Ruoting Jia, author & Rutgers University freshman
The workforce in technology, or in any academic discipline related to it—such as the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)—is mainly dominated by males. Even though technology has become quite relevant to people’s daily lives in the 21st Century and its job positions are in fairly high demand, women seem like they are driven out of this field because they are considered “unrelated” to or are not fit for technology.
In order to gain a better perspective on the subject from someone who is a great role model in the field of computer science and to deeply analyze the hidden reasons for the gender gap in the computing workforce, I interviewed Mrs. Faith Rothberg who is a CEO of College Recruiter, a recruitment media company used by college students and recent graduates to find careers. Mrs. Rothberg has a strong educational background in both technology and business; she holds a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. She is really passionate about her career, and she is willing to encourage teenage girls to participate in technology. She is also an active leader who has had conversation with elementary school girls about engagement in STEM fields, has volunteered at various organizations in middle schools and highs school, has spoken at the ceremony of Aspiration Award in Computing (an award for women), and has offered summer internships to one of the honorees.
I asked Mrs. Rothberg why there are few women in the field of technology. She responded, “In some areas of the country, the education systems, even the teachers, professionals, or the parents assume that boys are going to be good at those things, and girls are not due to the stereotypical culture.”
Are girls really not as good at STEM-related tasks as boys are? Such stereotypes are beginning to be questioned and confronted by the public.
However, a statistical report named By the Numbers from National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) has shown that 57% of professional occupations in the U.S. workforce are held by women, with 26% of professional computing occupations in both 2013 and 2014 U.S workforce held by women. Among this female workforce, 3% were African American women, 5% were Asian women, and 2% were Hispanic women. 24% of Chief Information Officer (CIO) positions at Fortune 100 companies were held by women in 2012, and only 6% of those positions in 2014.
In 2013, 56% of Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers were female, but only 46% of AP Calculus test-takers were female. Only 19% of AP Computer Science female test-takers were female. From the year 2000 to 2012, there was a 64% decline in the number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science (1). According to the SAT score report on the math portion from American Enterprise Institute (AEI), statistics have shown that from the year 1972-2013, there persists a huge gender gap in math because high school boys have an average SAT math test score that is 32 points higher than girls. Moreover, the male-female ratio on the SAT math test is above 1 with the score that is higher than 580 points, and the ratio is below 1 with the score than is lower than 580 points; this suggests that more boys scored higher than 580 points on the math portion than girls, and more girls received a score that is below 580 points than boys did (Perry). Based on these statistics, society starts to question girls’ capabilities in the STEM field–are girls really inherently less intelligent than boys?
One of the primary reasons which leads to this unbalanced data is the education system in technology, especially early education in elementary and secondary schools, which has not fully developed yet. Rothberg mentioned education in technology in our interview as well; she said that “technology until recently wasn’t taught young enough, and actually it’s still not taught young enough. I think we should be really teaching about computers and technology in elementary school.”
One of the most notable incidences in the Department of Computer Science in many research universities is that incoming freshmen leave the department after taking the Introduction to Computer Science course after their first semester because even though these are introductory level courses, they are still really difficult for these students who have not had any coding experience prior to entering the program. This is preparatory work that should be taught and learned in early education in order to be prepared for further advanced upper-level study (Wilson et al. 26).
Tracing back to early education, there are not many high schools or middle schools offering AP Computer Science or regular basic programming courses to their students. The chance that they will major in computer science without knowing the concept of the subject and what computer scientists do is quite minimal. Moreover, children in elementary schools are much less being exposed to programming; thus, even fewer children frame an interest in coding because learning how to code is like learning a new language. The earlier you start, the better you will be.
Therefore, with limited knowledge and skill to succeed in the so-called “easiest” course in college, it is easy to understand why there are fewer students going into the profession.
Another vital factor is that since the professions in technology are considered well-paid, there are fewer trained and experienced AP Computer Science teachers who would rather focus on computer system development or start their own technology businesses than teach students. By knowing the importance of having an instructor in the field that requires a lot of advanced skills and logical thinking, this also limits students’ opportunities to exceed in the field.
Faith Rothberg, CEO of College Recruiter
Although having limited educational resources is an obstacle for both males and females, women are more likely to opt themselves out of the field while men are trying to work on getting themselves into the field. Rothberg states that “in some area of the country, educational systems, even the teachers, the professionals, or the parents assume that boys are going to be good at those things, and girls are not.”
Those old stereotypes hold women back from technology and are the subconscious assumptions and negative stereotypes towards women’s role in the STEM field which shape people’s misconceptions and misunderstandings about the computer science major and its workforce.
Computer scientists are considered “geeks” in the society who have the stereotypical physical traits like “wearing glasses, pale, thin, unattractive” (Cheryan et al. 5). They are viewed as people who are less active in social life and who are lacking interactive skills when it comes to communication and collaboration. People describe them as solely scientific and “obsessed with computers” that they work on (Cheryan et al. 10). Aside from that, their characters are defined as unattractive, nerdy, and socially introverted, which women will unlikely be.
“What happens now is that by the time young girls get to middle school and high school,” Rothberg said, “they see themselves as not smart as boys, so they are away from technology.” A lot of the girls who are studying computer science “come from families of computer scientists and engineers” (Stross), because their families understand the importance and responsibilities in the field, especially technology, are highly demanded in the 21st century. Unlike other families without computer scientists or engineers, the stereotypes restrict the encouragement and support from family members of young girls. Therefore, the more this stereotypical idea is added to women from a social aspect, the fewer women will enter into the field of technology.
