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Female Programmers-WOT

by Cybercosis (Monk)
on Jul 13, 2001 at 10:43 UTC ( #96306=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Okay, so it isn't a meditation about perl, but it is something i spent some time meditating about, so I figured it should go here.

There has been some recent discussion about Abigail's gender (a topic not ultimately worth a nanofortnight's attention), which led to the topic of the dirth of female programmers. In particular, sierrathedog64, said that "something not very good for women is going on", which got me to thinking. What is this "not very good thing"? There isn't some programmer boys' club, standing firmly on a glass ceiling, and if there is, I haven't seen it. As a matter of fact, one manager I spoke to (who sincerely regretted accepting his promotion) said he'd hire a woman over a man with the same credentials, because they tend to outperform.

Why, then, are there so few female programmers? Well, I've spoken to a few women about it, and all but one (who is a programmer herself) find the idea of spending the required amount of time in front of a computer extremely distasteful, generally citing preferable activities. So programming is simply not an attractive activity to women (in general). In fact, the female mind is apparently predisposed away from programming because of its tendency to multitask rather than superfocus, among other things (I'm being very vague because I don't remember where I read about this, nor exactly what it said).

So is this bad? I don't really see why, since it isn't a survival-of-the-species matter, and there isn't a conscious anti-woman effort. Programmers will be programmers, male or female, as long as there are contraptions to play with.


nemo accipere quod non merere

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by Abigail (Deacon) on Jul 13, 2001 at 17:07 UTC
    I am or have been an active member of several computer science/programming related communities. Academics, web, MUDs, ASR/BOFH, Perl to name a few. In all, there are more men than women. Relatively though there seem to be far less women in the Perl community than there are in any of the others, For any female Perl programmer I know, I know 3 or 4 female C programmers. But I know far more Perl programmers than C programmers. I don't know that many Java programmers, but even in the limited people I know that program Java, the men/women ratio isn't so lopsides as with Perl.

    I know the arguments why there are less women in computer related fields than there are men, and I've no reason to not believe them. They however don't explain the very high men/women ratio in the Perl world. If I remember the number of attendees of this years YAPC::NA right, only 6% of the participants was female. The other day I came across a conference picture of a conference I went to a few years ago. (Workshop on Algorithms and Data Structures). Also in Montreal, also organized at McGill. Far less men per woman there.

    It doesn't bother me there are more men than women in computer related fields. It does bother me what is showing in the Perl world. Either they are hiding, or just not here. And that must have a cause. We must be doing something wrong.

    -- Abigail

      This in an interesting point, especially when synapse0's comments are taken into consideration.

      If women are less likely to become programmers because they prefer social, creative roles as opposed to technical, analytical roles, then I would expect that women (in general, of course) would prefer Perl to C. I find Perl much more of a natural, creative language than anything else I've used to program a computer. From what I've read on various Perl communities, I get the impression this is a common feeling. I recall Larry mentioning this is one of his State of the Onion speeches.

      So, are we all misguided in our belief that Perl is more of a natural language than other programming languages? Or are beliefs that women prefer creative roles over analytical roles wrong? Or is something else going on?

        No, I think you are misguided in thinking that programming in Perl is more creative and less analytical than programming in C. I'd estimate that 75% of the work of programming is language independent. For closely related languages like Perl and C, I'd say that over 90% of the work involved in programming a problem in either Perl or C is identical and the main differences are found in details.

        -- Abigail

Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by japhy (Canon) on Jul 13, 2001 at 16:12 UTC
    I know, at most, a dozen female programmers.
    • aevil -, runs
    • boojum - also (unless she moved)
    • Jessica - co-worker, uses Perl because she had to get some things done, and she didn't want to do it by hand
    • Erica - friend (met through, learning Perl
    • Skud - works on e-smith, aussie
    • Penth -'er
    • Guinevere -'er
    • Kristin - my girlfriend -- well, she programmed until the end of her first semester of college, then decided she didn't want to anymore (now she takes Medieval Studies!)
    And then there are the females who frequent this site -- I don't know terribly many of them (kudra, for one).

    Why is it so few? Programming has a rather un-glamorous aura around it; we hear too often of computer geeks with glasses and pocket protectors and no social life who sit in front of three terminals, who engage in mindless trivial holy wars about which editor to use and which flavor of Unix/Linux/etc. is best.

