Some interesting observations

I’ve been trying to avoid too much sarcasm when posting on this blog, but I have to admit I was tempted to title this post “Really?!” I’m including a summary of two articles that seem to be trying to advocate for more women in IT, but are just missing the point about why.

These articles came out at the beginning of the month, but they are a part of a trend that we keep seeing in the media. The first article comes from Brier Dudley at The Seattle Times: Facebook message: Girls, too, can do computers. Okay. So far so good. Then the first line:

If video games can inspire boys to study computer science, perhaps Facebook can have the same effect on girls.

The article goes on to discuss the fact that even though software companies have been trying to recruit more women, there are fewer women studying computer science than in the 1980’s (was the internet even around then?). Facebook, however is hoping to change that, or at least the women who work in development hope to inspire teenage girls who use the social networking site. Fair, but I still don’t understand the first sentence of the article.

The next article by Ellen Messmer at Network World reports on the Anita Borg Institute’s report that recommends that there be one viable female candidate for every IT job opening. Unfortunately, Messmer herself seems uneasy with the idea, mentioning more than once that this might seem like a “radical idea to some,” and also makes the point that there aren’t that many female graduates coming out of computer science programs. The report makes other recommendations that should help to even out the playing field in the IT industry such as:

- Build a gender-balanced internship program for technical positions.

– Use social networks strategically to increase the number of female candidates for technical positions.

– Revise job descriptions to reduce gender stereotypes.

– Institute a blind resume screening process to reduce the potential for unconscious bias.

– Implement dual-career support mechanisms when relocation is involved.

– Hold executives and managers accountable for reaching diversity goals and targets.

– Measure and evaluate your efforts to increase the representation of women.

Both of these articles present a very real problem: there are far too few women studying computer science and even fewer in the IT industry. But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why? Perhaps we should address the real problems that are keeping women out of the industry. Women don’t want to work in an environment where they are not heard or represented or where they are harassed. Women don’t want to work in an industry where they do not receive the same opportunities or salaries as their male counterpoints. Don’t get me wrong, many women do work in these environments, and fight to receive the same treatment as men. Some women are thriving. But it is hard to convince young women to willingly enter a misogynist field that is dominated by men. So although there should be policies in place to interview women for IT positions, there should also be policies that work to change the environment of the IT industry to allow for women to be as successful as men, include more female perspectives and to forbid gender-based hate speech and bullying.

How early should children start using computers?

It’s no surprise. They should start as early as possible. MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group (the maker of Scratch) has partnered with DevTech Research Group to make Scratch Jr., a program aimed to teach kids from preschool to Grade 2 how to create their own stories and games using digital media.

Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group, spearheaded the creation of Scratch. Having worked with a network of afterschool programs using digital media, Resnick was struck by the lack of software that enabled kids to go beyond playing with other people’s media. There was nothing that encouraged them to make their own interactive stories and games.

As there is more discussion about what 21st century literacy is, Resnick equates teaching basic programming to teaching how to write. He adds:

What’s most important to me is that young children start to develop a relationship with the computer where they feel they’re in control,” Resnick said. “We don’t want kids to see the computer as something where they just browse and click. We want them to see digital technologies as something they can use to express themselves.

Read more about the project here at MindShift.