Women in Computing: What brings them to it, what keeps them in it?

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1 Women in Computing: What brings them to it, what keeps them in it? Joy Teague School of Management Information Systems Deakin University Geelong 3217 Australia Reprinted by permission of the author. G.J. Teague, (2000). Women in computing: What brings them to it, what keeps them in it? GATES, 5(1), Also in J. Verbyla (Ed.), Fifth Australasian Women in Computing Workshop (pp. 1-12). University of Queensland, Brisbane, Abstract Career stereotyping and misperceptions about the nature of computing are substantive reasons for the underrepresentation of women in professional computing careers. In this study, 15 women who have work experience in several aspects of computing were asked about their reasons for entering computing, what they liked about wormng in computing, and what they disliked. While there are many common threads, there are also individual differences. Common reasons for choosing computing as a career included." exposure to computing in a setting which enabled them to see the versatility of computers; the influence of someone close to them; personal abilities which they perceived to be appropriate for a career in computing; and characteristics of such careers which appealed to them. Generally, women wormng in the field enjoy the work they are doing. Dislikes arising from their work experiences are more likely to be associated with people and politics than with the work they do -- and they would like to have more female colleagues. 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1 Overview It has long been recognised that women are underrepresented in computing courses, and therefore in the computing workplace (Beech, 1991; Kay et al., 1986; Lovegrove & Hall, 1991; US DOE National Center for Education Statistics, 1992). Despite the attention that this problem has received, recent data suggest that the proportion of women enrolled in computer science courses has fallen in recent years (Camp, 1997; Grundy, 1996; Women in Computing Conference, 1997). The recent data suggest that girls are not viewing computer science as a popular career choice. Computing is viewed by women working in the field as having characteristics that should make it a popular career choice for girls (Clarke & Teague, 1992; Clarke & Teague, 1996). Computing professionals describe their work as: challenging; varied; and providing opportunities to meet people, to travel, and to work at home. Unfortunately, the perception schoolgirls have of computing generally is inaccurate (Clarke & Teague, 1996). It is important to consider reasons why women might consider working in a non-traditional career such as computing. The literature reviewed in Section 1 examines: 1) some of the reasons schoolgirls and women looking for a career change should consider a career in computing; 2) reasons why they do not; 3) reasons why few women hold senior positions in computing; and 4) reasons why computing needs more women. Section 2 reports on a study of 15 women working in computing. The study replicates earlier studies in which women were asked how they chose computing as a career, what they like and what they dislike about working in computing (Clarke & Teague, 1996; Teague & Clarke, 1991). 1.2 Reasons why girls should consider careers in computing Three related reasons why school girls should consider a career in computing are examined below. These are 1) women typically work in jobs that pay lower than, and have fewer benefits and opportunities for advancement than men; 2) women today are more likely than in the past to provide Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June 147 ~, ~ SIGCSE Bulletin

2 the main financial support for their families; and 3) computing careers pay well and provide opportunities for advancement Women are overrepresented in low paying jobs with less opportunities and benefits than men. The percentage of women in the workforce has almost doubled since 1950, however women are still concentrated in a few relatively poorly paid and traditionally female occupations (McLennan, 1996). For example, in the Australian workforce in 1995, 54.7% of working women were concentrated into two occupational groups: clerks and sales/personal service workers (McLennan, 1996). Women: occupy most of the positions requiring caring for or helping others, reflecting their roles within the family (Bryant, 1991; Sampson, 1991); receive less and inferior formal training than men (Probert, 1992; Sampson, 1991; Wirth, 1998) under more adverse conditions (Lips, Foster, & Frantzve, 1991); and are more likely than men to hold subordinate positions (Guyon, 1998; McLennan, 1996). The position of women in computing reflects their position in the workforce as a whole. Women are less likely to continue to higher level education (Camp, 1997). They are overrepresented in jobs with short career paths and low pay, such as data entry and computer operations (Tijdens, 1991), and underrepresented in senior professional positions (DEET, 1990; Wilde, 1997) There is greater need than in the past for women to be capable of supporting a family In the nuclear families of the past it was expected that a woman's income, if she had one, was only a supplement to the main family income. Women have tended to work in a small number of 'traditional' occupations (McLennan, 1996). Today, for a variety of reasons, particularly the high divorce rate, many women must support themselves, and possibly their children, on their own earnings (Purves et al., 1988). This is made more difficult as many of the traditionally female occupations are experiencing significant changes as technology encroaches. This impacts by raising prerequisite skill levels, reducing personnel requirements, and changing the nature of employment from permanent flail-time to part-time, contract, short-term