    (It's not entirely untrue.)

    We get a bad rap. But those of us that are predisposed, or ignore the rap, get to love the art. (Ooh, how silly, a programmer calling it "art"? Get a life!)

    japhy -- Perl and Regex Hacker

      japhy, I don't understand why you are coy about listing kudra as a "female programmer" (ewww*), but you list your girlfriend, whom you say gave up programming at ~18? BTW, that age is in the bracket where I think a lot of women who ever had a bit of interest in the art of programming drop out. I don't know all the reasons for that myself, and it probably bears looking into (and probably is, quite regularly, by social science grad students). I suppose it may quite simply not be a way of life which appeals to many women except those who feel almost compelled to do it (i.e. those who would have to be *stopped* from programming). The rest who studied CS or IT because an advisor told them it's a great career area jump out into sales or marketing at the earliest possible opportunity.

      If I hadn't laughed I might have been offended by the "females who frequent this site" phrase which followed your personal list of "female programmers" (ewww). davorg's point came to life before my eyes when I read it.

      I'm into this thread late, because I missed this first time around, but being a "female programmer" (ewww) I felt like commenting anyway.

      *I know you didn't start it - the phrase appeared in the root node. It's just such a crap phrase. I would vastly prefer being called a "girl", or even "hey there, you with the t*ts".

      Interestingly, I found this when looking through Abigail's PM oeuvre for something else, which I'll continue looking for now, after taking a few deep breaths. :)

Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by davorg (Chancellor) on Jul 13, 2001 at 12:47 UTC
      I've never known one who was a misogynist. Over more than a decade online, the "geeks" I hung out with were successful family men, as are most of the guys at work. I think GCS's are generally more tolerant than the general population.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by delegatrix (Scribe) on Jul 13, 2001 at 17:29 UTC
    Where to start . . .

    There are a lot of women in IT. Groups like DC WebWomen, San Francisco Women of the Web, DigitalEve, and WebGrrls have large numbers of members. That said, not all of these women are programmers. The growth of the Web has brought in people working various ways with new media.

    I have known lots of female programmers and I have found them to be less visible in programming communities. There is most certainly a small number of women that actively participate in the perl community.

    In my experience as a programmer and sys admin, I was often discouraged by the treatment I got from men (of all ages, not just the dinosaurs), who assumed that my technical knowledge lagged behind my male co-workers'. This attitude puts off a lot of women.

    Carnegie Mellon's Scool of Computer Science has been studying this issue since 1995 and has a number of papers on the subject See their publications for some insight. Here are a few quotes from one:

    • " We surmise that "Geek mythology" is especially pernicious for discouraging and repelling women students."
    • "Rather than epiphany moments of falling in love with computing at an early age as described by many of our male students, female stories reflect a process in which their interest in computers emerges over a longer amount of time."
    • "From our two years of interviews we have heard many male students consistently describe the computer as the ultimate toy, as an alluring object; with many developing a fascination in the machine quite early on in life. The stories from women are more contradictory: Among the first group of women we interviewed, interest in computing was clearly linked to a larger agenda, i.e. what can computers do in the world for the betterment of people."

    So what can you do to help pull them in so they're not left out of opportunities in high tech.

    • Encourgae your daughters to take science course.
    • Encourage your female staff to attend tech conferences.

      Are you a woman in tech?

    • Mentor a student or entry-level employee.
    • Become a role model for other women in tech by participating in community activities, speaking at conferences and local user group events, offering tutorials, etc.

Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by coreolyn (Parson) on Jul 13, 2001 at 17:18 UTC

    IMHO this apparent gender gap has less to with why there are so few female programmers than it does with asking why there are so many male programmers. If one looks at the type of men that are in this field the answer is obvious but not one the male ego wants to accept.

    Examine the social role types in the male programming profession and simply note the types that are missing. How many 'macho' programmers are there? How many mechanically inclined males are there? How many Adonis's?

    Females who lack these qualities have many socially acceptable options and avenues to control the way they choose to use their personalities and talents than males. Men without the above listed personas can achieve self-esteem, ego, and financial stability in this business, thus it only makes sense that this field is a magnet for males with intellectual talent and are competitively/socially gender challenged.

    coreolyn - The truth may hurt but never overlook it's empowerment.

