Women left CS because of masculinization of the industry and hiring practices

March 16, 2012 at 7:55 am 6 comments

An interesting and new (for me) explanation for why women left the computing industry.  This is a little more specific than saying, “It’s the culture” — this is making specific claims about advertising and changing the job qualifications. The Anita Borg Institute has just come out with a related recommendation — that at least 1 woman should be interviewed for every technical job opening.

America’s perception of computer scientists has shifted from the 1960s computer girl to the modern IT guy because of a masculinization of the industry and sexist advertising content, said Nathan Ensmenger, assistant professor of information.

Ensmenger spoke on Tuesday about the history of the declining number of women in computer science. He said his research showed that the qualifications of a computer programmer have been skewed to match male characteristics.

via Assistant professor explores lack of women in computer sciences | The Daily Texan.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Guzdial wins IEEE CS 2012 Computer Science & Engineering Undergraduate Teaching Award Nice List: Seven misconceptions about how students learn

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Darrin Thompson  |  March 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

    The report itself is easy reading, and a lot better than the summary article.

    First of all, purple! Who uses purple?! Oh wait…

    For an interesting sample, start at page 14, which criticizes job descriptions.

    Their advice seems to be that we should be heterogenizing our teams. I kinda doubt that would lead to effective and profitable teams.

    Maybe what we really need to do is all stop shooting for this one super-masculine local maximum, and seek others. And do it on fresh new teams. Perhaps these new teams would appear “weird” to the rest of us but be “strangely” effective. It would be kind of like Southwest Airlines. It’s a new culture that found a new local maximum.

  • 2. Alfred Thompson  |  March 16, 2012 at 11:33 am

    My first development job after college was working for a company where more of the developers were women than men. Between that and the fact that there were a number of talented women in my undergraduate program I never saw software as a man’s world while in my formative ages. Meeting Grace Hopper when I was a student and having her held up as a model early contributed as well.

    Things have changed though and not for the better. In fact I would argue that the male oriented traits that we often promote are counter productive. For example too many male developers plan far too little before starting in on the coding. I hear it called things like agile programming which if done right (or so I am told) it might be fine but a lot of people implement the idea as “ready, fire aim.”

  • 3. Bonnie  |  March 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

    The interview process for software developers, at least as practiced here in the NYC metro area, is an absolute turn-off to anyone who has a human soul. I have been on both sides – candidate, and decision maker – so I have seen the problems from both ends. The result is a process that is so hostile and unfriendly that it ends up terrifying women (and many men) who might be otherwise great candidates.

    The way an interview typically unfolds is that the candidate is brought in, usually after passing an online or telephone test of techno-trivia (syntax questions in Java and the ilk). The candidate gets hauled into a conference room, where one or more technical guys fires questions at her from a script. There are always the infamous puzzle questions, plus more techno-trivia questions. No one ever asks questions about previous experience, and there is a reason – usually no one has READ the resume!! Why? Because usually what happens is that as the candidate is waiting in the lobby, the manager runs around to various cubes saying “Hey Joe, we have a candidate, could you come tech her?”. Since Joe knows nothing about the candidate, all he can do is run through the script questions.

    If the candidate is doing well, this process can go on for several hours. Most companies I have been to won’t even offer food or drink, no matter how long this has been going on. Once, when I was the person doing the interview, I felt so sorry for the candidate who had been in our conference room for 5 hours straight, that I took him to the cafeteria and bought him some ice cream. He was a great candidate, someone we ended up hiring – but no one had thought to try to make him comfortable.

    So candidates are left with the feeling that working as a software developer is a very hostile, unfriendly field. I have had several female students simply give up after a few of these interviews, deciding that they were not smart enough for the field. These were students with A’s and B’s in computer science. Recently, one of my students, a very shy African American man who had all A’s, attempted the process to get an internship doing software development at one of the financial companies. He didn’t do very well, because he tends to freeze in that kind of situation, and is now wondering if he has a future in software.

    Now, I have had people tell me that technical interviews are not like this in other parts of the country. I really hope so! Perhaps the fact that financial companies dominate the technical market here in NYC accounts for this. I have long felt that many fine software engineers and other technical talent are overlooked in this kind of overly macho, hostile interview process.

    • 4. Susan  |  June 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      Hear, hear, Bonnie! I’m a woman from Pittsburgh, working in the field since the 1980s. Interviews around here became extremely hostile around the time of the Internet boom. Before that, I was always asked politelly about my experience first with a few related tech questions thrown in. Now it’s CS101 questions, logic puzzles and pop quizzes given by rude 30-year-old men.

  • 5. Anita Borg! « macmamachronicles  |  March 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    […] Women left CS because of masculinization of the industry and hiring practices (computinged.wordpress.com) […]

  • 6. Programming Is Not Math | Computing Education Blog  |  October 4, 2014 at 8:36 am

    […] and interesting blog addressing the belief that mathematics is necessary for programming, a misconception that Nathan Ensmenger claims has reduced the percentage of women in computing.  Sarah Mei goes into some depth addressing (and dispensing with) each of the three claims […]


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