The latest project I’ve undertaken: learning coding. I have heard that coding is a useful skill to have when seeking employment. Never one to shy away from learning new things, I did a quick search and began a free course on HTML coding. This got me thinking about the way people think about “computer guys.” The show Silicon Valley, which aired earlier this year on HBO, is an excellent example. In Silicon Valley, the main character Richard develops a very complex code to compress data, and chooses to build his own business rather than to sell the code. With his friends, he begins a company he calls Pied Piper (so named because the code was originally meant to compress music files). His friends perfectly demonstrate “computer nerd” stereotypes. Richard is anxious and bad at public speaking; Dinesh has little experience with girls, a fact he frequently gripes about; and Gilfoyle is a contrarian who is into weird subcultures.
It is difficult not to notice that the cast is almost entirely male. The gender ratio of the cast is typical of the tech industry. Currently, about 20% of programmers are female; in addition, surveys of SAT-takers show that only 12% of girls intended to major in computer and information sciences in 2006, down from 20% in 2001.There are a number of reasons for the tech gender disparity. First is the ubiquitous assumption that girls are good at English, social sciences, etc. while boys are good at math and science. Of course, it is plausible that to some extent, there are biological differences between men’s and women’s academic aptitudes, but the way boys and girls are socialized emphasizes and enforces these differences. Women are encouraged to enter “caring” careers such as nursing and teaching, while men are pushed toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. As a result, certain fields end up very gendered – for example, less than 10% of nurses are male, and as previously mentioned, only 2 out of 10 programmers are female.
Things seem to be changing for the better, though. Schools like MIT that have previously admitted mostly men in the past, are now making an effort to rectify the gender imbalance and encourage more women to attend. Today, almost half of students admitted to MIT are women. In addition, the way we teach gender to children is changing. Many organizations around the world are dedicated to helping girls enter STEM fields, and in most U.S. public schools, girls recieve the same math and science classes as boys. I predict that these changes in education will translate into a future in which children are offered a variety of learning opportunities without regard to their gender, and where men and women are encouraged to enter any career they want, without social resistance or discouragement.