WISE up

Why are there relatively few women in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths? We don’t know. We don’t have any test cases who were not brought up in human society, to experiment on. We have no evidence that women don’t perform as well as men if they are not socialised into believing that STEM subjects aren’t for girls.

What can we do about removing the barriers that prevent women entering the information systems field?

Around 1980, computer science had the highest ratio of women amongst the STEM subjects. I remember that a lecturer said that we should soon be close to 50/50 female/male. The next time I looked, things had got much worse and the ratio has continued to fall. What happened?

Last night, @Suw suggested the best reason I have heard: microcomputers. While I moved from mainframes to super-minis and continued to work in a terminal room, connected to a box in an air-conditioned room, most people were entering a new world, powered by much cheaper micro-computers, BBC Micros, PCs and Macs. From collaboration around paper listings to “my main games-rig has more RAM and a bigger buffer but I want to upgrade my multiplexer for increased throughput”. Lads’ mags appeared, next to the “SLR World”, the “Steam Monthly” and below “Readers’ Wives”. Computing had been marked off as ‘no girls’. I had no interest in these toy computers, so I missed it happening. By now, Dads were making little Johnny have a computer for Christmas but if Julie’s Dad suggested it, mum would say “Why does she need a computer? She never used that typewriter we got her last year. She’s not interested in typing” This was un-WISE.

Things are bad. What do we do now? Let us assume that we work in an organisation that has realised arbitrary recruiting from the half of the gene pool with poor social and team-working skills is a bad idea. My interpretaion of Suw’s advice follows:

Job advertisements: a typical job description talks about what you will do. A Real Man will bluff if he’s ever stood next to someone who once did it. Women want to be wanted for who they are. They’ve never done that, so what’s the point even applying? Change the wording of job descriptions from verbs to adjectives. What kind of person would be good at doing this job? Boys are socialised to search for evidence that they might be able to do something, girls look for evidence that they might not, and to be nice, not to take that off her little brother. Take account of that in their answers to interview questions.

Selection panels: if you really want diversity in your workforce, demonstrate that, by having diversity in the panel. Show the applicant that this is a place where they could thrive because there is someone like them that has done well.

Men with daughters are feminists: (Imagine you have a daughter, if necessary) Ask yourself, “Would I want this environment to be my daughter’s experience at work?”. If not, change it.

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