Lack of females in coding class reflects STEM industry


Jessica Rodrigues

Junior Eliza Wilson (left) and Lea Huerta (middle left) watch junior David Pham (middle right)’s screen while teacher Jamiel Khan (right) helps another student. Wilson and Huerta are the only females in the coding class.

Ashley Hoang, Staff Writer

“Why is a girl playing videogames?”
“Does she even know anything about computers?”
“Computer programming is mostly for guys anyways.”

In the single computer programming course available at Bear Creek, only two of the approximate 30 students are girls. Many are quick to assume that girls are simply not interested in computer programming, however larger cultural and social biases may play a role in the low number of females in the class.
Girls should have a reason to be interested in this career-based course because of the vast benefits: females that are employed in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields make about 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs according to economic reports.

The computer programming course, also known as coding class, teaches the fundamentals and basics of computer programming: flash designs, interactive computer programs and advanced programs that processes information. After students master the basics, they can tap their knowledge to applications like video programming.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Program 2010 study of women working in science and engineering occupations, fewer than 18.2 percent of females work in the field of computer programming.

Gender-based stereotypes may be one of the factors that influence why in so few girls are enrolled in the coding class.

“[Computer programming] is not really a class that appeals to female students,” junior Maxim Chiao said. “A majority of the class are boys — the video gaming-loving types — and in general females aren’t really those kind of people. I guess it’ll be considered a stereotype then, since females are more into clothes and that kind of stuff in general.”

Is this narrow-minded stereotype of what boys and girls are interested in the only reason for the low enrollment of females in this class?

The girls in the coding class say that many girls may just not have known about the class.

“I have had another engineering course in the past,” junior Lea Huerta, one of the two girls enrolled in the class, said. “It was really well-known around my school, and a lot of girls were in it.”

“I’m sure more girls would’ve joined if this class was somehow more advertised,” junior Elisa Wilson said.

Others were precluded from taking the class due to schedule restraints.

“I really wanted to take this class since it revolves around my goal career as a game designer,” junior Jasmine Irada said. “But I didn’t really have room in my schedule to take it. I also think having a majority of the class as boys isn’t really a problem. My ROP class is made entirely of boys and I’m the only girl, but it doesn’t really bother me.”

Part of the gender gap in the STEM fields could be a reflection of children’s exposure in early childhood to gender based toys. Boys usually play with toys that emphasize creativity, construction and building — all of which subtly influence their interests later in life, most likely something in the STEM fields. In contrast, girls usually play with Barbie dolls; her domestic lifestyle and emphasis on beauty may prevent girls from being exposed to science and engineering fields.

In a 2011 study by the National Science Foundation, females make up 13 percent of engineers and 26 percent of computer and mathematical science workers. Among the science and engineering graduates, more men were employed in a STEM occupations — 31 percent versus just 14 percent of women.

Emily Schwarz, a 2010 computer science graduate student from the University of Ohio and Vice President of The Women in Computer Science Program, says the one major factor that discourages females in STEM fields is their lack of confidence.

“A guy in computer science can get a C on a test and not think about it again, while a woman gets a B and she may start questioning her intelligence in the field,” Schwarz said in an online article. “There’s a lot of insecurities that go along with being one of the only women there.”

Girls are not only avoiding the enrollment in computer programming courses because of gender stereotypes and the abundance of boys in the class, but because of their lack of confidence to work in a male-dominated field. By replacing discouragement with encouragement, the coding class will likely see an increase of female students not only in the course but in STEM jobs in the future.