The field of computing has developed considerably over the years, and the huge popularity of short videos and taxi applications has demonstrated the success of the Internet field, which thus seems to be a high paying industry. In the UK, nevertheless, previous research has shown that undergraduate students in Computer Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are relatively unevenly split between men and women, with over 85% being male in the 2014-2015 academic year (Peacock & Irons, 2017, p. 27). Additionally, it is not only in education, as Peacock notes that only 11% of employees in the cyber security industry globally are female, compared to just 7% in Europe. This shows that women are underrepresented in STEM fields and they might face significant issues of gender inequality, which possibly range from the gender pay gap, lack of advancement and occupational gender segregation, among other issues. Fortunately, the academics have identified gender inequalities and tried to address them to narrow the gap. This paper will be divided into three parts, firstly describing how the field of computing has attempted to address gender inequalities. Secondly, it will evaluate these listed approaches and give the views. Finally, it will conclude the studies and give a perspective of addressing gender inequality for the future.
Gender inequality seems to have existed for a long time in the US. In 1964, the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, Title VII of which aimed to prohibit gender discrimination in employment, promotion, and other issues (Alegria & Branch, 2015, p. 323). Despite a policy that was legally in place sixty years ago, women are still underrepresented in education and employment in STEM fields and they are still not promoted and paid as much as men in matters of promotion and salary. As a result, in recent years, there have been a number of academics in computing who have attempted some research aimed at continuing to help women to bridge the gender inequality gap.
In a study, Denner (2011, pp. 55) used the Eccles' expectancy-value model to demonstrate that encouragement, values and expectations of success could increase the interest of junior high school girls in computing. The results showed that parental support indirectly influences children's interest in computing courses and careers through their values, while support from school teachers and peers can have a direct impact. In addition to this, when girls are aware of the value of computing and develop a technological curiosity, they become more interested in the field of computing. Combining the two findings, therefore, the researchers conclude that parents and schools giving girls frequent access to computers and learning to use them will give them more skills and confidence, thereby increasing their interest in the computing field.
The above view is strongly supported by the research of Peacock and Irons (2017, p. 32). They both point out that it is the lack of technical knowledge of computers in girls' parents at home and the lack of encouragement from families to their children that leads to girl's inability to build confidence. Additionally, it might have more to do with the lack of encouragement and career-building education from teachers and peers at school. These combine to explain the girls' reluctance to pursue studies and careers in computing.
Consequently, Crues et al. (2018, p. 2) in the field of computing suggest that parents and schools should encourage girls to be involved in computing MOOCs so that they have extra opportunities to learn and do experiments online. This suggestion is broadly feasible as female students in traditional computing classrooms may doubt their abilities due to lack of encouragement along with certain stereotypes and prejudices. In contrast, online MOOC classes are flexible, free and anonymous, so that traditional discriminatory biases may not be present. In this way, female students might dispel the prejudices through neutral MOOC classes and work together to encourage each other to learn, participate in postings and discussions in forums, gain more exposure to computing and build interest.
This suggestion could seem perfect; however, it might not meet all requirements. Self-directed study of computing courses using MOOC platforms greatly tests girls' independent learning skills and perseverance. In particular, compared to traditional classroom learning, MOOCs may lack the monitoring of students by teachers, and girls are driven by their interest and determination to continue learning. Therefore, encouragement from parents and schools might be not enough, only girls who have strong self-management skills and persistence will benefit from MOOC courses. However, these issues can be strategically addressed by informing students of the positive effects that regularly forum posting can have. In fact, the study by Crues (2018, p. 12) confirmed this: students' posting on the forum showed a positive correlation with persistence in the MOOC course, with the positive fact that women also posted on the forum at a higher rate than men.
While the research above has to some extent addressed the gender inequalities faced by women in the education stage, different solutions are still needed for women who are about to enter or have entered the workplace. Women working in computing continue to be underrepresented, even as they encounter gender inequality issues such as pay gaps, short time retention and challenges in the promotion. Researchers in the computing field therefore conducted a study on women in the workforce in order to address these problems. Cozza (2011, p. 331) comments that the mentoring and tele-mentoring programme has helped women's career development in the US and Europe, providing an equal platform for female mentors to give female protégées support, protection and sponsorship on their career paths.
