View Full Version : ComputerWorld Article: "Why women quit technology careers"

June 17th, 2008, 04:30 PM
Why women quit technology careers: More than half of the women in science, engineering and IT leave the field at mid*career. Here's the reason. (http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=319212&pageNumber=1) by Kathleen Melymuka

Nothing I didn't already know, but it contains a few more details I hadn't seen before.

June 18th, 2008, 08:58 PM
Interesting reading, thanks aysiu.
Are you referring to this quote ?

A women fails and is never seen again.

June 18th, 2008, 09:16 PM
Interesting reading, thanks aysiu.
Are you referring to this quote ?
Not that quotation itself, but what it refers to, yes.

June 18th, 2008, 09:31 PM
Good post this subject should be one of great importance to all of us.

June 18th, 2008, 09:42 PM
Not that quotation itself, but what it refers to, yes.
Well yes :)
I think it also has to do with isolation, not being in a network, a group, that supports individuals.

June 18th, 2008, 09:45 PM
Good post this subject should be one of great importance to all of us.
Doesn't hurt to also read HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux (http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Encourage-Women-Linux-HOWTO/).

It's six years old, but it's not, unfortunately, out of date.

June 18th, 2008, 09:55 PM
The article points out the machismo aspect of the working environment. The patriarchal over and undertones in most society's is a inherent flaw that comes from hunter gather times and has been supported by many spiritual systems. When data shows the inherent wage disparities between men and women under equal education histories, and experience, these factors and a gender caste system it is a wonder that women will even interact with men at all.

July 3rd, 2008, 12:15 AM
I'm never one to really say much, but it is pretty tough being a woman in a male dominated/technology field. I'm 28 years old and have experienced some sexist, derrogatory and ill feeling situations (not many, but a couple, and they aren't nice). It gives you a thicker skin I believe. I think it will get better throughout the years. I still have faith in society; call me an optimist.

July 3rd, 2008, 12:22 AM
Good for you for having a thick skin. But just because you can put up with it doesn't mean you should have to.

Alex J.
July 4th, 2008, 06:36 PM
Very good article, thanks.

Interested to see they named schooling as a problem, I wish universities and high schools would start realizing that just having SWE or AV club doesn't cut it for reaching out to the other 50% or so of the population.

I can totally understand the isolation reason, I've seen it in a business setting and at my college. I seriously don't understand how a woman could take a tech/engineering course and NOT become a feminist after seeing the gender makeup.

I was most interested in this quote:
Based on the demographics, it seems likely that they leave to start families. Is that what happens? No. I'm not trying to pretend that work-life balance is not important, but we found four other more important factors about the culture and the nature of the career path. We call them "antigens," because they repel women.
SO nice to see she isn't playing on that tired old "mommy wars" b.s. These people rock my socks off.

July 17th, 2008, 09:11 PM
This is so true. It has been an uphill battle for me. I just can't break into the field completely. I have even been told to my face "You will never go far because you are a woman". But hey, I keep trying lol.

November 9th, 2008, 12:11 PM
Without being flamed, I would like to say:

"They talk about demeaning and condescending attitudes, lots of off-color jokes, sexual innuendo, arrogance; colleagues, particularly in the tech culture, who genuinely think women don't have what it takes -- who see them as genetically inferior. It's hard to take as a steady stream. It's predatory and demeaning."

The bolded part - we do this all the time - regardless if there are females present or not.

We treat females around us as pretty much equal, we dont classify as females, but as just part of the group - none of us where I am from believe in feminism or female movements or anything like that - we don't believe in discrimination, giving special treatment, consideration to them would be discriminating against those who aren't female and unfair to them.

I also find this kind of offensive - "Women would rather build a system that didn't crash in the first place" - Anyone would rather build a system that didn't crash in the first place. What that quote is suggesting is offensive.

This is so true. It has been an uphill battle for me. I just can't break into the field completely. I have even been told to my face "You will never go far because you are a woman". But hey, I keep trying lol.

And it's much harder for me to get a job to support my studies in film because I am a male, because every place wants a female to put on show, and don't want other males moving in on their territory.

I also find it very difficult to get models in the studio, as I often get asked "are you a female photographer?" as female GWC's (GWC is an old term in the industry referring to someone as a "guy with camera" or now days can be "girl with camera" rather than referring to someone as a photographer, for obvious reasons) constantly advertise in local papers for models with something along the line of -

"comfortable relaxed environment with a female photographer" usually with female in italics.

This is a form of brainwashing, like how newspapers will run a sensationalist headline (these headlines are meant to do more than sell papers..) but the article will reveal it was just an accusation by some nut or something etc.. but 2 months later people will only remember the -inferred information- in the headline.

