I read an article today on Women in Technology – A Call for Obsoletion by Claire Willett. I started to comment and realized it was turning into a whole post on its own! I, too, have been puzzled by the disappearance of women in the field. Coming up on 27 years in IT, I am definitely not the norm (since most leave between 10-20 years in), but I did introduce my daughter (and my son, too!) to computers at an early age and told them they could be anything they wanted to be. Interestingly, my daughter didn’t show much interest, but got her degree in theoretical math from MIT, while my son showed a lot of interest, but then became a welder. Go figure!
Claire pointed out several proposed explanations that others have come up with to explain why there are fewer women entering the field and cited statistics to show they’re not staying in the field. The quandry that I have is where the line is to push kids into a direction they don’t want to go versus to encourage them to explore technology/science careers. Either way, I think this applies to any kids- not just mine – and not just girls!
As for the discouragement factor that she brings up, I think it’s a plausible, and insidious, explanation for the problem. Having “techie” parents and growing up in the heart of the space industry, I never experienced any discouragement as a young girl or teenager. But Claire’s article reminded me when I was going back to school when I was 28 and attempting to take an advanced math class, I really had to battle with the counselor to get her to sign off on the course. I was the recipient of a Pell grant at the time, and couldn’t just take it without authorization. I was told that I had been out of school too long to be successful. Furthermore, I wanted to take the self-paced class rather than the lecture class and was told that no one ever succeeds with that route. Well, I pushed back, explaining that I was in the software industry and could hold my own quite nicely in math. (I got an A. Can you imagine how badly I wanted to wave that in the face of that mis-guidance counselor!) How many other young women are getting told not to bother trying and believe it?
Fortunately for me, that’s the only real discouragement I really encountered that I actively had to battle. I discuss a few others in my previous post, Maybe It’s Just Me…A Perspective from One Woman in IT. And in that post, I also described my daughter’s perspective as a representative of the incoming generation of women in technology.
Although providing the girls in our sphere of influence exposure to the field of technology is a good step, we also need to be cognizant of other voices that they hear (friends, teachers, guidance counselors) that might be counteracting our best efforts. Helping them develop confidence in themselves and to believe that they can be whatever they want to be is also vitally important. Again, I feel this way about all kids, so I struggle a lot with singling out girls in particular. But if girls are especially vulnerable to the discouragement factor, then we need to be aware of that and take every opportunity to help them resist that discouragement, whether it’s your daughter, niece, friend’s daughter, or neighbor. We CAN make a difference one girl at a time! Along with Claire, I’d really like to see the obsolescence of WIT as well.