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Of Geeks and Girls (ucsc.edu)
136 points by araneae on Dec 1, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments

I'd like to play devil's advocate[1] for a second: why is the lack of women in CS a problem? Whatever the merit of all these explanations -- it's perceived as dorky, low status, overly masculine, etc... -- the one thing I don't see is a strong desire amongst women to be in the field. It'd be one thing if there were barriers like overt sexism (and perhaps there are), or if you often heard the refrain, "you know, I'd really like to be a computer programmer, but I can't because of XYZ..." AFAICT, the real culprit here appears to be self-selection.

Assuming that's the case, who cares? Why all the hand wringing? One downside I see is the lack of a "woman's perspective," which, while admittedly important in many fields, seems mostly irrelevant in a field where stuff either works or it doesn't. The other is a lack of interest in the field overall, but it seems a constant source of debate (see any H1B visa thread) as to whether we have a shortage or a glut of qualified workers.

[1] This shouldn't be read as a position I'm strongly committed to.

EDIT: Criticisms of this post thus far are mostly along the lines of a) a woman's perspective matters more than I give it credit for and b) "works or doesn't" is too simplistic. Fair enough. I admit my argument wasn't particularly nuanced (purposefully), hence the "devil's advocate" label. Questions I would ask are: wrt point a), is this something we can empirically validate? Or should we just assume any gender imbalance is inherently problematic? I'm not necessarily against the latter view, but I'd like to see it addressed explicitly.

In addition to the criticisms you address in your addendum (women's perspective is important, and "works or not" is too simplistic) consider this: by creating and perpetuating environment that is unfriendly to women, we are reducing the talent pool from which we draw programmers by sightly more than 50%. Even if there was no such thing as "a woman's perspective" (depends on the woman/man in question, I suppose), it is highly inefficient to limit your pool this way. In my opinion this is NOT, in fact, self-selection, not to the degree this imbalance is getting to. I've seen multiple times in the universities I've attended the difference between how things get explained to women and men -- many instructors and TAs, for example, will quickly and subconsciously drop into condescension and use things like cooking analogies when talking to female students. I've heard programmers of all talent levels apply gender-based value judgments to women attempting to enter the field. The worst are "women are bad at logic" -- and there are many who really believe that -- but "you are a woman so you will do the UI as you must be good at visual stuff" is also sexist.

Well, by creating and perpetuating an environment that is friendly to geeks, we are also increasing the talent pool from which we draw programmers among geeks.

Think for a second. If we're talking about adjusting the decor to market to a culture, what culture does it make sense for CS to target? Women? Athletes? Norwegians? Black Guys? It seems to me the alliance between geeks and programmers is quite natural.

You could redecorate the lounge in pink and put plushies everywhere. You might get a few more women who think, "Okay, I guess I could fit in here." You'll get a lot fewer geeks who think, "Thank God, I've finally come home."

Is that a positive tradeoff? Color me skeptical. Go found a Hacker Girls group, dominate the industry, prove me wrong. Until then, don't be engineering the culture.

What, there's no neutral environment that can be maintained? It's Star Trek and cans of Monster, or pink wallpaper and plushies? Come on. With any [insert subculture here]-friendly environment, there's a chance of alienation. We're not asking to adjust the decor to market to a culture, just the recognition that one that plays heavily into the "typical geek" stereotype can be off-putting to _any_ who don't fit.

If the decor puts one off, I suspect the culture will, too. If we change it to attract some specific group, we should be careful that we are not attracting people who will not be happy here.

"CS is mature field and as such will do better if it projects a professional, neutral image" is a hypothesis, nothing more. Prove it with a successful venture -- but I don't think you will. This is still a place where passion trumps professionalism, and an enforced culturally neutral environment isn't the best incubator for passion.

Personally, I think we'll do best by simply being ourselves. And letting the demographic chips fall where they may.

When a field is young and small, it needs to draw the best people from a small pool. "Geeks" worked for this in CS. As it ages, it needs a larger pool, but it can settle for people who are just good, not necessarily the best.

The lack of women in CS is a problem because the CS field is missing out. There are a whole lot of intelligent women that could make important breakthroughs. The field is slowed because half the population is discouraged from joining it.

I agree, but there's a second half that people need to consider. CS is missing out on women, but are women missing out on CS?

To paraphrase Phil Greenspun (from the "women in science" essay), we need to ask if CS "is a sufficiently good career that people should debate who is privileged enough to work at it?"

CS at a reputable university is hard. Seriously, seriously hard. I have no doubt that people who can handle this can also handle the academic rigor of a bio major followed by med school, and they sure as hell can handle an econ major followed by an MBA, or sociology major followed by law school.

So I'd start by asking: what are the women who are able to do CS doing instead, and would it be in their better interest to stop doing that and study CS?

>but are women missing out on CS?

This, I think is the central problem. It seems that most of the really really intelligent women I know have gone into other fields than CS because that's where their interests lie. CS simply wasn't a fulfillment of their interests not some more nefarious discrimination problem.

Agreed. But not only women are repelled by the geeky atmosphere in the computer science. Many extrovert male people get bored and disgusted too.

So it is not really even 50% of the people diversity who create the software. It feels more like 5-10%.

I belong to that 5-10% and I think that among the others there are many who are way more creative than us.

You don't even have to be an extrovert to be bored by what passes for culture in "geek" circles.

A few examples might make your comment's disdain less grating.

Mindlessly repeating internet memes for one (except in Soviet Russia, where meme repeats you). That's at least 50% of internet humor. Obscure references, as well. It's a type of humor that makes no sense unless you're immersed in the culture.

And even when it makes sense it can be pretty damned tedious. (Of course, for the "joke" to be anything other than self-indulgent the reference can't be all that obscure, so what's the point?)

The convergence of "geek culture" and "internet culture" is one of my big complaints. lolcats were funny for about 5 minutes.

I didn't mean it as an attack, after all there is no accounting for taste.

Unless you like XKCD, in which case you are a bad person and you should feel bad.

Would as much code get written if the industry was more socially mainstream? Would it be less but better or just less? There's no denying that the lone geek (male or female) staying up late gets an awful lot done.

Why do you assume 'socially mainstream' == 'less code'?

You seem to be implying that geeks only write code because the industry isn't socially mainstream.

Simply because it means physically spending less time at the keyboard and less time with people who just want to code.

Socially mainstream means leaving work at 5pm and going to the pub, that's what "normal" people do.

There are intelligent men who could make CS breakthroughs, but do other things. Why focus on women? That's sexist.

The easy answer is: because they're missing at far higher rates than 'other intelligent men'.

But the deeper answer is: because western society thought we'd already patched that one. We had a long history of actively discriminating against women. But despite creating a stigma around that sort of behavior and 'officially' banning it, gender representation in our particular corner of society hasn't changed all that much. Not even the modest amount that other sectors have seen.

So the question of "where are the women" isn't only about the women, but about our seeming inability to fix society just by joining hands, singing kumbaya and declaring change.

If we'd gone through the trouble of a social movement to kick an industry bias against, say, stereotypical jocks, extroverts, or guys-who-know-how-to-talk-to-girls, then I suppose people would pay more attention to why those groups are still under-represented too.

Women are treated differently in bad ways, but it's by their mothers mostly. Nothing to do with CS.

As you point out, various personality types are underrepresented in CS. The particular ones that are highly represented are less common in women. There is a reason for that, and yes it's bad, but the personality type distribution among women in general has nothing to do with CS.

PS My theory on feminism is that it said, "Men must reform." And so they reformed some. Meanwhile it did nothing to help women. Hence women are now worse than men.

How much feminist material have you read? IMO your theory is very silly.

Do you have any recommendations on feminist material to read? I have tried, but much of what I found was very silly.

This is a good place to start: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

It's a rather broad resource, but to be honest I'm just starting to get into the subject. My earlier snarkiness was caused by frustration at how quickly people are willing to dismiss feminism or make sweeping generalisations about it, without bothering to learn much about it.

