What would TV comedy be without stereotypes? Certainly very different, considering that the most watched sitcom in the past season relies heavily on the trope that a blonde girl’s IQ could be higher, and that technology and science-oriented guys utterly fail at socializing.
Although shows like “The Big Bang Theory” are obviously meant to entertain and not to influence the career paths of a young teenager, unfortunately they fuel the perception that science is for socially-awkward geeks — a perception that drives people, especially women, away from fields in computer science.
According to the The National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 2010 only 18 percent of computer and information science graduates were women, down from 37 percent in 1985. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency also shows the downhill-trend continuing — 17.4 percent in 2012.
This gender disparity in IT matters for two main reasons. First, a more diverse workforce implies a higher probability of discovering the most talented and qualified workers, as well as fostering creativity and innovation. Second, and more important, since technology is pervasive in everyday life, several women’s demands are being neglected, as computational tools are developed by a working class formed mostly by men.
According to a recent study in the U.K., based on the Business and Technology Education Council vocational qualifications exam, girls outperform boys in skills-based science and technology subjects. In particular, 15 percent of the girls taking the more challenging level gained the top grade — compared to 12 percent of the boys.
Some schools are taking action to bring more women into fields of technology. At University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech, new female students share housing with more experienced female engineering students, reducing intimidation and creating a sense of community. Similarly, Cornell NYC Tech teamed with the nonprofit group Girls Who Code to offer an eight-week intensive computer science course for middle school girls. At NYU’s own technical institute in Brooklyn, a summer program on cyber-security designed for high school girls was offered this year.
These are all interesting ideas, but unless they are adopted by more schools, the gender gap will not likely close. Since the nature of the problem is cultural, it would be better if big influencers, and women themselves, approached tech-related occupations in a less biased way. Considering the enormous gender gap, women’s capacity and the projected growth of occupations by 22 percent from 2010 to 2020 in the United States, which would add 758,800 new jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer science is now probably the best option for young girls deciding on their careers.
Marcelo Cicconet is a columnist. Email him at [email protected]