and other forms of contingent work (Greenbaum, 1994; Gunter, 1994; Holtgrewe, 1994; King, Rimmer, & Rimmer, 1993; Rimmer & Rimmer, 1994; Vehvilainen, 1994). Industry managers expect all new employees to be able to use technology with confidence (Bell, 1994). While most of the semi-professional jobs typically occupied by women, such as secretary and bookkeeper, must now use computers, the need for increased skills has not improved salaries or promotion prospects (Greenbaum, 1994). When there is an excess of employees, it is women, rather than men, who are more likely to be displaced (Jones, 1991). Women are overrepresented amongst discouraged job seekers (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996). If they are to ensure their families' economic wellbeing, women must more actively seek work that will give them greater security and better pay than they have traditionally expected. Therefore, women must consider non-traditional areas of employment. Even so, women need to be selective. Technology has, in some areas, already created new jobs for women. Some formerly male jobs, compositing for example, have been 'deskilled' and are now done by women -- at much lower pay rates (Webster, 1994) Computing careers pay well and provide lent prospects for advancement excel- Computing careers are financially rewarding and provide excellent job opportunities (Anonymous, 1994; Careers Guide '93, 1993; Couger et al., 1995; Gilbert, 1994; Martin, 1995; Ridgway, 1993). There is currently an unmet demand for qualified computing specialists (Bachler, 1998; Barker, 1999; Burgetz, 1991; Camp, 1997; Edwards, 1993; Mintchell, 1998) and this is expected to continue well into the next decade (Bachler, 1998; Camp, 1997; Gilbert, 1994; King, 1997). Despite this, many tertiary education computing departments find it difficult to attract well qualified students as many such students continue to choose the traditional science offerings in preference to computing courses (The Age, 1999) and other qualified students avoid the sciences altogether (Durndell & Lightbody, 1993; Durndell & Thomson, 1997; Klawe & Leveson, 1996). Capable students are welcomed into computing courses, and, at the present time, can be assured that there are jobs for them at the end of their course. 1.3 Reasons why girls with ability don't choose computing The literature suggests many reasons why relatively few girls with the ability and aptitude for computing choose it as a career (Teague, 1997). Two of the main reasons, considered below, are: l) that many girls have inaccurate perceptions of computing careers and believe that computing won't be of interest to them; and 2) that the stereotyping that many girls encounter tends to channel them into traditional careers Misperceptions about computing courses and ca ree rs Many girls incorrectly believe that: they will not be good at computing (Clarke & Chambers, 1989); they will not enjoy the work; and/or they will not be able to obtain a position in the field (Durndell, 1991b; Durndell & Lightbody, 1993; Durndell & Thomson, 1997; Milner, 1991). Their lack of understanding of the true nature of computing careers, believing that computing is done in isolation, sitting at a screen all day (Clarke & Teague, 1996), and is either programming or office administration (Craig, 1997; Craig, 1998), convinces girls that computing studies are to be avoided. At tertiary level, women who have not studied computing at school may incorrectly consider they are not adequately qualified to ~=:77~ SIGCSE Bulletin 148 Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June

3 undertake computing studies (Durndell, 199 l b; Durndell & Lightbody, 1993; Durndell & Thomson, 1997). Others are deterred by the supposed need for mathematics and the technical nature of the subject (Durndell & Lightbody, 1993) Stereotyping Subtle discrimination works against women throughout their lives, eroding their self confidence and pushing them towards stereotyped roles in society (Horner, 1970; Pomerleau, 1990; Rowe, Undated; Schwartz & Markham, 1985; Stewart, Hutchison, Hemmingway, & Bessai, 1989; Weinraub & Brown, 1983; Wellhousen & Yin, 1997). Societal stereotyping works against girls, particularly during their high school years. They encounter traditional attitudes amongst their peers, parents and teachers (Busch, 1995; Shashaani, 1993); female-unfriendly environments (Chisholm et al., 1999; Hall & Sandier, 1982; Sandier & Hall, 1986; Spertus, 1991); incomplete career advice (Kahn & Schroeder, 1980; Shashaani, 1993), and lack of encouragement from parents, friends and teachers (Busch, 1995; Johnson, 1991; Reinen & Plomp, 1997; Shashaani, 1993), all of which discourage non-traditional choices. Many of the women who do continue on to tertiary level studies in scientific and technical fields suffer the effects of continual subtle harassment. They begin to doubt their capabilities despite external evidence that they have the capacity to succeed in their chosen field (Frenkel, 1990; Pearl et al., 1990; Sperms, 1991). While the downgrading of women's academic contributions frequently is unintentional, and often neither the perpetrator nor the target is aware of the discriminatory nature of words and actions, many small incidents have a cumulative effect (Chisholm et al., 1999; Hall & Sandler, 1982; Sandier & Hall, 1986). For many women, this results in loss of self esteem, a belief that they are less capable than others around them, and an unwillingness to commence a new job or course of study because they believe they do not have the abilities to be successful (Frenkel, 1990; Spertus, 1991). 