The field of computer science is expected to grow by 19% by the year 2026. Yet a 2013 NPR report suggests that women earn only 18% of the computer science bachelor’s degrees in the United States. In a stark contrast to the demand shown by the job market, the field remains saturated with males.
However, the scenario wasn’t the same during the budding years of computer technology, where in the 1960s women made up the majority of the computing workforce. Then came the personal computers of the 1980s. And ironically with the influx of these personal devices into homes and families, the number of women in the field experienced a steady decline.
The reason? Personal computers at that time were marketed exclusively toward men where one could play pong or simple shooting games, maybe do some word processing, creating a narrative that computers were for boys. Women were now driven away from the field as pop culture movies like Weird Science, Revenge of the Nerds and War Games all fed the idea that, well, computer science is for boys.
While reports show that women and girls to have performed as equal or even better in the field of STEM, other studies have shown that some math-intensive occupations employ far fewer women than the proportion of girls who score in the top 1% of math tests. Why the discrepancy, you ask?
Well, think about it. When there is stereotypical segregation where girls are reinforced the idea that math and science is a field for men, where they have very few role models to look up to, and even the handful that actually make it to the top share stories of hostilities in the field toward women, girls are less motivated to actually pick up a STEM field and pursue it through higher levels.
A 2016 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology puts this susceptibility of women into perspective by giving an example of when a girl who actually performs well at school starts noticing that as she advances to higher math and science classes, a larger proportion of the students in class are male. When combined with the negative stereotypes she is faced with, women are more likely to drop out of the classes.
So, what can be done? Contrary to the beliefs of people who were biting tongues at the L.A. Times report on women being offered more scholarships than men, we do actually need to offer more scholarships targeted to women, specifically in the STEM field. The goal of this is not to achieve equality but rather to achieve equity, so that a group that has been crushed by a systematic bias can have a chance at not only competing with their peers, but also the idea that they can compete with men becomes a normalcy.
Gender specific scholarship does have its drawbacks where argument can be made that it is disincentivizing for a person of opposite gender or that its effectiveness is questionable.
But think about this. When we are talking about levelling a field where a group has very few role models of their own gender, where the workplace is hostile to the needs of any gender other than males because of the lack of representation within, and when pop culture has fed to the stereotype that a field is for men only even when women are equally competent, then the idea of exclusively incentivizing women to get into the field does not sound so unreasonable does it?
Scholarships are just incentives that offer women a controversial yet strong motivation to get into a field. And then maybe one day when the field is saturated enough, when we have established that women pursuing STEM is not that radical of an idea, then maybe we can concern ourselves with the equality argument of gender specific scholarship.
For now we need equity, and maybe scholarships are the spring board that will help propel more individuals into this field.