Nerdy image puts women off IT, says Massey Uni study

There has been a mixed reaction to a Massey University study of 20 professional women which found that the "male" culture and perception of a "nerdy" environment puts women off careers in IT.

There has been a mixed reaction to a Massey University study of 20 professional women which found that the “male” culture and perception of a “nerdy” environment puts women off careers in IT.

The study, conducted by Wellington-based computer studies lecturers Keri Logan and Barbara Crump, says women are not taking up computer studies at sufficient levels.

Key reasons from the study for the lack of women in IT included:

  • The image that computers are for “nerdy” males and that they set the tone in the learning environment, geared towards males.

  • That boys have greater access to computers at home.

  • That students are often expected to do assignments that involve working past midnight and many females didn’t feel safe walking from computer labs late at night.

  • A lack of female lecturers and the fact that male lecturers teach more for males.
Reactions to the study from successful female IT professionals ranged from endorsement to scepticism.

New Zealand Computer Society president Gillian Reid, who is QED general manager, development, and Saturn CIO Jenny Mortimer agreed that the geek factor exists.

Says Reid: “IT does seem to attract introverted males who … [are] stimulated by intellectual challenges rather than social challenges. It’s the nature of the industry - it’s an intellectual, problem-solving environment.”

She says although it’s a generalisation, females tend to be more social, good at verbalising and multi-tasking. She says many of the teaching processes in IT reinforce individual performance and are focused on the male way of learning.

Mortimer believes the “geek” factor exists in some of the more technical computing education courses.

“But the reality is that the information industry requires a really broad range of different talents, including business analysis, systems analysis, training, communication, documentation and project management - all of which are actually done better by women than men.”

Mortimer agrees with a conclusion from the study that it would be a good for people from the business sector to meet with female students so they can appreciate the wide range of skills needed for IT.

But Geac general manager Viv Gurrey - who has been in IT for 20 years - disagrees there is a geek factor. She believes being aggressive helps people succeed in IT. She considers herself to be aggressive and is “proud” to admit it. She believes people succeed or fail based on their own abilities - not whether they’re male or female.

However, Mortimer believes men and women are good at different things.

“Men or boys are often better at something which has a logical, one after the other sequential type focus while girls are often good at multi-tasking or putting thing’s together and presenting them well. Information systems is very much the latter as well as the former - and increasingly the latter.”

Report co-author Logan says the different approaches were highlighted by the interviewees who were employing women programmers because they were much more careful, looked at the client’s requirements more carefully or they developed the project to meet the client’s needs.

Gurrey disagrees with the finding about boys and computers in the home.

“What are they suggesting - that girls are still off playing with dolls or something?”

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