1.4 Reasons why few women hold senior positions in computing Despite the demand for computing personnel as evidenced by the numerous advertisements in the newspapers each week, there are still relatively few women holding senior positions in computing. In part, this is because there are relatively few women in computing. Two other reasons are suggested for this: discrimination and different priorities to men Discrimination The available literature suggests that in the workforce 'subtie forms of discrimination that block women's advancement may be largely accidental, unintentional, and unrecognised' (Hemenway, 1995). In some companies, although contrary to the law, marital status may still be grounds for discriminatory practices (Lewin, 1990). Women often sacrifice their own careers to geographical moves that boost their husbands' careers (Sampson, 1991). A converse view to the difficulties facing women in computing was provided by Edgar-Nevill (Edgar-Nevill, 1991), who concluded that a woman who is highly motivated and career oriented has greater opportunities in the computing field because, being a new field, it is free of many of the prejudices found in older professions. Such a view overlooks the fact that computing has passed its fiftieth anniversary, evolving in times when prejudice was accepted as normal. There is very little support for her view in the literature (Hemenway, 1995) Different prioritie Women may have different priorities to men (Sperms, 1991). Over the past few years, the percentage of women continuing with postgraduate studies has decreased (Camp, 1997; O'Rourke, 1993). This suggests that women may be choosing other alternatives to furthering their education. Women are task oriented, more likely to value their family life (Durndell, 1991a), less likely to apply for high flying jobs (Bruce & Adam, 1991) and have been found to be more likely to be satisfied with low paid and low status jobs (Domozetov, 1986; Durndell, 1991a). This acceptance may be due to women's often low self esteem (Uden, 1991). In contrast, men may be career driven, with family life taking second place to career advancement. Sperms (1991) suggests that the values which the above mentioned difference implies would make women both less career-oriented and also more likely to avoid the sciences. 1.5 Reasons why computing needs more women There is still unmet demand for qualified people in computing. With women forming a minority in the computing profession, one way of meeting this demand is to encourage into the field more women with technical ability. In future, as job requirements change, there will be greater emphasis on skills not previously recognised as desirable in computing (Teague, 1998). Some of the newer jobs in computing may be attractive to women (and men) who are not interested in what previously has been perceived as primarily a technical career The demand for qualified professionals in computing Computing opportunities continue to increase, and will provide opportunities for capable personnel well into the next century (Camp, 1997; Capell, 1995; Gilbert, 1994; Martin, 1995). The hardware and software developments of the past decade have created a range of new jobs which need new skills (DEET, 1990; Teague, 1998). While many opportunities still exist for women in traditional systems development, there are also many new opportunities The demand for different skills Women do have different abilities, attitudes and aptitudes from men. Attracting more women, including women with gol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June 149 ~ _ ~ SIGCSE Bulletin

4 skills not previously viewed as necessary, into computing is likely also to create greater user satisfaction. Watt (Watt, 1991) quotes from a 'Women into IT' report that stated that '[m]ost of the predicted IT jobs of the future will demand business aptitudes, people oriented skills and "Multi-tasking" management potential more than technical ability' (p. 250). Many people believe that women are more likely than men to have these types of skills. Several examples follow. 1) Jones (Jones, 1991) asserts that increasing the number of women in computing will help the industry become more responsive to society's needs. 2) White (1984) describes the development of an application by two groups, only one of which included people with personality characteristics found more often in women than men. This group completed the project on time, with the users completely satisfied. The other group did not complete the project. 3) After interviewing information technology (IT) managers about their jobs, Gunson and Fielder (1991) identified a number of areas of system failure which they attributed to the application of the 'masculine' management style, and concluded that the 'feminine' style would overcome many of these difficulties. While 'masculine' and 'feminine' management styles are not necessarily practised by people of the corresponding gender, there is sufficient concurrence to have named the styles accordingly. While a broader range of skills does not preclude technical ability, increasingly there will be opportunities for both women and men who may not be technically skilled (Couger et al., 1995; DEET, 1990; Teague, 1998). 2. A Study of Women in Computing 2.1 Aims of the study The aim of the study was to examine the reasons that cause female computing professionals to choose computing as a career, and to determine what they liked and disliked about working in computing. The study replicates an earlier study of 17 Australian women working in a range of computing and computing related careers (Clarke & Teague, 1994). The data described below were collected in interviews with 15 female computing professionals working in a range of careers. Women with workplace experience in several aspects of systems development were sought. The current study is geographically broader than the earlier study. The majority of respondents live in the United States. The age range of participants is from 21 to 52, with the majority being in their thirties. The small number of participants precludes broad generalisations. Nevertheless, it is likely that the experiences of even one or two women in this group are representative of experiences of a large number of women working in the industry. Many of the participants made their career choice many years ago, however there is little evidence today to indicate that the situation in regard to career choices have changed (Clarke & Teague, 1996; Teague & Clarke, 1991). This study reports on responses to three questions, asked of each of the women: 1) their reasons for choosing computing as a career; 2) what they like about working in comput- ing; 3) what they dislike about working in computing. The interview questions were asked one at a time, in separate messages. The responses have many similarities, some differences, and include some disturbing aspects of computing as a career for women. Responses to each question are summarised below Why did these women choose computing as a career? As might be expected, the women made their career choices at different stages in their lives. Some decided on computing while still at high school, some made the choice at university, and some commenced working in another career, then changed to computing. Almost all women gave several reasons why they chose to enter computing, suggesting that career decisions are made over time, rather than based on a single event. Thus, while single interventions such as attending a computing workshop or viewing a video (Teague & Clarke, 1993) are unlikely to cause girls to decide on computing as a career, such interventions, in concert with other happenings that occur in their lives, may cause some girls to choose computing at a later time. Proposed interventions to encourage women into computing should take this into account. Reasons for choosing computing as a career fall into two broad categories: 1) events or influences that caused these women to consider computing; and 2) attributes -- of the women themselves, or of computing careers. In the first category are: influences while at school, university, or after commencing another career or job; the influence of family and friends; and, for a few, the positive effect of discouragement. Subcategories identified within the two major categories are described below. Reference is made to implications for course recruitment Computing as a high school career choice Three women mentioned learning about, and liking, computing while at school, although in only one case was that as a result of being introduced to programming in a school class. A second woman attended a summer research programme at a university and was placed in a lab where work was being done for NASA. The third was introduced to computing during a National Science Foundation programme she attended. The fact that all three continued with computing studies as a result of these positive experiences suggests that, while computing workshops may not show immediate results, they may provide the initial spark of interest. A fourth woman continued into computing despite one negative experience at school, but acknowledges that her experiences might deter others: I selected subjects, where the classes were majority male... Physics I remember distinctly, as the teacher gave the impression that females shouldn't be taking the subject. We (3 females in a class of 25) were always asked difficult questions in front of the class, and basically humiliated... if we didn't know the answers!... Maybe the atti- ~5:~z~ SIGCSE Bulletin 150 Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June

5 tudes of some teachers actually influence the career choices that we make. Maybe some females don't want the hassle of always standing out in a crowd... Implications: Efforts need to be made to introduce girls to positive computing experiences with real-life applicability. The need for a positive experience before choosing computing tends to confirm that misperceptions about computing careers do apply (as mentioned in 1.3.1) The influence of family and friends Seven of the 15 women mentioned (a male) someone who had contributed to their interest in computing. The fathers of two of the women were engineers. Three women taught themselves to program when a male in their lives (father, brother, boyfriend) introduced them to computers. For one of these women, this introduction sparked an interest which resulted in her programming for the departments in which she completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. In her words: I didn't choose computing. I fell into it as a way to pay the grocery bills. Two women were advised, one by her cousin the other by her boyfriend, to study computing at university. One of these women was helped through some difficult patches by a female adviser:... she made me feel smart and capable and made a lot of opportunities for me to stretch my mind in computing... I wanted to work with Kate. She was a positive motivator. These 7 women, almost half of the participants, have highlighted a number of issues relevant to attracting more women into computing. These are: 1) the importance of encouragement and support from family, friends and/or teachers (Busch, 1995; Reinen & Plomp, 1997; Saunders & McGinnis, 1989; Shashaani, 1993; Teague & Clarke, 1991); 2) computers in the home have mostly been the province of men and boys, however, where girls are first introduced to computers in informal settings, it is likely to be by a male (Whiteside, 1994) (none of the 15 women interviewed mentioned having her own computer while at school); 3) there have been few female role models at home or among teachers to encourage enjoyment of computing by girls. Implications: Friends and family, as well as girls, must be educated about the benefits of computing careers for women. This will assist with the problems of stereotyping and misperceptions (as mentioned in 1.3) Choosing computing while at university Three women mentioned university experiences as