Computing Equality

Preamble

Before anyone starts reading, I want to make the fact clear that I consider myself an equalist, someone who wants both men and women to have equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunities in all aspects of life. I just personally don’t like the word feminism (most likely due to the recent negativity around it), and think equalism is a better word for how I feel. But I certainly don’t want to achieve it in the same way as this guy. *Legend of Korra reference*

The present problems

In today’s society, there seems to be a perceived gender bias in regard to the engineering and technology industries. The perception today is that these fields are a man’s domain. The majority of jobs are held by men, the men in these jobs are generally reluctant to accepting more women into the workforce and women are subject to second class consideration when it comes to engineering and technological education and careers. Of course these are sweeping generalizations and by no means apply to every case. How much of these perceptions are substantiated by evidence? Let’s find out. The only non subjective measurement we can analyze is gender job distribution which according to Google Diversity for the US operations, is 17% women and 83% men. Apple US has 20% women and 80% men in their tech department, more US diversity can be seen here in this awesome infographic. In Australia, according to the AWPA ICT Workforce Study, “Women occupy less than 20 per cent of positions in the majority of ICT occupations”. So there is definitely credibility to this claim.

Now, some people have performed survey’s to gauge women’s responses to the subjective assumptions (discrimination and exclusion) and each have had varying results. The Australian Computer Society conducted a survey in 2012 of over 2250 ICT professionals finding that “46.8 per cent of female respondents experienced some form of discrimination when applying for a job, and that 37.2 per cent of these respondents report the discrimination being based on their gender.” This is the only specific study I could find. So my conclusion is not entirely representative of the entire industry. If someone knows of any other studies please share them. However I could find this timeline of sexist incidents in the following communities:

  • Technology industry
  • Free and open source software
  • Gaming
  • Comic Book Fandom
  • Science Fiction Fandom

The entire list of known incidents for 2014 doesn’t even fit on the whole computer screen! Returning back to the Computer Society Study, we can see some people feel they are being discriminated and others do not. The fact that there are a large proportion of women feel inequality in the workforce and not just 1 or 2,  renders this quite an important issue to be considered.

Why we have these problems in the first place

Essentially, recent studies and statistics are showing that the number of women pursuing careers in computer science is decreasing. This could be attributed to a variety of factors, I’ll speculate a few now. 1. Negative attitudes and stereotypes about computing careers among high school students. 2. Lack of exposure to CS at an early age. Essentially I think that boys and girls are encouraged in different directions to each other, ones which ultimately have an impact upon their future interests and career prospects. It could be deliberate or even unintentional.

Why its a good thing that we have more diversity

A lot of people have written long articles in response to this question and as such I’m not going to write a response of my own. This article by CoderFactory sum up the reasons nicely.

Why I’m writing this

I’m not writing this to prove to those who think there is a problem, that there isn’t one, because it’s clear to a lot of people that there is a definite problem of gender equality in the tech industry. People accept this and have been and are continuing to put into place solutions to fix these problems. Instead, I’m writing this to talk about the solutions already in place to attempt to overcome the bias and make society a more equal place. I’m narrowing my focus specifically on the solutions targeted towards getting young girls interested in computing.

What one solution is

Educators around the world have started to run events and camps which are female only in an effort to invite more women to come and experience what the world of technology and engineering is like, not what they have been told it’s like or perceive it to be. Which is a fantastic thing and has had very positive results. Unisex camps/events also exists, with each having varying amounts of female attendance I’m sure. So, if unisex programs are an options why do we have female only programs? A few reasons were pointed out to me after speaking with several prominent female Computer Scientists and Educators in Sydney.

  1. A specific invitation for an event tailored just for them provides incentive for girls who had never considered computer science before to explore and learn.
  2. It provides an environment where girls are able to see and meet other girls who are interested in CS, helping to create the mindset that women are just as equal as men and can become involved in engineering\tech too.
  3. Its more likely that a female only event would be pointed out to young girls rather than a generic unisex event.

Overall, its a solution to try and overcome the gender bias that’s has been present in some girls lives up to this point. However, is this to be a short term solution or a long term solution? If it is a short term solution, I think it’s a great way to get girls excited about CS, with one condition, that the same content is able to accessed by young boys as well who, just like the girls, want to learn more about computer science. I don’t think It’s fair that certain programs teach unique and interesting content to just one sex, when there are no other similar opportunities for the other sex to learn that content. If there are unisex events to teach the program ‘scratch’ for example, then its perfectly fine to have a girls only ‘scratch’ event because that content is available to girls and boys. But if there was an event for example to teach girls how to make video games using Unity3D and no opportunities for boys to attend a similar event, then I believe It’s unfair for boys, who don’t understand why they cant learn the same thing that the girls can learn. You could argue that the solution is to just make the camp unisex, but then the amount of girls attending could decrease and we are back to square one again. The solution to this problem is not easy, I just ask those who are creating programs for girls only to think about whether or not they are actually restricting opportunities for learning. If female only programs are to be a long term solution it worries me and here’s why.

The potential problem of the solution to the problem

In CS projects, men and women working together will produce a much more diverse and unique outcome, than if that team consisted of one single sex. Therefore we need to encourage and teach both boys and girls to work together. And by segregating the sexes through single sex programs, I don’t think that goal will be achieved. Both women I spoke to, spoke of the day when female only events would no longer be necessary. It is when all gender bias and stereotypes about Computer Science / Scientists does not exist. So I ask, are single sex programs achieving this, or is there more we have to do? I have no evidence to back up this opinion, therefore making this section just one big question to answer. If you have some facts and research that could back up my opinion then feel free to share it with me, otherwise, I encourage everyone reading this to take the time to think about it and come up with your own opinion, and then share that.

Other Solutions

I found an article which talks about a whole range of solutions which I recommend people read if they’re interested. It mentions a few workplace and national solutions which can be put into place to increase the amount of women in the tech industry. Its possible that some of these solutions could be adapted for younger children.

Extra References

Medium,. ‘Coding Like A Girl‘. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Medium. ‘Where Are The Numbers?‘. N.p., 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Securepay.com.au. ‘Do Tech Firms In Australia Have A Gender Diversity Problem? – Securepay’. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

The Conversation. ‘C’mon Girls, Let’s Program A Better Tech Industry‘. N.p., 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

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