What are you talking about? Helping men improve is a great thing. I complimented feminism and took a position claiming it's had significant success. It didn't have the results it expected, but that doesn't make them less good.

It looked to me like you were saying that feminism has/had nothing to say about how women reinforce patriarchal norms, or that it focusses on men's behaviour much more than on women's. That's simply not true.

Sorry if I've overreacted, the comments on this article have made me hyper-sensitive.

Exactly what I was going to say.

It's perfectly acceptable for me to see fewer women or men or people of a particular socioeconomic or religious background in one field or another. That alone doesn't bother me, except insofar as it can be a signal to another problem.

One thing that does concern me greatly is that there are many women who are interested in science and technology, and especially computer science, who are at some point turned off. It appears to really begin around junior high and high school, and it continues through college.

My concern is that we're losing a lot of interested and bright minds, who might be excited in the course of actually working in technology, who are being turned away for some reason.

I think it's important to try to understand the reasons before we pass judgment upon them.

But it might raise some questions and inspire some solutions that generally makes work in technology more enjoyable. Not just for women; for everyone. Consider the reaction to pair programming. Both women and men just plain tended to like it more. That seems to show that there are many people out there who would enjoy working in technology were it not as solitary. That's a major discovery. And I think we've just scratched the surface.

I'd recommend _Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing_ http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0262632691?ie=UTF8&tag=... by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. They studies reasons why fewer women were enrolled in the CMU CS program, and successfully applied their findings to raise enrollment while maintaining graduation rate. They found that what was detrimental for women was detrimental for everybody, but women tended to be on the margin and so were more severely impacted. One issue was that women were much less likely to have spent a lot of time with computers before arriving. Another was that women were more concerned about practical applications.

Great recommendation, I'm looking forward to reading it. Hopefully this will fill in some obvious gaps in understanding I have on the subject.

Anecdotally, I've found working through and solving a difficult problem together reinforces social bonds. Even introverts crave some form of social interaction. It almost seems obvious after the fact.

> One downside I see is the lack of a "woman's perspective," which, while admittedly important in many fields, seems mostly irrelevant in a field where stuff either works or it doesn't.

a particularly keen insight i got from talking to a female college friend (who was a CS major) is that the "women's perspective" might be more relevant than people think even in a supposedly objective field where things either work or don't ... because men and women see the world differently, women might be able to come up with different high-level design, low-level debugging, or software team management strategies that an all-male team might not think of ... of course, i don't have any concrete examples to back up this vague hand-wavy statement, but i think there's something there

> of course, i don't have any concrete examples to back up this vague hand-wavy statement [that "men and women see the world differently, women might be able to come up with different"], but i think there's something there

Lots of people believe that, but I've yet to see an example. Since we make a lot of decisions based on it being true, I'm troubled that we don't know if it actually is.

However, let's assume that it's true. It doesn't follow that said different is always valuable. It might be good in some fields, irrelevant in others, and bad in some.

In other words, even if "think different" is true, it's not an argument for universal inclusion.

Yes, I know that said "male think" may not be possessed by all males and lacking in all females.

I've heard one classic example. When PDAs came out they could manage one calendar for one person. A woman looked at it and noted that it must have been designed by men who manage only their own schedule while many women manage schedules for multiple family members.

a field where stuff either works or it doesn't

What field are you talking about? I don't believe such a field exists. Not one that is worthy of the name "field".

It certainly isn't user-experience design, where there is obviously no bright line between "what works" and "what does not work", and where the value of a diverse team is easiest to appreciate. ("What, you mean the word processor user hasn't bothered to learn how to use a DVCS from the command line? Were they born yesterday?") But we needn't go that far. Everything that the hardest of hard-core geeks talk about all day long:

  What language should we use? 

  Should I use emacs, vi, Textmate, Eclipse or Notepad?

  Should I use Mac OS, Windows, or Linux here?

  What database architecture is right for this task? 

  Come to think of it, am I even working on the right task?
...are choices between a bunch of options, all of which will "work" in one sense or another.

Even down-and-dirty C hacking requires an endless series of decisions between things which will work and things which might work better on one axis or another.

I've noticed that for some reason the default color scheme for vim seems to color Strings in pink. What is up with that?

Accidentally downmodded you, meant to upmod . Android touchscreen is too small, but I agree. Ugly default color.

Obviously someone thought not enough women were using vim, duh.

Diversity helps in any environment, but it's not a goal I share, in and of itself.

That said, the self-perpetuating 'Boys Club' stereotype is a problem I care about.

In short: It causes nothing but trouble. It drives away more than just women. It creates stigma and bias and I don't see any positive return from it.

What makes you think diversity helps in any environment? I think that homogeneity is a great help for efficiency, which is often important. Diversity has its uses, but it's not for everything.

I was referring to the overall environment, not any and every combination of 2+ people.

A homogeneous group certainly can be the best team for a given task. I'm only suggesting you have a sub-optimal environment if the only teams you can put together are homogeneous ones.

just to add a little more fuel to the fire on this one, i'd like to point out the fact that almost all (but not all) of my highly intelligent, capable friends fall along these lines:

the smart women pick fields where they're helping others, and the smart men pick fields where they're building or discovering things.

(purely personal observation and might not be indicative of anything as a whole, or my own personal beliefs on the subject.)

My personal observation is that last night I stayed up too late reading the linux kernel code. Probably won't help anyone that much.

Validating a datapoint as useless/useful is a later step and does not disqualify the collection of data either case.

In reply to your first point, about women not wanting to go into CS, I would say that in itself is the problem. Programming (or other hard sciences) could be a very rewarding career path, but they're socialized to self-select away from it. I don't think that CS as a field is necessarily lacking an important female perspective[1], but I do think that individual women may be missing an opportunity for the wrong reasons. The self-selection aspect should not be taken as a lack of problem, but rather a characterization of the problem as having more subtle causes.

[1] Although, there may be truth in the idea that software is written for/from a male perspective, meaning that it doesn't suit women's needs as well... whatever those needs are. Yeah, I'm ambivalent about this point, but I don't outright reject it.

PS I also highly recommend reading The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol(?) Tavris. It provides very clear concrete, statistical, and anecdotal explanations of how and why a woman's experience differs from a man's, and the consequences of the man's experience being an implicit standard. Despite being woman-focused, the book is also pretty rational and balanced about the potential of reverse-discrimination, and does a pretty good job of noting problems without demanding specific fixes.

Well, I certainly enjoy the social environment of my grad program more because it has a well-mixed gender ratio. But besides my own enjoyment of my course of study, if we are setting up filters besides "good at computer science" for entrance into computer science, then we are doing ourselves a disservice.

If I could offer another anecdote and unsupported hypothesis, I suspect our grad program has a better mix because it is more foreign, and foreigners have a different perception of the gender stereotypes surrounding Computer Science than we do. There's a lot of non-Americans on hacker news, perhaps one of them could comment.

If the so-called "self-selection" is strongly influenced by societal conditioning, it is worth considering what messages our society sends.

It is worth noting that this gender disparity (wrt women programmers etc.) is predominantly a native-born-women issue. Asian immigrant women in the US don't have a similar pattern and as far as I know, the US pattern doesn't exist in countries like India and China -

Because computers are so integral to how we as a society are evolving and functioning, and it's been pretty well stated elsewhere that men and women function/think quite differently, having software that powers society that's primarily written by-and-for 50% of the population is generally considered to be a detrimental thing.

This has been particularly evidenced in gaming where mixed development teams come up with games that appeal far more widely to the general audience than the typical all-male FPS product. (Yes, this is a crass generalisation, but I've spent several years as part of women in gaming movements/the IGDA WiG SIG and so on. Male dev teams just don't build stuff that women want to play, for the most part.)

As to the "I'd really like to be a computer programmer, but I can't" -- I'm aware this was a facetious remark, but it's far more insidious than that, really. When I was at school, I was good at maths and physics. I loved logic and 'decision maths' (which was basically algorithms; we studied things like the TSP). I played about with computers in my spare time, ran the school website, etc. What career was I advised to follow? Electrical engineering. Not computer science. I didn't even know you could study computer science until I was looking at university prospectuses for mathematics.

