2017.06.04 Who Are The Women in STEM?

It is not only in Silicon Valley that women are not attracted to technology. This article from The Confederation of Danish Industry describes the same issue in the otherwise more gender egalitarian Denmark.

One factor shown to influence girls' attitudes to a career in STEM is their class room environment. A longitudinal study has found that girls express desire to go into STEM the more other girls in their class express confidence in that they have the aptitude. But the more the boys in the class expressed gender stereotypes against girls having these skills, the less the girls believe in themselves.

Supposedly, biochemistry is one of the hardest college classes to pass. It is in the STEM field and is part of the requirements for becoming a doctor. Almost as many medical school graduates are female as are male in the U.S. while the ratio is three women for every two men going through the education in Denmark (report in Danish but the graph is on page 18).

It's not that difficult STEM classes deter girls from STEM per se. It's something about I.T.

The article from Danish Industry states that misperceptions about long workdays and a lack of work-life balance are reasons girls don't "want to code".

What if this has nothing to do with their decisions to become doctors instead of engineers?

One difference between the medical field and I.T. is that all children have met a doctor before they decide what to study. And these doctors are generally kind and social - even if they do use needles.

Not as many children have met people who work in tech. And, unlike with doctors, when children meet tech people it is unlikely to be while they are in their tech role. Statistically, they are more likely to just be someone's dad.

I will leave it up to you to decide if tech professionals come across as kind and social to a child.

Watching the HBO series Silicon Valley I don't see many good role models. (I can, unfortunately, recognize much of what they describe with quite a bit of snark in the series.)

Watching almost anything else in popular culture that describes engineers, the same picture emerges. Tony Stark? Nah. Q from the James Bond movies could perhaps inspire - if not thrown up against sick villains who are even more tech proficient and give the industry a bad reputation.

Thank God for Hidden Figures, because otherwise Lisbeth Salander would be the only female tech-wizard that easily springs to my mind. I certainly would not want to introduce children to the movie-verse she inhabits.

Fearing that I was unfair I googled and Google also comes up with only Hidden Figures. (It added that when TV depicts women in STEM, over 50% are doctors/forensic experts and that this has contributed to the rising interest among girls to study forensics.)

I am not trying to point fingers because then four fingers point back at me. And rightly so.

One of my first I.T. projects was automating the shareholder administration for a very big listed Danish company. It was changing some people's jobs from pen and typewriter, big books and small index cards to a computer screen and a black hole. They had to trust me that the "books" would be kept diligently.

There were three nervous wrecks in that department - literally. I later learned that one of them had to go on stress related leave. But to people in the I.T. department it was an exiting pilot on running a new technology.

I think of myself as a fairly caring and decent person - but I was the face of a major upheaval. I was also a young smart-Alec and the "victims" were old enough to be my parents.

My experience - or rather my ex-colleagues' experience - is unfortunately not unique. All too often is I.T. involvement a cause for friction. Either because they are an intricate part of changing/eliminating jobs, because something doesn't work as expected and you don't get an understandable explanation why, or because their social skills have a lot to be wished for. All universities should teach software engineers something like Interpersonal Dynamics.

How many chances do young people have for hearing from their parents that the I.T. department contains some obnoxious and arrogant jerks who have little regard for how their work influences other people's daily lives? How is this compared to the chance that their parents will come home singing the praise of their local I.T. department? I don't think the techies will come out as the good guys. It doesn't mean that they don't come out as the winners.

Generally girls are are more relationship oriented than competitive (testosterone influences aggression levels and desire to compete). Perhaps they care less about winners and losers in the organizational political game and more about maintaining connections.

A new analysis from Innovisor shows that I.T. people mainly talk to each other while people in H.R. are almost twice as likely to have people outside of H.R. in their close network.

So I.T. people are also elitists who don't mingle well? Would their scared-to-death/very-annoyed users be much inclined to mingle with them? Yes, I do understand that with the different work roles in I.T. and H.R. it is much less likely that many in the I.T. department have job related needs for connecting with users. And I do understand that in many organizations around Silicon Valley, Tech is not the same as internal I.T. but the backbone of the business itself. Still, people's impression of what tech people do is informed by their interactions with the tech people they meet.

Perhaps they could at least play soccer together during lunch brakes or hang out together having a beer after work? Perhaps companies should use the old Avis approach and have their I.T. professionals out serving customers for a week every year so they will understand the business they are supposed to support and be seen by their colleagues?

This is no different than all other types of diversity: Familiarity breeds affection. That cuts both ways: If you don't mingle, people will take their cues from HBO and hear-say. If you don't mingle, you don't hear the perspectives from the other side.


If stereotypes, entertainment, and hear-say tell young women that they can grow up to become social outcasts (who will not be accepted anyway in the sand box)

OR

they can work to cure cancer,

does this really have anything to do with work-life balance or would it have more to do with whom they aspire to become?

Hello, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hollywood, you have an unfinished job to do describing totally normal, decent - or totally exceptional, decent - people doing tech jobs who just happen not to be all White or Asian males. They do exist, you know, and we can use a little help out here.