Discouraging data: women in CS and IT

In making my mark in the realm of data and information visualization, it will probably do me good to become a better and more knowledgeable coder. I am now looking into pursuing a little more CS education, and am excited about diving into edX MOOCs in computer science (remember when edX was OCW?).

I’ve never shied away from things technical. I enjoy every opportunity I get to learn new software and programming languages, and nothing sucks me into an-all absorbing work cave as effectively as a new Javascript, HTML or CSS coding challenge. I’m even considering diving much deeper into CS than just the basics. After all, the entry level pay for a computer scientist or software engineer is at least 1/3 higher than the entry level pay for people in my current line of work.

However, these data give me pause:

Looking at the BLS numbers, it is interesting that these professions attract more women (as a percentage) than software engineers (20.2%):

  • Bailiffs, correctional officers, jailers (26.9%)
  • Chief executives (25.0%)
  • Database administrators (35.3%)
  • Biological scientists (45.1%)
  • Chemists and materials scientists (30.0%)
  • Technical writers (50.4%)

Even the professions that are said to have a glass ceiling (such as CEO) have more women in them than software development. Based on the number of science positions listed in the BLS data with substantial numbers of women in them, it is clear that the myth that women are afraid of math or science is just plain wrong (even if less than 1% of mathematicians are women). And given the bizarre outlier of DBAs at 35.3%, and technical writers at 50.4%, we can see that women certainly do not dislike computing fields in general.

IT gender gap: Where are the female programmers? by Justin James

Now I remember why I wasn’t attracted to CS at university. I would try to strike up conversations with computer geeks, and then get shut out of the weirdly intense technobabble tournament that every computer geek conversation eventually turned into. My work is now and was then a huge part of my life; but I learned very early that the people I surround myself with are at least as important as the work that I do. At the time, a choice of major seemed like a choice to surround myself with people like the people in that major for the better part of my adult life.

I can’t be the only woman who looked at the majority culture of computer programmers and thought, is this it?


Gender bias in science – the links

Gender bias in science – collected links

Collecting my favorite stories and peer-reviewed studies of gender bias in science. Please ping me at @sandramchung if you have more I should add.

Storified by Sandra M. Chung· Wed, Feb 20 2013 16:29:50

“Male-organized symposia have half the number of female first authors (29%) that symposia organized by women (64%) or by both men and women (58%) have, and half that of female participation in talks and posters (65%). We found a similar gender bias from men in symposia from the past 12 annual meetings of the American Society of Primatologists. The bias is surprising given that women are the numerical majority in primatology and have achieved substantial peer recognition in this discipline.”
PLOS ONE: Stag Parties Linger: Continued Gender Bias in a Female-Rich Scientific DisciplineAbstract Discussions about the underrepresentation of women in science are challenged by uncertainty over the relative effects of the lac…
“That he could be treated differently by people who think of him as a woman, as a man or as a transgendered person makes Barres angry. What’s worse is that some women don’t recognize that they are treated differently because, unlike him, they’ve never known anything else.
The irony, Barres said, is that those who argue in favor of innate differences in scientific ability do so without scientific data to explain why women make up more than half of all graduate students but only 10 percent of tenured faculty. The situation is similar for minorities.
Yet scientists of both sexes are ready to attribute the gap to a gender difference. 
‘They don’t care what the data is,’ Barres said. ‘That’s the meaning of prejudice.’ “
Transgender Experience Led Stanford Scientist To Critique Gender DifferenceBen Barres has a distinct edge over the many others who have joined the debate about whether men’s brains are innately better suited for …

WTF? American childrearing edition

Profession women friends, do you remember being seduced and inspired by a picture of Licia Ronzulli in the middle of the European parliament wearing her six-week-old-daughter in a sling? No? Let me refresh your memory.

Did you smile and sigh? I did. The smile was for the “you go, woman!” sentiment that came from my gut. And the sigh was for the realization that I’m still having to constantly choose between my career and having children – and that there are no signs that that will change until long after my ovaries have dried up. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t catch another career vs. family discussion. The prospects are especially stark in fields like academic science and corporate management, where ridiculously long work hours are an expectation and culture and incentives change at an evolutionary, not a revolutionary pace.