I've never thought "I wish I could $foo, but I can't because I'm a woman". But I have experienced problems due to my gender, on a day to day level it's more stuff like having people change the topic of conversation when you join in the circle, not being asked for your opinion, having to over-justify your techie-ness to 'fit in' which just ends up sounding horribly arrogant.. being deliberately excluded from some conversations, having people make all kinds of stupid assumptions which you then have to correct - no I don't do marketing, no my PhD wasn't in linguistics, and techie people hate being wrong.. not fitting into XL freebie t-shirts properly, not having healthy/vegetarian/non-beer options at CS events (ok guys may well have this too).. etc etc. I don't list career sabotage or anything here because I'm young, I've mostly been in academia and I'm now running a startup, so I'm lucky enough not to have had problems there. (Except when I worked in a computer shop and customers actually demanded to speak to "the computer man", but hey. Their stupidity, not mine.)

On the extreme flipside, and I don't see many women talking about this stuff: being female has been great for getting fast-track opportunities into stuff. e.g. being flown to America to attend the Austin Games Conference as part of a Microsoft women in computing initiative. I do feel sometimes that I was let into competitive schemes partly because I'm awesome and partly due to the fact I'm the only woman applying and it looks good if I get in because then they have Gender Balance. (note, I am awesome, but that little voice of "was it because I'm perfect for the position or was it because I'm a minority" never quite goes away. I imagine others have the same problem in different ways.) However, I'm pretty sure that compared to a male CS major with a similar background, I've had far more opportunity. I feel a little guilty about it, but if I didn't seize it, someone else would -- and I'm actively trying to help change the need for such things in the first place.

> it's more stuff like having people change the topic of conversation when you join in the circle

This seems like a chicken and egg kinda thing. As a nerd I adjust my behavior when interacting with women and discussing CS-ey stuff, because, in my personal empirical experience they just "turn off" if I "nerd out" too much.

But that same prediction will lead to false positives for women who would get it if I were to nerd out at full throttle.

I think this circles back to how Humans are pretty great at categorizing, and making predictions as time savers, but it can screw us on edge cases.

Cause really the problem I have when women "zone out" during a techie discussion, is not that they're dumb. They don't care, or do, but lack all the implicit knowledge context I take for granted when I rationalize stuff in my head. You'd get the same behavior if a Business Major Frat Boy (oh look more stereotypes, weee!) asked you "So? How do those things really work?"

Just so happens gender is a pretty obvious label to latch onto for making that judgment call of "can I go all out, or not?", a label that can backfire a lot of the time.

I really am all for more girls in CS, because that means more likely hood of working with smart people, and I like me some smarties.

But something in that article made me wonder. When she was interviewing that female grad student there was worry over losing that "culture". It seems like women are just as capable of identifying with that "stereotype" culture. Are we sacrificing that when trying to get that raw percentage up?

to address that last point, here's an interesting discussion I saw recently on a women-in-$foo mailing list:

"is it just me or do you get your hackles up a bit when there's another woman around" - with several posters agreeing, even though they didn't like it. catfights, drama, bitchfests -- call it what you will but women don't always react well to other women being around. a typical female CS of today, wearing a star wars t-shirt, running gentoo and drinking out of a thinkgeek mug just won't react well to someone who's not of that ilk coming along onto "her" territory.

slight tangent, but interesting to consider.

i think it's perfectly possible to be geeky without turning into a one-dimensional stereotype. a lot of girls who aren't the picture described above still like the odd geeky thing, whether it's lolcats, nintendo cushions, an affinity for linux, whatever. the culture isn't binary, and it's entirely possible to fit in without having to live the entire lifestyle. i should know. i hardly ever wear my star wars t-shirt these days.

Haha, well right we're all different breeds of nerd.

I was thinking about it more at lunch, and what really tweaks me is the whole "I do this cause it's a paycheck" vs "I do this because I hearts it" developer mentality.

So maybe that's a better way to express the last point. Assuming that CS culture actively drives women away the ones that are in it, for the most part, really do love it (I know a few "this is just a paycheck" female devs).

So trying to increase that raw percentage might mean "polluting" the pool with "paycheckers" instead of "passion-ers" (man I am a wordSMITH)

(I also say this in full disclosure: I get monies for codes).

programmers rarely get to decide what is actually being built. it seems like most of the arguments for women in programming seem to suggest that with women programmers, the product of the code (and not the code itself) would be different. in most jobs, this simply isnt the case. women in product management would seem to address the product that the rest of the world sees.

One thing is interesting is that there used to be many more women in programming.

how do you get women in product management though? mostly it seems to be via programming careers/degrees.

i've seen more come in through sales, customer support, mba, or project management.

Yes, and programming used to be an academic thing, done by adult academics, rather than something done by every pimply 15-year-old social reject. :)

And I say that as having been a pimply 15-year-old social reject. Girl.

The rewards in CS are just not as good for the middle-of-the-road people as many other industries. Biotech, for example, is at least as intellectually demanding (if not more), and has many more women.

Let's face it -- programming is largely low-status, exploitative work, where you are like as not going to get outsourced to India (or wherever), outgunned by teenagers, replaced by people who don't mind working 80 hours a week, and managed by people who think of you as a glorified typist, etc., etc.

And many of your best-skilled coworkers are likely to have very poor social skills, whether from atrophy or a genuine medical disorder.

Speaking of outsourcing to India, in cultures where programming is viewed as a respected career path, there are many more women programmers. Among Asians and Indians, specifically.

They don't seem to enjoy it all that much, though, based on my anecdotal evidence.

So, given the issues I raised above, who wants to fix them? Who will bother? Nobody. They will just talk circles about how there must be tons of girls who just long to spend 14 hours a day in front of a computer when they grow up, surrounded by Star Trek jokes lolcats.

I get off on technology, but I've always been different than other girls. I used to get all aggro about it, but as the years have gone and I've grown up, I've realized that's futile. Many women who are in tech jobs just cannot get over their defensiveness and accept that other women wouldn't be just like them, if but for their evil oppressors. I used to think that way too, but it turned out to be bullshit.

Thanks for the insight. Thinking of it, most of the female programmers I've worked with have been of foreign nationality. You're dead-on about the inhumanity of most working environments, and the challenges that we face institutionally.

Good overview. I think the "thinking different" part is important. Many comp sci problems can be solved in very different ways, increasing the variability of thinking might increase the probability of finding the best solution? Or to rephrase, including women, and generally people from different backgrounds might yield advantages over just hiring the best white/asian dudes.

There's a contradiction inherent with that "thinking different" argument. If you accept that women on a large scale (ie, no individual example, but as a group of millions of people) think differently, then it's not absurd to say that they don't tend towards computing and hard-science as often.

Women have different biology, their bodies respond differently, they fall ill to different diseases but somehow it's become taboo to say that perhaps they think differently too, and therefore tend towards different disciplines. The brain is just another organ after all...

An example from a similar field: 90% of NFL Wide Receivers are Black. Does that mean the NFL is racist? Or that black people's genetic heritage skews their speed&strength bell curve slightly to the right so that the top hundredth of a percent is slightly above white's top hundredth of a percent? I tend to believe it's the second.

Please note that I know some nerd girls (mostly from the CS and EE programs), and nothing I say indicates that opportunities should be closed, or discrimination should happen, but you can't look at a number like "15% of comp-sci students are women" and immediately assume something is wrong.

I don't doubt that social pressures are playing a role here, with general pressure to "be pretty, not smart", but I don't think it explains away all of it. I am not putting forward a theory of everything here, just expressing my frustration with general feminism thoughts that everybody is fundamentally identical, except for socialization.

Well, this is going to turn bad I'm sure, I've touched on sex AND race.... but the central argument across all 3 is similar. There are bell curves everywhere in biology, and they are slightly skewed and stretched across different groups. No individual point is enough to make a decision ("you're a woman" doesn't say anything about computer ability, just as saying "you're black" doesn't make them a wide receiver), but on a mass-scale they predict percentages and expectations.

