Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Computer Programming Is Women’s Work

When two related posts come though my screen at about the same time it always screams for me to write a blog post. That’s the case today as I saw Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT (thanks to a link from Mark Guzdial’s blog One schoolgirls’ story: Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT) and then from Twitter Computer Programming Used To Be Women’s Work.

The article on the Smithsonian about programming being women’s work has an interesting quote from Grace Hopper that really resonates with me.

Dr. Grace Hopper told a reporter, programming was “just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”

Planning meals is only one example. A short brainstorming session could easily come up with many examples of ways that we socialize women from a young age to plan things out and deal with coordination and scheduling. Boy? We don’t force them to do it quite so much. And yet men have gradually pushed women out of the field for which much of the rest of how we train women prepares them for.

In fact as the Smithsonian article points out:

According to test developers, successful programmers had most of the same personality traits as other white-collar professionals. The important distinction, however, was that programmers displayed “disinterest in people” and that they disliked “activities involving close personal interaction.” It is these personality profiles, says [historian Nathan] Ensmenger, that originated our modern stereotype of the anti-social computer geek.

This sort of thing created and reinforced the stereotype that Lottie McCrindell  writes about in the WITsend article.

I think of someone working in IT as male, old, bearded, not bothered about his clothes, his looks, or going outside. All his friends are boys and he's never had a girlfriend. He gets excited about new gadgets and he likes reading comics even though he's over 40, and he collects things, like little figures from games.

The stereotype that Lottie McCrindell is not near as true as she thinks it is. And she probably knows that at some level but how can she be sure? Who is going to tell her different? And let’s face it, telling her it is different is not enough. She needs to see it somehow.

This is why things like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is so important. It shows women they are not alone. I love that more and more college women are attending. 

And for girls in secondary school the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Talent Development Initiative is a great program to encourage young women. I encourage my own female students to apply to the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.  Microsoft has their DigiGirlz program which exposes girls to women in computing and shows them that the field is much more than the stereotype. We need to encourage young women who show interest and aptitude in the field. As with so many things we get what we reward!

dig-logoNCWIT AinC White

These are great programs but there is still too much exclusion of women in the field that actually does happen. That has to change as well. I’m sick of reading stories of misogyny and harassment in the workplace. Not just in computing fields of course but in our connected online world those text examples get so much attention it has to discourage women. The industry has to get its act together. We can’t wait for enough women to get in and force the change. Rather we have to make the change to make the field more welcoming to women.

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