Same thing with these ads, it will get into a model's mind that comfortable relaxed environment's are associated with female "photographers" (these people who put out such ads give a bad name to photography - and male photographers - regardless if they're female or not), by further association, this will mean that a 'comfortable relaxed environment' is not there with a male photographer, and will already have them feeling apprehensive, and that will also lead them to think they're only there to take advantage of them, especially with Australia's culture of photographer-bashing and harassment.

November 13th, 2008, 03:48 PM
Women are not inferior. Let me just start by saying that. However, women and men are also not the same, and frankly we need to stop with this pretence that they are.

No doubt there is sexism in the workplace; however the same thing can also be said in female-dominated work places (such as schools, for instance) and the equivalent kind of anti-male discrimination takes place.

This should not be a question of whether women are capable of doing tech work, but how differences in physiological and neurological terms between women and men have a naturally-deterministic factor, and the degree this factor comes into play in any given situation.

I truly wish any woman the absolute best of luck and success with her career, but given how we're put together, I don't see this as something likely to change.

November 13th, 2008, 04:15 PM
Here's a quote from the HOWTO sited up-thread on getting women involved in Linux. I think it explains why women are not as represented, percentage-wise, in a lot of professional careers. And, from my experiences dealing with women over the years, while obviously these are not true for literally 100% of all women who walk the Earth, they are all true in large part for many to most women.

2.1. Women are less confident

Women severely underestimate their abilities in many areas, but especially with respect to computers. One study about this topic is Undergraduate Women in Computer Science: Experience, Motivation, and Culture: http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~gendergap/papers/sigcse97/sigcse97.html

For example, while 53% of the male computer science freshman rated themselves as highly prepared for their CS courses, 0% of the female CS freshman rated themselves similarly. But at the end of the year, 6 out the 7 female students interviewed had either an A or B average. Objective ratings (such as grade point averages or quality and speed of programming) don't agree with most women's self-estimation. I personally encountered this phenomenon: Despite plenty of objective evidence to the contrary, including grades, time spent on assignments, and high placement in a programming contest, I still didn't consider myself to be at the top of my class in college. Looking back objectively, it seems clear to me that I was performing as well or better than many of the far more confident men in my class.

2.2. Women have fewer opportunities for friendship or mentoring

Like any other discipline, computer science is easier to learn when you have friends and mentors to ask questions of and form a community with. However, for various reasons, men usually tend to mentor and become friends with other men. When the gender imbalance is as large as it is in computer science, women find themselves with few or no other women to share their interests with. While women have male friends and mentors, it's often harder and more difficult for women to find a community and then to fit in with it. Many women leave the field who would have stayed if they had been male.

It's true that this is a feedback loop, fewer women in computing leads to fewer women in computing. It's important to understand that this feedback loop causes women to leave computing who wouldn't have left if, all other things being equal, they had been men. This is important because male classmates often assume their female counterparts leave the field because they "just aren't good enough." Women's low self-estimation contributes to this false impression.

2.3. Women are discouraged from an early age

Societal pressure for women to avoid computing begins at an extremely early age. Preschoolers already have conceptions about which jobs are men's jobs, and which jobs are women's. An excellent review of studies documenting gender role socialization from an early age can be found in Dr. Ellen Spertus's excellent "Why are There so Few Female Computer Scientists?" paper: http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/ellens/Gender/pap/node6.html

Once you realize that men and women are treated differently from, practically, birth, it becomes hard to claim that any woman hasn't experienced discrimination. Sure, if you're lucky, no one ever explicitly told you that you couldn't work with computers because you were a girl, but every time you raised your voice, an adult told you to quiet down, while the boy next to you continued to shriek. This is a handicap later on in life, when being loud and insistent is the only way to get your opinion heard--for example, on the linux-kernel mailing list.

The most striking example of a subtle bias against computing for women is that, in the U.S. at least, the family computer is more likely to be kept in a boy's room than in a girl's room. Margolis and Fisher give several telling examples of this trend and its effects on pages 22-24 of Unlocking the Clubhouse.

2.4. Computing perceived as non-social

Working with computers is perceived to be a solitary occupation involving little or no day-to-day human contact. Since women are socialized to be more friendly, helpful, and generally more interested in human interaction than men, computing tends to be less attractive to women. I want to stress that computing is only perceived to be a non-social activity. While it is possible for a programmer to be relatively successful while being actively anti-social and programming does tend to attract people less comfortable with human interaction, computing is as social as you make it. During college, I spent most of my computer time in a computer lab at the school with several of my best friends. And recently, I changed jobs specifically in order to have more day-to-day contact with other programmers. For me, programming by myself is less fun or creative than it is when I have people around to talk to about my program.

Oddly, many occupations which are arguably less social than computing are still very attractive to women. Writing, either fiction or non-fiction, is a good example of a field that requires many hours of solitary concentration to be successful. Perhaps the answer to the paradox lies in the perception of individual writers as still being interested in social interaction, and just not having much opportunity for it.

