re: Where do you see the future headed in terms of challenges and opportunities for women who code? VIEW POST


Perhaps I'm biased because of my background in the "hard sciences", but if you look at fields like Physics, Chemistry, and Biology I think you can get a good sense for how things will progress.

Forty or Fifty years ago, it was fairly uncommon for women to be involved in science, and even when they were they were frequently maligned or mistreated (read some of the history around Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin, for example). Eventually, after a long time, the ranks of women studying in these fields at an undergraduate level rose, to the point where I believe they now outnumber men in the three specific fields I mentioned (possibly not in Physics, but I don't have any actual numbers handy).

However, even after parity was (mostly) achieved at the undergraduate level, there was still a gender gap in graduate school. Sometime around the late 90s that started to melt away, but there remained a significant gap for faculty positions. Eventually, more women were granted faculty positions, but there was still a gap in tenured positions and department chairs. Even today, while gender parity has been achieved throughout most of academia, the number of male University presidents far exceeds the number of female presidents.

Now, you could chalk some of this up to the need for gender parity to work its way up the career ladder, and there is some truth to this, but I recall a few studies that showed this is not sufficient to explain the persistence of a gender gap at higher levels. In particular, IIRC, the gap in tenured positions has lasted far longer than one would expect. Most likely this is because, while Universities have figured out how to attract and retain female students and address the issues that forced them out before, they are still really bad at making accommodations for being a parent (which typically overlaps with the time in an academic's life when they'd be pursuing tenure).

So, if we take a cue from the sciences, I think the two key lessons are:

  • Focus on the start of the pipeline. It is a lot easier to introduce newcomers to an equitable culture than it is to change the minds of those already entrenched in a biased environment.

  • Pay attention to "bottlenecks" in the pipeline. We won't reach parity at all levels at the start, and with a lack of familiar roll models in higher positions, the pipeline will "leak", but if some step along the usual career path remains unbalanced too long it could be a sign of an as-yet-unaddressed issue.

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