      I disagree with this, using the logic you applied that females don't come in computing because it's lacking 'macho males' you'd end up with the argument that males wouldn't come into computing as it's lacking females in general.

      Also, could you list the extra options females lacking those qualities have with allow them self-esteem, ego, and financial stability?

      Update: I now realise I did misunderstand a large part of your argument and I'm sorry about that. I'll reply with a more complete post tomorrow.

        I don't quite follow how you extrapolate, you'd end up with the argument that males wouldn't come into computing as it's lacking females in general. Non machismo ridden males, (IMHO) enjoy the opportunity to express and develop their skill while not tied up in such a mono-brain cell environment. Having been a truck driver, a pipeliner, and an oil rigger in my past, I know this is definately true in my expirience.

        What I was attempting to point out was that women have more options. I guess, more specifically, I was referring to marriage and child rearing as avenues to feeling sucessful and thereby elevating self-esteem. As a male that never had a desire to be the 'provider' and yet has been essentially the sole provider for the last 20 years to a wife and 3 kids, probably a bit of my jealousy/angst underlies the argument, but I don't think that bias overrides the underlying opinion.

Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by Stormr (Beadle) on Jul 13, 2001 at 13:03 UTC
    It could be bad for the IT (/tech/computer/what you prefer to call it) business if roughly half the population don't even see Computer Science/Programming as a possible career path.

    This is a very valuable resource that's wasted since if the recruitment base is cut to half, of course the average quality will decrease. Or at least not increase compared to todays situation. Considering the tech business growth , the talent is needed to avoid stagnation. And something that is bad for the business I've chosen to work in (well, in a few years, still has to complete my education), it's potentially bad for me. And that I don't like, so I'd welcome anything that improves the female sex' view of programming as profession.
    <END RANT>

    / Stormr, 1 in a class of 150 CS students, roughly 10% females.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by Malkavian (Friar) on Jul 13, 2001 at 14:22 UTC
    From everything I've seen in my time, it's simply a case of women I know not wanting to program.
    There seems to be a general bias in the job fields between the genders, with a larger quantity of women seeming to choose jobs in the 'caring professions', such as medical and nursing, communications (linguists), arts business and the more socially interacting disciplines.
    I've met a few women coders along the way, and those I've met tended to be not really any different to the guys.. Some were awesome coders, some were reasonable.
    It's definately not a case of aptitute, and (in most cases), it doesn't seem to be a case of a big preference for men in the jobs.
    From my personal experiences, it's been a case that the women I know have chosen to follow other careers that they feel better suited to them personally.
    One of my old girlfriends had quite a response to the whole issue, which was that she was happy doing what she chose to do, and would guys feel happy if women constantly needled them that they should consider jobs in nursing, because there were too few men in the field?
    If women choose to code, for the pure reason they feel like doing it, then good on them.
    If they don't choose to, for the same reasons, then, who am I to start saying that they should, just because there aren't very many of them in the field?
    Like you mention, Cybercosis, it seems that a lot of the dearth of female coders is simply down to personal choice.
    Perhaps in the future, that may change, as subjective perceptions change with the social trends prevalent in the days..
    Maybe it's just guys are more antisocial.

    Anyhow, that's just my take on it. :)


      Some studies have shown that with some encouragement, women can get over some of the hurdles that prevent them from entering higgh tech fields. Issues of self-esteem and confidence levels are factors in the 'choice' women make. It's not a matter of needling women into high tech careers, it's a matter of nudging their latent desire to do so.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by xphase_work (Pilgrim) on Jul 13, 2001 at 17:24 UTC
    NOTE: I live in the US, so this might not hold true else where.

    I think the reason why there are few female programmers is due to ideas thought to be 'true' by society. Much of the US still has problems dealing with girls having 'real' jobs(anything other than housewife or secretary). When most of our society feels a certain way, they influence behaviour such that people act that way. This explains the 'Alpha Geek' thought that most geeks are males with huge egos, this probably isn't a natural(genetic) behaviour trait, but caused by people thinking that's how they should behave.

