Are most programmers male?

Carl Banks imbosol at
Tue Aug 13 05:15:39 EDT 2002

bitsniffer wrote:
> As far as I can tell YES. Most programmers are male. And it is a problem.
> I beleieve any community should be as mixed as possible, not just in terms
> of sex, but culture, ethical origins, educational background, age, etc. So
> having a sex imbalance is bad.

First, let me say that I think "balance" is relatively unimportant.
The important thing is that people are free to pursue their own
interests, without interference from cultural prejudices.  A woman who
is interested in computer science should have the same opportunity to
be a computer scientist as a man.

If (hypotheically speaking) only 5% of the people interested in
computer science are women, then only 5% of computer scientists should
be women, and that is not a problem.  What would be a problem is if
(again, hypotheically speaking) only 5% of women were interested in
computer science, but there was a lot of cultural pressure for more
women to enter a field they are not interested in, just to "balance"
out the male-female ratio.  That is just as bad as cultural pressure
for a woman to be a housewife.

I don't think there are nearly as many women who would be interested
in computer-related fields as men.

BUT, having said all that, I think probably there is some reluctance
of women to consider computer-related fields, but for a different
reason than you think.  In fact, I don't think the reason really has
much to do with the computers at all.

No, the reason I think women are reluctant to be programmers is that
they don't want to study something where they'll be outnumbered by men
20-1 or whatever.  It's the same as a man not wanting to take cooking
class because he would be the only man in the class.  In which case,
the targeted recruiting thing you mention is probably a good idea, as
long as it doesn't cross the line into pushing women into a field they
don't want to be in.

> Most computer science and engineering courses in universities also have
> this same problem.
> I was recently talking with a CMU professor and he told me that they have
> significantly reduced the sex imbalance among students by actively
> targeting female candidates and explaining to them what computer science
> is really about.
> About one year ago I read an article on Communication of the ACM (Volume
> 44 ,  Issue 6, June 2001) where the author discusses this issue. He argues
> that mathematics is very polular with women, that computer science and
> programming is much like mathematics, so computer science can be equally
> attractive to women.
> I agree. The lack of wemen in CS is totally unjustified. Most of computer
> science is about abstract logical thinking, which women like it. IMHO the
> problem is that the people's perception of this field is distorted.
> I believe Lance's wife has (or had when she chose her educational path)
> these stereotypes in her mind. Such as that Programmers spend all their
> time with machines.
> Not really: Programmers spend their time solving problems. They solve the
> problems interacting with other programmers, with who will use the
> programs, with who will pay for the programs, etc.

Ok, I have a hard time believing this for a few reasons: 

1. I don't think women prefer "abstract logical thinking" more than
   men; more women tend to think emotionally than logically.

2. Most programmers do spend a lot of time with machines, and I have a
   hard time believing that you're not downplaying this to make a
   point, even if programming is less machine-oriented than people

3. What about the men?  If programming isn't so much about playing
   with machines, we'd expect men to turn away when they find out it's
   not what they thought it was?

> Just my $0.02 at almost 2.00am

My 2 cents, around 5 am.


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