Why Gender Imbalance Isn’t Innate

You're probably not surprised to hear that at UMaine Orono, though women make up a large majority of biology majors and approach half of chemistry majors, they make up only around 8% of computer and electrical engineering majors

But you may find it surprising that women's low representation in coding and electronics wasn't always the case.  Women conceived the first algorithm for a mechanical computer, programmed the first vacuum-tube computer via hardwiring, invented the first modern computer language, and even wrote the flight control code that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon.  Women entered the field in increasing numbers until 1984, when women in computing majors approached 40%.  

What also may surprise you is that women's low representation in coding and electronics is not consistent across all countries.  For example, in Columbia, 70% of computing degrees are earned by women

So women's opting out of technology is not a product of anything innate in women, but rather a product of our particular current culture.  The trend turned in 1984 with the disruption caused by the introduction of the personal computer and the emergence of gaming and geek culture.   Changing it will require more disruption, and it will be hard.  The next question is, why is the disruption worth the effort?

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We found that if you give them access to the same (robotics) activities, girls and boys have the same response — equal interest and confidence. Dr. Allison Master, University of Washington
By thinking creatively about… engineering education, Dartmouth has achieved a milestone (more than half of engineering graduates being women) Norman Fortenberry, American Society of Engineering Education
Girls… got very excited when they made the robot move… After this experience, their confidence zoomed up. It was really quite remarkable! (Afterward,) there was no significant difference in the girls’ confidence in what they would do in robots and the boys’ (confidence.) Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, Co-Director UW I-LABS to WGRZ