instrumental in helping them decide on computing as a career. One started a part-time accounting course, and discovered she hated accounting, but loved the computing subject she was doing. This introduction to computing caused her to seek employment with a company specialising in computing. A second intended visiting the mechanical drawing lab, went to the computing lab by mistake, and decided that computing interested her much more than mechanical drawing. The third woman took a programming course recommended by a friend, took more computing courses, and a computing career seemed a natural progression. These three cases suggest that many students have little idea of what computing entails, and it is not until they accidentally experience it that they realise it is something they enjoy. Implication: Again, this relates to inaccurate perceptions (1.3.1). Opportunities for accessing computers in a positive environment at university may encourage some non-computing students to reconsider their career choice Reactions to discouragement. Two women mentioned that comments that were intended to discourage them from continuing with computing studies, in fact encouraged them. In one case: The thing that solidified my decision was this:... I declared my major as computer science. I was 19. The chair of the CS department called me in and told me that I needn't bother pursuing my degree in his department. When I asked him why not he said I wouldn't make it through his program. I asked him why not and he told me that women don't. I stopped drifting and started applying myself. In retrospect, truly deciding on a career to prove him wrong. In the second case: One of my male friends berated me, actually, he coldly laughed at me, because I failed my first programming class... and told me I didn't have the temperament for programming... Still fuming, the next day I signed up for a computer account and wrote an abacus program which multiplied the same way abacus's do. Two terms later, I graduated. Two of these 15 women were motivated by active discouragement to continue with computing studies. A third women continued with Physics despite active discouragement. This raises two questions: 1) do the difficulties they face actually encourage some women? and 2) what percentage of women entering similar secondary or tertiary courses, have received deterrent advice or discouragement and have withdrawn? Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June 151 ~D~ ~ SIGCSE Bulletin

6 Implication: Women are being lost to computing because of discriminatory behaviour Entry to computing after graduation. Four women chose computing after graduating in another discipline. One worked in statistics, using computers, for a year, preferred the computing part of her job, and transferred to a full-time computing position. The second worked in a variety of jobs with technological requirements. She found she was often the only one willing to work with the technology. She eventually found a job in computing that suited her. The third commenced in the graphic art field, moved through a series of jobs, each closer to professional computing, until she was eventually sent on a formal computer training course. In her words: I ended up in computing as a result of observing opportunities as they developed, and taking some risks to maximise the opportunities presented. The fourth woman graduated in a field where she was unable to find a job, and undertook further studies in computing to enable her to find employment. At the time they entered university, this group of women also had insufficient knowledge of computing to realise that it was work they would enjoy. Only by exposure to computing as it is practised did they realise that they liked the work. Implication: Some women deciding on a career change will choose computing. Consideration should be given to assisting them with this decision Ability and liking Five women mentioned ability at mathematics as a factor in choosing computing, suggesting that they perceived mathematics as a component of computing. Three mentioned an ability with problem solving, and one an ability to deal with hardware. Six women mentioned that they liked programming, and one stated that she was good at it. The relatively high number of women mentioning mathematics and programming implies that they viewed these as important abilities for working in computing. Several of the women who came to computing after studying in other disciplines have mentioned ability with English (mentioned by 3 women) and with music (mentioned by 2 women). This suggests that, for this group of women, the perception was that computing required mathematics and programming, rather than a broad range of abilities and skills, and that computing would be an inappropriate choice for someone with ability with English or music. Implications: Highlight the link between programming and mathematical and problem solving skills for girls with those interests. Emphasise also that other skills also can be appropriate Employment advantages. Six women were influenced by the demand for computing personnel, and the knowledge that it would always be possible to find a job. Two mentioned money, one stating that: I didn't want to go to school with no prospects of having a career as I had seen other people do... I wanted a career that would support me -- I wanted to be independent -- and make enough money to live comfortably. Three women mentioned the challenges of computing careers: constant change; role and gender challenges; and enjoyment of surmounting challenges. Two mentioned work satisfaction: the satisfaction of creating a working program, and the satisfaction of improving an organisation's work practices. One woman stated: The other students in computer science were bright and motivated, I felt like I fit in well while another said of her university experiences: Programming was fun and I liked the atmosphere and people I knew in it at the time. One woman humorously pointed out that the male to female ratio was an attraction. Career prospects were identified as a reason why girls should consider computing careers (see 1.2.3). For many of the women in this study, the realisation that computing offered these benefits was an attraction. Implications: The benefits of good salaries and job security, together with job satisfaction, need to be highlighted. 