    Now I'm friends with many female geeks(not of the programming type), and they exhibit many traits that your average programmer might have. These include the ability to 'superfocus', the ability to stay up all hours working on a project(including the large amounts of caffine), and the ability to find humor in technical jokes.

    Hmmm.... sounds like many programmers that I know, but are they? No, most of my female geek friends are film geeks. They obsess over the latest indie film, will stay up all night trying to get the perfect shot , will discuss to minute detail the technical details of a film while watching it in the theater, and obsess over hardware. They tell jokes that involve cameras, sound recorders, and developing. Transfer their knowledge of film to computers and what would you get? You'd get your average *NIX geek.

    So why don't girls like this get into programmin and computers? Because there is "some programmer boys' club." This all relates to my statement above about the 'Alpha Geek' and davorg's comment about misogynists. Many people get into programming when they discover 'Open Source' type programs, or they get into it in college.

    College comp sci programs have been more popular in recent years because a comp sci can mean a high paying job(not always), so the 'jock' "I want money, but I hate computers" turnout has been higher. These are the same people who feel that certain activites are "guy's" activities, and certain activities are "girl's" activities, and that they should stay seperate. Programming falls under the former catagory as it is something that they can be macho about, therefore they attempt to push girls away from the field.

    Now we reach the "Alpha Geek", the one who fights holy wars about editors( vi/emacs/pico), GUI's(KDE or GNOME), and licenses(BSD/GPL/LGPL/Closed Source). Now imagine Mr. 1337 linux geek, imagine him being ignored by girls all his life(due to his hobbies including arguing about text editors), now imagine him accepting the fact that girls can program too... Can't see it? Neither can I. Now the above was an extreme case, but many programmers feel that they have to program better than everyone else. It doesn't matter that they write good programs, but that they write better programs, this leads to resentment towards their competition, flame wars and the like ensue. Take a fairly new female programmer getting flamed from all sides about all issues, including being flamed about being female, it takes a special type of person to take that and still program.

    Now I know that these are all generalizations and probably somewhat on the extreme end as examples go, but they do happen, and they are the ones I have seen first hand. I encourage people to prove me wrong, or show me things that I have interpreted wrong, but as I see it, these things won't change in the near future, and will mean a low number of female programers.

    Also, it may seem like my train of thought was derailed several times, this is due to, while in the middle of writing this, an emergancy at work. Don't you just love those?


Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by synapse0 (Pilgrim) on Jul 13, 2001 at 14:12 UTC
    Ok, this a matter of extreme debate in some circles, but I would imagine alot of it actually has to do with brain wiring as well as social upbrining. It's probably not so much a matter of women not in the programming field, but personality types. If you took an across the board look at programmers, I'd be willing to bet you'd see a strong showing of a particular personality type. From what I've heard/read from social studies and personality studies (propoganda?) it tends to go that women tend to be more creative and social, and men tend to be more analytical and less social. Computers, for quite a while before the boom of the internet, have been the domain of the analytical and mostly non-social. Couple that with the strong social notion (though it's fading more and more) that women "aren't supposed to be technical" (i've heard the quote more than once). Now, I'm a US citizen and this is coming from that perspective, but i'd also be willing to bet that you'd find decent differences in different cultures on the amount of women to men programmer ratio.. There is a lot that goes into this question.. and there is no easy answer.. but the playing field will eventually even out, possibly even before our lust for technology does some real damage to us..
    morbid eh?

