Sep 22, 2014

Women in Tech: Tiny Anecdotal Case Study

It's pretty well-established that there is a deficiency of women in STEM fields, particularly in the technology industry. There are a lot of factors involved, certainly, but let's talk about grades and my particular experience.

I started an Object-Oriented Programming class this semester. The first day of class, I noted that about 11 of the 31 students in the room were female, which was not as bad as I'd expected, considering that nationally women make up only 14% of computer science graduates. But today, as I looked around the classroom, I realized I was one of only two women in the room. I pulled up the class roster and discovered only three women were still enrolled in the class, meaning eight women had dropped the class sometime during the first couple weeks of school before the add/drop deadline.

Plenty of men have dropped the class as well (the total number of students is 18 compared to the original 31), but it seems telling that 73% of the women in class dropped, while only 25% of the men did. It's a tiny sample size, and it's entirely possible that some students switched to the same class at a different time or there might just be something I'm not realizing about women specifically at Salt Lake Community College that doesn't apply to the national picture. However, it's still a large enough gap between the male and female drop rate that it makes me wonder why/if women are weeding themselves out of the tech field nationally for fear of bad grades.

My programming professor is a tough grader and (I feel unnecessarily) particular about exactly how your code looks and how it's submitted. Nearly everybody in the class (myself included) did not do very well on the first couple assignments. Most of us have figured out what the professor expects by now and have done better on subsequent assignments, but the first couple weeks were rough on a lot of us.

This Washington Post article, cites a study indicating that part of the reason women don't major in higher-paying, but harder fields in college is that they are more afraid of bad grades then men are. I remember hearing somewhere something like "Women get an A- in a math class and say 'Oh, I'm bad at math'; men get a B+ in a math class and say 'Oh, I'm good at math.'". That rings fairly true to me.

I currently have a B+ in my programming class and a B- in my math class and I am constantly beating myself up, tossing and turning at night stressing about getting those up to A's by the end of the semester. Struggling with some of my math or programming assignments, I have thought so many times "Why am I doing this? I'm never going to get this. I'm a failure of a human being." 

I'm just one woman, but I'm sure there are plenty more out there like me who dwell maybe a little too hard on what letter is on their report card. I personally never seriously considered dropping those classes because they're both prerequisites I have to get done and I'm already a million years old for a college student and don't have time to waste, but I can absolutely sympathize with anyone who has dropped.

Side note #1: Every single person of Asian descent also dropped out of the same programming class. I'm not sure how many we started with, but it seems like there were three or four at the beginning of the semester. Now there's no deficiency of Asians in tech, but as they are another group that traditionally focuses hard on grades, I can't help but wonder if for this particular class weeding out for fear of bad grades was a factor.

Side note #2: My math class only had two women out of forty-ish (I never made a real count, but it was around there) at the beginning of the semester and both of us are still there while ten-ish of the men have dropped. So for Calculus II, the drop rate is higher for men, but the gender disparity was so huge from the get-go on that one, that I'm guessing any women self-weeding-out happened at an earlier level of math class.

Side note #3: I'm obviously getting A's in my film class and in my writing class, but those subjects come very easy to me. I fart A+ level film analysis papers. We have to write a film analysis each week and after every single one I'm like "This is so fun and easy, why am I not just a film major? Oh yeah, because I don't want to be a waitress forever."

Side note #4: There are three women named Andrea in my writing class. The percentage of women with my name in my writing class is higher than the percentage of women total in either my math or programming classes.

Side note #5: Isn't it cool that I can even count the number of people in my classes? This is such a better learning environment for me than BYU ever was. In general, I'm much more invested in school than I ever was at BYU, but the smaller class sizes definitely helps. All of my professors know me by name. I don't think I ever had a BYU professor who knew me by name. I can only recall like two classes I ever took there with less than 40 students.

Side note #6: I'm obviously just adding anything that comes to mind as a side note now, because I'm putting off doing homework. Maybe women are all just too busy blogging about the lack of women in tech to go off and succeed in tech. No wonder I'm a failure!


Kris E. said...

Hang in there and wish you the best of luck.

Betty said...

Good luck in school, Andrea! Are you focusing on a STEM major now?

Andrea said...

Thanks! I'm doing Computer Science these days :)