More on ISIEA09 (and on Malaysia)

One thing I didn’t notice right away is that the number of female participants (including presenters) at the conference was very high.

In Canada and the U.S., it seems that women are not that interested in the hard sciences like maths, engineering, or computer science. And that’s not because they are kept out of those faculties; quite the contrary: there are numerous incentives and wooing programs; or that they can’t do it: they just don’t care, it seems. Women study more than men (in a 2:1 ratio in universities, at least in Québec) but they do not choose engineering, maths, or computer science; they prefer health and care studies, like medicine, social works, etc.

Here, in Malaysia, there seems to be a large number of women studying in engineering, computer science and maths; at least a great deal more than in Canada. I wonder if we could borrow their strategies to get women to be interested in engineering and sciences or if it is rather the result of a fundamental cultural difference between our two countries. I say I wonder if it’s not cultural because a large percentage of the women (but not all) wore a conspicuous hijab headscarf.

Readers, any ideas/impressions on this?

2 Responses to More on ISIEA09 (and on Malaysia)

  1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more: a greater number of women in computer science would be a very good thing. It’s no secret that men and women think differently, and I think that having another perspective on the challenges we face would greatly enhance computer science.

    Why women in Quebec and North America are not more interested in computer science, I can only hypothesize:

    * They don’t want to work 40 hours per week on a computer and would rather deal with people than with machines

    * The challenges of computer science do not interest them or are improperly explained to them leaving them to believe they are uninteresting

    * They have no positive role models in the community (seriously, who are the great women of computer science? I know a few in the field, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them “great” as I would Alan Kay, Simon Peyton-Jones or Edsger Dijkstra)

    * The computer science community feels like a “boys’ club” with a cowboy-esque attitude that can be off-turning to women (e.g. “I never forget to release my resources, garbage collection is useless!”)

    These are some of the reasons why I think explain the gender gap in computer science.

  2. Steven Pigeon says:

    I don’t know. It may be what affects their decision a priori. However:

    1) I don’t spend 40h working intensively at the computer. A good part of my work is to interact with people (other researchers, students, etc.) discussing ideas or directing projects. So there’s a good “human” component to it.

    2) They are taught computer science the same way as men are, and may be that’s a problem. But I don’t think computer science (or IT, because not quite the same) can be presented in such a way that it stimulates more the imagination in men than in women. Most of the problems IT addresses are just practical problems; theoretical computer science may seems a bit removed from reality but in the same way, it addresses real, sensible problems.

    3) What about role models? I care a great deal about the science, but not at all about who created/invented/thought it.

    4) That may used to be true, but I don’t think it’s true anymore. Of course, there might be one or two jerks on their way, but that’s life. Men have their jerks too.

    Of course, I’m not a Ph. D. in psychology, so my theory is worth what it’s worth. My theory is that, indeed, it is a gender issue. There are a number of conspicuous differences between the male and female minds, at least, on average. Males tend to be better at spatial tasks while females are better with verbal tasks such as story-telling, and the differences show up at a very early age. So if the choice of health and caring careers vs sciences and engineering may well be dictated (on the average individual) by this duality, how can we explain the case of Malaysia where there seems to be a very high number of female students in engineering and computer science?

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