'Nerdy' mold needs breaking to recruit women into computer science

Jun 24, 2013

The 'computer nerd' is a well-known stereotype in our modern society. While this stereotype is inaccurate, it still has a chilling effect on women pursuing a qualification in computer science, according to a new paper by Sapna Cheryan from the University of Washington in the US, and colleagues. However, when this image is downplayed in the print media, women express more interest in further education in computer science. The work is published online in Springer's journal, Sex Roles.

Despite years of effort, it has proven difficult to recruit women into many fields that are perceived to be masculine and male-dominated, including . The image of a lone computer scientist, concerned only with technology, is in stark contrast to a more people-oriented or traditionally feminine image. Understanding what prevents women from entering computer science is key to achieving gender parity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Cheryan and team sought to prove that the shortage of women in computer science and other scientific fields is not only due to a lack of interest in the subject matter on the part of women. In a first study, 293 college students from two US West Coast universities were asked to provide descriptions of computer . The authors wanted to discover what the stereotypical computer scientist looks like in students' minds.

Both women and men spontaneously offered an image of as technology-oriented, intensely focused on computers, intelligent and socially unskilled. These characteristics contrast with the female gender role, and are inconsistent with how many women see themselves.

The way a is represented in the media also influences how people think about that group and their relation to it. In a second study, the researchers manipulated the students' images of a computer scientist, using fabricated newspaper articles, to examine the influence of these media on women's interest in entering the field. A total of 54 students read articles about computer science majors that described these students as either fitting, or not fitting, the current stereotype. Students were then asked to rate their interest in computer science.

Exposure to a newspaper article claiming that computer science majors no longer fit current preconceived notions increased women's interest in majoring in computer science. These results were in comparison to those of exposure to a newspaper article claiming that computer science majors do indeed reflect the stereotype. Men, however, were unaffected by how computer science majors were represented.

The authors conclude, "Broadening the image of the people in the field using media representations may help to recruit more women into male-dominated fields such as computer science. Moreover, the media may be a powerful transmitter of stereotypes, and prevent many from entering these fields."

Explore further: Researchers urge early help for kindergarten students with low self-regulation

More information: Cheryan S et al (2013). The Stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women; Sex Roles; DOI 10.1007/s11199-013-0296-x

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gender gap in STEM majors linked to high school job plans

May 10, 2013

(Phys.org) —The fact that women are much less likely than men to choose science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors in college can be traced to gender differences in occupational plans in high school, reports ...

Challenging the public's view of gender and science

May 24, 2013

According to She Figures 2012, which analyses gender equality in research, in 2010 women accounted for only 10 % of university rectors in Europe and 15.5 % were heads of institutions of the higher education ...

Stereotypes lead to underperformance, says expert

Apr 17, 2013

(Phys.org) —African-Americans with the same grades, test scores and motivation as their white high school counterparts got lower grades in college compared with other groups. And women with the exact same level of preparation ...

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

User comments : 0