This post is a follow up on a previous bleak one that examined harassment of women in the IT field. And while sexual harassment is a contributing factor to talented women choosing to leave the field and even possibly deterring others from entering it in the first place; it’s not the predominant reason for the dearth of women in IT and STEM fields in general. For that, we must have a look at multiple factors – some of which have an impact during the very first years of a woman’s life. Yes folks, it’s that entrenched and that insidious and that overlooked.First some stats: only 18.5% of high school students who take the Advanced Placement exam in computer science are girls and once in college, only 12% of computer science degrees are earned by women. And as much as tech giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook would love to hire more women into technical positions fewer than a fifth are women. But wait, it gets worse. Studies have revealed a distinct gender bias on the part of teachers when assessing the math and science of abilities of their students that extends to the tendency to encourage boys more than girls when to take up an interest in math and science.Besides the eye-opening studies regarding gender bias on the part of teachers in the NYT times article linked to above, I gleaned another shocking data point from skimming the comments section: it was alleged that many elementary school teachers are woefully unversed and ill-prepared to teach basic math concepts; struggling themselves with the basics of the subject. This would seem to be a glaring deficiency that remains unaddressed. For a blast from the blast watch the video below of a rare Barbie doll spouting off about how math class is tough!
By the time girls reach high school, only the most gifted and resilient will decide to pursue college work in a STEM subject. It’s difficult to imagine how lonely and isolating that must feel for a young women making the decision to dedicate her career to science, math, or computer science. What’s ironic is that since the dawn of the electronic computer, it was women who did the bulk of the programming. Men left what was then regarded as a clerical task to the ladies while they wrestled the “heavy iron” into bit-crunching submission. But even this bastion of participation in the exciting world of modern computing was snatched away by the boys at the start of the early 1980s and the birth of the PC.On a side note, there is a field that is seeing a huge influx of women, that while not directly within the realm of IT, can be considered quasi-tech and was until fairly recently, dominated by men. The field of digital marketing has and is experiencing explosive growth in concert with ecommerce, non-profit fundraising, social media marketing, blogging, and web presence in general and more often than not, women are “manning” key roles in impressive numbers. Take a look at the social media team or design and web teams or any digital marketing role in most organizations and take note of the number of women in these positions. Granted, not the field or issue we’re examining right now, but an interesting gender trend, nevertheless, and one with a rare silver lining.The burning question that remains is what can be done to address this condition? As we uncovered in the post on sexual harassment in IT, there are no easy answers and until society and the business community make the commitment to address and remedy the problem, not much hope exists for making progress. Things are just a challenging on the educational and cultural side of the equation, but the hope shines a little bit brighter.Personally, I think a “moonshot” initiative undertaken by the government is in order. Yes, expanding government is about as popular right now as a hedgehog in a waterbed and science is held in almost equally low regard. But we really don’t have much choice. The United States – and the world – need all the bright and talented science and technical folks it can get – both male and female. It looks like GE may be on the right track with their current initiative. Be sure to watch the “Barbie” video above prior to watching this one for proper contrast: