Many people find Apple, Google, Facebook, and other tech company’s statements about the desire to hire more women disturbing, as if it’s discrimination against men. In a growing industry like tech with enough spots for the takers, hiring women first is still going to result in a ~70% male workforce. It’s not a solution, and it’s not exactly what diversity reports intend on conveying.
The main aspect of why more men go into computer science than women is early education and societal gender roles. The gender roles that previously prevented women from wanting to become doctors are still rampant in tech. It’s a boys club. Thankfully, there are some programs now targeted at teen women to get them interested in tech for the next generation of the workforce. Historically, the industry was actually less male dominant. Today, 82% of CS degrees go to men. In 1985, that number was 63%. Computers became an industry without association with masculinity, so many of the influential early pioneers, such as Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace, were women.
As late as the 1960s many people perceived computer programming as a natural career choice for savvy young women. Even the trend-spotters at Cosmopolitan Magazine urged their fashionable female readership to consider careers in programming. In an article titled “The Computer Girls,” the magazine described the field as offering better job opportunities for women than many other professional careers. As computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper told a reporter, programming was “just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.” James Adams, the director of education for the Association for Computing Machinery, agreed: “I don’t know of any other field, outside of teaching, where there’s as much opportunity for a woman.”
The shift happened once computers became more popularized. Computers were more often given to boys once they became a household item, seen the same way in parents eyes as telescopes and other typically “boy” items. CS students went from being entirely beginners, to professors assuming students already had experience. Of course, this gave an advantage to men. NPR delves deeper into this history.
Gamergate was a controversy started from gamer backlash against Depression Quest, a game developed by Zoe Quinn. Some gamers began to believe it received a disproportionate amount of media attention. Quinn’s ex wrote a blog post alleging she had an affair with Nathan Grayson, writer for gaming site Kotaku, who, like most publications, gave it a positive review. Soon, a community began forming conspiracy theories.
However, the affair occurred after the review was published, leading many to call the theories out as misogynistic, including feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian went on to talk about most video games lacking strong female characters, characterizing the industry as a “boys’ club”. Both Quinn and Sarkeesian received many threats of rape, death, and sexual harassment. Gamergate is one of the many cases in which a minority of people react in a way that reinforces these gender roles for the entire public.
Progress in Equality
You might ask why this matters. Assuming someone should or shouldn’t inherently like something or want to do or become something because of their gender and sex has a negative result for everyone. It prevents great minds from being expressed because it’s against the social norm for them to be one. Gender roles are improving, and this will create a more respectful and less assuming society. It means getting rid of the “Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl!” idea that The Simpsons critiqued in the 1994 episode “Lisa vs Malibu Stacy”. The only reason more women aren’t in tech and politics is because of these antiquated cultural norms.
The vast majority of the richest self-made people are white men. These people hold a lot of power with their money. The Koch brothers and their billion dollars in donations towards to the GOP for 2016 alone, for example. These billions find their way to restricting abortion access and reducing healthcare contraceptive coverage. Billionaires, the concept of saviors, and wealth inequality isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The best bet is to make the rich and powerful as diverse as possible in attempt to keep at least a some representation towards the less represented. We cannot consider our system a democracy when a 31% demographic holds 65% of the power. The billionaires that puppet those elected officials are even less representative, with 85% of them being white males.
Tim Cook, Larry Page, and many other executives are probably not at all sexist, but they don’t have the same personal experiences that would make them use their billions in ways that women would. For that reason, it’s every netizen’s responsibility to think about the implications of their words before posting in an anger-induced voice. Your voice could be the difference in the political climate for years to come. Do your part, and don’t teach the next generation the “blue vs pink” ideals that will forever affect them and the greater humanity.