“It’s the culture stupid…” a response to the brogramming media

This is my first blog, it was a media article I submitted to the newspapers – strangely no-one took it up…Maybe the title could have been toned down, but honestly … why?

Caroline Simmard from Stanford was motivated to respond  to the blog post  “Why aren’t there more women in tech: wrong question” with the above comment.  This all came in quick succession after a series of posts and emails earlier in March deploring the media reporting of the “Brogramming” Facebook group,  and closely followed by the “One step at a time” post of a young female software engineer who loves her job and challenges the male stereotypes daily. Media articles like ‘Brogramming” do no more than replace one male stereotype (geeky unsocial) with another (macho bravado). Neither are particularly attractive to females.

Caroline is one of dozens of smart scientists, educators and researchers who are working to improve the diversity of students entering the creative and collaborative discipline of computing (aka  ICT, IT, IS). It is startling that in 2012 we have not made any inroads to increasing diversity in this ubiquitous and influential discipline.  But when the weekend papers show the current stats of women’s economic situation with only 1.4% of women earning more than $104,000 compared to 6.4% of men, I think we have moved beyond the media issue of male bravado and unfriendly work environments,  to the economic necessity of getting more women in our society credentialed and confident to become active participators in our discipline.

The National Centre for Women in I.T. in the US produces a “Scorecard” which highlights the latest statistics regarding female engagement with computing in the USA. I have complied the Australian equivalent , with a bit of a Victorian slant  and drawing on their format:

Women are underrepresented in the computing workforce. While they make up  45% of the Australian  workforce,  there are only 18% in computing.

Computing needs women. In the US work teams with 50:50 gender membership have been shown to be more experimental and more efficient than single-sex teams. Firms with female senior managers outperform those without women in leadership positions. Women found high-tech start-ups with less funding and fewer failures than the average. There is no reason to believe that the same would not apply in Australia.

Girls are missing out on computing education. Since 2001 the number of female students sitting the final VCE IT exams has decreased from 5879 to 643 in 2011. Only 93 female students in Victoria satisfactorily completed the Software Development Unit. The overall number of students sitting the final year VCE IT exams has decreased by 75%.  While VCE IT is not a prerequisite for any IT degree the pattern of declining enrolments is similar in VTAC first preferences for IT courses has declined 67% in the same time period.

In 2001, 686 secondary schools in Victoria delivered IT Units 3 & 4 . This has decreased to 443 in 2011 providing less opportunity for students to study IT in senior secondary school (in Victoria).

Women are more credentialed than men in our society, yet not in IT. Women now represent 55.6% of students on campus in Australian universities. Women earned 57% of all bachelor degrees in 2010. In the same year women earned 19% of undergraduate computing degrees.

If the solution was simple, we would have solved it by now, it is multi-layered and embedded in both the culture and societal stereotypes.

Australia recognises the issues of lack of diversity in the more technical careers. The 2012 Young Australian of the Year, Marita Cheng, was awarded this accolade  for her work in promoting engineering to women through her Robogals program.

Another program working towards greater diversity in ICT in Australia is the Digital Divas Club,  featured last year on the ABCs 7.30 show (Sleek Geeks, May 17) .

Digital Divas Club (www.digitaldivasclub.org) started in 2009 funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant shared across Monash Swinburne and Deakin Universities, the DEECD, the ACS, Netspace and Brentwood Secondary College.

A women (ex-FICT Swinburne student Alana George now working in San Francisco for Thoughtworks) created our portal and managed it for 2 years.

A women (Brentwood current teacher Anna Crow) designed the bulk of our curricula. In total 11 secondary schools have participated in the research (all but one have continued with the program).

In 2012 we took the program interstate and it is running at two schools in Sydney.

Twenty-two undergraduate (female) students have already been trained as Expert Divas and worked in schools with the program. Since 2009 we have collected surveys and interview data from 284 female students, most in junior secondary school, some in middle school.

We have widely disseminated our findings. Over the last three years hundreds people have interacted with the project via local, national and international presentations at conferences, teacher focused events, as well as regional and national print media and national television media.

We won’t give up, and the problem is not going to go away without active intervention.

Plenty of bright, involved young women at my university are supporting  the Digital Divas program by being our Expert Divas. As well they run our university Women in ICT group and volunteer for many other initiatives like the Go Girl Go for IT program. Working with these  young clever women is the highlight of my career, and with them I intend to continue to work actively to change the deploring statistics.

My advice to all who are concerned about the lack of diversity (women) in ICT is to become an evangelist for change . Make it personal and promote the positive aspects of the  I.C.T. profession widely.


May 6, 2012. Gender, ICT, Image. Leave a comment.