Why Don’t Women Want to Code? Better question: Why don’t women choose CS more often?

September 21, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Jen Mankoff (U. Washington faculty member, and Georgia Tech alumna) has written a thoughtful piece in response to the Stuart Reges blog post (which I talked about here), where she tells her own stories and reframes the question.

Foremost, I think this is the wrong question to be asking. As my colleague Anna Karlin argues, women and everyone else should code. In many careers that women choose, they will code. And very little of my time as an academic is spent actually coding, since I also write, mentor, teach, etc. In my opinion, a more relevant question is, “Why don’t women choose computer science more often?”

My answer is not to presume prejudice, by women (against computer science) or by computer scientists (against women). I would argue instead that the structural inequalities faced by women are dangerous to women’s choice precisely because they are subtle and pervasive, and that they exist throughout a woman’s entire computer science career. Their insidious nature makes them hard to detect and correct.

Source: Why Don’t Women Want to Code? Ask Them! – Jennifer Mankoff – Medium

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bonnie  |  September 21, 2018 at 8:09 am

    OK, I am going to challenge the assumption that people need to write code in many fields outside of computer science. I just am not seeing this happening. Sure, in some fields, people who enjoy writing code may get opportunities to do so. I know administrators in hospital and university settings who like to write SQL so they handle their own queries – but the majority of administrators in those locations simply send a request to the IT group when they need something. My friends, who are nurses, social workers, fashion buyers, speech pathologists, shop owners, swim instructors – they would all be baffled by the idea of writing code for their jobs. The only fields I can think of in which writing scripts or programs or anything else that might be construed as “code” is common are the sciences and finance/accounting. From the point of view of a university professor in STEM, it may feel like everyone is going into those fields, but the sciences and finance account for a very small slice of workers.

    And while it is true that every teen now has a cellphone, I have realized, working with college students, that most of them have only dimmest idea of how they work, and an even dimmer idea of how to work with an actual computer. They are only “digital natives” in the sense that they are really good at finding makeup videos on YouTube. They have no reason to ever write code for their phones, their tablets, or any other device – it is all handed to them.

    My opinion is that in the future, the vast majority of people will need to have some basic configurational skills – how to control the privacy settings on their devices, how to import an iCal file, how to install the latest app – and a minority will need to write basic code at their jobs or perhaps generate database queries. And an even smaller minority will actually build the software applications that are used by the majority.

    I do however agree with you that computer science is an awesome fields for women! 🙂

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  September 22, 2018 at 2:31 pm

      I’m a follower of Chris Scaffidi’s work. Since his paper with Mary Shaw and Brady Myers in 2005 (see a one-page description here), he has shown that the end-user programmer population is many times larger than the software developer population. No, you wouldn’t necessarily see it — they’re often casual, infrequent programmers. But work by Brian Dorn (studying graphic designers), Bonnie Nardi (studying spreadsheet macro writers), and others has shown that many people are coding. I don’t know lots of them either. I’m relying on the empirical research. We should prepare these end-users for the programming that they will need to do.


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