut one's self confidence, I'm not sure what is. I have been a linux user since 1997, and have attended several LUGs only to be hit on, disregarded, or publicly sexually harassed when giving presentations (on vi of all subjects!). It doesn't really make me want to have a lot do with LUGs.

    Another issue I have observed is that males are protective of their in-groups in a professional and scholastic setting. These in-groups tend to make up the talent pool which upon which future start-ups are formed. In school we had several group projects, and none of the males in the top 2/3s of the class wanted me on their team, despite the fact that I usually placed in the top 5 on coding assignments(in class sizes of 60). It was like the third grade all over again. So there is a lot of self-segregation taking place. In fact, I'm not even sure why I'm writing this as these threads usually turn into a misogynistic circle jerk among the dominant male in-group of slashdot (and yes, I've seen many of these types of threads over the years around here).

    FWIW, I totally disagree with changing classes to be more "girl" friendly as TFA suggests, that's bogus. Algorithms and computational models were my favorite classes, despite being "dry" or "boring". Math departments didn't paint math pink to get up to 30% female (3x higher than CS/EE by most counts). It's a cultural issue which must be addressed. And you can start by taking down the pr0n in the computer labs(yes, there was pr0n printed out and posted in my undergraduate computer labs, boys will be boys, right?!)

    OTOH, I've found my career in IT to be satisfying and worth the trouble. It has the flexibility and high pay that a new mom needs, ironically enough. Try finding that in "women's work".
  • by keraneuology (760918) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @12:06PM (#17647270) Journal
    When equal numbers of people are as concerned about equal male representation in teaching and nursing as they are about equal female representation in engineering and science then I'll believe that equality is the actual goal. Until that time, there is no issue.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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