research on gender

Linda Purrington (
Wed, 01 Apr 1998 14:16:29 -0800

Forwarded by Linda Purrington <>

03/09/98- Updated 06:18 PM ET

Tech gender gap remains despite gains

In the late '80s when teacher Tommy Bass looked over his technical
drafting class at Southern Nash Senior High near Rocky Mount, N.C., he
would see one female face out of about 20.

"They avoided the class because they had no idea what
it was," Bass says. The courses were heavily
dependent on computers. "They would think it's a
male-dominated field, or they never heard of it."

A state-funded summer class for girls helped Bass get
the female ratio in technical drafting up to 50%.

"It got them out of the thinking they could only be
nurses and secretaries," he says. But now that the
funding has dried up, the level has fallen to around

The lack of females in Bass' class illustrates a
larger problem, the gulf between girls and boys in
computer use. Girls interested in computers encounter
subtle messages - home computers in their brothers'
rooms, video games with violent and sports themes
aimed at boys - that act as a barrier to technology.

The gap is clear:

* In 1994-95, 28% of the college graduates in
computer science were women, says the National
>[USA TODAY Archives] Center for Education Statistics. Thenumber had
been steadily rising since 1970-71, when women
accounted for 14% of the graduates withcomputer
science degrees, but has dropped from the early
'80s, when the level reached 37%.
Allan Fisher at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh suggests the increase in female computer
scientists in the early '80s came on the heels
>of an explosion in interest in PCs but came back down
>once interest diminished.
Girls spend more time on the home computer than
boys until age 11, says a 1997 study by
Find/SVP, a research and consulting firm
>in New York City. By age 13, the trend is reversed,
with boys spending at least three more hours a
week on the computer.
The marketing research company NPD Group Inc.
says that in 1996 75% of video games were
>bought for boys. Girl Tech, a California-based
>company that specializes in computer and technology
products for girls, did a survey of 100 video
arcade games and found that 92% did not
>have anyfemale roles, a problem considering that video
games are often young people's introduction to
computers, says Girl Tech founder Janese
Of the 11,000 high school juniors and seniors
who took Advanced Placement tests for computer
science, between 16% and 17% were females,
>saysJane Margolis, visiting research scientist at
Carnegie Mellon.
"I think in our society there are still a lot of
social norms about what is acceptable for a
>woman todo and what is not the right thing to do," says
Barbara Liskov, a computer science professor at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first
woman to receive a doctorate in computer science in
1968. "These are very influential on young people."
Awareness of the need to get girls more involved in
computers has risen the past two to three
>years, but more is needed, says Roberta Furger, author of
>a new book, Does Jane Compute? Preserving Our Daughters'
Place in the Cyber Revolution (Warner Books,
"I still don't think the majority of parents and
teachers - two groups that play a critical role in
girls' lives - are really as aware as they should
be," Furger says.
Young girls get discouraged because their teachers
and parents assume boys are more interested in
technology; they go to the store and see
>software and games aimed at their counterparts; and they
>have fewrole models in the world of technology, says Girl
Tech's Swanson.
Because of cultural influences, men typically
>show agreater interest in how computers work while women
are more interested in using computers to do some
task, says Fisher at Carnegie Mellon's School of
Computer Science, which is doing a study on gender
differences in computers.
A former student of Bass' at Southern Nash, Jamie
Matthews, says girls are aware they are in the
minority when it comes to computers. As a freshman
last year at North Carolina State University,
Raleigh, she was the only female in a class of
>30 for a computer graphics course.
"I feel girls are more intimidated because they
>know guys are dominating the field," she says.
The result is fewer women in computer-related
>fields and women at a disadvantage in a world that's
increasingly wired.
"It's not an option anymore not to have these
skills," says Furger, a contributing editor for PC
Computer skills translate into job prospects. The
U.S. Department of Labor released a study in
>Novemberthat shows computer scientists and computer
>engineersas the two fastest-growing occupations from 1996 to
"I think we're seeing a growing awareness. We still
have a long way to go, but it's a positive step,"
Furger says. "The more we talk about it, the more
opportunities there are for creative solutions."
> By Glenn O'Neal, USA TODAY
> [Image] [Marketplace] [Image]
> Front page, News, Sports, Money, Life, Weathe=
> =A9COPYRIGHT 1998 USA TODAY, a division of
>Gannett Co.
> Inc.

new message to this message