Are most programmers male?

Gonçalo Rodrigues op73418 at mail.telepac.pt
Sun Aug 11 13:41:59 CEST 2002


On Sun, 11 Aug 2002 02:50:59 -0700, "James J. Besemer"
<jb at cascade-sys.com> wrote:

>
>"David Mertz, Ph.D." wrote:
>
>> I've reflected on this a bit lately.  It's kinda sad about the
>> overwhelming male bias of programming and related areas.  Programming,
>> of course, is not the only important thing that people do--but in the
>> world of work, we are a fairly highly-paid and highly-skilled group.  In
>> a societal way, having women excluded from these areas is to the
>> detriment of both the field and to overall gender equality and women's
>> rights.
>
>I think it's totally wrong to conclude that women are 'excluded' in any
>way.  I think the present population makeup simply represents peoples'
>choice in the matter.
>
>When I was young and naive I used to believe that the only differences
>between men and women were induced by society -- that men and women were
>essentially identical except for the momentum of traditional roles thrust
>upon them.  Now that I've been married for over 20 years and raised children
>to adolescence (and observed many other individuals and families), I find
>that viewpoint laughable.
>
>My wife and I and most of our friends (all radical Liberals at the time)
>certainly did not wish to impress any societal prejudices on our children.
>Nevertheless, they all turned out to fit the stereotypes.  It was amazing to
>see these traditional behaviors emerge unexpectedly as if pre-programmed in
>tiny babies.  There are amazing differences early on simply from individual
>to individual but the differences between boys and girls is even more
>amazing.
>
>By preschool (3-4 years) the girls (generally) all were quiet and
>cooperative while the boys (generally) were all noisy, aggressive and less
>cooperative.  Furthermore, when it comes to child rearing itself, men and
>women (generally) exhibit markedly different instincts.  Women tend to be
>nurturing and indulgent while men tend to be the ones to set limits and
>discipline the children.  I don't find it at all surprising that something
>like 90% of adolescent criminals come from fatherless households.
>
>Men and women (in general) differ in a great many ways.  If you only
>consider the significantly different concentrations of testosterone and
>estrogen, you naturally would expect significantly different behavior
>patterns along 'traditional' lines.  I don't find it at all hard to think
>that those differences would lead to different preferences in job choice or
>in choosing even to work at all outside the home.
>
>When my son was in 7th grade, I volunteered to teach an electronics class to
>the students.  It was a very popular class and almost half the students were
>girls.  The school was very progressive and almost militant about
>encouraging girls to strike up an interest in math and science.  Each class
>would start with a short lecture where I would introduce one new principle
>in electronics and then we would have a lab session, where the kids would
>try to wire up a circuit per directions I provided.  The boys had obvious
>difficulty waiting for the lecture to end as they were very excited to start
>the lab.  The lab consisted of passing out kits of all the necessary
>components along with a diagram showing exactly how to hook them up.  I
>included some more elaborate circuits such as pulse generators, variable
>frequency generators and motor speed controllers, so it was non-trivial to
>hook them up.  I found it interesting that the girls had absolutely no
>trouble following the instructions and generally were the first to get their
>circuits to work.  The boys had trouble focusing on the instructions and
>following directions.  I generally had to help several of the boys debug
>their circuits.  And there usually were one or two boys who didn't start
>until half way through the lab and often failed to get it to work at all
>before class was over.  Then there were the boys trying to start a fire with
>electrical sparks.  Later I also taught an introduction to programming class
>that included an overly ambitious term project.  A girl, also the youngest
>student in the class, was the first to get her program to work.  Another
>girl was the second.  None of the boys came close to getting it to work.
>Amazing differences.  The boys seemed to be really excited about the
>material but had difficulty paying attention and accomplishing the work.
>The girls seemed indifferent, almost bored, but were very effective in
>completing assigned tasks.  This suggests to me not so much a difference in
>aptitude as a difference in interest.
>
>I heard about a study once that indicated that men (on average) were better
>skilled at tedious and meticulous tasks associated with mathematics,
>programming and engineering (though not necessarily all other fields of
>Science).

Yes, there are studies that indicate that men seem to fare better at
monomaniacal activities that demand concentration for relatively long
periods (obsession?) on a single target. Programming and mathematics are
good examples - though describing them as tedious, well, let's just not
go through there. Another example: chess players. The percentage of male
GM's is around 96.

That stereotypes have lived for thousands of years right down to our
age, seems to me a clear signal that something that runs deeper than
cultural impositions is going on.

>
>More interestingly, this same study also concluded that women (on average)
>were better skilled than men at first level management type jobs, a
>completely different set of problems and challenges, requiring a completely
>different set of skills and abilities.
>
>Who knows?  I don't find it hard to believe.
>
>Personally, I think it's possible to make meaningful generalizations about
>people grouped by sex, say, or country of origin.  However, these
>generalizations don't tell you anything for sure about a specific
>individual, and thus cannot be relied upon for making judgments about any
>particular individual.  Certainly it's no basis for discrimination of any
>kind.

I agree completely. While on average one can expect the sex to dicate
differences, an individual is more, so much more, than his sex, culture,
country, whatever. And the more developed is his conscience, the less he
is bound by such constraints.

Here in Portugal there is a recurrent debate about women being
underrepresented in the political areas. And every now and then, when
the moon is holding water, a proposal arises to have quotas for women. I
myself, find this very insulting for women (and also for minorities for
which such a provision is not considered) and a promoter of mediocrity.
But it seems to me that it ignores a simpler fact: It is that women here
are just not interested in going into politics, they have far better
things to do with their lives.

Probably the same goes in Programming. It may be that women in general
may just find that there are far better things to do with their lives.
And you know what? Maybe they are right.

>
>--jb

All the best,
Gonçalo Rodrigues



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