In search of alpha geekettes

Various reasons have been advanced for the relative paucity of women in IT departments. Zoe Brain covers the bases:

Part of the problem is the discouragement talented girls experience at school because IT is a “male field”. Part of it is that businesses are set up with men in mind, with stereotypically male aspects of bonding after work, of stakhanovite hours with no concession for having a Life, with hierachies and competition for “fastest gun in the west” rather than teamwork. The latter is particularly important in Open Source development.

Part of it is straight old-fashioned misogyny and the glass ceiling, but I think that’s not as important as the other issues. It can get pretty bad though as a consequence of the other causes, trust me on that one.

I don’t doubt that. There remains, though, the question: how in the name of Ada Lovelace did this become a “male field”? Andy Skipper opines:

[W]hat I believe is the core of the problem: inherited social stigma and media reluctance to portray work in the tech world as anything other than rooms full of bespectacled virgins, socially inept, unhygienic, and, almost invariably, male.

This is not a world where the blossoming teenage girl, about to choose her career path, and, perhaps more importantly, her future social sphere, is likely to base her aspirations.

And I have enough personal experience with that whole bespectacled, socially-inept virgin thing to verify that it’s not a huge draw for women. (I am, however, comparatively hygienic for a guy.) As for media reluctance, the rule has always been “When in doubt, exploit the stereotype,” and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

(Title inspired by Roberta X.)


  1. McGehee »

    2 May 2009 · 2:34 pm

    As for media reluctance, the rule has always been “When in doubt, exploit the stereotype,”

    Well, I’m pretty media-reluctant, and if exploiting stereotypes keeps them away, I’m all for it.

    That may not be what you mean though.

  2. Francis W. Porretto »

    2 May 2009 · 2:35 pm

    Oh, please. I do doubt that, and quite severely.

    Nothing has been more obvious, or more frantic, than the efforts of America’s major universities and corporations to attract women into the sciences and engineering fields. My own employer has a huge, heavily overfunded department dedicated to the purpose. More, we all get propagandized semiannually about the importance of a workplace that accommodates women’s tastes and feelings. Despite all that, the ratio of men to women in engineering and computer science is still about 9:1 overall — and nearly 20:1 in defense engineering.

    At this point, it’s time to consider other explanations than the politically correct victimist cant with which the militant feminists are always slathering us. Like maybe: women find the work less congenial than men do? Or maybe: the demands the work puts on its practitioners are more willingly borne by men than women? Or maybe: women have less talent than men for symbolic logic and abstract reasoning?

    Yes, I know: I’m a terrible person even for broaching those possibilities. But I’ve endured enough feminist vilification. to have grown calluses over those pressure points.

  3. CGHill »

    2 May 2009 · 3:11 pm

    I’m guessing that these are not exclusive ORs, and that any combination of them may therefore apply: since there exist some women who do have that particular talent, it seems reasonable to conclude that at least some of them might have been otherwise interested in such a career, but had turned their interests — or had their interests diverted — elsewhere.

    As for actual misogyny, it’s likely not a major factor, feminist grumblings notwithstanding; but I have seen it in action, and it’s a genuinely-nasty business.

  4. fillyjonk »

    3 May 2009 · 2:26 pm

    A question that used to get raised from time to time, when I was still going to ESA (Ecological society of America) meetings: “Why are there so few Black ecologists?” (Outside of some people of-actual-African-birth, there are very few).

    Some argue it’s that you have to have lots of early exposure to bugs and worms and stuff to develop that interest, and that a lot of Black kids grew up in more urban areas. I suspect it’s more that “minority” students who show science talent are quietly funneled off into the medical/biomedical fields – where they can make a lot more money and frankly have more career possibilities. Most of the Black students I have had in my majors classes (both as a TA and a prof) have been interested in the medical sciences or something like biochemistry research and not ecology.

    (There are also fairly few Asian ecologists, from what I’ve seen.)

    I don’t think the solution is to set quotas or to drag people kicking and screaming into majoring in things they may not want to do.

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