Women have historically chosen lower-paying yet fulfilling jobs, whereas their male counterparts, who are considered family providers, choose high-paying careers, such as computer science and engineering (Larson). This has become socially acceptable that men’s jobs are inventive and creative; however, women’s jobs are caring. When children are very young, toys, such as vehicles and Legos, seem to be designed for boys. However, girls often have dolls with a whole set of house settings, which give them a wrong perspective to girls that taking care of dolls and organizing house are all they are meant to do.
Also, the feeling of isolation or ostracism is a common frustration among women in technology. Since men are dominating the technological workforce, some women do not feel comfortable working in a gender-biased working environment. This is even drawing out more women from this field; therefore, the ratio of male-female is increasingly growing.
Another persisting factor that Rothberg mentioned is that unequal salary difference between female workers and male workers who have the same skills and abilities in the workforce. Their salaries are similar at the entry level positions regardless of gender. However, when it gets to higher positions with more experience and knowledge, gender and income disparity start to emerge, where men are paid more than women for the same type of jobs.
People focus too much on who are they working with instead of the work itself. However, “sometimes it doesn’t matter what gender you are at all. It’s just who knows what about a part of the business, and we share our knowledge about the industry.” Rothberg has worked as an IT analyst among a lot of male colleagues. She said she felt pretty comfortable working with them, and male colleagues “truly respect your opinion because it is a little bit different than what many of them are saying. It’s great to all agree on stuff, but it’s nice to throw out different challenges at each other, so I think they find that helpful too.” In order to create a welcoming working environment for women in male-dominated field, the spirit of the companies should focus on problem-solving and interacting and collaborating with coworkers, rather than paying much attention of the fact of gender disparity.
Another reason for low representation of women in technology is the lack of female role models in this field. Computing is a particularly taxing field. Women may find it to be an inhospitable discipline and may choose to focus their education and career goals toward other fields where due to the lack of support and guidance from other women.
A study that conducted by Ph.D. students from Syracuse University shows that there are surprisingly fewer mentoring programs when approaching to the higher level of education. Unlike undergraduate students who are required to take courses from a variety of academic disciplines, “graduate students are often plugged into their own specialized studies and have little contact with others outside their department” (Bhatia, Priest Amati 4). With a small number of female graduate students, they can be isolated and have less access to social networks than their male peers.
Rothberg said that “anyone can be a leader in any part of their lives. All it takes is their own energy and passion and communicating with other people.” She brought up an interesting point which is being a CEO doesn’t mean being a leader, though she does consider herself a leader. As long as women are passionate and confident about what they are doing, they could become a leader and a role model in any way for other women, and help them to achieve more accomplishments in their area. Female leaders show strength and power to other female peers towards their gender abilities, and being a role model will encourage others to persist their interests that restricted by gender gap; for instance, Rothberg has recently shown her female influences in this highly male dominated field by being one of the board members of a conference.
Rothberg brought up that there exists a difference between the genetics and brain functions of male brains and female brains. She said, “One thing that maybe more women have than man is EQ, or emotional intelligence, the ability to sense what’s going on with different people and that it’s part of my female identity.”
A study that was conducted by a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania shows that “the average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions” (Sample). Since the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, and the right of the brain is for “more intuitive thinking, women are more intuitive and emotional than men are.” Moreover, male and female brains showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13 but became more differentiated in the age between 14 and 17 years old (Sample). Computer science is a field that requires a lot of logical thinking skills and accurate analyzing skills.
However, at the beginning of the evolution of computers, most of the first pioneers of computing were women. They worked and found the mathematical foundations and mechanical computing algorithms. According to the history, the capabilities and creativity of women are predominately proved by the achievements of these women pioneers (Zimmermann).
As Rothberg agreed, “From the ability standpoint, they [middle school and high school students] start off very similar and continue to excel definitely at the same pace.” Although genetics forms people’s brain structures differently, which may affect our performances in STEM field, the efforts we put in will have a significantly larger influence on improving our thinking and abilities from a long term.
With the acknowledgment of the lack of women in technology, the society should take actions to solve this problem. Our society needs diversity, especially in technology field which is essentially needed and highly demanded in other areas as well. Thus, institutions should make technology or its related fields more appealing and welcoming for women, and increases female-focused networking events, mentoring opportunities, and on-campus community building. As women themselves, they should step out of their comfort zones to stand up and speak for themselves, to make initiatives, to strive for opportunities, to be confident what who they are and what they are doing, and to help and guide other women to make this group strong and intelligent.
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About the author:
Ruoting Jia is a freshman at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, studying in Computer Science and Mathematics. She is an honors graduate of Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota, and a 2015 Minnesota winner of NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. She would like to pursue a career in the field of software development.
Bhatia, Shobha, and Jill Priest Amati. “‘if these Women can do it, I can do it, Too’: Building Women Engineering Leaders through Graduate Peer Mentoring.” Leadership & Management in Engineering 10.4 (2010): 174. Print.
“By the Numbers.” National Center for Women & Information Technology. NCWIT, 3 Apr. 2015. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
Cheryan, Sapna, et al. “The stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for women.” Sex Roles 69 (201e): 58-71. Print
Larson, Slena. “Why So Few Women Are Studying Computer Science”. ReadWrite. 2 September 2014. Web. 9 Dec 2015.
Perry, Mark J. “2013 SAT Test Results Show That a Huge Math Gender Gap Persists with a 32-point Advantage for High School Boys – AEI.” AEI. AEI, 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Rothberg, Faith. “Women in Computer Science.” Online interview. 25 Oct. 2015.
Sample, Ian. “Male and Female Brains Wired Differently, Scans Reveal.” TheGuardian. Squarespace, 2 Dec. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
Stross, Randall. “What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Nov. 2008. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
Wilson, Cameron et al. Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. Print.
Zimmermann, Kim Ann. “History of Computers: A Brief Timeline.” LiveScience. N.p., 8 Sept. 2015. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.