You don't need to be
a social scientist to know there is a gender diversity problem in technology.
The tech industry inSilicon Valleyand across the nation is
That isn't to say
there aren't women working at tech firms.Yahoo CEO Marissa MayerandSheryl Sandbergof Facebook have raised the profile of
women at high-tech firms. But those prominent exceptions do not accurately
portray who makes up theengineeringranks at those and other tech
Visit Silicon Valley and you will hear many people talk about
the need to increase the number of female hackers. The conventional wisdom
about why there are so few female coders usually points a finger at disparities
in the talent pool, which is linked to disparities intech education.
In fact, starting as early as adolescence, girls and boys often choose
different academic paths. When the time comes for young people to elect to go
into engineering school, serious gender disparities becomevisible.
Anew studyby University of Texas
sociologistCatherine Riegle-Crumbin the journalSocial
an interesting new perspective on this divide. Along with co-author Chelsea
Moore, Riegle-Crumb decided to dive into the gender divide in high school
physics courses. (Even as the gender divide in some areas of science has
diminished, a stubborn gap has persisted for decades in high school physics.)
Riegle-Crumb had a
simple question: The national divide showed boys were more likely to take
physics than girls. But was this divide constant across the country?
In an analysis of
some 10,000 students at nearly 100 schools, Riegle-Crumb found that the divide
was anything but constant.
"What we find is
that there are many schools where boys and girls take high school physics at the
same rate," Riegle-Crumb said in an interview. "And that there are
many other schools where more girls actually take physics than boys. And so
when you look at the aggregate, you see a pattern where boys are taking physics
more than girls, but there is a lot of variation around that."
There are some
obvious things that could cause those variations. If parents of some kids are
scientists, or highly educated, they might push their daughters to take tough
courses in high school. Wealthy families might be able to afford tutoring, or
have one parent stay home to help kids with homework. Better funded suburban
schools might be at an advantage over inner-city schools.
But when Riegle-Crumb
controlled for those and other possibilities, she found one reason remained:
"What we found is that in communities that had a higher percentage of
women in the labor force who are working in science, technology, engineering
and math, that in those schools, girls were as likely as boys to take physics,
or even more likely."
finding about the importance of local role models meshes with a broad range ofearlier workthat shows the decision to pursue math
and science is not about innate differences between boys and girls, but aboutsocial contextand norms. Countries with greatergender equality,
for example, reveal more equal math test scores among boys and girls.
Teenage girls growing
up in communities where women are better represented in tech are more likely to
see women commenting on tech issues in public forums and in school discussions
— and more likely to run into a friend's astrophysicist mom at a birthday
Riegle-Crumb said, girls growing up in communities where most working women are
in jobs traditionally held by women such as child care or nursing might not see
the possibilities that exist.
"If I am a young
woman growing up in a community or culture like that, then that's what I see
as, 'Well, this is what I am expected to do,' " Riegle-Crumb said.
"And so it may not ever occur to me, that, 'Oh, you know, I don't actually
have to do that. There's a vast array of things I could choose to do.' But if
no one around me is doing those things, it's hard for me to even consider that