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Why the Widening Gender Gap In Computer Science? 1563

Posted by timothy
from the thomas-sowell-can-speak-to-that dept.
ruheling writes "From yesterday's New York Times: ' What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science?' In many US universities, over the past decade, there has been deliberate effort to integrate and encourage women and girls to get more involved in the 'hard' sciences, engineering, and math. However, instead of the proportion of women to men increasing, in Computer Science the opposite is actually true. Specifically, in 2001-2, only 28 percent of all undergraduate degrees in computer science went to women. Now many computer science departments report that women now make up less than 10 percent of the newest undergraduates. What's going on here, folks?"
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Why the Widening Gender Gap In Computer Science?

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  • Obvious.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Dancing Panda (1321121) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:04AM (#25802291)
    You guys are being creepy. Girls don't like creepy dudes leering at them all the time.
    • by jjohn (2991) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:18AM (#25802571) Homepage Journal

      No doubt that the CS field is "socially challenged" at times. However, there are plenty of women in the military. These women face an almost institutionalized form of sexual harassment. This has not dimensioned the enrollment of females into the armed services.

      I second your call for male nerds to dial down the stalker instinct. You aren't the first to complain of it.

      While we're Blue Skying, I'd also like to call for wider adoption of deodorant in the CS field.

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bwalling (195998) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:26AM (#25802733) Homepage
        I think nationalism is something that has a stronger appeal to people than geekdom. "American" has turned into a somewhat creepy religion.
        • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <[eligottlieb] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:35AM (#25802917) Homepage Journal

          If it was last night when I had mod points, I'd give you +1 insightful. When did "American" become a lifestyle rather than a place of birth?

          • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:50AM (#25803173) Homepage

            When did "American" become a lifestyle rather than a place of birth?
            When people decided that culture was a sacrosanct, frozen set of behavior rather than an adaptation to environmental forces. Of course the overwhelming nostalgia hasn't helped that problem either.

            • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Dishevel (1105119) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:17PM (#25803737)
              So an American should at the same time both understand that hanging on to his culture is wrong and allow immigrants to bring their culture with them. Am I getting that right?
              • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Draek (916851) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:05PM (#25804817)

                So an American should at the same time both understand that hanging on to his culture is wrong and allow immigrants to bring their culture with them. Am I getting that right?

                Yes. Same way you should both understand that believing the Earth is flat is stupid and allow flat-earthers to voice their opinion anywhere they please.

            • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:19PM (#25803777)

              I'm not sure what you mean -- nationalism is hardly a new idea, or unique to America.

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by theaveng (1243528) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:29AM (#25802789)

        The OP echoed my own thoughts (geeks scaring off the girls), but the "real" reason is because women are cool and computer science is not. ;-) They simply aren't attracted to that type of work. And there's nothing wrong with that.

        You ever wander past the Health & Human Development part of your college?

        It's like an engineering class in reverse - 40 women; 2 guys. (I knew I picked the wrong major.) Men and women are not that same. Men migrate towards "things" and women migrate towards "humans", each dominating their respective engineering & health majors. They don't think the same and they have different interests. Why can't people just accept that?

        • by X0563511 (793323) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:41AM (#25803007) Homepage Journal

          <annoying-voice>because that would be sexist!</annoying-voice>

          • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by theaveng (1243528) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:51AM (#25803177)

            What I don't understand is why these anti-sexist persons are sooooo concerned about lack of women in science. Why do I not hear anybody crying out, "There are only 2 men for every 40 women in the Health & Human Development Major!" I guess we men don't matter. How sexist. ;-)

            • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Cornelius the Great (555189) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:07PM (#25803533)
              The outrage is that Health & Human Develoment majors typically don't receive comparable salaries to comp sci graduates, hence completely throwing balance of higher-paying jobs into the men's favor. To less-rational people, this can be twisted to illustrate that sexism is more rampant in the workplace than it really is. As ridiculous as it sounds, some feminists still tout these slanted statistics.

              If comp sci and engineering majors typically made less than 30k out of college with no benefits, no one would give a shit about the lack of women in that field.
              • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Jonas the Bold (701271) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:15PM (#25803687)

                You don't get paid based on how much you or anyone else thinks you deserve. You get paid based on what salary you can command, which is regulated by supply and demand.

                It's not an outrage at all that one kind of job doesn't get the same salary as another. If you want more money do something more valuable, which will be something there is a lower supply and/or a higher demand for.

                • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:28PM (#25803981) Homepage

                  You don't get paid based on how much you or anyone else thinks you deserve. You get paid based on what salary you can command, which is regulated by supply and demand.

                  I don't think that they were saying that it's an outrage that HR workers don't make as much money as other professions. The outrage comes from the overall male vs female income, which female-dominated relatively-low-income professions like HR skews, and thus gives an inaccurate picture.

                  However even if I misinterpret the sentence starting with the word "outrage", one thing I'm sure I comprehend, and that they're correct on: The reason nobody gives a rat's ass about gender equality in those jobs is because nobody is envious of those job's salaries. Nobody cares about the gender gap in day laborers even though it's huge. If CS was a low-paying job, nobody would care about the gender gap in CS.

            • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Interesting)

              by arthurpaliden (939626) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:27PM (#25805267)
              I remember back when my son was about 5. He was watching TV one day when he got up and asked me, "Daddy why are there no commercials about boys"? I asked him what he ment and his reply was "There are lots of comercials about girls being whatever they want and being happy about how they look but none for boys.". After thinking about it for a while I realised that he was right.
              • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Interesting)

                by reidconti (219106) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @05:48PM (#25809687)

                I'm 27 years old (born in 1981). I have never known a time when it was okay to air a commercial where the woman was the incompetent party who was rescued by a man -- it's always the man who is the bumbling idiot.

                This probably seems astonishing to people older than me who remember a time when it was the exact opposite. It's probably those people who are creating these commercials :)

        • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by HungryHobo (1314109) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:45AM (#25803071)

          And trying to force it is only going to hurt people.
          It's getting to the point that if girls are particularly capable of doing math/science they get pushed to even if they don't want to in the name of equality.

          For gods sake let people choose for themselves even if they don't make the choices you think they should!

        • My Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

          by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:58AM (#25803349)
          When we were in CS classes, we did not consider our male classmates to be scary, and some of them even seemed fairly cool. We'd flirt, and even exchange jokes with them that only a CS major could find to be funny. But we were all about making money. There may be men who are into computers just because it's fun, but women go to college to further their careers, and ever since outsourcing, CS doesn't seem to be the way to do that. If a CS degree becomes likely to result in a high-paying job, the women will come.
          • Re:My Thoughts (Score:4, Insightful)

            by fish_in_the_c (577259) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:21PM (#25803819)

            That's odd, I'd say about half the women that I know went to college looking to find a husband, not to make money.

            As the adage goes they were looking to earn their 'Mrs.' degree.

            There are still a lot of people out there who prefer, given the choice, the nuclear family model with 1 person, usually the male, working and the other , usually the female, staying home and taking care of children.

            The social thing to do, if you want to stay with you peer group however is go to college now days. Often women are basically forced to go , because they are not yet married and your ability to feed yourself is in question without a degree of some kind nowadays.

            I know women who have degrees in genetic engineering, education, nursing, music, all kinds of things, but the only real reason they went to school was that wanted to be around people their own age and hopefully find a mate. The career was a back up plan.

            Which to me explains a lot. As CS and engineering programs have become more work , why do that if your hope , in the back of your mind you don't really ever have to use your degree.

            Seems, like it should all be good so long as that is what people want to do, but I have met women who get really angry at other women for not having a profession ( as if staying at home and taking care of children isn't a profession worth having).

            I've never really understood that myself. Given our choice, I would both hang out with my wife and our child 24 / 7. The only reason I spend 8-10 hours a day away from her and my child is that food and housing are also important to us. She feels the same way and doesn't want to work. So, I'm glad I earn enough money she doesn't have too.

    • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by butterflysrage (1066514) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:20AM (#25802621)

      well... yes. Sexual harassment is a huge issue for female students/workers. One girl to a dozen guys, you're going to get hit on, a LOT. Even after I got married, I still got chatted up left and right (don't guys check for rings anymore?) and I really don't like it. It feels like the only reason half my co-workers talk to me is because I'm the only one with tits in the place... not because I'm smart, not because I can code with the best of them, not because I'm funny, or cheerful or anything else.

      The "OMFG BOOBS! Let's go talk to them" effect creates a really hostile environment, which causes many of us to change majors/jobs... which makes women even more rare, which makes the next set of boobs even more rare... vicious cycle.

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:24AM (#25802691)

        "don't guys check for rings anymore?"

