As we continue to investigate the IT talent shortage, the overwhelming absence of women in the field of computer science cannot be ignored. There are many grassroots efforts to encourage kids to get more involved in STEM related fields, but the challenge of getting girls involved seems even more complex…and perhaps even more critical.
Girls’ lack of participation in IT has “serious consequences, not only for them but for the future of technical innovation” (check out this Infographic from NCWIT.org). Encouraging more American girls to pursue careers in tech would open up a huge untapped resource. Consider this:
- According to a report by U.S. Department of Commerce’s, Economic and Statistics Administration, in 2011 women made up close to 1/2 of the U.S. workforce, but held less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.
- Women2.com cites that 64% of women see the absence of female role models as a barrier to their development.
- GirlsWhoCode.org notes:
- Women represent only 12% of all computer science grads, in 1984 they represented 37% of all computer science grads.
- In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science.
Interestingly, girls and women make up the majority of technology users, yet their participation in computer science continues to drop. In Why So Few? Women in S.T.E.M. the American Association of University Woman (AAUW) notes that environmental and social barriers are the key reasons why so few females pursue careers in STEM related fields.
For example, many believe that our culture still perpetuates unconscious stereotypes and gender-bias that significantly impact girls today. Outdated stereotypes that boys do better in math still exist and this perception alone influences girls’ ability to achieve in this field.
Research has found that a girl’s perception of her abilities has a greater impact on her success than her actual abilities or knowledge. Studies found that compared to boys, girls with the same abilities tend to give up easier and talk themselves out of pursuing math careers when their studies become more difficult. The truth is, often times girls who have more encouragement and a comparable level of confidence as boys continue to do just as well if not better than boys. (Girl Scouts Research Institute Report Generation STEM, 2012.)
It seems that changing the conversation in regards to women in IT may be even more complex than we realized. A post on the University of Michigan’s News Service notes that researchers have found that successful women in STEM fields are more apt to be disliked, perceived as less competent, less attractive and also have difficulty earning higher salaries. These perceptions and negative images contribute to why young girls are not interested in pursuing careers in STEM.
“The unfeminine STEM images matter because a field’s reputation can affect whether students like it,” said Diane Betz, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Michigan.
Fixing the IT talent shortage is certainly not an easy task, and addressing our culture’s unconscious gender bias may be a good first step in tapping into the brilliant minds of more and more young women.
Next week, we plan to interview some of the girls we know, to hear what they think about STEM, careers in STEM and to gain further first-hand insight into what needs to change. Stay tuned and as always, please share your thoughts! We’d love to hear why you think fewer girls are interested in STEM.
Additional resources and sources used for this blog:
- NCWIT National Cener for Women in Information Technology
- ChangingTheConversation.org from: National Academy of Engineering