BERGER: STEM-ming from sexism

Women are less likely to pursue careers in STEM fields because they face a hostile work environment

Back in June, Google released its workforce diversity numbers, which showed that only 30 percent of Google employees worldwide are women and only 17 percent of technical staffers are female. These numbers are common among companies like Google, and I acknowledge that the pipeline problem exists: women hold fewer positions because they are statistically less likely to apply for technical jobs. But what about the women who quit after they have already accepted the job?

Not very many women pursue careers in technological fields to begin with. Females earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. An article from Forbes blames that on that fact that “many girls don’t really know what computer science is.” Perhaps educating young girls about how to code is one way to increase their entry into the profession, but that will not solve the other problem we are facing: women are leaving the profession even after they have been properly educated and hired, which The Harvard Business Review and other sources attribute to various forms of sexism.

The Harvard Business Review in 2008 wrote, “Between the ages 25 and 30, 41% of the young talent with credentials in those subject matters are female…[but] 52% of this talent drops out…the most important antigen is the machismo that continues to permeate these work environments…63% of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment.”

A friend of mine in the University’s Engineering School recently told me that a man she worked with this summer asked her who she had slept with in order for her to obtain her high-level internship position. Off-hand remarks such as this are not uncommon in STEM jobs, as evidenced by the many recent headlines describing the sexist and uncomfortable environment that exists.

One of the headlines I recall was the Wolfe scandal back in July. Whitney Wolfe, a co-founder of the dating app Tinder, filed a lawsuit against Tinder and its parent company, IAC, Inc. on the grounds of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, naming Chief Marketing Officer Justin Mateen as the abuser. Mateen and Wolfe had a relationship after he became her immediate supervisor. Wolfe says that Mateen became controlling and abusive and when she broke it off, he called her “disgusting,” a “desperate loser,” a “sl*t” and a “whore” in private and in front of others at the company.

Wolfe’s lawsuit notes that her experience represents “the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with technology startups,” a stereotype that is brought to life by the “brogrammer,” a frat-like evolution from a nerd mindset to one of machismo in STEM jobs.

Dan Shapiro, who sold his comparison-shopping startup Sparkbuy to Google in 2011, explained that the brogrammer concept only overshadows the more subtle problem: “The everyday sexism in the tech industry…[is] made of inappropriate comments [and] assumptions that put people in certain buckets.” It is not just what we see that is harming women in these fields.

Situations such as Wolfe’s are not uncommon, and circumstances such as the aforementioned are causing women to drop out of the technology field and others like it. It is disappointing to notice a trend of mistreatment of women in generally male-dominated professions. Women are choosing to seek out tech jobs less and less often, which can only be seen as a departure due to the uncomfortable atmosphere that women have been subjected to.

As fewer women continue to enter STEM jobs, the field becomes more and more male dominated, thus perpetuating a system that allows for the brogrammer frat-boy humor and other forms of sexism. If you are a female here at the University, or at any university for that matter, do not lose sight of your goal. If a STEM job is your passion, then do not let these headlines, or even experienced sexism, deter you from pursuing that. Rather, prove that women, just as men, have the potential to be successful in any field and that our gender should never define our ability. Though it is true that harassment exists in the tech field, it is reported by the media as being found in almost every field. Though we can’t immediately change the mindset of every man in the workforce, what we can do is combat denigrating treatment by following Wolfe’s and other women’s examples of exposing those who harass us. We can pave the way for future women interested in STEM and other jobs. Our future is bleak if women have no say or control in STEM fields, so all you women, especially first years who are considering STEM fields, don’t give up.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.berger@cavalierdaily.com.


Published August 31, 2014 in Opinion







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