Since the suffragettes pushed for voter equality back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women have come a very long way in a host of equality issues, from voting to education, sports, and of course, the workplace. In many ways, statistics show that women are now outpacing men in a number of areas, including college enrollment. For 2010, the college enrollment rate for high school females was 74%, compared to only 62.8% for men, and among women in the workforce, 37 percent of women hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 35 percent of men in the work force.
Yet, in one sector, a lingering predisposition seems to persist: the tech sector. In the top 100 technology companies, women account for only six percent of CEOs. In the sector overall, only 22 percent of software engineers are women, and only 14% of venture capitalists who have control of technology companies are women. Why are the disparities so great in this sector? According to articles in the New York Times and on the technology blog digiphile, a large part of the problem may be a cultural bias against educating women in the sciences.
Men Far Outpace Women in Computer Science Degrees
According to writer Claire Cain Miller, girls begin to turn away from science education at a very young age, as early as elementary school. There are a number of reasons, says Miller, among them “parental discouragement,” lack of exposure and interest, and teachers who don’t have the resources. By the time girls are ready for college, very few of them are interested in majoring in computer science: only 1 percent of girls taking the SAT in 2009 indicated an interest in a computer science degree, in comparison to five percent of boys taking the test. In 2008, only 18 percent of all computer science degrees were awarded to women. That number is down from 37 percent in 1985, when computer technology for the masses was still in its infancy.
Part of the problem is also rooted in image, according to the article in the New York Times. Many women don’t want to be associated with the classic image of a loner who spends most of their time alone in front of a computer playing video games and eating junk food; women may perceive themselves as more social in nature. Perhaps the most important tool in the arsenal to get girls and young women more interested in studying a computer science degree is to create more mentoring programs for women that are science related, especially targeting younger female students.
The benefits of such programs wouldn’t be limited to the girls and young women who are participating in them. Statistics show that tech companies that have both men and women on board are more “profitable and innovative,” and that “mixed-gender teams have produced IT patents that are cited from 26 to 42 percent more often than the norm.” That equates to the fiscal bottom line and good business, as well as reducing gender stereotypes and bias.