Monday, October 22, 2012

The Broad Experience Podcast Series

I've recently discovered a podcast series about professional women that is really fantastic.  Ashley Milne-Tyte, a British-American journalist based in NYC, publishes a series of interviews with an array of accomplished leaders, all around the topics of women and work.  Each addresses an important issue for professional women, from entrepreneurship and technology to ambition and power.

She even has one on diversity training for white men, which addresses what sociologists would call intersectionality (see?  I'm bring in the Sociology here).   Intersectionality is a theory that describes a situation where two characteristics of a person, such as race and gender, when combined, amplify social inequality associated with each of the characteristics.  Two (or more) statuses can interact, usually in a negative way, to cause worse discrimination than if the person only had one of the characteristics.  So, in general, being a woman and being non-white in the US is related to more discrimination than being a white woman or a non-white man.  Of course there are always exceptions, but these terms help us to understand the unique experiences that different kinds of minorities face in work and entrepreneurship.

Each podcast is about 10 minutes, and she brings on a ton of interesting, articulate guests from a variety of industries.  Worth a listen for anyone interested in gender and social psychological processes as they happen in the workplace.  Or anyone who is looking for career guidance, or who is simply interested in understanding more about how gender affects work.

So take a break and check out The Broad Experience.  There's also a newsletter you can sign up for, as well as a Facebook group.  I, for one, look forward to seeing what she comes out with next!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why Aren't There More Female Programmers?

I usually don't get too excited about days dedicated to some historic figure, but yesterday National Geographic published an article about the October 16 being the day dedicated to the first person to write a computer program.  Why is this so interesting?  Because the first person to write a computer program was none other than poet Lord Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace in 1843.  Very interesting considering computer most computer programmers in the US are men.

Ada Lovelace Day is marketed as a day to recognize the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. While you can read all about the many accomplishments of women in STEM fields elsewhere, what I wonder is why did something that was developed by a woman become a field entirely dominated by men?  And why aren't there more women programmers?

It could be that women just aren't good at learning how to program, and Ada Lovelace was just kind of strange.  While she may have been strange, it's unlikely that other women can't be good programmers.  Time and time again, studies show that women don't lack the brain capacity needed for programming.  First off, women are better at learning new languages than men, down to the biological level.  Second, women now score higher on IQ tests than men.  Third, women and men show no difference in the old analytical reasoning section of the GRE nor in the new analytical writing section.  So we really shouldn't be seeing differences in ability to program by gender.

Maybe women don't want to be programmers.  That's what Justin James argues when he writes that "women are not attracted to programming at all."  But if that were really so, we wouldn't see any women in programming, and it doesn't explain why 30 years ago there were nearly equal numbers of men and women in computer science courses at universities.

If it's not ability or preference, then it must be something outside a woman's control.  I don't have all the answers or explanations.  But, my earlier post on stereotype threat and organizational culture discusses how the culture of technology firms and university departments systematically excludes women, leading many to abandon the career path they otherwise would have wanted.

So on this day that at least a few people are talking about Ada Lovelace, it's a good time to think about what we can do to diversify the programming workforce and create an environment where all people can and do pursue their desired career.