2.5. Lack of female role models

Women in computing do exist, but most people aren't lucky enough to meet a female computer scientist. Women are socialized to be modest and avoid self-promotion, which makes them even less visible than they might otherwise be. Mothers and female schoolteachers regularly protest that they don't know anything about computers. As a result, girls grow up without examples of women who are either competent or confident with computers. I encourage all women in computing to be as visible as possible--accept all interviews, take credit publicly--even when you don't want to. You may be embarrassed, but by allowing yourself to be publicized or promoted, you might change a young girl's life.

2.6. Games, classes aimed towards men

We all know that most computer games are written by and for men. They feature non-stop gore and women with unrealistically huge breasts, but hey, if that's the market, what's the problem?

The best way I know how to illustrate the problem with the computer game industry is to tell a story from a Salon.com article (http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2001/05/22/e3_2001/ ) about the 2001 E3 gaming convention:

"A creative director for a leading development team cheerfully described to me how its Q.A. team made a prostitute sport a game's logo on her body during a combination gonzo video/gangbang session."

This was only one of many similar stories and events at the conference. How can an industry that views company-sponsored gangbangs as somehow appropriate *not* be driving women out of the computing arena in droves?

2.7. Advertising, media say computers are for men

The next time you see a computer ad featuring a person, pay attention to that person's gender. Most likely, the person is a man. Frequently, when I do see women in a computer ad, they're wearing freakish makeup and some form of colorful skintight vinyl, or else they're acting dumb and helpless and waiting for the man to show them how to use the computer. Often, they don't appear to actually be using the computer and are just sort of decoratively posed near it. Movies and TV shows are no better. When a woman is depicted as a programmer, often more screen time is spent admiring her shapely body and kissable lips than demonstrating her competence as a programmer. Notable example: Angelina Jolie in "Hackers."

Men and women are constantly bombarded with media images which say: "Men use computers, women don't." It's difficult to overcome daily indoctrination of this sort.

2.8. Life-work balance more important to women

Being good at computing is considered to be an activity that requires spending nearly all your waking hours either using a computer or learning about them. While this is another misperception, women generally are less willing to obsess on one topic, preferring to lead a more balanced life. Women often believe that if they enter computing, they will inexorably lose that balance, and avoid the field altogether instead. During college, I was personally very proud of not spending my leisure time playing computer games because it refuted the programmer stereotype of being at the computer all day, every day.

2.9. Reasons women avoid Linux specifically

Linux development is more competitive and fierce than most areas of programming. Often, the only reward (or the major reward) for writing code is status and the approval of your peers. Far more often, the "reward" is a scathing flame, or worse yet, no response at all. Since women are socialized to not be competitive and avoid conflict, and since they have low self-confidence to begin with, Linux and open source in general are even more difficult than most areas of computing for women to get and stay involved in.

I think this sums up much (though not all, surely) of it quite succinctly. And, before any of you ladies decide to flame or hate me, I'll again state: I recognize this to be unfortunate.

You know what would really help women, I think? Solidarity! Without that, I just don't see how you plan on "making progress", either technologically or (in general) professionally.

November 13th, 2008, 06:37 PM
We don't really have a proper control to test how much biology plays a factor in career choice by gender, since society spends so much energy encouraging males to follow masculine pursuits and encouraging females to follow feminine pursuits.

In any case, that's not relevant to the article in question, since it's about women who have left the technology field. If they were in the technology field to begin with, they were clearly interested in technology.

April 26th, 2009, 07:30 PM
[QUOTE]we don't believe in discrimination, giving special treatment, consideration to them would be discriminating against those who aren't female and unfair to them.

I think this illustrates the point well - that whether by intent or not - in any group when there is a majority-minority (or in-group/out-group) dynamic, there is a dominant culture - the behavioral norm - and then there is everyone else. I don't think you really CAN explain it to someone who hasn't experienced it. Try explaining what it is like to be a minority in any sense - woman in a male dominated field or man in a woman dominated field? fat? black? disabled? alcoholic? smoker? Good luck explaining it to 'the rest of those people'. It reminds me of this movie scene from a Travolta movie, White Man's Burden - no comment on the movie itself, but this one scene struck me - where there is a room full of African Americans all in tuxes, and this one single white guy in the room and I was struck by how odd the reversal looked to me. It was the first time I realized I had no idea what America would look like from the eyes of a minority. You just won't see it unless either you are a member of that group, or you actively try to understand it (i.e. read the Linux document, which by the way made me cry the first time I read it, because it was the FIRST time I realized I wasn't alone and I wasn't crazy to feel the way I felt).

