Can Women Speak Java?
The facts are clear enough. Despite the dramatic increase in the common computerization of everyday life, women are markedly underrepresented in the conception, design, engineering, coding and development of these technologies. Their involvement in computer usage—depending upon our definition of “usage,” however—is on par with, or exceeds, that of their male counterparts.
In fact, this phenomenon exists in a number of traditionally male-dominated fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These fields—known in short by the acronym STEM—remain remarkably resistant to anything approaching an equalization of women working within the fields. Schools struggle to recruit female students to major into these fields, yet the number of women who choose to pursue an IT degree or one in another STEM subject remains less than 20 percent at most institutions.
But Why? It’s Not the Complexity of the Subjects
Women now comprise half or more of U.S. medical school students and up to 80 percent of practicing physicians in Western European nations. Veterinary schools are even more overwhelmingly female in student proportion and graduates. Some institutions have classes where men constitute only 15 percent of the student body.
For those of you unfamiliar with the intricacies of a medical or veterinary education, the skills required do not begin and end with Hand Holding 101 and Caring Glances 201. Rather, an extremely detailed and working comprehension of organic chemistry, research statistical analysis,
pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and other subjects are all required to be mastered. Organic chemistry and pharmacology problems are often visualized in three dimensions, as is much of the work in engineering. All the subjects required in medical and veterinary school are considered part of the “sciences,” and a working familiarity with the technical aspects of testing, diagnostics and treatment is essential.
An Interim Summary: Is It Social?
As more than an academic question—pun intended—why do these two challenging career fields that require similar cognitive and intellectual skills show such a marked discrepancy in the number of women working within them? Indeed, the preparation for careers in medicine far exceeds that required for the majority of entry-level positions in computer technology.
The frequent social science explanation involves emphasizing the personal patient interaction and helping aspects of the profession in attracting women. But there are less-demanding careers that allow the same type of personal interaction and promises of helping others that women could otherwise choose. What’s more, the realities of modern medicine are dictating fewer and fewer personal exchanges with patients, even for those physicians who opt to practice in socially intensive specialties.
Women, Language & Mentors
Women consistently demonstrate superior language acquisition and usage skills when compared to men. This superiority applies whether the language is contemporary or ancient, studied verbally or in written form only and extends even to Mayan hieroglyphics. Women’s brains react more specifically to language-related tasks to further add to their edge over that of men. Why, then, do women avoid computer technology and coding fields? There is nothing inherently more complex in the languages utilized to program computers.
A number of recent studies suggest that women enter STEM fields more readily when they’re provided with mentors and specific encouragement to pursue studies in these areas. Toward this end, a number of well-known companies have agreed to back an initiative, Girls Who Code, in order to encourage girls’ early consideration and experimentation in these fields. Women have also begun to form networks such as Girl Develop It and Women Who Code to provide their own social support systems.
Women have the ability to do the work behind the computer screen—not just in front of it and with the keyboard. Social science may be right: Girls may have avoided the field in the past because of stereotypes and lack of role models. The former, however, are eroding and the latter are waiting to be asked to mentor.
Lindsey Harper Mac is a professional writer in Indianapolis. She writes about social media and education, especially on how to pursue an IT degree and other relevant topic. Follow her @Harpermac11
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