Archive for January, 2009

Reversing the Gender Computer Gap

According to this New York Times article, “women accounted for only 12 percent of undergraduate degrees in computer science and engineering in the United States and Canada granted in 2006-7 by Ph.D.-granting institutions, down from 19 percent in 2001-2. Many computer science departments report that women now make up less than 10 percent of the newest undergraduates.”

Obviously, this trend should not continue. The increasing pervasiveness of technology points to two reasons that this gender gap must be reversed: 1) Women who lack computing confidence may miss out on the increasing number of technology-related job opportunities and 2) Technological industries will lose out on the talent of skilled women to help fill the shortage of trained workers.

According to Gender Relations in Educational Applications of Technology (GREAT), “Research shows that children initially have equal affinities for computing and other technology fields, but that in early adolescence, the cultural factors and personal frustration turn the girls away. To counteract the gender gap in computing, thus, children must be exposed to and made comfortable with computers before they can be turned away.”

Here’s an amazing example of how this can be done.

Mr. Richard Colosi’s class at Canandaigua Primary School in Canandaigua, N.Y class submitted a music video to the Interwrite Interactive Classroom Makeover contest that ended up being named the K-5 winner in November 2005.

The rules for the contest were pretty vague: “Make a music video with your class that shows how amazing it would be to have a technology-fueled classroom.” Mr. Colosi and his class chose to make the gender computer gap the focus of their video. Check it out:

Gendered Representations of Computer Users

This week, we read four articles that discussed the way gender of computer users was represented in media images. In general, women are depicted as “shy, passive and gentle…in passive or nurturing roles” while men were “dominant and powerful…portrayed in active/nonnurtrant, productive or aggressive roles” [2].

This implies that technology is a male-dominated interest. If we go by statistics, this jives with real life. “Women account for only 15-20% of computer science majors and 25% of the U.S technology workforce” [1].

One of the articles described two “dominant viewpoints” about the relationship between sex and technology: essentialism and social construction. Essentialism basically holds that “biological differences” are the reason that men and women use and accept technology differently. (Cough Bullshit Cough) Social construction says that “social, education, and structural forces” are the cause for the differences [1].

Obviously, I don’t buy the essentialism point of view. I believe that this idea that technology is masculine is indeed socially constructed, and that these kinds of advertisements are the primary culprit. The Koernig & Granitz article backs me up on this by discussing six studies from the late 80s and 90s that “demonstrated that advertising can create and propagate cultural standards that shape the development of a person’s self-image, as well as how one is viewed within the culture” [1].

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. The advertising industry can use its influence to change this misconception…to socially reconstruct gendered representation of computer users. As Koernig & Granitz put it, “By presenting positive images of women and technology, advertising may create images that originally were not congruent for men, . . . but after repeated exposures become congruent and create greater identification and emulation.”

So, how is this relevant from an HCI design standpoint? I believe that it means designers must be diligent about not enforcing these negative stereotypes through their designs. By creating interactions and user experiences that appeal especially to women and therefore entice more women to begin to use and embrace technology, we can also help socially reconstruct the relationship between and acceptance of women and technology.

[1] Koernig, S. K., & Granitz, N. (2006). Progressive yet traditional: The portrayal of women compared to that of men in e-commerce magazine advertisements. Journal of Advertising, 35(2), 81-98.

[2] Milburn, S. S., Carney, D. R., & Martinez, A. M. (2001). Even in modern media, the picture is still the same: A content analysis of clipart images. Sex Roles, 44(5/6), 277-294.

Gender and Computerization

This semester, I am taking a class in Gender and Computerization. This class is of interest to me for two reasons:

1) Professional: My focus is Human-Computer Interaction Design, which means I am interested in how the way that humans interact with computers should shape the design of interfaces. Many aspects of humans shape their interactions with computers, and gender is just one. Therefore, if I understand how gender and computers are related, then I will be a better designer.

2) Personal: I am a woman, and I have been working and playing in the world of IT for about 14 and a half years now. And, during most of that time, I was a minority because of my gender. This always has intrigued me.

For the final project for this class, we have three options. One of which is to blog and reflect on the articles we read and discuss throughout the semester. I have decided on this option as a way to help increase the content of this blog, but more importantly, to help me truly reflect about how the topics can indeed help me become a better designer.

Each week has a topic, and we read about 4 articles related to that topic. So, my plan is to begin by listing the topic, summarizing an article or two, and then reflecting on what I’ve read. Typically, I read the articles the weekend before class, so I will probably do the blog posts then. If we discuss something that is particularly intriguing to me in class, I will blog about that during the week.

I am currently reading the articles for this week. So, I plan to write my first post for this project tomorrow, after I’ve had time to read, digest, and reflect.

Happy Birthday, Mac!

The Mac will be 25 years old tomorrow. Crazy! I was in 6th grade when this commercial came out, AND we were reading 1984 in my English class, so I remember this commercial very well. And, here I am 25 years later an avid Mac user! 🙂

Thanks to @jaysteele for pointing this fact out, and for providing the link to the commercial that started it all!