        Why bother? With divorce and infidelity so popular these days, who cares about a piece of metal on your finger?

        BTW, I'm not the harassing type. My workplace seems mercifully free of that and reasonably well balanced (for a software house). Just my observation on modern society.

      • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:28AM (#25802763)

        tits || gtfo

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by HungryHobo (1314109) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:37AM (#25802951)

        I'm fairly sure there was a dilbert comic on that a while back which I can't find...

        As for your point: would that also be a reason why there are so few males going into nursing? Being uncertain whether someone wants to talk to you because they want to be friendly just because or whether it's partly because of your gender must be terrible.
        Try picking subjects which your male work colleges have no interest in and talk about them constantly to see how many get bored and stop trying to talk to you, anyone left either has very dull hobbies or is just interested in your tits.

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by muridae (966931) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:41AM (#25803013)

        well... yes. Sexual harassment is a huge issue for female students/workers. One girl to a dozen guys, you're going to get hit on, a LOT. Even after I got married, I still got chatted up left and right (don't guys check for rings anymore?) and I really don't like it. It feels like the only reason half my co-workers talk to me is because I'm the only one with tits in the place... not because I'm smart, not because I can code with the best of them, not because I'm funny, or cheerful or anything else.

        Now, I'm not saying all those guys weren't flirting, but were all of them? I've sat and chatted with just about everyone in any of my smaller classes. I know that I'm going to work with them at some point during the year, so why not get to know them. The sooner I can pick out who is going to flake out, and who's code is superior, the better I can plan for the final projects.

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:50AM (#25803167) Journal

        One girl to a dozen guys, you're going to get hit on, a LOT

        Really? This is about the ratio in my undergrad courses, but that doesn't mean you need to socialise with your peers. Most of the people I knew socially as an undergraduate were English students (now they seem to be linguists or physicists). It's not like you get much of a chance to hit on anyone in lectures, since you're meant to be paying attention to the lecturer, and once you're outside lectures the gender ratio is the same across campus, it isn't tied to your subject.

        The "OMFG BOOBS! Let's go talk to them" effect creates a really hostile environment

        You know, not every time a guy talks to a girl is a come-on. Generally I would talk to people outside lectures who were standing by themselves looking bored, or who were part of a group already engaging in an interesting conversation. Whether they were male or female didn't really enter into it, but if you want to interpret this as hostility then there's a good chance you might be part of the problem.

      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tyler.willard (944724) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:56AM (#25803277)
        Sexual harassment is a huge issue for female students/workers. One girl to a dozen guys, you're going to get hit on, a LOT.

        Getting chatted up and being sexually harassed are not even remotely the same thing.
      • Re:Obvious.... (Score:4, Informative)

        by FooGoo (98336) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:12PM (#25803625)

        don't guys check for rings anymore?

        We check its just that many women these days wear a decoy ring even if they aren't married. So we figured it's worth a shot.

        I go to work to work not to pick up chicks but many guys I work with don't feel that way and they hit on any moderately attractive girl working there.

    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:32AM (#25802853) Journal

      But there is a girl in the classroom! I'm going to show her some cool macros...

  • by Tridus (79566) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:05AM (#25802307) Homepage

    For some reason its hard to accept that a lot of women simply aren't interested in studying CS, engineering, or hard science.

    Its a similar problem to something like Nursing, in the other direction. At my graduation, the CS group sat right behind the nursing group. There's lots of comments at how the CS group was 80% male. There were no comments at how the nursing group was 97% female.

    At some point, the reality has to set in that women on average simply aren't interested, and all the incentives in the world won't change that.

    • by Merls the Sneaky (1031058) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:11AM (#25802433)

      Women and men are different, feminism seems to think "Equal"="same". This is simply incorrect, the sexes are different and so are attracted to differing professions. Maybe men have a higher aptitude for the hard sciences because the simply find them more interesting and so pay more attention? Nursing requires an ability to deal with blood, urine, and shit of other people, I find women aree more able to deal with this kind of thing. Why is it important for more women to do "hard sceine /mathematics" jobs anyway? Let women do what they like/are good at, and men can do the same, k.

      • by jjohn (2991) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:20AM (#25802623) Homepage Journal

        Unfortunately, the article mentions that in the 80s, female enrollment in CS was closer to parity with males. Something has changed since then and I doubt it's biological.