90% of NFL Wide Receivers are Black. Does that mean the NFL is racist? Or that black people's genetic heritage skews their speed&strength bell curve slightly to the right so that the top hundredth of a percent is slightly above white's top hundredth of a percent?

Or that young white men, compared with young black men, are much less likely to see professional sports as their ticket to an upper-class lifestyle, and therefore the folks who focus their efforts on becoming a better football player are predominantly black?

(Note that in the first few decades of the 20th century, when antisemitism was much more prominent, professional boxing was a predominantly Jewish sport.)

I nevertheless think that the feminist idea that we are fundamentally identical, except for socialization is the best way to think about the world. Because it means that since it's all socialization, we can change ourselves, we can understand each other. If we are hardwired to be different, all our efforts at change are futile.

I think there's a middle ground. By acknowledging that people come in all shapes and sizes and mindsets, you can consciously find people who compliment you or your organization well.

I never think that biology should be used to discriminate, since the 90th percentile line of women may be the 85th percentile of men (or whatever skew you want), that doesn't mean that she's not better at whatever task than 85% of men, and hence a good hire. Basically, the macro scale says nothing about the micro scale. But what I wanted to point out was that using macro level statistics and saying "this is inherently wrong" is reading the skew, and not the individuals.

As with everything in life, I'm guessing the real answer is some combination of socialization and biology.

One other ideas has been kicking around in my head, a comp-sci idea even... If you have women being approximately equal members of college (I think they have a slight lead by a few percentages), and you have few women in comp-sci, by the pigeonhole principal, they're the majority in another major. Why isn't there a clamor to get men into those majors? The example of biology was used elsewhere in this thread I think.

Yes, some fields have a lot more women than men. The thing is that men can choose a lot more freely (although it is true there is prejudice against men in some areas, like male nurses), while women are facing a lot of prejudice, sometimes very hardcore prejudice, like death and sexual threats (and you can find a lot of incidents well documented). Men need not worry about such things if they choose to engage in a female dominated field.

The main issue, I think, is not whether women opt more or less for CS, but rather that many many are compelled/driven to opt-out of it. Something is clearly wrong if they can't opt freely without suffering prejudice or without having to, as some say, "grow a thick skin".

I actually agree that it might not be a problem for computer science to not have women in the field. It's really more of a problem for women who want to be in the field.

If you had asked, 40 years ago, "why is the lack of women in math, science, medicine, academia, and leadership positions a problem" this would be more obvious. Since many fields today are more equitable, it is a lot less problematic, although perhaps not for a few folks here and there.

it's also a problem for men in the field who want to date nerdy women ;)

Men viewing nerdy women as potential dating material is commonly cited by women as one of the things they most dislike about being anywhere near tech events and tech people. So I would suggest that you ask yourself whether you, personally, have contributed to women not wanting to get more involved in tech. Because you just might have.

Seriously, everything works out better for everyone in the long run if you value women as people first and foremost. Admittedly doing so reduces your opportunities to make passes at uninterested women. But it significantly improves your odds of success if you do make a pass, and greatly improves your odds of eventually winding up in a decent relationship.

I very much doubt that I, personally, have contributed to this, being as I am on the 'receiving end' so to speak. Anyway, anecdotally, I can't say I've ever encountered this. I mean the last time I got hit on by a guy in a technical context... wait, it's never happened. The closest thing I can think of is getting randomly upvoted on HN whenever I happen to mention my gender in a post, or similar.

If anything, guys in tech -- the real techies, that is -- are so horribly bad at talking to women that it's being viewed as an alien from outer space that's offputting, not being viewed as a pair of walking boobs. On that note, I definitely agree with valuing women as people. But in my experience, at least, male attitudes towards women in tech as sexual objects are not even remotely a factor. However, the concern that you won't even meet nerdy women if there aren't any women involved in tech is still valid, IMO!

If anecdotally you haven't encountered it, then I'm surprised. Most of the women in tech that I've talked about this with have run into it.

If you wish to continue not experiencing it, then there are quite a few men I recommend not getting to know, starting with Eric Raymond.

Do you have data to support the hypothesis that women dislike being asked out by programmers?

If so, it might provide a useful means of distinguishing between the 'Roissy theory' (women are intolerant of low status men) I described downthread and scott_s's alternative theory (women don't want low status for themselves).


I think that men view most eligible women as potential dating material. If women find that being viewed as dating material at tech events is keeping them from being involved in tech, they must be avoiding much of the other parts of society where they are exposed to men of breeding age.

The issue isn't being exposed, it is being overwhelmed.

And yes, there is evidence that many women avoid strongly male-dominated environments. For some of that evidence look at the article that started this discussion: http://scicom.ucsc.edu/SciNotes/0901/pages/geeks/geeks.html

Yeah, that half of humanity probably has the same opinions and insights that we do. Can't imagine their input being valuable. And you're spot on about software being black and white - either your word processor works correctly or it doesn't work at all.

EDIT: Just to clarify, you're an idiot and a troll. Your (Devil's advocate) opinion is shortsighted and foolhardy. If you are writing software that "works or it doesn't", you are writing something inane, needless, or redundant. Most of the effort of developing software at this point in time is gathering requirements and designing interfaces. Work which is cut and dry is usually created by unnecessary process or poor choice of tools.

I'm disappointed that people (a) don't understand sarcasm, or (b) actually agree with the original commenter. Since no one left any meaningful feedback, I will assume the latter. If you're planning to start a company, thats a poor position to start from.

Gah! The article contains yet another misrepresentation of what Lawrence Summers said:

> former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers suggested that men are hard-wired to be more analytical than women

What he said was that there was more variance in IQ in males than in females, thus there are both more stupid males and more intelligent males - there are more males at either ends of the spectrum. Given a filter for extra-high IQ, you would then expect that there would be more males in that sample.

Minor nit: what Larry Summers said is that there might be more variance and it was worthy of study. He never drew any conclusion.

Exactly. In fact, I wasn't convinced that he actually considered it anything more than speculation, but brought the point up in a very academic, even devil's advocate, way.

Given the evidence that already exists, I would be surprised if he considered the idea just speculation.

The fact that men have a greater variance in ability than women has been repeatedly confirmed. Depending on which characteristic of intelligence is being measured, the variance among men is generally 1.07 to 1.17 times as great as the variance among women. Vocabulary is an extreme, there the variance is 1.4 times greater among men than women. See http://precedings.nature.com/documents/3238/version/1/files/... for verification of that.

The open and difficult question is how much of the over-representation of men at the top echelons of society can be attributed to this variation of ability versus sexism. While the question is going to offend and be controversial, I agree with Summers that the principle of academic freedom says that academics should be free to ask it.

yup, unfortunately he learned the hard way that as a public figure (e.g., university president), any statements that could possible be misconstrued to fit an agenda against you will probably be :/ he already had lots of political enemies around the time he was ousted, so that statement was the straw that broke his back ...

I'm very surprised to see feminists studying the 'Roissy' [1] theory of female career choices.

In short, the theory is that women are extremely intolerant of low status men and try to avoid working in fields where they are prevalent, and particularly in fields where they are respected. It actually has a reasonable amount of predictive power, certainly more than the sexism theory.

I'll be blown away, however, if we actually follow the theory to it's logical conclusion...

[1] Roissy in DC is an extremely sexist, but insightful blogger. He didn't state this theory, but I've heard it described as the 'Roissy' theory since it follows his line of thinking.

How the hell did this well-understood sociological phenomena get called 'Roissy' theory? It doesn't just apply to women: it applies to everyone and has more to do with culture than gender.

I'm only discussing conjecture because I don't have any sociological studies to back me up. </forewarning>

In general, yes, it does apply to all humans as a culture. I've seen men brush other lower status men away as I've seen women do. However, I can say, women tend to fill that category much more than men do.

I think it has more to do with the instinct to mate, than anything else. Women desire to project their masculine self onto a male figure that can most closely match the features of that masculinity. The masculine self having been created by the father figure, most women will seek out men that can fulfill those needs.