2.3 What do women like about working in computing? All respondents supplied a list of the things they liked about working in computing. While there were a few items that were liked by several women, many of the 'likes' that each listed were unique to the woman who listed them. The responses to this question indicate that women working in computing enjoy the work they do. The attributes of the work which they enjoy are straightforward and there was little elaboration in their responses. The list below covers all of the items listed by the 15 women. The number of women who mentioned each item appears in brackets if it was greater than one What they like Problem solving (not only programming) (8); That there is always something new to learn (6); The diversity of the work (4); The money (4); Finding and fixing bugs (3); The challenge (3); The constant change (3); The people working in computing (3); ~i.:<~=;(13 SIGCSE Bu letin 152 Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June

7 The opportunities to meet people within and outside the organisation (3); The camaraderie and team spirit (2); The fact that there is a tangible product (2); The satisfaction of producing solutions that improve productivity (2); The opportunity to spend time working alone (2); The freedom to be able to work without being tied to an office (2); The variety of work opportunities (2); The working environment (2); Opportunities for travel; Opportunities to be enterprising, given constraints; The satisfaction of watching users embrace the new technology; Being actively involved in business change management; Being in a field that has room for all kinds of thinkers and tolerates difference; The respect of co-workers and superiors; The reaction of others when told what one does; The interaction with people; Developing web pages; Testing new software; The fun of tinkering with computers; Flexible working hours; Being able to keep up with technology; Being good at dealing with inanimate objects; The satisfaction of coming up with a clever solution, rather than the obvious solution; The requirement for good analytical thinking; Writing compilers/parsers; Documenting a project (and doing it well); Everything about computers and computing Summary Categorising the above, women in computing enjoy: solving a problem and developing a solution -- at all levels; change, challenge and diversity; the career opportunities, money and travel; the interaction with their immediate colleagues and with others within and outside the organisation; their working environment and flexibility of hours and work location; the respect they earn from doing their job well. These job attributes are quite different from the perceptions of many students of computing. Schoolgirls and female tertiary students tend to view computing as office administration tasks or sitting in front of a screen all day, programming (Buchanan & Carbone, 1998; Craig, 1997; Craig, 1998; Durndell & Thomson, 1997; Lane, Clarke, & Teague, 1992; Sanders & Galpin, 1994). Misperceptions about computing deters girls from choosing it as a career (as explained in 1.3.1). The list of 'likes' of this group of women resemble closely the earlier study of Australian women (Clarke & Teague, 1996; Teague & Clarke, 1991) and confirm that women do enjoy the advantages of working in computing. 2.4 What do women dislike about working in computing? When asked about their dislikes, several of the women were bitter about some of their experiences. There were few dislikes expressed about the work itself, with the majority of the dislikes relating to being a woman in a predominantly male field. Reports of dislikes about the work from this group of women tend to follow the earlier studies, however women in the current study were much more likely to identify problems with people among their dislikes. Although the women generally enjoyed their work and had more 'likes' than 'dislikes', they were more expansive about their dislikes. This expansiveness is reflected in the reporting below. Dislikes have been categorised under the headings: dislikes about the work itself; problems with management and users; dislike of being in a minority; discrimination; and problems with men Dislikes about the work A few women mentioned dislikes associated with programming. These included: a general dislike of programming (2 women) -- I was so happy when I found out that programming was a very minor part of my job; a dislike of spending long hours in front of a screen when a problem was difficult to solve; failures (at any level); a dislike of dealing with hardware problems; and a dislike of looking through other people's code. Other dislikes relating to the work were: physical problems related to extended time spent at a keyboard; the lack of conformity -- having to learn about new hardware with every job change; and the limited applications available in the home city. One woman, whom I'll call Chris, responded from the perspective of a woman who held a senior position at a very large, high-tech, and almost entirely male, company. She said: I've minor bitches with poor documentation of compilers, malfunctioning OSs, lack of decent answers to technical questions from software suppliers... but no technical problem comes close to the level of rage I have for the management of high tech firms. Dislikes about the work itself generally are trivial, and an occasional or avoidable part of the job for the women concerned. Some women clearly enjoy technical work, while others do not, indicating that there are places for both technically oriented women and women with less technical interests and skills (as identified in 1.5). Chris's eloquent comments are, she claims, true of many predominantly male, high-tech companies, and have been used extensively below. While her experiences apparently are not common, they are unlikely to be unique. Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June 153 tie:2a.z/&~f3 SIGCSE Bulletin

