Are we finally levelling the playing field?
On 8 March, NUS Computing Club started their new initiative: “Too Nerdy to Handle”, a series of episodes which showcases different facets of computing students. I watched their first episode: “Women in Tech”, which was a panel discussion among one male and three female students regarding gender in the computing, or in general, STEM field. With personal opinions on the questions raised, I wanted to share my point of view as well.
“What do you think is the gender ratio in school of computing?”
The general consensus would be there is a higher proportion of males to females. But I think that there is quite a difference among the computing majors (in NUS). My intuition tells me that the gender ratio is more balanced in Information Systems and Business Analytics major, with at least a 60–40 male to female ratio.
“Why do you think there is such a big gap in gender in computing (or STEM fields)?”
I found the responses shared by the students from the panel quite insightful! I do think that the origin of this gender gap could be due to traditional gender roles being put in place by society and culture. During the industrialisation age, women still mainly took care of households while men worked as the breadwinner. As computers grew more prominent in the workforce, men were the first to use it for work and naturally grew more familiar with it than women.
The effect of this phenomenon has been far reaching as it trickled down to modern day culture where STEM fields became predominantly male. Over the decades, stereotypes such as “STEM is for men”, while “women go for more creative fields”, were formed. Children are influenced by these stereotypes, fitting into boxes as they make their choices in education paths “according to their gender”. Ladies may not feel comfortable joining all-male workplaces for fear of lack of inclusion, voice, respect and recognition. The cycle then perpetuates to the next generation. I think that is why, despite being a modern society, we still face such a wide gender gap in STEM fields.
“Have you ever felt inferior due to the gender gap?”
In response to this question, the students in the panel discussed about whether being a girl or a guy affects how much help one receives for school work. The male student commented that when he changed his profile picture and telegram name to a female one, he got swifter responses when he asked for help in module channels. The female students continued by acknowledging that they do receive a lot of help in school, but also added a caveat that they cannot be certain that can be attributed to their gender. One lady further added that computing students are, in general, very helpful.
From my personal experiences, the extent of help I received was mainly dependent on how active I sought it. When I made the effort to reach out for help and ask targeted questions, I would (most of the time) receive sincere and useful help. Professors and tutors were happy to help and would try their best to answer my queries. But unsurprisingly, the quality of help rendered can differ from person to person. Nonetheless, I believe that so long as you have the right learning attitude, you would be able to find the help you need. As such, I do not think that gender plays a role here.
In any case, back to the question. No, the gender gap does not made me feel inferior. I am aware of the gender gap but I believe that one’s competency in the course is not hugely dependent on gender. To me, factors such as intelligence, learning attitude, and the drive to work hard, are more important in determining how well one would do. In fact, I have seen my female counterparts excelling in computing modules! However, I do want to express that I have felt intimidated by the gender gap before. Case in point would be one of my tutorial classes this semester. Upon finding out that I am one out of just two female students in that physical class, I felt worried that I would stand out in the wrong way and that I was going to lose out in a module mostly taken by males.
“With regards to ‘women in tech’ opportunities, do you feel that you received more help or do you think it takes away the chance to prove yourself as a woman?”
I think these “women in tech” opportunities, which refers to career talks, workshops or opportunities specifically open to women only, are a much needed “intervention”. Some may argue that if we were to strive for gender equality, that would translate into equal opportunities for all genders. The “women in tech” movement contradicts this principle because men are not included in those opportunities offered. I do agree. However, the truth is that our society has not reached the stage where both men and women are given equal opportunity in careers, be it getting a job, pay levels, or leadership roles etc. The end goal is beautiful, but the status quo is far from it. The (seemingly) equivalent “men in tech” movement is absolutely redundant because men are already privileged. Therefore, I think that the “women in tech” initiative is a stepping stone, a helping hand extended to aspiring women.
In current times, women still need to be given more opportunities to contribute to STEM workforce and let higher ups witness just how much value they can bring to their teams (or “prove themselves as a woman”). Only when the STEM workforce has become more balanced in terms of gender, especially among senior leadership positions, then can the “women in tech” movement take a back seat and subside in prominence.
All in all, the “women in tech” movement is a purposeful means to an end, to signal a transition for us to achieve gender equality in the STEM workforce.
Thank you for reading!