Gender Issues and Software

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By: Tracy Algorri Popovic

"Unconscious parental behaviors create an underlying ‘gender awareness’ during early childhood in which the world becomes categorized into mutually exclusive classifications. Gender roles come to be perceived as ‘all or nothing’ categories leading to prescriptions that scientists are men and secretaries are women. A female child may therefore believe that she cannot be a scientist even is she would like to because she is the wrong sex" (Etzkowitz, 1994, p.38).


What is Gender Bias in Technology?
Socialization of girls and boys into gender roles begins early in life with ​girls dressed in pink, flowers, and ribbons, and boys dressed in blue often with baseballs or trucks on their outfits. Gender roles continue to be internalized as children grow, with young boys getting sports toys and action figures to play with, while girls often get dolls and play kitchen sets. Although babies do not identify with their gender yet, as children get older they begin to develop personalities that reflect their masculinity and femininity as defined by society. Although this is normal, accepted behavior in society and most parents don't think twice about socializing their young children into specific gender roles, if this socialization continues as children get older gender bias can result creating an adverse environment for both sexes.

Gender bias is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as, "preference or inclination that inhibits impartiality; prejudice" (American Heritage Dictionary, 1983). Unfortunately, a strong gender bias exists in the computer and technology field, which begins as early as students are able to recognize and use a computer. According to Jaime Pailma (2004), "a pipeline problem exists when women are weeded out through the many stages of computer science, and hence limits the pool of female working computer professionals." Both genders are almost equally represented in the early stages of the pipeline, and they diverge in the later stages because of the barriers women face, resulting in a much smaller group of women than men emerging from the pipeline.

According to Cooper and Weaver (2003), women earn 31% of undergraduate Computer Science degrees, although they attend college at a rate equal to men, and that gap only expands as education continues, with women only earning 16% of post-graduate degrees. Statistics from high school reveal the same trends. According to Nicole Dovzan of the University of Michigan (2005), "using statistics from the advanced placement exams reveals that the gap is significant. Girls made up less than seventeen percent of students taking the Computer Science A exam in 2004 and less than eleven percent for the Computer Science AB exam."
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Why does this gender gap in technology exist?
There is a vast amount of research regarding the gender gap in technology, but the only predominant, recurring theme is that the problem is a complicated issue and there are many factors affecting the inequality of men and women in technology fields. Some factors affecting students at a young age may include, but are not limited to, parental and educator influence, role models or lack thereof, manufacturing of software primarily geared towards males, and possibly that girls simply take a different approach to technology ("An Educator's Guide").

Parents and educators should be aware of what they may be saying or doing to influence childrens' ideas on gender roles. Many adults are very sensitive to issues of gender, but may be surprised to realize they are sending unintended signals to children regarding gender expectations for boys and girls. The lack of female role models may be another factor influencing the gender gap in technology. As previously stated, women carry far fewer jobs in the computer field than men, providing fewer role models for young girls who are therefore less interested in pursuing the technology field, creating an unfortunate cycle for females.

Another damaging cycle is created by the manufacturers of software. Girls are not as interested in computers, therefore fewer programs are made for them and less research is done to create software they will enjoy ("An Educator's Guide"). According to Gamespot.com, the most popular PC games for 2009 included Star Wars: The Old Republic, Just Cause 2, and Civilization V, all action/ adventure games geared more towards the male audience. The limited software that is geared towards girls does not "encourage intelligent thinking, challenge skill development, advocate positive role models, and/or broaden mastery of skills" ("An Educator's Guide").

The different approach girls take towards technology may also affect the widening gender gap in technology. Studies have shown that girls tend to view the computer as more of a tool to complete a task, while boys often view them as toys. According to Dovzan (2005), "As girls enter adolescence and the desire to fit in and be social increases, spending time on the computer no longer helps them achieve their goals, and thus the computer is not serving girls." Boys on the other hand, are more likely to use the computer outside of school, at a friend's house, and to play games and surf the web (Dovzan, 2005).

What can we do about it?
Gender socialization begins at home, at a very young age so it is important for parents to be aware of the signals they are sending their children. It is natural and expected that children will develop a sense of gender identity as they grow, but keeping an open mind and supporting whatever interests your children may develop is crucial to developing a well-rounded child.

In the classroom, teachers can maintain balance by making sure to treat boys and girls equally, in discipline as well as daily classroom activity. Dovzan (2005) suggests that schools create all female computer classes, or in elementary classrooms allowing girls an alloted time on the computer. A study by Crombie, Abarbanel and Anderson (2000) found that a school that did this dramatically increased their female enrollement in high school computer science classes. Prior to the change, girls only comprised 10-15% of enrollement, and after implementing the all-female class, enrollement rose to 40%. Teachers can also ensure they have software available in the classroom that appeals to both boys and girls.

Also, teachers can encourage teamwork and cooperation in the classroom, which will benefit the female students. According to Volman and Van Eck (2001) numerous studies have shown that girls prefer a cooperative learning environment over a competetive one. Girls are often more productive working in small groups as opposed to competetive environments. Volman and Van Eck (2001) also report that girls are more likely to participate in computer use when there is a project to be created or a problem to be solved. Educators who are aware of this can alter the curriculum, teaching the same material but keeping the girls' needs in mind.




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References

    • An Educator's Guide to Gender Bias Issues. Retrieved April 5, 2010 from http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/ACCESS/gender.html.
    • Cooper, Joel & Weaver, Kimberlee (2003). Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide. New Jersey: Erlbaum. p 1-39.
    • Crombie, G., Abarbanel, T., & Anderson, C. (2000). Bridging the Gender Gap in High-Technology Education. National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin 84, pp 64-73.
    • Dovzan, Nicole (2005.) Examining the Gender Gap in Technology. Retrieved April 3, 2010 from http://sitemaker.umich.edu/356.dovzan/home.
    • Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C. (1994) Barriers to Women in Academic Science and Engineering. In W. Pearson Jr. and I. Fechter (Ed.s) Who Will Do Science? Educating the Next Generation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Gamespot.com Most Popular. Retrieved April 5, 2010 from http://www.gamespot.com/pc/index.html?navclk=pc&tag=nav-top;pc.
    • Pailma, Jaime (2004). Women and Computers: A sociological study addressing the impact of women entering the computer industry. Unpublished master's thesis, California State University, Fullerton, CA.
    • Stross, Randall (2008, November 16). What has driven women out of computer science? New York Times, pp. BU4.
    • Volman, M. & Eck, E.V. (2001). Gender Equity and Information Technology in Education: the Second Decade. Review of Educational Research 71, pp. 613-634.
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