Hence why women generally date men older, with more social status, and more financial resources and freedom than they. There are obvious exceptions, so please consider those when reading this.

> Women desire to project their masculine self onto a male figure that can most closely match the features of that masculinity.

Oh, they do?

That theory is not the one explored in the studies described. The theory was that the women perceived the environment to be unwelcoming.

They found that women are turned off by an environment which suggests “nerdy, techie, stay up late coding, energy drinks, no social life.… They don't frequently take showers.”

...if she had asked them to describe any other group, like black people or women, they would have refused to answer. “But describe computer science majors? No problem!” she says with a laugh

The article is caged in PC language, but it's describing nothing but intolerance of a certain group of people.

You'll note that the theory of the unwelcoming environment is easy to debunk; if true, then law and medicine should also have very few women (they were historically unwelcoming to women). Yet somehow, those fields (full of high status men) are now about 50% women.

You're conflating physical and social environments. This article is dealing with the physical environments. The difference is important, because (apparently) an unwelcoming social environment can be overcome, but an unwelcoming physical environment means women don't even try.

Law and medicine also have large monetary and status incentives. I can imagine walking into certain kinds of offices and feeling like I would not want to work there. I do not consider that intolerance.

Good point; a complementary theory would be that women wish to obtain high status for themselves, and the perception that CS is low status turns them off. I don't see how we could distinguish between your theory and the 'Roissy theory', so it is equally valid.

As for intolerance, I'm not sure how we could consider your unwillingness to tolerate certain kinds of offices as anything other than intolerance.

Scratch off women and just say: "some people wish to obtain high status for themselves." Some people aren't as concerned with status - it's not that they don't care, but they're not willing to put up with as much crap to gain it. (Doctors and lawyers certainly put up with a lot of crap for their perceived status.) If we further assume there is an occupation with middle status, but has nontrivial social barriers to a certain group, then there's not much incentive for that group to break in when there are plenty of other occupations with the same status.

The differences between what I said and what you said: mine could apply to any group, not just women, and I'm assuming that only a smaller subset of most people are willing to pursue high social status despite the extra burdens; most people are fine with middle status.

Also, intolerance of an environment is different than intolerance of a group of people.

The article suggests that women are turned off by the perception of low status to a greater extent than men.

Regarding middle status jobs, there are plenty of formerly male-dominated middle status jobs which women have successfully broken into, e.g. advertising (c.f. Mad Men).

Any explanation of why women do not enter math/phys/CS must come up with something that distinguishes math/phys/CS from those other fields. Being a "middle status job" doesn't do it, nor does initial unfriendliness. I'd suggest that one possible explanation is that "geeky" pursuits are actually lower status than most comparable office jobs, and more women than men are turned off by low status.

I guess we'll just have to disagree; I saw no indications of status in the article. All I saw were perceptions of the environment.

Given the careers where women dominate (nursing, teaching, publishing, lawyering), I wouldn't believe any claims that women choose their careers based on their potenetial high status. Except maybe for lawyering. But I would bet that many more women lawyers are in social or environmental causes than not.

On the other hand, the idea of being repulsed by hanging out with low-status men… as a woman, that resonates with me.

The best thing that's happened for my happiness with programming is the arising of more well-rounded, socially skilled developers, who started off as music professors or linguists, like the ones I found when I switched to Ruby.

Unwelcoming is kind of funny. I wonder how welcoming would they consider the working conditions on an oil rig, or in a coal mine?

Which is a good point. You very rarely see articles lamenting the lack of women in mining, or drilling, or trash collection.

Point of clarification: what does status mean here? If it's identically equated to having a lifestyle that involves obsession with Star Wars, not following proper hygiene, and being messy, then your theory is empirically isomorphic to the article's theory.

Say you expand a little further and say that really low status means social impairment. People who are socially impaired tend to be socially unpleasant. If a woman suspects that this person is a man, that makes the gap even wider and more of a turn off. Then it's not really wrong at all for women to think that way.

The way you have it framed makes "social status" seem like a random construct, a congenital handicap. And women who dislike these people are just "intolerant" of them.

Here's some anecdotal info that bothered me when I saw it. I've graded several CS 1 courses and found that out of the class of 20-30, there might be 2 or 3 women, tops. Fine and good, since my school's engineering dept is 87% male and the CS dept is 92% male. However, the thing I noticed was that too many of these girls did poorly in the first few weeks and frequently dropped the course altogether; I'm not sure what they did then, since you can't really do any CS/IT/SE/CE degree without CS 1. Of the guys, maybe 1 or 2 would drop.

Why does this happen? My school is trying hard to get more women in CS and engineering fields, which may mean poorly-qualified girls are being accepted and pushed into these degrees; are we just a statistical anomaly? The numbers in the article would seem to indicate otherwise. Anyone else have insights from their own grading/teaching experiences?

Oh, and regarding pair programming, it's the best possible way to make sure you won't want to see your friend's face for another week, because half the time one of you will want to do something the other one just doesn't "get", so you sit there and explain it repeatedly when you could have just implemented it by yourself, all the while watching your teammate type with a speed and error frequency generally associated with senile chimpanzees.

There's a difference in the way women and men react to poor performance/failure, I read about it fairly recently (possibly on HN?) but can't find the link right now. Will be back if I find it.

Anyway. Women who do badly in the first few weeks of a course will think it's all their fault and drop the course. Men who do badly in the first few weeks of a course will think it's the course's fault and carry on.

Here's the problem as I see it. You're accepting less qualified girls because you want girls in CS, but you're putting them up against a hard course that challenges their self confidence and belief, while their classmates -- typical boisterous male freshmen? -- are apparently coasting along (even if they aren't, they won't show it to the girls).

I'd suggest a summer preparation self-study course (before my CS degree started I had to practice some math questions and read a book about the foundations of CS, which helped a little bit. Some kind of Informatics Olympiad thing might have been more useful) that also overlaps with the beginnings of CS1. That way the start of the course won't seem too bad. At the risk of positively discriminating (though looking at the numbers this is merely fixing a problem), ensure the female students have extra help with the course. Assign a TA/RA/senior student to help them out by e-mail or something. Make sure any less qualified male students get the same help, though.

Just a thought. :)

The article mentions that the proportion of women in biology is 60%. So maybe the women that could be doing well in computer science are seeking out the greater competition and camaraderie of the biology scene.

Self criticism:

1. Blame the victim?

2. 60% still isn't a supermajority like in CompSci/Eng.

Self affirmation:

1. Personal experience affirms. I have met more (in number) intelligent talented female students taking chem and bio disciplines. Example: last weekend I met a girl whose father taught one of my computer engineering courses, wearing a shirt that said "neuroscience".

The comment above you (well right now) indicates that women are less experienced coming into introductory classes. It makes sense that they'll have a higher failure rate, as it's difficult to compete against people who know more than you.

In my experience, they're not only less experienced, but they're continuously falling further behind in experience, at least for the first couple of years. They try to approach the first couple of years of CS the same way you treat the first couple of years of any other major, like math or biology: read the assigned reading, master the concepts, do the homework, and study for the tests. Take a lot of other interesting courses, and spend the first year (or two) deciding whether to major in CS or History or maybe Religion with a pre-law emphasis. Then, as a junior, start thinking about a substantial senior project that will introduce you to practical work. Just like any other college kid.

But that just doesn't work in CS, not at most schools. The curriculum is designed for the average (or slightly below average) student, who already has some programming experience and OS knowledge and who is actively engaged in acquiring more experience and more savoir faire. An intelligent person with no experience can catch up, but only by focusing hard on CS and putting in a lot of extra work to catch up with the other students.

Is there any point in accommodating anyone else besides the lifelong hobby hackers and the focused enthusiasts? I think this is an important question. From a competitive standpoint, there's clearly no point. There are plenty of hard-core geeks, and it seems intuitively obvious that the curriculum can be more advanced and interesting if you take the students' strengths for granted. Washing out everyone else means you can produce graduates who are more deeply knowledgeable about computing and who are better equipped to be productive in typical industry jobs.

