Tech…It’s A Guy Thing

I’m not exactly Mr. Feminist, but I am the father of daughters, and there are times when I’m dumbfounded at how guy-heavy the software world is. This realization first hit me like a hammer last December  when I sat in a software entrepreneurism class at UW-Madison. I counted one woman among the 34 students. What gives, as I asked in this Isthmus story?

“There are a thousand reasons,” says Andrea Arpaci-Dusseau, a UW-Madison computer science professor who happens to be married to the co-teacher of the startup class. “It happens very, very, young,” she says of the disconnect between women and computer technology. “They make a decision that this is something they’re not interested in.

“Because there are so few women, it just perpetuates itself,” she says. “If we could get more women in the field, then it would be welcoming and enjoyable for women. But when the numbers are so small, it’s really difficult.”

Those numbers are sobering. The software class, offered both in the spring and fall, drew a total enrollment of about 90 students and just one woman, says Andrea’s spouse, Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau. (They met as computer science graduate students at UC-Berkeley.) “It’s terrible,” he says of the gender disparity. “We talk about it in the department all the time. We seem not to be serving 50% of the population.”

Overall just 11% of UW’s computer science graduates in 2012 were women, according to the registrar’s office. This is typical of women in computing at major American research universities. National data show that women composed just 14% of their computer science undergraduates in 2011.

The problem is found, to varying degrees, in other so-called STEM academic fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Elsewhere in academia, however, young women are striding confidently to the front of the line like never before. In 2009, 57% of all undergraduate degrees in the U.S. were earned by women, according to the National Center for Women and Technology. Fifty years earlier, almost two-thirds were earned by men.

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