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The Stereotypes, Identity and Belonging Lab at the University of Washington is now a member of the blogging community! We will be using Decoded as a forum for disseminating our research on women and computer science and discussing current issues related to the field of computer science including: women's involvement and how computer science is changing the way we live. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on our posts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is Technology to Blame for the Gender Pay Gap in Seattle?

According to a recent article by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Seattle has the biggest gender pay gap of any major city in the United States, with women earning 73 cents to every dollar men make. These statistics, based off 2012 census data, pointed to Seattle, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Detroit as the cities with the largest gender pay gaps. Though each city is approaching this issue in a different way, many fingers in Seattle are pointing at the gender disparity in IT for the answer.

In a debate article published in the Seattle times, Bruce Ramsay argues that female career and lifestyle choices have created the wage gap. Specifically, he maintains that women’s reluctance to pursue high paying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers contributes to this problem: “I see tech people every day at lunch: most are men. That's not discrimination; it's that more men can do, and are willing to do, the sort of computer work for which Seattle's employers are willing to pay good money.” Similarly, in an article in the New York Times, Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that much of the gender pay gap is explained by differing jobs and college majors. She suggests that women who want money should choose different majors: “Talented young women who aspire to be rich and powerful would be advised to major in economics or electrical engineering rather than psychology or social work.”

Ramsay and Sommers have put the blame on women for not being interested in lucrative fields. However, our research at the Stereotypes, Identity, and Belonging Lab has shown repeatedly that small changes to the environment, role models, and media, can help women get interested in STEM fields like computer science. Women are deterred by the surrounding stereotypes of fields like computer science, rather than the content of the fields. 

In our recently published study, we established the role of the media in communicating stereotypes to women. Women who read an article which said that the stereotypes of computer science were changing reported more interest that women who didn’t read an article at all, or read an article saying the stereotypes were the same. Just by letting women know that they do not have to fit the nerdy, masculine stereotype of computer scientists to join the field, the media can help women express more interest in choosing a STEM field.

In a rebuttal to the argument that women are just choosing the wrong fields, Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn is right on track with the current research. According to McGinn, the role of socialization as well as lack of female role models cannot be ignored when it comes to career choices. “Women are socialized from childhood to believe they are better suited for jobs in traditionally “female friendly” industries.” McGinn commented on large topics we’ve published about here in the SIBL: “One of the biggest barriers to women entering the tech industry is lack of role models (not to mention institutionalized sexism and frequently unfriendly workplaces).” Our research on role models and work environments suggests that interactions with non-stereotypical rooms and people can bolster women’s numbers in computer science.

Both Mayor McGinn and President Obama are taking action to try to close the gender pay gap. President Obama was quoted saying ““I want every child to grow up knowing that a woman’s hard work is valued and rewarded just as much as any man’s,” and Mayor McGinn has brought together a task force to help the city understand the problem and recommend changes. This task force will focus on city employees, developing programs to help create equal gender representation in currently male dominated and high paying positions, as well as change employment and contracting procedures that may contribute to gender biased decisions.

So how can we reduce the gender pay gap in Seattle? Our research points to a few solutions: present more nonstereotypical representations of STEM in the media, increase the nonstereotypical role models available to women interested in STEM, and reduce the stereotypicality of classrooms and work environments to help women feel more welcome.

What sorts of solutions do you think will make a difference in the gender wage gap? How can we achieve gender equality in pay, not just in Seattle, but throughout the world?

-Posted by Amia

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Patching up the Leaky Pipeline: Retention of Women in Computer Science

The UW Computer Science and Engineering department
celebrates their new PhD graduates
As the University of Washington celebrates the commencement of our students, we at SIBL want to congratulate our new doctors of computer science. This year almost 20% of the new PhDs from the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering department were women, a relatively large proportion considering the percentage of women studying computer science decreases as they get further into their education, a phenomenon called the “leaky pipeline”. The leaky pipeline is due in a large part to the additional barriers that women in computer science face throughout their schooling.

Anna North is an ex-computer science major at Stanford who shared her experiences in an article posted on Jezebel. Highly aware of being outnumbered, she struggled to feel at ease among her male peers. North remembers trying to rebel by wearing miniskirts to class to highlight her femininity. Despite her love of programming, North ultimately left the computer science major to pursue a degree in English. She explained that the common stereotype for women in computer science at her school was that “all the girls leave after their first year.” What could have been done differently to prevent North and other women like her from leaving the major?  

Stanford University, Anna’s alma mater, has struggled to retain females in their CS program, but, like many schools, they are trying to address this attrition. An article by TechCrunch noted that departmental dinners are held to encourage current computer science majors, faculty, and people in the industry to meet and mingle. Highly successful, these dinners occur twice a quarter. They foster a sense of community for women in computer science and provide undergraduates with an opportunity to interact with successful female role models in the field. This approach is congruent with findings from the Stereotypes, Identity, and Belonging Lab, which suggest that while both male and female role models can help recruit women into computer science, female role models may be especially important for retention. These role models can help combat the negative stereotypes that are often thrust upon female computer science students and communicate to potential female computer science majors that they do belong and they can succeed in the major. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No Girls Allowed: Do Masculine Cues Affect Women’s Interest?

 With the recent Super Bowl, one of the most watched TV events in a given year, we thought looking at commercials from Super Bowls past might give us a sense of what popular media might be saying to women about their potential in technology fields. In a commercial launched for the 2012 Super Bowl, Best Buy showcased 10 male innovators of well-known mobile device products. They introduced themselves as the creators of their respective inventions: Shazam, the in-phone camera, Instagram, and more. In the end, a woman introduces Best Buy as the place where all these inventions can be found.

Though the commercial succeeds in communicating the exciting breadth of developments coming forth from the mobile technology industry, could the commercial also be sending a more harmful message? Specifically, does the distinct absence of female innovators signal to women that they do not belong or would not excel in the technology field? The featured men are depicted as prominent innovators in the field, whereas in the video, the only women shown are in positions of service (i.e., flight attendant and sales person).

Research conducted in the Stereotypes, Identity, and Belonging Lab has demonstrated that when people are assessing whether they would fit in a given context, they look to cues in the environment to gauge their sense of belonging. This commercial may act as an environmental cue, sending a message about the environment that women may encounter in the technology world—an environment in which only males are capable of innovation. These cues could perpetuate the underrepresentation of women in computer science by leading women to question their belonging in the field.

Women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions in technology and science has not gone unnoticed; many groups are working on projects to provide women with more information about the prevalence of women in science. In October of 2012 the Royal Society held an edit-a-thon of Wikipedia pages in order to increase awareness of women’s contributions to science throughout history (the story was covered by BBC News). Also, the Victorian ICT for Women Network asked successful women who work in technology fields to send photos with their name and position to be showcased at an event called GoGirl, Go for IT this past June. The event was meant to help recruit female high school students into IT majors. By emphasizing women’s role and representation in science and technology, these groups are providing counter-stereotypical information to women about their representation in science.

So what do you think? Might the Best Buy commercial influence women’s sense of belonging in technology?  Do you think programs like the edit-a-thon and Go Girl Go for IT will encourage women to join the sciences? Or do you think it might remind women that they are underrepresented and deter them even more?

Posted by: Amanda