On the other hand, it homogenizes the field and bakes in the personal peculiarities -- positive and negative -- of the kinds of people who get deeply interested in computers as teenagers.

Obviously the PC answer (as well as the "big picture, good of society" answer) is to accommodate as wide a range of people as possible. At selective universities that is probably feasible, and if feasible, is the right answer. However, I got my degree in a non-CS field and only took CS classes when I was unemployed for a while early in my career. I took those classes at a community college and at a night extension of a crappy state school. In those classes, it was clear that some of the the geek/hobbyist students had a chance of being decently productive at industry jobs, but the students who had not done any hobby programming, whose only knowledge came from the curriculum, were completely hopeless. It was obvious they would never be competent enough to contribute in any industry job unless their primary competence was something other than computer science. For vocational training, I think it's unrealistic to encourage these "lightweights" to pursue a degree in computer science, because they'll never achieve a useful level of competence. You might as well wash them out and focus on the lifelong geeks, who at least can become competent coders or QA guys.

This is exactly the reason why most folks will never program; not because they don't have the capability to be competent, but because we have this odd culture around programming. There's this belief that CS is something that you have to start when you're young and be obsessed with your whole life to even do.

In any field- math, bio, art, music, the people who are best at it are those types- the start-early would-do-it-for-free types. But there's a whole lot of people milling around who could be second best. In other fields, being second best or not that into it is acceptable.

In computer science it's not. And more importantly, because programming and computer science are often equated, this prevents a whole lot of people from programming.

And who needs to program? I'd argue that the time is past where only computer scientists need to program. Everyone needs to program; biologists, mathematicians, linguists, social scientists... (maybe not the English majors, but w/e) and this idea that programming can only be done by people that started when they were 5 year old boys is a huge loss.

Re: pair programming.

That's been my experience too, but I've only ever done it with people who were much less experienced programmers (i.e. once). It's sounds like you were also working with someone vastly more inexperienced, so it's probably not fair to poo-poo paired programming on that basis alone.

Well, my problem is usually that one of us has a particular data structure or sequence of steps in mind, and it can be hard to explain the exact reasoning for it sometimes. Things are a bit better when you have a nice whiteboard to draw on.

I always feel like the guy at the keyboard ends up having to write most of the real code, because if the other programmer has an idea they either have to switch spaces or he has to painstakingly dictate what he wants. Whoever isn't at the keyboard then tends to feel like he's not really contributing except to pick out occasional syntax errors and try to follow along with what's being written. Maybe it works for some people, but I prefer working alone.

The problem I have with this sort of research is that I think it makes too much of the "because your female you dont like that sort of stuff" myth.

Im a guy, I love all things tech (and am a bit geeky about it). However I never liked Star Trek and whilst I read Science Fiction / Fantasy the whole D&D and more mainstream Warhammer type stuff makes me squirm. I imagine that same room would put me off too; unless it had something cool in it (for example a complex lego "star trek" model) that appealed to the engineer in me.

I know a fair few CS majors - most are men. But there are easily as many women as hardcore star trek style geeks. Some of the most hardcore geeks are women.

I really think this is a lot more complex than star trek :)

I find it odd that you are appealing to your anecdotal experience, when they had studies where the actually subjected actual women to these environments and observed their reactions. Also, they quote some of the hardcore geek women or which you speak, so I do not understand where you find yourself disagreeing with the research or the article.

Firstly I cant see any information about who was tested etc. and how many. To really refute it I would need to see that.

My main point was r.e. the Star Trek thing. I agree entirely that it might put women off (as I said, it even puts me off) but I am not sure it is good evidence that this is how women [or anyone] perceive cs (and so puts them off). The test doesn't cover that issue at all.

It's like saying "we did a study where we found all men were unable to breast feed babies. As a result we conclude only women can get pregnant" :)

Realise it's completely off-topic - but did you know that men actually can breastfeed? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_lactation

This article misrepresent's Samuel Gosling's research. It says that Gosling's experiments show that people can make "surprisingly accurate" assessments of strangers by looking at their personal space. In fact Gosling's research shows that people can form a more accurate assessment from a first impression (even a still photo) than they can from looking at someone's personal space (such as a bedroom or cubicle), and in fact people get many things wrong by looking at someone's personal space. If you want to know exactly what you can and can't tell about someone's personality from looking at their personal space, get his book.

You seem to be referencing this: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/faculty/gosling/scal...

Is that correct?

From the article: “No matter what we do to that room, even if we make it all female, women just don't feel like they belong there.”

Could it be that is is just computer science that many women don't feel attracted to? The statement above seems to contradict her own research, and she fails to see it. The stereotypes seem really outdated, too.

Or maybe women just tend to be intolerant... ducks

How does it contradict the research? By 'no matter what we do', it doesn't mean she's swapping out the geeky material for the magazines (which makes women more comfortable, apparently), it means she's doing everything without changing the requirement that the room needs to be filled with nerdy/geeky material. The second part of the sentence reinforces the fact that even if it's made clear that it will be an all-female room/team, they still feel uncomfortable.

It's a poorly worded sentence. I felt it contradicted the research on first-read as well. Since they specifically placed objects rated with high masculinity in the room, the "even if we make it all female" sounds as if doing the opposite doesn't help.

Yes, I understood it like that - even if the decor is "female" women won't like it. So I guess I misread it.

By "make it all female" she means, fills the room with only females. The nerdiness of the room remains the same. The implication is that the percentage of women in a CS class matters less than the decorations on the wall.

Intolerant ducks? That's a pretty strange epithet.

Does the heavy-equipment industry have similar discussions?

"Hey, how come there aren't more wimmin running our Caterpillar D9s in the Brazilian rainforest?"

Oh yeah, Philip Greenspun points out science is a dead end job for any ambitious woman: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science

You mean, like this?


If you go to the "About Us" → "Our Supporters" menu item, you see a list of donations, and the majority of donors are labor unions.

Donations for 2009 under $4k ; donations for 2008 under $15K ... sorry this is not a significant organization.

It's not the only group of people interested in the subject of getting more women involved in the traditionally-male building trades occupations. If you want to find more on the subject, you can Google for it yourself.

I like this article because it points out women are also geeky and that it's OK to be geeky. Women just may tend to have a slightly different way of expressing that geekiness.

You want girls to feel comfortable because you want the girls who are good at CS to go into CS. This is independent of how many women go in total. But since we're at it, let's talk about the biology arguments:



according to the above study, undergraduate women in engineering showed comparatively a higher interest in math than men though slightly lower interest in engineering and yet lower interest in physics.


Through additional work CMU increased their percentage of women in CS from 8% to 1995 to 42% in 2000. One thing I recall is that women were not as experienced when they first got into CS and had to work harder. However they believed they had caught up by junior year.

But since we're at it, let's talk about the biology arguments

The geekfeminism link addresses the almost-strawman argument that women don't have the math or analytical skills needed for CS. It doesn't address the possibility that there are biological reasons for differing levels of interest in the field.

Yes, the first link addresses a strawman but I bring it up because other people still bring it up.

The second link discusses interests and influences for female undergrads majoring in some kind of engineering, not CS, though I still think it is somewhat relevant. I find the influence on family members to be the most interesting.

The third link has papers specifically related to interest. One is titled "The Anatomy of Interest." It discusses why women who started college enthusiastic about CS ended up leaving.

"I said, 'Where's my phone right now? It's over there, in my purse.' I basically said, 'You're not designing your phones for women."'

It startles me just how pervasive some stereotypes are.

The quoted assertion appears to depend on two generalizations. The first is that women use purses instead of pockets , and the second is that they leave purses "over there." The implied converse generalization is that men don't leave their phone or its container "over there."

It makes me wonder if the inclusion of this quote was intentional foreshadowing on the part of the author.

I've seen guys leave their phones in jacket pockets on the backs of chairs, but that's way rarer than women not having a phone within arm's reach. To generalise, of course, but pretty much every other woman I know uses a handbag (purse) of some sort and won't always have it glued to their arm. Even I do, occasionally -- skirts don't have pockets, y'know, and it's more comfortable not having a giant iPhone in a tiny pocket. I used to be considered 'blokeish' for not having a bag and keeping my cash/phone/keys in my jeans or coat pocket. It's a fair enough generalisation in my experience.

