June 17 2011
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about the dearth of women in the technology industry and stated ominously that the "problem" appears to be getting worse.
Illustrating the "problem," the Journal listed the familiar statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Women only held 25% of computing-related occupations in 2009, down from 30% in 2000; The percentage of computer information systems degrees obtained annually by women has held at 18% since the 2007-08 school year, down from 28% in 2001-02. And of course there was the familiar line about how "fewer women than men in tech jobs-16% vs. 26%-say they always aspire to be in top management, according to a McKinsey & Co. survey conducted this year."
While the WSJ article didn't explicitly blame institutional sexism for this lack of female leadership in the fields of science and mathematics, the article failed to recognize that women are largely making the choice for themselves to stay out of these fields.
As Alison Kasic pointed out earlier this year (here and here), a new paper in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesexamines the issue of women's under-representation in science and mathematics and found that factors such as women's greater challenge in balancing work pressures with their desire to have and raise children contribute to the gender imbalance in these fields.
Despite frequent assertions that women's current underrepresentation in math-intensive fields is caused by sex discrimination by grant agencies, journal reviewers, and search committees, the evidence shows women fare as well as men in hiring, funding, and publishing (given comparable resources). That women tend to occupy positions offering fewer resources is not due to women being bypassed in interviewing and hiring or being denied grants and journal publications because of their sex. It is due primarily to factors surrounding family formation and child rearing, gendered expectations, lifestyle choices, and career preferences-some originating before or during adolescence-and secondarily to sex differences at the extreme right tail of mathematics performance on tests used as gateways to graduate school admission.
But it isn't just the work-life balance issues driving women away from the high-tech industry, the paper also focused on what subjects young girls are drawn to in school:
Regarding the role of math-related career preferences, adolescent girls often prefer careers focusing on people as opposed to things, and this preference accounts for their burgeoning numbers in such fields as medicine and biology, and their smaller presence in math-intensive fields such as computer science, physics, engineering, chemistry, and mathematics, even when math ability is equated.
The paper also notes that women are quickly becoming the majority among physicians, veterinarians, and biologists.
When are we going to see a WSJ article examining that "problem"?