Can Gender Bias be Minimized within STEM

Programming languages are interictally entwined with Computer Science. Getting the computer to do what a scientist wants would be still extremely difficult if there were not programming languages. Grace Hopper, a female Navy officer, created the first idea of a computer programming language and compiler which is what turns the computer programming language into something the computer can understand (Code: Debugging the Gender). If Grace Hopper had not been a part of these projects, Computer Science would be a lot different today. However, this is exactly what is happening today inside of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, fields more commonly referred to as STEM fields. Specifically, according to Sax et al., Computer Science has seen a drop in the number of females from the 37.1% high in 1984 to 18% in 2012 shown by a study by the National Center for Education Statistics (259; qtd. in Sax et al 259). The Gender Gap within STEM is becoming more and more of a problem, and the solution is to make changes within the educational systems at younger ages and remove the unintentional bias with the teachers and professors throughout the education process.

The Gender Gap within Computer Science is the most apparent gap as compared to other STEM fields. In 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 60% of biological science degrees and 41% of physical sciences degrees were earned by women (qtd. in Ganley et al. 454). The Gender Gap is not as big within these fields; however, in the same year, the National Science Foundation found that 18% of Computer Science degrees and 19% percent of engineering degrees were earned by women (qtd in Ganley et al. 454). The gap is found within degrees that are dependent on higher forms of math which makes Computer Science and engineering the most affected STEM degrees. Economists David Card and Abigail Payne investigated university and high-school programs in Ontario from 2005 to 2012 (2). They found that 44% of women go to university compared to 32% of males (Card 2). Meaning, women make up 57.5% of undergraduate students compared to males. This shows that even though more women are choosing to go to university than men, there must be something causing them to not choose degrees in computer science and engineering.

One of the major reasons females are not choosing to pursue computer science degrees is because male and female abilities are different. Wang et al. performed a study that showed that students whose math and verbal ability patterns in the 12th grade were high were less likely to pursue STEM careers than those students who had high math skills and lower verbal skills (773-774). The study found that most of the individuals with both high math and verbal abilities were females while most of the high math and low verbal abilities were males (774). This means that females are choosing to go into non-STEM degrees and appears to be based on differences among genders. However, this isn’t because the genders are different, but because females believe that Computer Science is biased against them. According to Ganley et al. these perceptions are created at a very young age and early in the education process (457). The study also found that gender bias was higher in Computer Science compared to STEM and non-STEM majors (477). They also found that females were choosing not to go into Computer Science not according to their abilities, but rather the gender bias and perception that Computer Science is less helpful to others (479). This study outlines that it has nothing to do with ability, but rather perceptions among females that Computer Science is both biased and not as impactful as other degrees.

Females desire careers that are more impactful to others and not about solving problems or making money. These desires are part of gender roles created by the culture. These gender roles are typical with those described by the Social Role Theory which describes gender’s labors to be men providing for the family while women stay home to take care of the children (Barth et al. 503). These roles have affected how females perceive their roles within the larger society. Ceci et al. provided a study that found that cultural expectations’ effects on the brain lead to different interests, particularly females’ desire for roles that are more helpful towards others compared to males’ desires for roles with power and influence (248). These gender roles are the reason for females choosing to pursue paths outside of Computer Science even though they are just as capable as males for these sorts of jobs.

Even after changing their perceptions of roles within society, females are still biased against by peers and teachers within education. Moss-Racusin et al. in an article titled “Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male” found that faculty members in STEM fields are biased towards male students (16478). The study found that both male and female faculty in the study believed the females students were less capable, and the faculty did not realize that these biases were occurring (16477). The male faculty members were just as likely as female faculty to favor male students compared to the female students (16477).

This study outlines that, in a broad sense, females are being treated differently within their STEM education. It also found that this bias is not hostile toward the female students, but the bias was affected by gender stereotypes which led to unknowingly being less likely to help or mentor female students compared to males (16477). The reason this is important is that females are less likely to continue within the fields of STEM if they are not receiving the support or encouragement from their education environment (16477). If this bias among faculty in Computer Science is not removed, then the problem of the Gender Gap in Computer Science will not be fixed because mentors and support are extremely important to the success of females within the field. This can be shown by a study by Hardin and Longhurst which found that during an introductory chemistry class, female student had less self-efficacy to overcome barriers of entry in STEM as compared to their male counterparts (287). Hardin and Longhurst point out that it appeared in the study that females were entering college with less interest and self-efficacy (287).

If faculty fail to realize that their female students need equal support and encouragement as their male counterparts receive, then the Gender Gap in STEM will continue to widen. In the same study by Hardin and Longhurst, they found that the gap between males and females never closed but widened throughout the course (287). The factor found was that men reported increased support from the middle to end of that class while females reported no such support which correlated with the females dropping out of the course (287). This lack of support is detrimental to females and extremely important when they are already coming into college with less self-efficacy and interest to succeed in STEM.

The problem of the Gender Gap in Computer Science needs to be solved as it is clearly still an issue. A solution to the Gender Gap is to change the culture as this is the source of the problem. However, the path to changing culture can take a lot of time. This means different things should be attempted to try to fix the gap as culture is molded, but one should realize that not one thing will fix all the different aspects of the Gender Gap. The following three ways address how one might go about solving each aspect of the problem outlined above, but the studies and research on these solutions are still in infancy, or not in existence.