It's a fair enough generalisation in my experience.

Fair enough in what context? It's certainly a patently valid generalization, but it's still a generalization and, perhaps more importantly, is one that has no obvious and direct connection to being female.

Had the OP's study limited itself to women who self-identify as being feminine and/or wearing skirts, or at least measured that, I wouldn't even question it.

Bonus points for using the term 'blokeish'.

Er, at least in certain contexts, calling a woman blokeish is implying she's a butch lesbian. I used to be a female computer scientist with a buzzcut (and the pockets thing). Everyone thought I was gay.

(I'm not.)

Certainly not implying that, just appreciating diverse vocabulary.

It was just a really weird thing to say, a way to stop my phone ringing at a distance. How would that actually work? Would you need to wear some sort of proximity sensor? Or leave your phone over there, but keep hold of a remote control? It doesn't make any sort of sense as a feature.

BlackBerries have a magnetic sensor to detect when they're in a case and can change their notifications accordingly, but that's not the same thing.

a way to stop my phone ringing at a distance. How would that actually work? Would you need to wear some sort of proximity sensor?

#ahem# bluetooth #cough#

Well, yeah, but then maybe you don't want an extra bluetooth gadget. Maybe you actually want a smaller phone?

Or, wear a ring with a built-in RFID chip. The mobile device could then detect the presence of the ring.

Blame the fashion designers. Lots of the clothing women wear lacks decent pockets. So they're stuck putting things in their purse.

Heres some anecdotes for you. Im a guy, i gave up on programming for a while because i perceived it as both boring and dry. I didn't want to work in a cubicle, so i decided that maybe some of my other hobbies, like photography, drawing or writing could become my career.

I knew i was a techie, I've grown up with dissembling stuff and figuring out how stuff works and making stuff, its just that i didn't see programming the same way i saw drawing in my notebook. I do now.

If there are women reading this, and you LOVE making stuff, don't let stereotypes get in your way. If you don't like assholes don't work with them, if you don't like cubicles don't work in them, if you don't like smelly apartments with star trek posters on the wall, don't work there. Build your own environment, find like minded individuals and MAKE THINGS. I don't know if being a woman makes this harder, it probably does. Me, i can handle asshole nerds and their smelly apartments(i am one), but i avoid dry and sterile offices and bureaucracy as much as i can. Perhaps the extra effort isn't worth it, if i couldn't work in an environment of my taste, i probably wouldn't be a programmer, and be an artist instead, even though i SUCK as an artist a lot more than i suck as a programmer, and i don't find it as much fun as i used to when i sat bored in a classroom in high school.

The overall lesson to learn from the article is "Both men and women decide if they belong in an environment based off cues from the environment itself."

That seems clear enough, but I started to think about how the lessons learned here might be applied elsewhere. Namely, how could this lesson be applied to help us, my fellow geek friends, out with the ladies?

Basically, what I'm saying is that if you want women to feel comfortable around you and in your surrounding (ie home or office), then you have to provide some cues to make them feel like they belong - barring that, at least remove the cues that make them feel like they definitely don't.

I'm not saying redecorate your apartment with pink unicorns everywhere, but maybe just start off small:

- Replace the 1-foot-tall Yoda replica with a potted plant

- Replace the wall of empty Mountain Dew cans with a bottle of water on your desk

Like I said, just simple things to make any potential women that might see your environment avoid the feeling that they "simply don't belong here."

I know the article isn't really about how to improve your odds with the ladies, but I see no reasons not to apply the lessons they are learning with actual research to other areas of our lives - especially one that our demographic has historically had difficulty with.

For once we are getting info on how to make women feel more comfortable that is backed by actual research as opposed to mere speculation and guesswork. Why wouldn't we try to make use of that information in as many ways as possible?

quote: "She interviewed at Motorola, a cell phone company, and Adobe, a graphic design company." - The person who wrote this article didn't even bother researching the companies. Motorola does a heck of a lot more than just cell phones. And saying Adobe is a graphic design company is like saying GE is a refrigerator company.

I would like to see a study that shows if the increase in women in other science and engineering fields can be attributed to anything those fields specifically did to attract more women or if it can be attributed to something else entirely.

Since when does science have anything to do with anyone feeling "accepted"? I just spent 12 minutes reading the dialog here and perhaps this post is a result of an emotional response but seriously, most people I know involved in computer science (that are any good) got there by persevering enormous social discomfort. If you have a love and a passion for this work you will do it and no amount of messy labs and Star Wars posters is going to change that.

Maybe I'm missing the point and correct me if I'm wrong, but allot of computer science has already been created/invented/defined by women (the first compiler, arguably the first programming language, etc.).

So if you have something to contribute, pull up a keyboard and start hacking; computer science is one of the few arts/professions where today you need little more than a computer and an internet connection to become as good as your talent, creativity and willingness to invest the time will allow.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison

There aren't very many women in CS because there aren't very many women in CS.

It's a "social norm" issue. How many girls deciding on college can look to a woman in the field? How many of their friends are going on to major in CS? Or will even tell them that it's a good idea?

It's similar to another question: Why aren't there more African-American backpackers? The number I see tossed around a lot is that only 4% of backpackers are African-American.

I'm actually rather surprised that the researchers had as much luck as they did (with either gender) in the "dentist office waiting room"-like environment. I personally cringe every time I have to go to my dentist office, precisely because I have to look at his horribly generic, lifeless waiting room. At least the nerdy-gamer room had some personality.

Perhaps my feelings about generic, lifeless rooms are just atypical.

They were expecting a class to be taught in it, so it wasn't the vile pit of hour-long silent pastel neutrality.

The obvious followup is to try to figure out what it is about the Star Wars posters and messy environment that makes women uncomfortable.

My guess is that women feel like they are biologically different than men, and geek paraphernalia is seen as a signal that the environment will be dominated by men who don't understand women. Any women here want to agree/disagree?

I had a pretty immediate negative reaction when I just read about the room described. Now, I'm trying to figure out why I had this reaction.

I think the room communicates an environment of obsessive and messy people, and that really isn't the kind of people I'd like to be around. I would have felt better if it wasn't just Star Trek, but various posters of stereotypically nerdy things. If it had been all posters of Harry Potter, I'd still feel uncomfortable. Also, a life-size bust? Really? I would think a life-size bust of anything to be weird, even if it was Zachary Quinto or George Washington.

A messy environment does make me uncomfortable. (Does it not make you uncomfortable?) The article described a mess of discarded computer parts. At a past company that I worked for, I got to visit the IT room, which had neat piles of spare computer parts organized in the middle of the floor. Although I did think it was weird that the stuff was just lying on the floor, I did have to resist an urge to crawl along the floor and check out everything (I totally would've done it if the HR people weren't watching me). If it had been a disorganized pile of discards, I wouldn't have given it a second glance.

> My guess is that women feel like they are biologically different than men

Um yes. I do feel that I am biologically different than men.

> and geek paraphernalia is seen as a signal that the environment will be dominated by men who don't understand women

Hmm, I think the closest place of "geek paraphernalia" that I've been exposed to is my school's linux lounge. The place has a bunch of working computers and some old computers to be stripped for parts, bookcases of CS textbooks, posters of the Linux penguin, signs made of the reflective side of compact discs, but there's nothing about this environment that turns me off. If the room had instead been covered with something I had zero interest in (like Star Trek) then yes, I would be a little put off.

A messy environment does make me uncomfortable. (Does it not make you uncomfortable?)

A messy environment does not make me uncomfortable.

I wonder how much people’s dislike for disorder relates to the amount of time they look for things. It seems like the people that keep the most ordered desks spend the most time looking for things. However, I rarely need to find physical stuff in my environment so it's just not that important to me.

