Opinion Ever since the dawn of time, it seems, the IT sector has noticed that it is staffed almost entirely by blokes and wondered how this could be changed. Now, through the unlikely agency of a psychology professor in America, it seems that change may finally be at hand.
"Understanding what prevents women from entering computer science is key to achieving gender parity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," we learn from a press release highlighting this groundbreaking research.
Enter professor Sapna Cheryan of Washington uni's psych department. The prof and her team believe they've cracked the matter of why young ladies tend not to zero in on a career in technology etc. We are told:
Cheryan and team sought to prove that the shortage of women in computer science and other scientific fields is not only due to a lack of interest in the subject matter on the part of women. In a first study, 293 college students from two US West Coast universities were asked to provide descriptions of computer science majors.
In a word, the description of comp-sci students furnished by the 293 students was: "nerdy". Specifically:
Both women and men spontaneously offered an image of computer scientists as technology-oriented, intensely focused on computers, intelligent and socially unskilled.
Blokes don't really care about this image, it seems, but the saucy young college minx is seriously put off by it.
So far, so ho-hum. But what's new about Cheryan and her crew is that they have a cunning scheme which can eliminate this unfortunate image and cause crowds of young women to get stuck in the door in their eagerness to sign up for computing. It seems that all that's necessary is to plant articles in the media which contradict the stereotype and instead depict IT types as more mainstream (presumably less intelligent, more socially skilled etc.)
We are told:
Exposure to a newspaper article claiming that computer science majors no longer fit current preconceived notions increased women's interest in majoring in computer science.
"Broadening the image of the people in the field using media representations may help to recruit more women into male-dominated fields such as computer science."
So it's in the hands of us media types*. All we need to do is write more stuff suggesting that IT guys are all immaculately-groomed, dashing hunks whose trousers descend well below mid-calf and who are largely uninterested in computers. Tell lies, in other words.
Cheryan and her colleagues' paper can be read here in the misleadingly saucily named journal Sex Roles. ®
*Or perhaps more usefully, media types at other outlets more widely read outside the largely male dominated IT sector.