Geek-aversion May Explain Lack of Women in Computer Science Geek-aversion May Explain Lack of Women in Computer Science

Geek-aversion May Explain Lack of Women in Computer Science

by Nikhil Swaminathan

December 18, 2009
A new study by University of Washington psychologists may help explain the dearth of women in the field of computer science. According to their findings, it may be the trappings associated with coding and troubleshooting that deter females, not the actual coding itself.More specifically, it's the geeky surroundings they find off-putting: the Star Trek posters, the junk food, gaming paraphernalia, the bras that CS dudes wear on their heads when they try to bring Barbie dolls to life, etc.The scientists asked a group of male and female students a battery of questions to probe their interest in computer science while they sat in one of two rooms: one that was geeked-out and another that was not (decorated with art instead of sci-fi posters, dictionaries in place of computer games, and coffee mugs in lieu of soda cans). Women who answered the questions while sequestered in the room with the nerd motif were significantly less interested in programming when compared to women in the neutral room and men in either locale.The study adds some color to the findings of a Cornell team that recently reported that the lack of women in advanced positions in math-related field was not due to ability. Rather, lifestyle concerns were largely responsible for the effect, though the Cornell team highlighted relative inflexibility of scientific fields as a barrier to women who want to start families. (I wonder if there is something about Star Wars figurines that screams "not conducive to child-rearing?)Still, there's something about the Washington study that bothers me: If the (relatively harmless) environment where a trade is practiced is enough to deter someone from pursuing something they're interested in, how are we supposed to get more women into the field?Photo by Sapna Cheryan, U. of WashingtonShout out to Andrew Price for pointing out the study.
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Geek-aversion May Explain Lack of Women in Computer Science