Gender attitudes toward computers

Are females less interested than males in computers?

I’ve had a few discussions with some people about the topic of the gender computing gap, and more than once people have made statements like, “Women just aren’t interested in computers.” One friend equated the lack of women’s interest in working in IT with the lack of interest that women have in working as auto mechanics, as if such interests are biological.

Biology has nothing to do with it. This “interest”, or rather, lack thereof, is socially constructed.

One of the articles we read this week described a study in which they compared the actual abilities of men and women to use the Internet with the subjects’ perceived ability. The results were that there is no difference in the skills of either gender. But, women were more likely to see themselves as being deficient, even when they were not [1].

Why might that be? My personal theory is that women have grown up with a stereotype ingrained in their minds that girls aren’t as good as boys when it comes to using technology. After years and years of being told this (in direct and indirect ways), they come to believe it. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy.

A different article we read this week backs me up on this. “The majority of boys in grade 5 are convinced that boys know more about computers than girls do” [2]. And you know that fifth grade boys are not going to be shy about this opinion. Fifth grade girls are going to hear all about that impression.

The authors explain further:

…the more positive the computer attitude of a student, the more interested he ore she will be in using computers and trying (new) ICT applications, resulting in an even more positive attitude toward computers. Because girls show lower intensity and lower self-efficacy in computer use than boys, these reciprocal relations may increase gender differences in computer attitudes in the long term. In other words, gender differences in computer attitudes may increase with age [2].

No, I don’t think women mean it when they say “I’m just not interested in working in IT.” Since the field was created by white men, and the value system is based on white male values, and the school curriculum for computer science was also created by white males, they most likely mean “I know where I’m not welcome.”

[1] Hargittai, E., & Shafer, S. (2006). Differences in actual and perceived online skills: The role of gender. Social Science Quarterly, 87(2), 432-448.

[2] Meelissen, M. R. M., & Drent, M. (2007). Gender differences in computer attitudes: Does the school matter? Computers in Human Behavior, 24(3), 969-985.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Did you see this on Digg today breaking down social media sites by sex and gender?

    I was surprised how split it was for the most part. More women on Facebook and MySpace but more men on Flickr and LinkedIn


  2. Posted by Amy Boivin on February 10, 2009 at 1:36 am

    It could also relate back to that peer support thing mentioned in your previous post.


  3. Thanks for the link, Max! I had not seen that. It is quite interesting!


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