Looking for a few good women

it baby cartoon

If Flannery O’Connor were writing today about the computer industry, she might have titled her story, “A Good Woman is Hard to Find”.

Because in the world of information technology, the world of computers and programming languages and software development and technology startups, women are scarce.  Despite the fact that women make up half the U.S. labor force, the technology industry is 75 percent male. And women account for only about eight percent of technology startups.

And the situation is getting worse. Every year, more women than men earn college degrees. Nevertheless, the number of women majoring in computer science continues to decline since it peaked in the 1980s. Today, only about 18 percent of computer science majors are women. The percentage of women teaching computer science is only in the single digits.

So what’s the solution? “We need to make science cool,” said President Obama at a recent town hall meeting held at the headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, California.

Cool? Seriously? Overlooking the fact that such a statement portrays women as shallow and easily swayed by peer pressure, one has to question Obama’s choice of Facebook as a site for any serious discussions of America’s technology crisis. Was the choice made because more women than men use social networking? (About 71 percent of Facebook’s daily users are women.) With that logic, we should have seen more women involved in creating the technology for the telecommunications industry. Girls, after all, have always used the telephone more than boys.

No, the problem lies deeper than the perceived coolness or otherwise of technology jobs. After all, men continue to flock to the field despite the near universal portrayal of tech savvy guys as being socially awkward and unable to get a date.  Is coolness not important to men? Do computer geeks enjoy being the butt of endless nerd-related jokes?

Or is the problem that technology is still seen as too difficult and esoteric for supposedly math-challenged girls? Maybe. Do we need more women in advanced technology jobs to serve as role models for school girls? Probably.

One thing’s for sure. Women need to get the message that technology jobs pay well and offer great opportunities for career advancement and security. How cool is that?

IT baby cartoon

2 thoughts on “Looking for a few good women”

  1. Perhaps women see IT for what it is, a good old boys club where women are not going to be taken seriously, are going to be excluded, and face bleak opportunities for advancement. Since IT seems to devalue the things that women consider important – such as “usablility” as an attribute for technology – most women are alienated from IT.

    1. Society in general may see IT as a “good old boys club”. According to Claudia Morrell, former executive director of the Center for Women and Information Technology at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, middle school is the time when most kids begin to solidify their career goals. At that age, gender issues become important as an expression of personal identity. A girl saying she wants to be a computer scientist is treated much like a boy who says he wants to be a nurse. The professions carry gender identities, even if they are outdated. A middle-school girl in a programming class might feel as out of place as a boy in a sewing class. Let’s face it, societal expectations are very difficult for most children to challenge.

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