Today, computer programming is overwhelmingly run by men, but for a long time it was dominated by women. It used to be considered an easy job in the late 1960s and early 70s, likened to modern day data entry positions, so women were typically the workers writing code and programming at their respective companies. In the “Computer Programming Used to be Women’s Work” article, Brenda D. Frink from Gender News explains how male programmers were angry that their work was considered “women’s work”. That motivated them to form coalitions and discourage the hiring of women by creating propaganda, which advertised women as being inefficient programmers. Thus, “computer girl” was no longer a stereotype, and “computer geek” took over.
Since then, women have been dropping out of the tech industry precipitously. According to the Women in Selected STEM Occupations study released in March 2015 by the American Association of University Women, only 26% of computing jobs were held by women in 2013, down from 35% in 1990. Even big tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, are struggling with diversity in the work place. Despite women making up 30% of Google’s workforce, only 17% actually have tech jobs there. At Facebook, only 15% of tech jobs there are held by women. Do large companies purposely hire more men than women, or is it because fewer women are graduating with the skills in tech fields? Do social expectations of the roles of men and women in society also influence this trend?
The latter question poses an important point, since evidence from studies show that girls are discouraged by their parents to pursue math and science interests at an early age because those interests are considered to be more “masculine.” This attitude then permeates throughout the rest of society, further inhibiting the likelihood of women to succeed in these areas of study. Once the stereotypes begin to disintegrate, the barrier of entry for women in the tech industry will drop, giving women a better chance of being respected and getting hired in this industry.
I’ve known for a while I wanted to work in the tech industry, which was what led me to study design. Even though tech companies employ an average of about 12% of women engineers and some are paid less than men for the same job, it has not discouraged me from pursuing a field I am passionate about. These days, companies are starting to realize the importance of gender balance in the workplace and how team diversity will contribute more to creativity and problem-solving skills, which will lead to a more successful company. Despite the stats, I want to be part of the generation that changes this culture and engenders hope for young girls to follow their dreams and not let society’s expectations confine them to a certain job or skill.
By Connie Liu