The first part of the solution would be to implement education focused on girls earlier in life to help them become interested in STEM, especially Computer Science. Creating toys that girls can interact with that will help build skills around STEM is extremely important to further this goal. For example, a toy that could help accomplish this goal would be GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox is a toy started by Debbie Sterling with the goal of engaging girls with a story that has a problem which is solved by them building something (Rosen). The whole purpose of the toy according to Sterling is that ‘girls really want to help people and they care about nurturing’ (Rosen). The solution that Sterling proposes is that if females get past the stereotype of nerdy men in STEM and to see that STEM is all about solving problems to help people, then females will engage in the STEM field (Rosen). These toys are just a start to the break in the stereotype that girls only play with dolls and cannot be involved in building things like the boys. GoldieBlox is one way that one could further the education of females about STEM.

A second part of the solution would be to provide interventions with faculty members, so they can change their unintended bias towards female students. As stated above in the study done by Moss-Racusin et al., females are being biased against in STEM programs. In a different study done by Moss-Racusin et al. titled ‘Reducing STEM Gender Bias with VIDS (Video Interventions for Diversity in STEM)’, they found that one effective manner of reducing Gender Bias was the use of the VIDS (254). VIDS is an evidence-based STEM gender bias intervention which is developed to be convenient for each user to watch at their own computer (238).

The VIDS comes in two forms: a narrative-driven style written by a professional playwright where the evidence is shown through scripted TV-style stories and expert interviews which are focused on presenting facts by a credible source (238). The study found that participants in VIDS had a more positive attitude towards females in STEM and had lower Gender Bias (244). The second form of VIDS with expert interviews was more effective at lowering Gender Bias among adults (244). The VIDS are a good example of one method of intervention that can solve the problem of Gender Bias among faculty within STEM programs at Universities. If something similar to the VIDS program can be implemented then it will be quite effective at bringing change, not only among faculty in STEM, but also many other professionals throughout the world.

One excellent example to use within Computer Science that is more of a hybrid approach of the two forms is the documentary by Robin Reynolds called Code: Debugging the Gender Gap. This film uses both professional and expert interviews to draw the viewer into understanding how the Gender Gap in Computer Science exists and why it is important it be solved. Code: Debugging the Gender Gap draws effective stories about females in Computer Science who have struggled to bring a parallel between the statistics and facts to a more concrete method for the viewer to relate to the problem.

One of the first professionals that the documentary interviews is Daniel Feinberg, the Director of Photography at Pixar Animation Studios. Daniel Feinberg argues that role models are extremely important for females to be interested in Computer Science (Code: Debugging the Gender Gap). Feinberg in the documentary says, “You are not going to imagine yourself doing something unless you see someone that you can connect with that’s doing the same thing. When it’s a woman doing that it’s easier to make that connection” (Code: Debugging the Gender Gap). One of this film’s purposes is to introduce people to individuals who can be the role models of girls and show the statistics to a more adult audience who would get behind people who are trying to solve it. The documentary also introduces a software engineer named Tracy Chou whom has compiled a list on a website called Github that shows companies percentage of female Software Engineers compared to male (Code: Debugging the Gender Gap).

The project on Github has a spreadsheet with many companies and their statistics (Chou). The current average percentage of female Software Engineers in all of the companies who have released their statistics including places like Google, Facebook, and Twitter as of this writing is 19.76% (Chou). This part of the documentary is very effective at showing the problem with Gender Gap and will effectively act as a form of the VIDS to help change a larger group of people.

Even with these solutions, not all people agree with the existence of Gender Gap in STEM, let alone Computer Science which makes the point of solutions absolutely void. In an article for the Financial Post titled “Turns Out the STEM ‘Gender Gap’ Isn’t a Gap at All”, William Watson argues that the Gender Gap in STEM is nothing more than females choosing to focus on different types of degrees. Watson says, “It’s not clear there is a problem here. Students are free to choose their own programs.” That statement is true: students are not being forced, but it is not true that their decision is completely free of outside forces.

This argument that Watson writes is similar to the argument that females have traditional gender-appropriate roles that they play in society. The decisions females make are not free from the gender roles that the culture has given them. Watson even admits this later in the article when he says females are choosing to pursue degrees in medicine which is a STEM field, but the medical field is similar to their original nurturing role. The idea that females are in the role of the nurturer and caretaker is prominent within his argument, but these may be the outside forces that cause female career decisions. He is wrong to say that there is no Gender Gap, as the very point that there are culture forces pushing females to not choose fields in STEM particularly Computer Science shows that there is in fact a Gender Gap.

The discussion on the Gender Gap in Computer Science is extremely important to have as a society because it is not going away. If females are still perceiving themselves within the culture’s specified gender roles, the gap will never get smaller. A solution to this problem would be to change the education pattern used with young females. Even if they change their perception of themselves after a better education, Gender Bias could still negatively affect female’s performance within STEM which in turn will cause the gap to only widen. VIDS can help lower the Gender Bias and thus increase the number of females who enter Computer Science. However, this is only the start of solving the problem of the Gender Gap in Computer Science.

The problem of the Gender Gap is like a hydra in that as you cut down one problem, more seem to appear. The solution to a monster like a hydra is to take one problem at a time and solve it completely. After defeating each part, the Gender Gap will begin to shrink. Eventually, the Gender Gap will be a thing of the past, dead and gone.