In the broader sense, the project seems to be effective. Tele-mentoring and e-mentoring have allowed female mentors to reduce the cost of face-to-face mentoring in a way that is more flexible and they can easily communicate via email or website chat rooms to achieve results. Furthermore, in the male-dominated field of computing, the presence of female mentors may serve as a good role model for protégées, establishing an example for young women and making mentoring more meaningful (Ochwa-Echel, 2011). However, it would appear that the project is still insufficient. Firstly, the experiment with tele-mentoring is effective in the USA and Europe, but when compared to countries like China or India, where there are many mentees and few mentors, the results will probably change, as mentors are likely to be understaffed and under-committed. Secondly, although the study is qualitative and the results are indeed positive, there is no concrete numerical measure of the extent to how much gender inequality is addressed by tele-mentoring. Thirdly, the helpfulness of female mentors determines the development of mentees. Once the relationship between the protégée and mentor breaks down, all the work will be lost. In general, it is positive that the programme does narrow the gender inequality gap for specific roles, however, the programme is geographically differentiated, lacks quantitative research, has an uncertainty factor as well as old experimental data. There is, therefore, a need to explore more approaches to address gender inequality targeting women in the workforce.
In another research study, cases from the computer industries and communities were studied and discussed how they could contribute in addressing gender inequality. For example: Microsoft has established GirlsDay, which aims to share female role models, and has also set up a resource group for female employees, which provides industry resources. Likewise, Google has set up Google's Women Techmakers programme, which provides events and leadership programmes for female employees to increase the presence of women in their company (González-González et al. 2018).
The measures of these big tech companies are successful examples of how the computer industry can address gender inequality and how effectively they take care of their female employees. Female employees could be involved in female-specific technology activities in the company, thus receiving more learning resources, networking resources, and financial support, leading them to feel that they are valued in the company and are not inferior to male employees. In consequence, female employees could be happy to stay with the company and have the confidence and potential to compete with men for higher positions. This might be a good solution to the problems of low female retention, short retention times and the difficulty of promoting women. There are however, minor limitations to this programme. It is clear from the research that companies that focus on women's development tend to be large companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM, which have enough staff, time and funding to support women. In contrast, some of the smaller companies are probably unable to take care of women due to funding and other issues. However, this problem may be solved by social crowdfunding or government funding, as well as by encouraging female employees of small companies to participate in specific events in larger companies. Therefore, the solution given in this study to address inequality is largely feasible.
In conclusion, research in computing on addressing gender inequalities has broadly divided the target women into those in education and those in employment. The former focuses more on developing female students' interest in STEM fields to motivate them in choosing to enter the computing industry, while the latter focuses on one-on-one mentoring or technical, resource and emotional care for female employees to motivate them to stay with the company and work for advancement. This process requires the combined efforts of families, school teachers and peers, society, the computing industry and, most importantly, women themselves. Addressing gender inequality is complex, and from the research it appears that despite has been addressed for a long time, the goal is still not accomplished and we still need a long time to close the inequality gap.
List of References
Alegria, S. N., & Branch, E. H. (2015). Causes and Consequences of Inequality in the STEM: Diversity and its Discontents. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 7(3), 321-342.
Cozza, M. (2011). Bridging gender gaps, networking in computer science. Gender, Technology and Development, 15(2), 319-337.
Crues, R. W., Henricks, G. M., Perry, M., Bhat, S., Anderson, C. J., Shaik, N., & Angrave, L. (2018). How do gender, learning goals, and forum participation predict persistence in a computer science MOOC?. ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE), 18(4), 1-14.
Denner, J. (2011). What predicts middle school girls’ interest in computing?. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 3(1), 53-69.
González-González, C. S., García-Holgado, A., de los Angeles Martínez-Estévez, M., Gil, M., Martín-Fernandez, A., Marcos, A., … and Gershon, T. S. (2018). Gender and engineering: Developing actions to encourage women in tech. In: 2018 IEEE global engineering education conference (EDUCON). pp. 2082-2087. Available from: doi: 10.1109/EDUCON.2018.8363496.
Ochwa-Echel, J. R. (2011). Exploring the gender gap in computer science education in Uganda. International Journal of Gender, Science, and Technology, 3(2), 273-292.
Peacock, D., & Irons, A. (2017). Gender inequality in cybersecurity: Exploring the gender gap in opportunities and progression. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 9(1), 25-44.