My room only looks disorganized and messy. Its actually highly optimized. My clothes stay on one pile on one end of the room. Naturally, they are piled in the order i took them off, so its easy to put them back on, its a stack. My desk doesn't have any junk on it, but the area around my immediate workspace is full with stuff. I have a lot of empty soft drink bottles, flattened and put in bags, all the leftover food and trash i have is in bags, on a separate pile, which i trow away when it gets too big, or starts to smell. There are NO objects on the floor, because i like to walk around my room and think. The environment looks unwelcoming, dirty and messy, but its effective. I know where everything is, and everything is either where it has to be, or is thrown relatively near the place it has to be. Holly shit, my room is like software.

Yes, but this isn't your mess, this is someone else's mess.

I am generalizing that your willingness to tolerate disorder in your personal environment relates to your tolerance for a generic messy environment.

"A messy environment does make me uncomfortable. (Does it not make you uncomfortable?)"

Nope. That's an established difference between men and women. I suspect it's because for men are on average better at using the part of the brain that processes abstract patterns, and worse at using the part of their brain that processes sensory data and emotion. So the mess is more salient for women and thus drains more cognitive cycles.

Also, I suspect people of both sexes getting better at using the other part of their brain as they get older. So it would possibly bother older men more, or possibly older women less. Just another one of my crazy theories though. :-)

Hmm, I'm a little surprised to hear that (that messes bother women more than men). What was your reaction to reading the "geek room" described?

Edit: fixed comparison

I meant that messes bother women more than men.

Ah sorry, that's what I meant to type too. But I'm still interested to know what you thought of the room.

I would have liked the room more if I were still in high school, now I'd be pretty neutral about it.

> That's an established difference between men and women.

It is? And it's cross-cultural?

I'm astonished by the amount of "men and women are just different, everybody knows that!" going on in this thread.

A question for all the male programmers here. Do you really think that the single most important fact about you is your sex? I'm going to guess, no.

So why are we trying to lump 50% of the population together into one bucket? There is no single unifying thing for every single woman out there. If there is, it will be either:

a) something all (most) humans want, such as the desire to be respected, or

b) something the woman herself considers relatively insignificant

Guess what, CS will never appeal to "the generic woman", just like it won't appeal to "the generic man". This is simply because they don't exist. This may come as a surprise, but not all women like the color pink, or cooking. And I personally don't understand the appeal of watching football on TV. Both my wife and I enjoy our video game nights together though.

So, in conclusion, don't market CS "for girls". Market "CS for smart people who want to make things". This is what's relevant, not gender.

I think a major problem is that much of computer science is not interesting. And indeed, almost all jobs that you get after graduation are not interesting either.

It's too much like a "pen science" -- focusing too much on implementation and not enough on application. Imagine a science where students learn to write as quickly as possible with a pen and to fill the page with as much writing as possible. Who would want to get a "pen degree"?

The fact that many men want to major in CS reflects poorly on men.

The CS curriculum needs to be redesigned to be more applications-oriented and the major needs to be renamed to reflect that change.

Much of computer science may not be interesting to /you/, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting generally. I am sure there are lots of things you find interesting that wouldn't appeal to others.

The Europeans have come up with a suitable name which we would do well to adopt.

French - informatique

Spanish - informática

German - Informatik

If we spoke not of computer science but of informatics we would make so much progress. Remember:

computer science : computers :: astronomy : telescopes.

Math, traditionally, has been about solving problems. Computer science is about solving problems concerning how we solve problems. How many things do we need to keep track of in order to solve, say, the 8 Queens problem? How many steps do we need to take? (space and time complexity) What are those steps? Can we substitute different steps with the same extensional effect that do the job more efficiently? (algorithm analysis and optimization) How do we arrange information in such a way to take fewer steps to solve our problem? (data structures) Can we develop a means of representation for steps that is both easy for a universal Turing machine to read and act on and easy for a human to read and write? (programming language theory) This is informatics and if you are not fascinated by it I feel sorry for you. Computer science sounds too much like what it has actually become in most major universities: code grinder trade school.

Where is CS taught like that? My understanding is that it's usually taught more like a math.

Much of CS is concerned with time and space efficiency of programs.

Hence the comparison to speed and compactness of writing in pen science.

That's not a very good comparison, though, because the person isn't usually carrying out the algorithm. Every engineering discipline is concerned with cost containment (energy-efficient appliances, bridges that require minimal repair, satellites with as little mass as possible). This is what time and space efficiency are for computer programs: cost reduction. Sometimes the costs are incurred by the manufacturer (efficiency of the Google web crawler), and sometimes by the consumer (efficiency of the OS), but it's still cost containment.

Now, if the programmer were actually carrying out algorithms, this comparison would be entirely sensible. They're not. They're just trying to make them use as few resources as possible.

The point is that this perspective is missing the enormous creative potential of the computer -- just as pen science is missing the enormous creative potential of the pen.

I guess I just don't see why you need an education in that. Civil engineers can design bridges that are quite nice to look at. Mechanical engineers can build very elegant machines that can be quite expressive. To my knowledge, education in those fields is still overwhelmingly about creating something that satisfies the specific requirements.

>The CS curriculum needs to be redesigned to be more applications-oriented and the major needs to be renamed to reflect that change.

They have those majors already, they're called "Software Engineering" and "Information Technology" at most schools.

i haven't RTFA yet, but i'd be interested in seeing whether the same gender gap exists in other countries; from talking with friends who grew up in places like Eastern Europe, it seems like it wasn't as 'nerdy' for women to like engineering, math, or computers, so more talented women got into the field in college and as a career

Malaysia has much higher proportions of women in Computer Science (~50%). It's almost as if it's purely a cultural and social issue...

This is a problem I've personally never understood well. Of all fields, the CS (I mean "software") field seems particularly eager to have female representation. Women generally score well in math and logic tests, perform well in school, etc. Anecdotally some of the better students in my CS undergrad coursework were female. In some industries (e.g. gaming), getting women into the development side of things would revolutionize the industries by opening the market to 50% of the population by producing products that cater to that demographic.

It just seems that fewer women enjoy doing the kinds of things you have to do to be successful in this particular field than in some other.

That's not to say there aren't women who participate in the field, but I've found, anecdotally, that they tend to view it as paycheck instead of passion (and maybe not insignificantly, the lions share appear to come from Asian countries with those country's concepts of work ethics and good jobs fueling most of those women). I think there are far more males who, for whatever reason, feel passionate about learning to build software.

Related, I've found anecdotally that most "geek girls" I've met are not as much into the substance of geekdom as they are into the image of geekdom. I've met lots of women with Pac Man t-shirts and binary watches at Anime festivals who couldn't give a rats ass about clock cycle counts for MOV operations on different revisions of the 80486 chips, but I've met lots of guys in the same clothing who owned aged dog-eared copies of Intel's multi-thousand page CPU Guidebooks (and read them for escapism).

For guys, seeing another guy dressed out of the ThinkGeek catalogue is a powerful signal of relevant knowledge, an ice-breaker of sorts as to how to relate. While there certainly are real geek women, their cultural appearance doesn't necessarily provide the same signaling. So when a geek chick shows up, the conversation switches basically to something less geeked out (at least in my experience) out of politeness.

I suppose this has two sides to it, the geek chick isn't then immersed into the kinds of topical discussions about xyz algorithm so she doesn't learn about it which cascades into never really getting as good as the boys, but to the boys, they learned about this on their own, in isolation, because they enjoyed it, and can't understand why anybody has to really be "coached" into becoming a geek.

full disclosure, I met my wife in a programming course, and she most definitely looks at it as paycheck

Where do these uber nerdy programmers with poor hygiene habits work? I've worked at a large corporation and a small start up in Silicon Valley, and I'm hard pressed to think of any. Is this a minority that's somehow become the stereotype for everybody?

In other words, once again we are told that men are responsible for women's problems.

I disagree. I was all prepared to wince at this article when I read the title. However, the researchers go out of their way to say that some middle ground should be found that welcomes women without rejecting current geek culture. They made a point of quoting geek women who embraced computer science in least in part because of its geekiness.

Ah, having typed this far, now I notice the obvioustroll username. Trolled, indeed. :)

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