But let’s not forget that anti-parenting workplace culture isn’t just a workaholic problem; it’s an American problem. Here’s another picture that puts American mothers in their place:
The US is one of only eight countries in the world without a paid maternity leave policy.

Are you, too, feeling your hopes and dreams for a family and a career drip away like menstrual blood as your prime babymaking years zip by with nary a sign that the professional world is becoming less hostile to parenting?

Many of us are channeling our rage and frustration over the persistent gender gap into glass-ceiling talk. But as Stephanie Coontz points out in the NYTimes story that goes with the second image, the remaining barriers to true gender equality are more political and economic than social. That is, we as individual men and women have done much to spread gender equality norms throughout society (note that I’ve had the “>career vs. family conversation with just as many men as women); but we’ve failed to change any of the fundamental rules of the game. We’re trying to live by 2013 values in a world with 1953 workplace incentives. As Coontz writes, we’re now to the point where we’re rationalizing the trap:

Women are still paid less than men at every educational level and in every job category. They are less likely than men to hold jobs that offer flexibility or family-friendly benefits. When they become mothers, they face more scrutiny and prejudice on the job than fathers do.

So, especially when women are married to men who work long hours, it often seems to both partners that they have no choice. Female professionals are twice as likely to quit work as other married mothers when their husbands work 50 hours or more a week and more than three times more likely to quit when their husbands work 60 hours or more.

The sociologist Pamela Stone studied a group of mothers who had made these decisions. Typically, she found, they phrased their decision in terms of a preference. But when they explained their “decision-making process,” it became clear that most had made the “choice” to quit work only as a last resort — when they could not get the flexible hours or part-time work they wanted, when their husbands would not or could not cut back their hours, and when they began to feel that their employers were hostile to their concerns. Under those conditions, Professor Stone notes, what was really a workplace problem for families became a private problem for women.

Do you find yourself settling for much less than you originally dreamed of as far as career and family are concerned and rationalizing it as a “choice”? We have Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook preaching “Don’t leave before you leave,” with her Harvard economics degree and Facebook COO salary and stock options, and Anne-Marie Slaughter talking about the chicken-or-egg problem of getting more women to the top in a culture where there are few or no realistic paths to having both a great career and a healthy family.

Licia and Vittoria Ronzulli making an appearance in Eurocratland was like Ellen DeGeneres coming out in 1997. Do you remember what a big deal that was? And do you remember Zachary Quinto coming out fourteen years after Ellen did? It was a nonevent. Someday, a father-to-be asking for paid paternal leave will be a nonevent. But that day’s not coming soon enough.

There goes the ‘manly’ man – and maybe all the rest, too?

I read a lot of articles about persistent gender bias in corporate leadership, in academic science, in elementary school classrooms. But I’m also reading more and more stories about the tables truly turning, in some cases not from imploding stereotypes but from persistent ones that backfire.

For instance, the New York Times Magazine preview for this weekend contains a fascinating feature, “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?” about how the recession is combining with gender stereotypes about acceptable jobs for men and women and pressing disproportionately more men into unemployment.

Reuben has a college degree and doesn’t seem especially preoccupied with machismo, so I asked him why, given how many different kinds of jobs he has held, he couldn’t train for one of the jobs that he knew was available: something related to schools, nursing or retail, for example. One reason was obvious — those jobs don’t pay as much as he was accustomed to making — but he said there was another. “We’re in the South,” he told me. “A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.” I asked several businesswomen in Alexander City if they would hire a man to be a secretary or a receptionist or a nurse, and many of them just laughed. It’s not hard to imagine a time when the prevailing dynamic in town might be female bosses shutting men out of the only open jobs.

The author, Hanna Rosin, points out a terrible irony. In Alexander City, Alabama, manly men are providers, but manly-man-jobs are now in short supply. Some of these men have begun to reconfigure their notion of masculinity and identity to reconcile it with the fact that they’ve become house husbands or nurses to make ends meet. Some have not. What happens to these men, who refuse to contribute to society on its new terms?

