Friday, December 05, 2008

A Dying Breed

I once had an argument with a male friend over the degree of masculinity or femininity of a job in the software industry.He was of the opinion that software was to a greater degree the forte of the human male and that women in software(with a few exceptions) were just 'tailoring'.I spent a great deal of time telling him that he was being 'sexist' and he spent a great deal of time telling me that he was being factual.I found this article in 'The New York Times', that seems to support the claim made by my friend.

Apparently the number of women entering computer science is on the decline.The article doesn't count women who enter related fields like web design.It is alleged that women prefer not to enter the field due to certain 'artificial constraints' and because there is a sense that 'true girls don't play with computers'.As a woman working in the software industry,as a computer programmer,I find it a little offensive that we need to attach gender to a profession that has its foundations firmly rooted in the intangible.It is equally bizarre that the number of women entering the field is on a progressive decline since the early nineties.

A year and a half in the IT industry has taught me that the statistics quoted in the article are believable.In my undergraduate days,I was in a class that had 77 boys and 11 girls.The boy-girl ratio at my workplace is also a deplorable 'one girl for every four boys'.However,if one considers the Indian IT industry in isolation,the influx of the feminine kind has gone up considerably since the early nineties.More girls have started enrolling for courses in Computer Science.I could have dismissed the phenomenon as being 'purely American' if women still weren't a minority in the IT industry in India.

Factors influencing these numbers in India can be quite diverse.The enrollment rate is never equal to the employment rate as a lot of women graduates prefer to get become homemakers as soon as they finish college.Fewer women make it to the top owing to the pressures of juggling a family and a career in IT at the same time.The barriers we're talking about here are neither 'artificial' nor are they driven by the 'masculinity' of the software profession.Perhaps people to the west of the Atlantic, who speculate along the lines of mapping gender to profession,would like to look to the east before they dismiss something as 'not fit for the feminine mind'.

'So what does all this say about me?', I asked my friend after sending him a link to the article.He simply said something witty about me being behind my time.


anuj said...

Hmm. IANASexist, but:

Gammafunction said...

All this talk about women not being good at CS is hogwash.
First of all the numbers you are quoting are so skewed towards men is because most Indian households consider investing in an engineering degree for their daughters a risky proposition.
Secondly the prevalent illogical belief that women are not good at 'mathematical' fields.

I have seen a lot of good female programmers and this trend does not apply to India at all...talking about the West,this trend could perhaps be explained by the fact that there is a general trend of less and less people opting for engineering coupled with the fact that women tend not to enroll in engineering as much as men in the West also.

La Diva! said...

It is true that the allure of engineering as a profession is diminishing in countries like the U.S.; but there is an issue that we are forgetting.It is unfortunate that women feel that their femininity is diminished if they take on a supposedly more 'masculine' profession.

indira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
indira said...

@It is unfortunate that women feel that their femininity is diminished ...
Me and a friend of mine had christened it 'teddy bear complex' where girls force themselves to like teddy bears, hug them and take pictures only because it is 'girly'! I guess it's the same mindset .
The most unfortunate part , however , is that not only do a lot of women fall a prey to the stereotype but they also vehemently promote it and give a 'ah-are-you-really-a-girl' looks for those who don't !