        • by russotto (537200) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:39AM (#25802983) Journal

          Something has changed since then and I doubt it's biological.

          Yeah. Dot-com crash, combined with more general computer familiarity. CS is no longer seen as a lucrative degree, not even to the extent it was before the dot-com boom. And computers are now commonplace, so the field in general has lost some of its apparent exclusivity. Those attracted to CS for money or for exclusive knowledge are not entering the field anymore, leaving the hardcore geeks, who are alas mostly male.

      • by Yahma (1004476) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:26AM (#25802729) Journal

        Women and men are different, feminism seems to think "Equal"="same". This is simply incorrect, the sexes are different and so are attracted to differing professions.

        Well said! While there is nothing preventing a woman from pursing a CS degree, why do so many people fail to see the obvious.. Women are generally not interested in CS and/or engineering. I have several female friends (non slashdot reading females) who have absolutely no interest in CS. When I talk to them about computers they look at me like I'm a freak. They are more interested in jobs that are more "social". This could be why men prefer action/horror movies, and women prefer drama/romance movies such as "Sex & the City".

        Rather than forcing women into CS, I say let them choose what they want to do. Women tend to be more in touch with their emotions than men are, and hence tend to prefer jobs that allow emotional freedom and creativity. Many men would be find in a non-emotionally stimulating environment.

    • by courtarro (786894) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:20AM (#25802607) Homepage

      So that's obviously the case, but the point of studying the topic is: "why?". It's also important to determine if this is by their own choice or if women are subtly coerced into their disinterest.

      I helped out with FIRST LEGO League at Georgia Tech a few years back. FIRST LEGO is a robotics competition for middle-school students using LEGO automation parts to perform various tasks. There were tons of girls participating at all levels, and it was pretty noticeable how different the demographics were between the middle school competitors and the typical college-age engineering students at Gatech. Thus, it's worth asking whether girls seem to lose interest in engineering as they get older, and if so, why?

      If it's purely biological (the parts of the brain that determine interests are gender-specific), then so be it. If, however, it's due to upbringing and society's pressures, then it's a topic worth discussing. Indeed, it is probably desirable to change it. Why limit the pool of intellect in a field to men? You're potentially losing 50% of the problem solving skills, assuming men and women are equally capable.

    • by spicate (667270) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:24AM (#25802689)

      For some reason its hard to accept that a lot of women simply aren't interested in studying CS, engineering, or hard science.

      Now for fifty comments about how "men and women are different" without any recognition that historically, "male" and "female" professions can and do change.

      Medicine, for example, used to be almost entirely dominated by men. Now many medical schools have 50 percent or more women in their entering classes.

      The real issue, I believe, is that most people need to feel comfortable in their chosen career, and for many women the culture of computer science doesn't seem to have a place for them.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:25AM (#25802713) Homepage Journal

      Key paragraph from TFA:

      What's particularly puzzling is that the explanations for under-representation of women that were assembled back in 1991 applied to all technical fields. Yet women have achieved broad parity with men in almost every other technical pursuit. When all science and engineering fields are considered, the percentage of bachelor's degree recipients who are women has improved to 51 percent in 2004-5 from 39 percent in 1984-85, according to National Science Foundation surveys.

      "Women aren't interested in X" has historically been applied to X = medicine, business, politics ... and it's always been wrong. There's something specific about CS here, and I don't think it's the field.

    • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:36AM (#25802945) Homepage

      To deal with the cold, hard logic of computers all day, you need to be comfortable with such an unemotional, machine-like environment. As an IT worker, I can tell you firsthand that many women aren't comfortable in situations like that. Far too many ex-girlfriends of mine have told me I'm "too much like a robot." To which I reply, "a sex robot?" And they say no. :-(

  • by line-bundle (235965) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:06AM (#25802319) Homepage Journal

    Why do they pick and choose industries to focus on. No-one raises a stink about shortage of female garbage collectors.

    And I haven't heard a big push to increase males in areas dominated my women, e.g. elementary education.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:07AM (#25802345)
    ... where everyone jumps on me, the young white male programmer in a low level position. For everything I've done, for all the women I've sexually harassed out of computer science, for all the minorities I've laughed and jeered at through entire classes, for all the old men I've found in my field and killed A-Clockwork-Orange style, for all the alienating I've done by creating an "aura" or "mood" set against women.

    Has anyone ever once argued that maybe--just maybe--I really really like computers?