8 2.4.2 Problems with management and users One woman's dislikes centred on the fact that she worked for a large, hierarchical company: people were rewarded for originality and innovation rather than for getting the job done. She spent more time trying to convince people to give her interesting work to do than doing it. Every piece of paper had to be 'signed off' at a higher level, leaving her feeling like a child. Another woman dislikes 'political survival, rather than negotiated solutions'. A third complained that:... often managers think that if you are serious about your career you'd want to be management. No reason to believe that skills that make for a good programmer would make for a good manager of programmers. She moved to a different employer who was willing for her to continue doing what she was best at and enjoyed most. Chris was particularly bitter about management. She dislikes: The nasty, mean, vicious, sadistic management of major high tech companies... most of the senior management... had absolutely no financial need to work, but... did the 60 hr. weeks because they loved the power over other people... They positively enjoyed causing others pain, justifying it as 'sound business decisions'-- i.e., requiring every first line manager to fire 5% of her people every year, regardless of competence or performance... refiasing to promote someone who deserved it beyond belief because he wasn't sufficiently subservient. At a different level, but a consequence of management policy, three women complained about the expectation that people in the industry should work excessively long hours. One said:... they always underbid contracts and you had to be superhuman to keep working miracles. By working at home, a second has solved one of her dislikes: the expectation that the work week is 60 hours long. She continues: I put in a lot of good work in far less time than that. I don't feel obligated to do the time if I am more than doing the work. The third woman with a complaint about hours was Chris. She says: I never got to know a single engineer who was primary caretaker for kids. Either they had wives or they were childless. It simply wouldn't work in the [company] environment. [The company magazine] glowingly told the story of the engineer who's wife was pregnant, with birth timed for well after the [product] was complete and on the market. But the schedule slipped, and the [product] still was in design when she went into labor to deliv- er their first child. Nerd engineer had 'important responsibilities' at the design lab, so he took his wife to the hospital, dropped her otis and returned to his important meeting, leaving her alone thru labor. The article coyly noted that he did manage to get back in time for the actual birth. A fourth woman felt that the difficulties of developing a solution to business problems were misunderstood by users, who therefore offered little support. The dislikes about management and users suggest some women are in a working environment where they are wasting time on political issues rather than doing the job they enjoy Dislike of being in a minority Five women mentioned specifically that they would like to have more female colleagues. They dislike not having other women with whom they can share experiences. One said: I dislike the overwhelming maleness of... computing. Another stated: I am getting sick to death of walking into a room with a hundred people and finding less than ten females in the room. A third women commented on the lack of female mentors and a fourth about the 'exclusively male environment'. The literature on the low numbers of women in computing tends to focus on improving the gender balance in computing courses. There is little mention of the difficulties faced by women working in a predominantly male environment. In particular, the need to talk with other women about common issues, and the need for female mentors Discrimination Two women mentioned differential pay rates for men and women. Chris discovered that the men at the same level were receiving 20%-100,4 more than her, despite general acknowledgment that she 'worked longer hours and was more successful'. She didn't proceed with a discrimination case, which she would certainly have won, because: I would be blackballed forever in high tech, not only in [home state] but in the entire country. Differential salaries for men and women continue despite anti-discriminatory legislation (Isaacs, 1996; Truman & Baroudi, 1994). Again, this is not restricted to computing. Women traditionally receive lower salaries than men (see 1.2.1). The understandable reluctance to proceed with litigation mentioned above helps explain why the differences remain Problems with men The arrogance and competitiveness of men in the industry, ~:~;~2~3 SIGCSE Bulletin 154 Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June

