Science and Technology Workplace, A Predominately Male Face
Recent studies suggest that fewer girls and women are pursuing, or staying in, careers in science and technology. Six years ago, 28 percent of the undergraduate degrees in computer science went to women. That number, however, dropped to 22 percent in 2005 and now reportedly sits at 10 percent. At the same time, women in the technical community are increasingly leaving their jobs. A recent study published by the Harvard Business Review found that while women made up 41% of newly qualified technical staff, more than half dropped out by the time they reached their late thirties.
Surely, a variety of reasons contribute to the male dominance of science and technology fields. Some blame our “cultural software”: young girls are not taught to enjoy computers. As the director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology & Social Behavior Justine Cassell explains, “the girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys toys’ and that true girls didn’t play with computers.” Others suggest that women leave computer science careers to stay at home, in much the same way that women do in any other careers.
But the Harvard Business Review study offers a less benign explanation for women’s departure from careers in computer science, one that arguably accords with our Internet culture: the majority of women working in science and technology leave their jobs for alternative careers or the home to avoid struggling with sexual harassment, the macho “lab coat culture,” and the old boys’ network that excluded them. Nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed for the study said that they had been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. A total of 43 percent of female engineers said that they had encountered an “inherently sexist culture” in which it was assumed that only men had the skills to succeed in the most advanced posts. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist at the Center for Work-Life Policy and author of the study, explained that although the “predatory” and “condescending culture” towards women has declined in most workplaces in the past 20 years, it has “survived in the engineering, science, and technology context.” This seems consistent with what commentators call the “culture of misogyny” that pervades many social networking sites, blogs, and other Web 2.0 platforms.