Contrary to popular belief, I am still alive.
Prologue: It is a little unsettling the extent to which I can retrospect through the last five years of my life on here.
I was reading the November 2014 issue of Wired today (I’m a little behind on my subscription) and I came across the follow “letter” to the editor in reaction to an earlier article about sexism in Silicon Valley:
Women in the US choose not to enter the programming profession. No one stops them. No one is discouraging them. When you give people the freedom to choose, sometimes their choices don’t allow every profession to skew to the same ratios as the general population. Short of forcing people into certain jobs, we’ll just have to deal with this. – JoeBob89*
This comment made me REALLY ANGRY.
Women in the US choose not to enter the programming profession.
Sure, some of them don’t. Also, some men don’t. But I am a woman in the US. I am choosing to enter the programming profession. I go to school with other women in the US who are choosing to enter the programming profession. Half of my programming-related classes to date have been taught by women. I have woman Facebook friends who are teaching themselves how to program. There are so many programs out there now the help get girls as young ages into programming. (Like this one, and this one.) Someone is funding these programs, which probably means that they can demonstrate some measures of success. This means that there are, and will be, women in the US who want to program.
No one stops them. No one is discouraging them.
Maybe not explicitly, not all the time. But look at this chart:
If no one is discouraging women from computer science implicitly or explicitly, why is the percentage of women obtaining CS degrees decreasing at such a rapid rate over a span of time when other STEM fields — math, physical sciences, engineering — are increasing in their share of female degree recipients? At a time when women overall make up a higher percentage of students in higher education than men do? There is nothing inherently distasteful about computers to women. So why, when we are finding it (slightly) more welcoming in engineering and the “hard” sciences, would we flock en masse away from CS (as the chart shows in the 2000-2010 decline) if we’re not being somehow discouraged?
Further, a study cited in Slate recently confirmed unconscious bias against female math students at a young age. Granted, the study was conducted in Israel, but I would wager that the same phenomenon occurs here. So, girls not being discouraged? Try again, pal.
When you give people the freedom to choose, sometimes their choices don’t allow every profession to skew to the same ratios as the general population. Short of forcing people into certain jobs, we’ll just have to deal with this.
This is true. Which is why we might never see engineering at 50% female, or health professions at 50% male. And no, we shouldn’t force people into certain professions. But we certainly shouldn’t force them out of certain professions, either, whether intentionally or not.
I don’t know much about the culture of Silicon Valley, but I do know that what I’ve read would suggest that it is weighted heavily against women, and I do know that I am a woman, and we are discouraged (not all the time) — by the media, by our society, by our teachers, by our friends — from going into the sciences. This is something we DON’T have to deal with.
* JoeBob? Really? Bro.
I also just think I should add that women codebreakers were essential to the Allied war effort in World War II, and have otherwise been indispensable contributors to the development of computer science over the past century. Stop Rosalind Franklin-ing us.