    What's the ratio in nursing? 20 females:1 male? So here's your solution: take all the entry level students from these two professions and even them out regardless of what the individual wants to do. See how happy you make everybody.

    Or better yet, unfairly weight the minority sex in each of those classes, that's fair because I definitely was given a detailed account of the outside world while I was in my mother's womb and then filled out a scantron card for what I wanted to be--a white male in the United States with no heritage whatsoever.
  • by genner (694963) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:09AM (#25802361)
    It pays less than it used to and they weren't all that interested to begin with. I think it's a safe bet that the 10% percent that dropped were doing it for the money.
  • by First Person (51018) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:09AM (#25802381)

    Simple, because "Math is Hard". That and they're tired of their male colleagues saying, "Byte me", "Mind if I nibble for a bit", and similar worn out expressions as pickup lines.

  • Brain size (Score:5, Funny)

    by sxltrex (198448) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:13AM (#25802465)

    With props to Will Ferrell, the funniest man alive:

    A woman's brain is one-third the size of ours. It's science.

    • by troll8901 (1397145) <troll8901@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:39AM (#25802989) Journal

      Women's brains may be 10% smaller (Brain Size [wikipedia.org]: 1130 vs 1260 cc), but I believe they're more advanced, uses less energy, and generates less heat.

      They appear to be:

      1. Multi-core, capable of thinking of several things simultaneously.
      2. Real-time OS, hardly freezes (even when staring at handsome men).
      3. Proprietary OS, difficult to reverse-engineer or predict.
      4. Secure, always having secrets that will never be revealed.
      5. Highly efficient I/O, capable of 30000 words per day.
      6. Threat-ready, capable of out-talking (and sometimes out-thinking) any opponent.

      Why women avoid pursuing a CS career is a mystery to me.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:15AM (#25802501) Homepage

    The smart girls are going to med school or veterinary medicine. They see the creepy geek guys leering at them like they've never seen a live female before and figure if they're going to need to deal with some horse's butt, they might as well go to vet school.

  • Dot... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:17AM (#25802549) Homepage

    > However, instead of the proportion of women to men increasing, in Computer Science the
    > opposite is actually true. Specifically, in 2001-2, only 28 percent of all undergraduate
    > degrees in computer science went to women. Now many computer science departments report
    > that women now make up less than 10 percent of the newest undergraduates. What's going
    > on here, folks?

    A hint: what happened in March 2000?

  • by fructose (948996) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:20AM (#25802609) Homepage

    Seriously, why does every career or activity have to have an exact 50-50 mix of males and females? Last time I checked, the hormonal balance in men and women were quite a bit different and each sex has a general preference to what interests them. The examples of teachers, nurses, and garbage collectors are excellent examples. The two sexes are different. Why do so many people have a hard time accepting that?

  • Here's my view (Score:4, Interesting)

    by farker haiku (883529) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:22AM (#25802639) Journal

    I've taken two classes at a major university so that I can get my degree finally. In the most recent class, the teacher has been downright sexist. Crude jokes that come out badly because of his broken-ass english and a horrible sense of what's proper and what's not. I've only gone to class 4 times this semester... the first two classes, and the two subsequent tests. During each of the first two classes I saw a woman get up and leave the classroom after a horribly sexist joke. It may be that I recognize this because I've been in the workforce for several years and have gone through "sexual harassment training" or whatever, but I doubt it. This guy is creepy, and he's outright lewd.

    So yeah, I can imagine that women don't want any part of the field if the people training the next generation of workers are this bad.

  • by Junks Jerzey (54586) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:34AM (#25802903)

    I didn't get into computer science to be a SCIENTIST, I got into it so I could write applications and games and make useful things for people.

    You don't need a computer science degree for that. You can buy all the books you want from Amazon, you can find the answers to all your questions online, and you can write any app you want in Python or Ruby or Objective C or the language of your choice. There's no need to deal with dry courses about operating systems and so on.

    And if you really want some insight into NP completeness or whatever, there are plenty of free articles to read...or buy another book.

    Women want to program and do useful things with computers, but maybe they're not as interested in what amounts to computer science for its own sake?

  • Here's an idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by devjj (956776) * on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:35AM (#25802921)

    Perhaps we might recognize natural gender-based tendencies. Isn't it possible women just aren't that interested in programming? It's like asking "Why aren't more women interested in football?" They just aren't. It doesn't necessarily indicate some fundamental problem with the system.

