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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.

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


  1. GREAT post, Amanda! Well written and RIGHT on! These subtle hits against women continue to deter women to go where they are seemingly not welcome. It is infuriating. Go, Amanda. Let's break this barrier, too. Nice work.

  2. The ratio of women to men in Computer science isn't nearly as bad as men to women in nursing...

    Perhaps the discrimination against men is worse in trying to become a nurse?

    1. Let's not point fingers here; we should focus on the solution rather than squabble over who has it worse.

      The real problem is gender roles are still pervasive elements of our culture, and yet the popular perception is that the women's rights movement -achieved- gender equality years ago. How do you fix something few are willing to ponder long enough to realize that it's broken?