Tech wasn’t always a man’s world.
In the 1940s and ’50s, coding was viewed as women’s work. Back then, “computer girl” was the stereotype.
It was considered a mere clerical duty.
But secretly, on the engineering and development end, computing pioneers such as Grace Hopper, Mary Jackson and Margaret Hamilton were taking the tech world by storm.
Even in the ’60s, as programming underwent an image change to one decidedly more masculine, women remained undeterred. Their numbers in the computing workforce grew so much that, by the mid-1980s, women made up 38 percent of the computing workforce. In the face of rampant discrimination and sexism, women still made their mark on computing history.
By the early ’90s, the golden era for women in technology ended.
While equal opportunity and anti-discrimination policies became widespread in the 1980s, negative cultural influences — including the portrayal of programmers in movies as exclusively male — coincided with the female decline.
Young women got the message: Girls don’t code. Only boys do.
It’s gotten so bad that experts predict the computing workforce will be only 20 percent women by 2025 — a forecast made worse by how fewer women now major in computer science.
Negative environments for tech
At the same time, women in tech are leaving their jobs in droves because of hostile work environments. Silicon Valley is paying the price in lawsuits, but women are paying in even more devastating ways.
Statistics show that while women are the great consumers of tech, they are less and less the creators of it.
The decline is puzzling. And as researchers scramble to figure out why, computing is poised to generate some of the most lucrative jobs in the industry. Women can ill afford to miss out on the bonanza.
How do we reverse course?
In the last couple of years, researchers polled young girls who were heavily into computing about what motivated them to pursue it. Their findings were extraordinarily simple — early exposure to computer science and strong support from parents, teachers, and friends made all the difference.
Today, in spite of the declining numbers, companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft boast female CEOs or women at the highest levels of leadership. Women have proven themselves capable of success, without question.
From the beginning, women have influenced the growth and development of computer technology. Women have always been good at it. It’s time young girls knew it.
Lori Cameron, Senior Writer, IEEE Computer Society, [email protected]