9 and their unwillingness to accept women on their merits, were stated dislikes of several women. They felt that many men were unwilling to admit when they were wrong, or didn't know. One woman saw this as an ego problem. Two women disliked the way some men perceive women to be inferior until the women have proven themselves. One stated: I used to dislike always having to do better than boys I worked with. But it helped me to develop to be good at what I was doing. The other stated that she finds 'amusing' the male sales assistants who ignore her and talk only to her boyfriend, who knows nothing about personal computers. One woman mentioned among her dislikes the way some men continually use buzzwords, knowing others won't understand them, trivialise what is difficult and describe as difficult that which is simple -- and don't know the difference anyway. Another said: I also found that the operating system kept changing and that it was very hard to get straight answers from the guys in O.S. (And they were all men). Their answers were very vague and much of the time things did not work because they 'forgot to tell me a mere detail'. To this day, when network or O.S. types tell me to try things that don't sound right, I make them sit down and see 'right now' if this will solve my problem... my office mate, is a master at that. 'Oh just do this or change the 'autoxec.bat' file or try this'. When he sees that it does not work, he says 'Oh I forgot this step -- Just a little detail'. His students must go nuts with this. Once more, Chris has examples of how unpleasant life can be for a woman in a male environment. Putting up with project meetings where the senior management routinely uses metaphors like 'mouse nuts' and 'getting down to the short strokes' to describe a situation. Being subjected to rabidly anti-women jokes and being expected to laugh like 'one of the boys'. Early on, being subjected to the 'sleep with me or you won't get promoted' shit (late 1960's). Being pawed in the halls by coworkers. In the 90's... going to meeting after meeting where I was the only female out of people and being stared at like a woman from Mars... having engineers and technicians reporting to me, not one of whom was female. And, although she mentions users as a dislike, her complaint is about a particular group of male users: Ignorant, arrogant, unwilling to leam users. I worked in medical computing with the white male medical school faculty MD types, who, by definition, were 'God'. You can't tell them anything; they think they know everything. These dislikes concerning male co-workers contrast with responses of other women who stated that one of the things they liked about computing was the people (presumably mostly men). Younger women are more likely to mention liking the people they work with (laid back, easy to get along with) and older women to mention men they work with among their dislikes. A number of explanations suggest themselves: 1) young men are more enlightened and accept women on equal terms, so the problem will disappear in time; 2) the problems are more prevalent at senior levels of an organisation; 3) different organisations have different cultures; 4) there is a 'drip' effect -- it takes women several years to realise that they are not treated as equals; 5) men's behaviour becomes more discriminatory with age. 3. Conclusions The introductory sections of this paper presented reasons why computing is an appropriate career for women, why it is not a popular choice, and why computing would benefit if more women were to enter the field. The data in Section 2 confirms similar findings of earlier studies (Clarke & Teague, 1996; Teague & Clarke, 1991). Computing is viewed by the female participants as an enjoyable career offering good opportunities. The reasons given by these 15 women for choosing computing as a career suggest: l) Career choice occurs not as a result of a single event, but as the culmination of several experiences; 2) Support and encouragement are important to women making non-traditional choices; 3) Being able to see the practical application of computing in the workplace, either during their high school years, while at university, or later in their lives, is a significant factor in helping women decide computing is a career that will suit them; 4) A small number of women react positively to discouragement; 5) When making their early career choices the women in this study generally held stereotyped views about the skills and attributes that were appropriate for computing careers; 6) Career opportunities, challenge and the satisfaction of developing a useful product are attractive attributes of jobs in computing. The 15 participants of this study named 35 different attributes of their jobs that they enjoyed. Only one of these, problem solving, was mentioned by at least half of the respondents, and more than half of the attributes were mentioned by only one woman. Despite this apparent lack of uniformity, there are commonalities. The following aspects of computing jobs were each nominated by several women: solving a problem and developing a solution -- at all levels; change, challenge and diversity; the job opportunities, money and travel; the interaction with their immediate colleagues, with others within and outside the organisation; Vol. 34, No. 2, 2002 June 155 ~ ~ SIGCSE Bulletin

10 their working environment and flexibility of hours and work location; the respect they earn from doing their job well. The women had relatively few dislikes about the work they do. A small number expressed a dislike of programming and of spending long hours at a keyboard. These are seen as negative attributes of computing careers by many girls, but in reality are mainly avoidable for those who do not enjoy them. For these 15 women, dislikes about working in computing centre mainly on: management issues; the attitudes of men in the industry, although this may either be related to company culture or apply to only some individuals; the lack of women who can act as mentors and with whom they can share experiences; and discriminatory practices, particularly with regard to salaries. In summary, it can be said that the issues that deter many girls from computing as a career are not supported by the experiences of women working in the industry. 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