Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gender disparity in tech: Free classes bucking the trend?

I recently facilitated a class on Object Oriented Programming with Java. I helped coordinate with the teacher and students to get everyone together at the right time and place for the class, and pass messages to/from the teacher. The class was free and community-organized so there was no traditional academic structure. Anyone who wanted could come.

Half way through the class I noticed something interesting.

At least 75% of the class was made up by women. When asked, most of the students (both male and female) had practically zero programming experience and mostly worked in web development or graphic design.

I was trying to figure out why such a class would bring so many women when all I usually hear is how women are under-represented in tech fields. Then I remembered how most of the classes put together by this organization have a significant female attendance, on average. Almost all of the advertising for these classes is word of mouth, and since many of the organizers are female it makes sense that their social networks would comprise at least partially of women or women-centric user groups.

Now i'm thinking more about the dynamic that males have with each other and how that relates to them getting into the tech field. Would they be less likely to jump into classes if they knew they'd be the only woman in the class? Some might say no, but i've been in classes with all women and it can be a little intimidating for me, a guy. If the entire tech field was dominated by women, would there be a stigma against men getting into tech, because it might mean men are being "girly"?

Of course this was just one class so it's impossible to take anything solid away from something like how many people attended. But my guess is if there were women teaching classes to women, there might be a bigger turn out than is expected in more typical academic settings.