(Full disclosure: Rosin wrote a book called The End of Men. She’s naturally inclined to weave a story that supports the central idea of the book that she’s currently hanging her career off of. But the demographic evidence to support the idea of a “mancession” and the longer-term trend toward women dominating higher education is independent of her perspective and quite sound.)

I’m thinking these men who refuse to work because there is no manly work available might dwindle in their usefulness to human society until they become the equivalents of bee drones – utter mooches who exist solely to eat, have sex once and die immediately afterward. Keeping these freeloaders around is expensive, and bee colonies produce males only when the hive has the resources to support them and only because they need the genetic material.

But humans don’t actually need drones to deliver the genetic material. A few days before Rosin’s mag feature went live, Greg Hampikian, and biologist and criminal justice professor at the University of Idaho, made just that point in an op-ed called “Men, Who Needs Them?“:

I don’t dismiss the years I put in as a doting father, or my year at home as a house husband with two young kids. And I credit my own father as the more influential parent in my life. Fathers are of great benefit. But that is a far cry from “necessary and sufficient” for reproduction.

If a woman wants to have a baby without a man, she just needs to secure sperm (fresh or frozen) from a donor (living or dead). The only technology the self-impregnating woman needs is a straw or turkey baster, and the basic technique hasn’t changed much since Talmudic scholars debated the religious implications of insemination without sex in the fifth century. If all the men on earth died tonight, the species could continue on frozen sperm. If the women disappear, it’s extinction.

Ultimately the question is, does “mankind” really need men? With human cloning technology just around the corner and enough frozen sperm in the world to already populate many generations, perhaps we should perform a cost-benefit analysis.

Persistently macho men are driving themselves to irrelevance, maybe even extinction. Many other men have shucked gender stereotypes and are adapting beautifully to blurring gender roles. That’s not just progressive; that’s a good survival strategy. If men didn’t adapt by making themselves really really helpful and useful to women, technological advances might soon put us at a point where we can no longer justify the very existence of men.

Men – are you worried about this at all?

The Hunger Games: fiction that brings out racist, sexist reality

I haven’t read The Hunger Games or seen the movie yet, but I’m soaking up lots of sociological analyses and outraged reactions on teh Internets. A story about a fictional, horrendous society seems to be spurring reactions that highlight real-world heinousness.

First, I read that some people consider Jennifer Lawrence to be ‘too big’ to play Katniss Everdeen.

Too big.

Just right.

You're right, Christian Bale. That's kind of messed up.

I’ll repeat that I haven’t seen The Hunger Games. But the movie piqued my interest because I was impressed by Winter’s Bone and by Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in it. Not once did I think, oh, that apple-cheeked beauty is inappropriate; shouldn’t the daughter of a meth cook in the rural Ozarks be rail-thin with a paradoxically pregnant belly, ratty hair and missing teeth?

Should the star of a movie called The Hunger Games look hungry? Should a rail-thin, punk-rock, running-for-his-life, involuntary time traveler-librarian (as described in the book) be played by Eric Bana, aka The Incredible Hulk? Can you recall the last time someone commented on the appropriateness of a male actor’s body for a role, except to commend him for gaining a bunch of muscle (Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull) or losing a scary amount of it (Christian Bale in The Machinist)?

As L.V. Anderson points out,

If we held actors’ physical appearance to a standard of strict realism in all movies, most Hollywood actors would be uncastable in films set in present-day America. Movie critics suspend their disbelief all the time—and when they suddenly refuse to do so for a female actor whose body looks more like an average woman’s body rather than less, it’s hard to see that as anything but sexist.

Second, I read that several Twitter users outed their inner racists by complaining about the casting of two characters in The Hunger Games. At least some of those Twitter accounts have since been deleted, probably because they were being firebombed, and rightfully so.

I’m not clear on what people are referring to when they call ours a post-racial society. Have not the stories of Trayvon Martin and Jeremy Lin made it utterly clear that it is no such thing? We still see race and we still think in terms of it, consciously or unconsciously. Big black man = scary, dangerous. Tiny blonde white girl = innocent, pure. These stereotypes are so strong that some people’s minds actually whitewashed characters that the book clearly described as dark.

Actually, the only post-racial societies I can think of aren’t real. They’re science fiction. More on that later.