Inequality between male and female in the field of technology has been given much attention for more than a decade now. When we talk about gender inequality, our thoughts immediately go to a male-dominant world, culturally and subconsciously suppressing female members’ chance of success in certain field, thus causing an imbalance in proportion between genders. Even if both genders are working in the same field, male often occupy the positions with higher income and social status. This theory may apply to a lot of fields such as medical care (male doctors and female nurses), airline transportation (male pilot and female stewardess) and film making (male directors and female actresses). However, such theory has its limitations when faced with the current situation in the IT business.
There’s no doubt that the proportion between the two gender in the field is seriously imbalanced. Research done by Girls Who Code, an organization dedicated to promoting women’s participation in computer science industry, shows that only 12 percent of the computer science graduates are women, and that they hold just 25% of the jobs in technical or computing fields. Brigid Barron (2004) also claim in his research on 98 high school seniors in Silicon Valley that “[f]our times as many males as females had taken a programming class”. One might argue that it’s simply a difference of interest and such gap does not necessarily mean any disadvantage to women as a gender. However, researches also show that men and women with high and low levels of computer experience, were found to differ significantly on the Mental Rotations Test (MRT), indicating that a lack of experience with computer and technology puts female’s mental ability at an disadvantage place (Terlecki & Newcombe, 2005).
So what might have caused this gender difference? Some researchers believe that accesses to computers and Internet could be a differentiating factor in this issue. Yet Warschauer and Matuchniak’s research (2010) on computer and Internet access in US nationwide suggest no statistically significant difference between genders with in teenagers.
Another guess is on different level of interest in games between boys and girls, as so many successful programmers claimed to have started his/her career in computer science from video games in their childhood. Warschauer and Matuchniak (2010) argued that boys and girls are equally interested in games; however, their interest in games are focused to very different genres: girls are particularly interested in casual games, while boys have a wide range of interest in RPG, FPS, fantasy and sports games. Hayes (2008) further explained in her research that while boys are more likely to move their interests onto screenshot taking, walkthrough making, mod developing, etc., girls are mostly satisfied with simply playing the game itself. They also show less motivation in using cheatcodes when compared with boys. Both the research above suggest that girls do not necessary like to play the same type of games that the boys do, and a shift of design for game to better suit the need of female gender could be a starter for girls’ pursuit along the path of computer science. Furthermore, export or community support in a social setting could also be extremely important in sustaining the interest sparkled by the games, as exploring in the digital world could be scary and frustrating experience.
A third factor that may be involved in this issue is encouragement from close relatives, particularly parents and guardians. A study done by Barron, Martin, Takeuchi and Fithiam (2009) indicated that “parents play significant roles in supporting creative technologically mediated activities”. Eight female students highly experienced with technology activities claimed their involvement as a consequence of “the encouragement of family members” in their interviews.
All the research above pointed out that the problem of disproportioned population in computer science indeed exists, and has the potential to create higher gaps in cognitive abilities between the two genders. Possible causes to this problem could be a lack of access to necessary resources, but more likely it is caused by a lack of interest stimuli, encouragement from family members, and community support for the girls who have the interest in further exploration in the field.
Barron, B. (2004). Learning ecologies for technological fluency: Gender and experience differences. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31(1), 1-36.
Barron, B., Martin, C. K., Takeuchi, L., & Fithian, R. (2009). Parents as learning partners in the development of technological fluency.
Hayes, E. (2008). Girls, gaming and trajectories of IT expertise. Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New perspectives on gender and computer games.
Kaminski, K., Switzer, J., & Gloeckner, G. (2009). Workforce readiness: A study of university students’ fluency with information technology. Computers & Education, 53(2), 228-233.
Terlecki, M. S., & Newcombe, N. S. (2005). How important is the digital divide? The relation of computer and videogame usage to gender differences in mental rotation ability. Sex Roles, 53(5-6), 433-441.
Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of equity in access, use, and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 179-225.