A Gendered Future of the Computer Profession

AUTHOR

Eva Turner (UK) and Annemieke Craig (Australia)

ABSTRACT

Aims

The aim of this paper is to establish whether the future generation of computer professionals enter the computing higher education with ideas about their future profession, which is already defined as very narrow and gendered. If that is the case, the paper will elaborate on whether there is ethical responsibility of computer educators to broaden those views and how that should be done.

A large-scale research was performed to gain an insight into perceptions future computer professionals hold of the status and gender of the category of employment loosely defined under this term of “a computer professional”. An international team of researchers from Australia, England and USA and South Africa gave a large questionnaire to all first year students on Computing and Information Technology degree programs, who were enrolled on introductory programming courses at universities.

This paper outlines preliminary findings of this research, from two of the five countries – Australia and England. The paper elaborates on the results’ relevance to current state of the computing profession and outlines further steps that need to be taken to enlighten the computing educators as well as the profession itself to bring about equal opportunities within the computing industry.

Findings
Generally men and women gave similar reasons for studying a computer related degree. An interesting observation is that men seemed to have been more influenced by their family than women about their choice of university studies and only very few students received advice from a careers counsellor.

As opposed to men, women were more inclined to say that they came from word processing and package using background; they did not play games and did not show much experience in programming before entering their studies.

There appear to be recognisable patterns of gender stereotyping in the perception of the computer profession itself. While all students want to become computer professionals and associate the profession with money and status, there appear to be entrenched gendered classification of their own pre university computer experience as well as gendered perception of the profession itself. It appears that most students did not really have a firmed idea of what a computer professional does. However it is obvious that their idea of computer profession does not include administrative job categories. The computing industry represents to the students mainly production of software and hardware.

Women students believed stronger than men that technical as well as communication and management skills are important and that a computer professional needs to be a good programmer and needs a very good understanding of mathematical concepts. This belief tends to eliminated all students without “technical” or mathematical skills, but stereotypically mainly women, from wanting to enter the profession in the first place.

Though all students believed that computing is an engineering discipline, women believed also that computing is a multidisciplinary discipline. Both genders believed that most computer professionals are men and that it did not matter that the numbers of men are greater than the numbers of women. While more women than men believed that as computer professionals they are likely to have to make ethical decisions, most students indicated ambivalence to this statement.

As to students perceiving individual computing disciplines as gendered, the results in this survey appear to confirm my previous findings in students just leaving the university (Turner, 2000), that students are prepared to gender disciplines and genuinely take these perceptions with them into their working lives. These in turn influence their decision making about their own lives as well as lives of those they will potentially employ.

Conclusion

The paper will elaborate on the reasons for the need to change students perceptions and attitudes and will outline how and where in the student education these changes can take place.

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