    I don't see a lot of people asking why there aren't more female plumbers.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:43AM (#25803037)

    As the great philosopher Barbie once said, "Math is hard!"

    No, but seriously, before my karma is ruined, it's all a matter of differing interests. When I got into computers, they were still a seriously nerdcore hobby. It was rare to even encounter another girl at school who had a computer at home, even less likely for her to know how to use it. My sister looked at my computering, laughed, and went back to her interests.

    Kind of without me realizing it, computers became a bigger and bigger thing in the lives of non-geeks. The internet is what really did it. When my sister finally asked me to help her find a computer, this was a watershed moment. And the social aspects made possible by the internet was what really sucked her in. I enjoyed the bulletin boards in my pre-internet days but IRC and ICQ were the killer apps that really sucked her in, that and the web in general. And more and more of her friends ended up having computers, and the social elements online weren't about computers but were simply facilitated by computers. == This, I think, is key. She has become as big of a computer geek as me now but she's using it as a tool, not as an end unto itself. She uses Photoshop and Illustrator for her art, uses different programs as a designer at her job, does her personal writing on there, keeps up with friends, etc. But it's not just geeking out on computers for the sake of geeking out. She's not installing all sorts of upgrades for games, she sticks with consoles for that sort of thing.

    Since Slashdot is all about car analogies, I'd say most women are using computers the way they use a car, as a tool that they find very useful but they don't care about what's going on under the hood. Getting into CS is like becoming a gearhead. Most car users, male or female, aren't really gearheads. And from the stats I'm hearing from people I know in academia, Americans as a whole, male and female, aren't really into the hard sciences. There's just no money there.

  • by Athena1101 (582706) <mikell DOT taylor AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:55AM (#25803263) Homepage
    Come on people. Look at the stuff in here. I am an engineer who loves what she does (I build robots!) and I have the good fortune to work in Cambridge, Mass, where women engineers are often no big deal... and yet if I knew I was in a room with all of you, thinking that my brain is different and I'm just not meant for this stuff, and if I *am* good/interested in this it's just because I'm "weird" and going against my gender norms... well, I'd hightail it out of here, too.

    And in other countries there are many female engineers. My mother worked with a Ukranian woman who thought it odd that engineering was considered a "male" profession here, rather than a female profession as it was back home. Most of the women I do see in engineering are of Asian descent. You don't think, just maybe, that we're doing a crappy job as a culture of encouraging American kids (not just girls, but even boys too) to get excited about and be interested in this stuff?

    I don't deny that women think differently from men. But I do question the suggestion that this means women can't or won't do engineering or science. I question why engineering or science can't handle the way women think. It's not a matter of dumbing it down; it's a matter of figuring out how to leverage diverse ways of thinking about a problem. A group of people looking at a problem in different ways is more beneficial than one geek sitting in a cube doing what he thinks is best. A group of men is good. A group of men and women is better.
  • by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @11:58AM (#25803343) Homepage

    The lot of posts like "women are just different and don't like CS, accept it" are missing the point. Insight to the youngsters -- it didn't used to be this way. When I was in college about 20 years ago, there was a good supply of women in my math and CS courses. They weren't there for a lucrative career, they wren't chasing a dot-com industry that didn't exist yet. They were smart and geeky and interested in the world.

    (And, in a good proportion of cases, damned hot. If you haven't had they joy of 1 or 2 totally cute, smart babes in all your math/CS courses then I do feel sorry for you.)

    So something is changing in the culture or CS courses that's turned of women. In fact, it's happened with breathtaking, distressing speed. And it's not about the money, I don't think; the women scientists I knew were the *least* motivated by a big strike-it-rich payday.

    I read a paper written about 10 years ago evangelizing teaching all object-oriented programming and asserting in passing that OOP will be more attractive to women for some stupid reason. Obviously that, at least, has not been the case.

  • Geek Stereotype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Millennium (2451) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:25PM (#25803893) Homepage

    Honestly, the geek stereotype does very, very little to attract women to CS. No one wants to constantly work with people they find loathsome, even if they might otherwise be interested in the field. There are surer ways to make yourself, miserable, but there aren't many, and women know this. They go into fields where they can apply their talents to people they actually enjoy being around. If that turns out to be impossible or impractical, then they apply their interests in a non-vocational way for example, perhaps by creating or contributing to OSS projects. The saddest cases give up entirely.

