Why are there so few women programmers?
By Janice J. Heiss on Feb 27, 2008
Women and Programming
Why are there so few women programmers? We might first excavate the stereotypes that probably float around in most of our minds, certainly in mine – not that I believe the stereotypes, but they still reside in my head. First, there’s the idea that women prefer being around other people, prefer human connection, and simply don’t enjoy thinking at a deeply abstract level. So crunching code, or doing math, for most women just isn’t their sort of thing. But I’m told by a friend who knows about such things that it’s largely a myth that women are bad at math – my friend says the research shows that through high school, women and men do the same at math. It’s only when you get to the higher reaches of college or grad school that women lose interest or turn off, or something happens.
(Full disclosure: my “friend” is my boyfriend of many years who has written a lot about gender and keeps me informed on these things.)
Lawrence Summers, the ex-president of Harvard and former Secretary of the Treasury, got into trouble for suggesting at a conference that women lacked the innate ability that men have in science and math, causing a famous woman biologist at MIT to abruptly walk out. Previous generations of women report having to struggle like mad to survive in the “man’s world” of the sciences.
Some people argue that discrimination and socialization are the two things that keep women out of science and math. I wonder if anyone can cite instances of discrimination against women in the computer sciences... I would bet it exists. Other people believe that from infancy, girls are more interested in people and boys are more interested in objects. Two famous developmental psychologists, Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke from Harvard, debate these issues. Pinker thinks there are innate differences in both motivation and ability in men and women in relation to science; Spelke does not. One surprise: males show greater variance in intelligence at both ends of the spectrum. So there are more boys at the very low end of intelligence and at the high; hence, Pinker claims, there will be more men showing up at the high end, at the elite universities and as the big names in math and science, and presumably, in other fields as well. When it comes to intelligence, everyone is aware of the great brains, but few of us are aware of the other end of the spectrum, so we have no stereotypes of men as being dull, although we presumably would if our focus as a culture was on low intelligence.
As far as the way men treat women in the developer community, I can speak only about my experience working with male developers mainly inside Sun. I’ve interviewed and worked with many developers over the years, and they’ve treated me with the utmost respect, and in some cases, with considerable patience when I was slow to follow their train of thought. If the problem is a lack of respect for women among developers, I haven’t encountered it.
Enough babbling for now. More later if you're game. :) And, let me hear from you. Who are you? What are your interests? Hello World!