When I talk to my husband about it, I ask him if it would get old to be surrounded by women all day at work, surrounded by beef-cake posters, and if conversation was primarily female-centric topics - male-bashing, shopping, doing our nails, pms, and other things he couldn't relate to, and hence participate in. It would put a barrier between him and his coworkers, not by malicious intent but just by lack of common ground. It isn't about men being evil, its just about being part of a minority group and how that impacts your experience - particularly when it is at least 40 hours every week, in an atmosphere you have little control over but are required to interact in. I wish I could recall the article where I read it - an article about women in computing, I've read many - where one woman describes it as water torture. Its not the first drop, second, or even the first few hundred, but rather the constant dribble of things that cumulatively drive you out - the comments, the isolation, the lack of support, the misconceptions, the sexism, unequal pay, and so on.

I can't close without addressing the idea that women are genetically inferior and not well suited to computing. This misconception could greatly reduced if the computing education community would take fifteen minutes out of the first or second intro to programming classes to address the accomplishments of women to early computing - many people credit a woman as being the first programmer, women programmed one of the earliest super computers, and a women developed the first compiler. Many CS graduates, women included, do not know that. I can't help but wonder why.

April 28th, 2009, 09:45 AM
I'm not sure if I should agree.

From my observations, for example in our company, we have over 50% of IT managers being women, our director - site manager is woman and guess what?
They are all far over 30 ;)
And they all were normal technical IT stuff before.

When it comes to appreciation, there might be something in it.
Here we don't have so many women on "low level" IT positions (not managers), so we actually "have to" appreciate those that we have. :)

Maybe if we didn't they would leave? Who knows? We'd rather not to try! ;)

July 16th, 2009, 04:07 AM
while I think women - and men, for than matter - should believe in themselves ('confidence') I also think women should NOT walk around with a chip on their shoulders.

no matter how tacky some people can get with stupid sexist jokes, there is nothing gained by acting superior. it's obnoxious.

I say this from experience. The reason I was successful in my career is because I didn't blame every man for a stupid man's behavior. I treated each person the way they actually were. and, yes, there are lots of decent guys out in the work place. trust me, i worked with them.

I also have a strong work ethic and make myself indispensible. this is not in any way related to the sex of my body. people wanted to work with me because I got the job done. and THAT is how you change the way things are in the world.

July 16th, 2009, 04:14 AM
I have been employed as a lan administrator and tech support and desktop support the last ten years and working in a male dominated field has not been easy.

I don't feel part of the old boys network.

Even a forum such as this one is uncomfortable at times despite efforts to make it more appealing to women.

July 22nd, 2009, 06:31 AM
You know what? I think a lot of how much a woman feels part of the team, or one of the boys is also largely dependant on the personality and make up of that particular individual...

I am actually speaking from experience as well...

Apart from being a computer geek in my own time, I have spent nearly 20 years employed as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer in the aviation industry, I study IT at Uni, have also done Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering at Uni and partake in many non-traditional female type activities.

Not once during my career have I encountered any negativity based on my gender apart from the odd joke (which I can understand why some women might take offence to them - personally I just laugh and there is no animosity as its just a joke - I am not a militant feminist anyway...my name is not Germaine Greer lol) I have a successful career that is following a path that I have chosen, I feel very much a part of the team, I have a lot of male friends and am considered one of the boys.

I also have a pet peeve with certain women who do enter into a male dominated field regardless what it is and use their 'assets' or the fact that they are female to gain an advantage - thats not being smart thats just being something else that is usually found on a street corner at night!!

If a woman goes into a non traditional role with some expectations about how men should act around them, or otherwise be prepared for a shock - at the end of the day we are the minority, I am thankful for the feminists in the past - I wouldnt have my career if it wasnt for them, however I think that as a women you need to be very strong willed and determined to suceed no matter what perceived obstacles are in front of you - beleive it or not a lot of men/employers do recognize that.

I also have 2 little girls and I am raising them as a single Mum - so thats just a cop out as well as far as I am concerned about the whole women are only employable until they have families etc etc - we girls can have our cake and eat it too - just takes a certain type of woman to do it :)


August 16th, 2009, 07:16 PM
I'm not sure if I should agree.

From my observations, for example in our company, we have over 50% of IT managers being women, our director - site manager is woman and guess what?
They are all far over 30 ;)
And they all were normal technical IT stuff before.

When it comes to appreciation, there might be something in it.
Here we don't have so many women on "low level" IT positions (not managers), so we actually "have to" appreciate those that we have. :)

Maybe if we didn't they would leave? Who knows? We'd rather not to try! ;)
There is disdain for managers in the IT world though. They're not the ones dealing with the tech. "Non-technical paper-pushers" is how I'd describe how they're seen. I've seen women tech managers described as having "escaped" tech.

August 16th, 2009, 07:19 PM
its great artical thanks for sharing this ..