    The male geek stereotype has been around for a long time, of course; why might it be to blame when it clearly was not in the past? Simple: the stereotype has changed. The "classic" stereotype, while it portrayed geeks as socially inept, also portrayed them as harmless: socially (and often physically) clumsy in an endearing sort of way, and certainly nothing to be afraid of. The more modern stereotype is far creepier, attributing more to problems with inhibition and self-control than mere misunderstanding. Geeks were once nothing to fear, and now they are, and so people have been away. Again, there are few ways to make yourself more miserable than to work with people you feel you constantly have to watch out for. And so they don't.

  • by cowtamer (311087) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:27PM (#25803953) Journal

    I believe there are two reasons. The first one (already discussed here) is interest. I did not study computer science to get a job -- I did it because I couldn't see myself NOT doing it. I know very few girls who get excited about mechanical things earlier in life (I spent elementary and middle school daydreaming about technology...female daydreams at that age seem to be different). I do not know how to change this.

    The second one is more subtle: being really good at anything requires thousands of hours devoted to it with no apparent reward. If what you are devoted to is math or programming, it really helps to be unpopular for at least a period in your life, especially earlier. The same is not true if you are devoted to theater, chemistry, or biology, which you can practice in a more social environment. I think it is easier to be unpopular as teenage boy than it is as a teenage girl.

    [this, of course, is a male point of view...I would love to hear the other side]

  • by stonewolf (234392) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @03:12PM (#25807237) Homepage

    My wife and I have been married for 31 years. We met in college. She was a civil engineering major, I was a computer science major. She later changed her major to mechanical engineering when she learned that ME's are more widely employable than CEs. When we met she was a freshman and I was a senior.

    I went on to get a masters degree, she took the classes for a master degree but spent the time she would have spent on a thesis getting ready for, and passing, the P.E. exam. She has had her stamp for a long time.

    We are both now in out fifties. She gets calls several times a year offering her jobs. Some in the private sector, some in the public sector. People value her decades of experience. People look up to MEs with decades of experience and a professional certification.

    I was laid off for the last time on my 49th birthday and have not been able to find a technical job since. It is hard to find a company that will believe that I actually have the experience I have. I can't tell you how many times I have had an interview where I have been challenged on my experience and even though I can prove every bit of it people just don't believe it. And, don't get me started on certification for computer people, compared to getting a PE certification in the computer world isn't even a bad joke. It is mostly just a con.

    I went back to school and "retrained" as a teacher and I am now certified to teach CS in public schools and I work part time teaching people how to use a mouse. I haven't been able to find a full time teaching job because their aren't many of those and the competition for them is fierce. You see, I live in Austin, Texas and for about 10 years this is where IBM transfered entire divisions before they laid them off. There are literally thousands of people my age with my qualifications wandering around down here (we used to have a morning walking club just for laid of 50+ software developers) and they all did the work of getting certified to teach in the Texas public schools. I got the job I had when the lady who had it before me got a full time teaching job. My application had been on file for more than a year. I moved from a job that was even more part time to one that is almost half time. A major step up!

    When my wife graduated from high school she took the ACT. She compared her ACT scores to the average ACT scores of different majors and the average starting salary in those majors. Engineering had the highest starting salary and most closely matched here ACT scores. I went into computer science after taking a class in it and falling in love with it.

    I have come to learn that I am pretty typical of a guy who goes into computer science. Most of us do it because we really really like it. Some do it for the money but those guys don't stay in it for long. I have also come to learn that my wife is pretty typical of women who go into technical subjects. They do it because it is a good way to make a living and you can do some really interesting stuff too.

    Now, lets see some of the differences between being a "software engineer" and a real engineer. My wife has been laid off once, I have been laid off twice. Until I turned 49 (I'm now 56) I made 20% to 40% more than she did. She now makes 250% more than I do. I have done thousands of hours of involuntary unpaid overtime. She has always either been paid for, or received comp time for, all the overtime she has ever done. And, while it is common for programmers to be told to get something done by Tuesday or else, that has never happened to her. Working conditions that are normal for programmers are practically unheard of for engineers.

    Women tend to be more practical than men when it comes to picking a career. Being more practical they will google for information about salaries, work hours, working conditions and so on, *before* picking a major. If you want to have a job for the rest of your life, and work 40 hours per week most of the time, and be respected at work and in the community, you do not study computer science. At least

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