I was poking around looking at some of the issues for women in technology getting ready for the Boise Community Radio program “That’s Women’s Work” (airing Wednesday the 27th at 9:00 p.m.). I ran across this quote: “That in the …case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude”. That is, men are naturally better at math and science than women. This statement was made by not 50 years ago by some poorly educated man. It was made less than 5 years ago by the, then, President of Harvard University Lawrence Summers. He made the statement as a way of explaining why there are an unexpected low numbers of girls and women in technology fields. His statements caused an enormous outcry by women in every field of science.
There was, however, a positive outcome, with increased visibility and research into the causes of the inequitable numbers of women in technology. Here are just a couple of the results and publications.
Dr. Janet Hyde and a colleague did a study of standardized test scores around the world. There results showed that in countries with poor gender equity, India for instance, had a greater gap in the test scores for mathematics while the opposite is true for countries where there is more gender equity (the Netherlands is used as an example here).
Here is another great article that points out two important facts. That currently in the U.S. there are nearly equal numbers of men and women pursuing graduate degrees in math and sciences but that a whopping 52% of women drop out of these careers. The researchers go on to state that:
"The top two reasons why women leave are the hostile macho cultures — the hard hat culture of engineering, the geek culture of technology or the lab culture of science … and extreme work pressures,"
This last quote is why I think we, the Girls in Tech community, can be a big help to each other. Yes it can sometimes be an overwhelmingly macho culture and there can be extreme work pressures. But if we spend time helping each other, mentoring not just younger girls but mentoring ourselves, we don’t have to be part of the 52% who give up and drop out.
Oh, and by the way, Lawrence Summers is not longer Harvard University President. That job is held by Drew Gilpin Faust, women.