    (/me wonders if i should have really posted this.. such a touchy subject)
    Updated: reworded some things :)
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 13, 2001 at 20:39 UTC
    Hi, I'm a female and I am in the throes of going through what it takes to learn Perl. My reply here is to serve as a look from a female perspective. I am new to Perl Monks and it will show. I was turned on to Perl through my fiance about a year ago. He uses it to do various functions for his website. Over time, I started to see the vast functionality of Perl and thought to myself, "If he can do it, why not me?" So here I am today, eager to learn it and ready to use it. But first, some background ... I agree that whether or not a female is fond of a computer is closely related to her upbringing. My father raised me in them. I can recall being very young and watching over his shoulder and being in complete awe of what my father did for a living (programmer). At the time, PC's seemed to be gaining high recognition and understanding this, my father immersed me in them. By age 9, my typing skills were the fastest in my class and my knowledge of DOS astounded the Monitors in my school's computer lab. I attribute this mostly to my father. I cannot give him all the credit, however. I loved computers even from the first moment I ever sat down in front of one. I just don't understand how programming cannot be thought of as creative. It is. How is it not? You are creating something to serve a purpose. Sure, it's not hot gluing silk flowers on a straw hat or making some other ridiculous craft. But it is creative, and (IMHO) far more enjoyable. I don't believe the hype that a woman or a man could be a better programmer. What I do believe is that a woman is just as suited to be a successful programmer as any man. Bottom line? I think that the societal boundaries that suggest women should seek other career choices such as accounting, secretarial duties, or otherwise should be obliterated. In fact, I'm extremely excited about this prospect of learning Perl and I don't think I'm such a rare thing. I think it just needs to be encouraged a lot more.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by da (Friar) on Aug 19, 2001 at 19:20 UTC
    Two comments from a male feminist.

    First, there are a higher fraction of women perl programmers than you'll find in "the perl community." My boss, my officemate, and the other person who reports to my boss are all women perl programmers. They don't live to program, and they have more important things to do than hanging out on perlmonks or going to meetings... In monastic terms, for them, programming is an occupation, not a vocation. This bears out one of the things Cybercosis said above, about women finding other preferable activities; and Abigail's comment about women possibly "hiding" in the perl world. I'm not certain this is really a problem. In contrast there are plenty of women programmers, if you look in the right places, such as in biotech (see above comment about my boss, officemate, and co-worker). I would say the number of women who program is going to increase considerably in the next decade as more schools offer CS/biotech degrees. Which is definitely a healthy sign.

    Second point: It is worth pointing out that "women tend to do X and men tend to do Y" is a simplistic statement which ignores the fact that the range of behaviors within each gender is much greater than the difference between the genders.

    If you asked 100 people on the street about their behaviors along particular traits that are typically considered "masculine" or "feminine", you'll find that many traits typically described as "masculine" or "feminine" are carried by both men and women. (*)

    So, I think it's important to say here that the wide range of behaviors among men and women does not biologically predispose women as a whole away from programming, or men toward programming, only inidividuals (of both genders) who happen to be wired in a certain way.

    (*)If you're interested in measuring your own "masculine" and "feminine" traits, there's a clever test called the BSRI which compares your responses to 60 questions, some which are typically considered "feminine" or "macsuline" (and some filler questions). (Can't somebody be maculine and feminine? Or neither?)

    ___ -DA > perl -MPOSIX -e'$ENV{TZ}="US/Eastern";print ctime(1000000000)' Sat Sep 8 21:46:40 2001
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by toma (Vicar) on Jul 13, 2001 at 19:44 UTC
    Apparently the women programmers moved to California.

    The ratios I see out here are much higher than what others have reported in this thread. Typical F/M ratios from what I have seen here are about 1/3 or 1/4, rarely less than 1/8.

    It should work perfectly the first time! - toma

      The ratio varies by industry. There are many more female programmers in IT than in embedded systems. I have met very few female programmers in embedded systems work. Part of this may have to do with the closeness to the hardware (to be good at embedded systems programming you should know some electronics).
(ichimunki) Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by ichimunki (Priest) on Jul 13, 2001 at 19:25 UTC
    Or maybe they're turned off to the field by all the male programmers who think they're very smart but can't spell worth a darn.</sarcasm>

    update: I have decided to remove my discussion of this issue, which I had included to help justify the existence of my sarcastic comment.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by Anonymous Monk on Feb 16, 2010 at 13:13 UTC
    Louann Bezandine, a neuroscientist, suggests that hormonal factors play a significant role in why females tend to stay away from careers such as programming.
Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by zentara (Archbishop) on Feb 16, 2010 at 13:31 UTC
    I think it can be explained by the left right brain hemispheres, and the way the male tends to the left hemisphere, and the female to the right hemisphere.

    Now, what I can never figure out is that left or right looking at it from the front, or back. :-)

    I wonder if the female programmers are better at the Quantuum::Superposition or ESP modules. :-)

    I also wonder if the endocrine disruptors flooding the environment, are not completely fubar'ing all of us.

    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth.
    Old Perl Programmer Haiku
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