Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Are Video Games the Reason for the Gender Gap in Coding?

Check out our post by amazing journalist/guest-blogger Matt Nussbaum below!

"Women are under-represented across STEM fields, but the problem is particularly acute in the field of computer science. You can see the starkness of the gap in the statistics (e.g., while women receive more than 50 percent of total college degrees, they receive just 18 percent of computer science degrees), or in a cursory glance at your favorite web companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Snapchat -- all founded by men and dominated by men today.

At Google, women make up only 30 percent of the workforce and only 17 percent of the tech workforce. At Yahoo!, women represent 15 percent of the tech workforce, and 10 percent at Twitter. This while women account for 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

Recent work on the issue indicates that the seeds of male-dominance were planted decades ago with the emergence of personal computers. Computers and one of their primary early uses - gaming -- were marketed almost exclusively to men and boys (you can read/hear more about this here). The trickle down effect is easy to see. Society came to view computers as a "boy thing." So, like toy trucks or plastic guns, personal computers were given to boys much more than to girls. Soon enough, a pop culture stereotype emerged of what a computer geek was and it was a white male. Movies and TV shows reinforced and, to some extent, still reinforce the stereotype. When young girls were steered away from computers, they missed out on years learning. Its no wonder then that, finding themselves surrounded in so-called introductory classes by male peers who had been coding since middle school, many decided to pursue other interests.

Understanding this story is important. For every male-founded Google, Facebook and Twitter, consider the great innovations that were delayed (or missed entirely) because girls were steered away from computer science. When academic fields are seen as the forte of just men, it doesn't just hurt women -- it hurts all of us. You certainly wouldn't go into a fight with one hand tied behind your back. Why would we, as a society, pursue the great innovations of tomorrow with only half of the population encouraged to participate?

The gender gap in STEM cannot be traced to any single cause, but facile narratives that label certain fields or interests as specifically male are certainly part of the problem. It's part of the reason why companies like LabCandy work to make sure girls know science is for everyone."

1 comment:

  1. I believe you are right regarding the reason girls were excluded from computers because nearly all games were male-centric. However, I think there is some hope with more variety in computer games. I have two granddaughters, 4 and 7, that each have an iPad for learning and for fun. For fun they both play a multi-user role playing game which allows them to wander through different landscapes where they can buy and fix up their own house, build their own fortress to defend or attack their neighbor. There are many landscapes in which they can play. On several occasions, my granddaughters have invited me along during their excursions. The game is well laid out with many sub-games to choose from. I won't name the game as I am not affiliated and it's not the point. I was a professional coder and still code for hobby. The point to all of this is there are now computer games out there for boys and girls where they can play together that are professionally coded where some girls will look at the world inside the game and say "I want to make something like this." I expect there will be more coders coming from the 7 year old girls (and younger) because of the variety of computer games they are playing today. They will still need support and encouragement but I think the gender gap will start to dissipate.