The Bureau of Labor says that by 2026 we will be short 1.2 million engineers. Right now, the majority of developers are men. So presumably it’s a crisis that women are not in STEM.
Microsoft is thinking that filling the funnel with girls is the way forward. Microsoft decides the Wonder Woman movie has a female protagonist, so girls will identify with her. And Microsoft announces it will solve this engineering shortfall with Wonder Woman. Coding lessons for girls! Turn your tech skills into superpowers!
But the majority of people who saw the Wonder Woman movie were male. And, the majority of those viewers were ages 25-44. So Microsoft targeted girls who want to code with a character from a movie only 2% of girls saw.
Which is because it’s likely based on a porn fantasy. But whatever, as a gimmick for coding, Wonder Woman was a huge failure. Luckily we don’t need Microsoft to encourage girls to write code because girls do as well as boys in grade-school coding classes. And girls do as well as boys in computer science courses in college, but girls don’t stay in the major. They don’t like it.
A study from Accenture shows why: girls aren’t interested in the abstraction. “The content of coding projects is typically less engaging for girls, who often prefer health and real-world problem-solving challenges.”
This study is consistent with a study that asked Harvard Business School students what motivated them, and what was the best part of their work experience. Male students were more likely to say they were motivated by competition and female students were more likely to say they were motivated by collaboration.
Stuart Reges teaches computer science at University of Washington and he shows that women and men coded at the same rate until the 80s, when women began to have other professional opportunities. Now, Reges says that after decades of all sorts of initiatives, women are no more than 20% of tech workers in any country, even in societies with otherwise remarkable gender equity.
Finally, research also shows that the less power a woman has in society, the more likely she is to choose STEM. So instead of assuming girls are oppressed and therefore do not code, why not assume girls use their power to choose not to code?
Jacquelynne Eccles found that women primarily choose non-STEM careers because they have strengths that men often lack. Eccles found that if someone has high math skills and only moderate verbal skills, the person will choose a career in STEM. However if they have high math skills and high verbal skills, the person will choose a non-STEM career. Female math students were of course more likely to be in the group with high verbal skills. Eccles concludes that women who are good at math shift away from STEM because they have so many more career opportunities than men who are good at math.
Encouraging women to go into STEM is a waste of money. Any woman who wants to can study STEM. No one is stopping women. Women are choosing not to. So stop trying to get more women to go into STEM and just leave the women alone.
What we do need from the world is marketing that gives girls credit for making good choices. The real superheroes are the ones actually listening to girls, instead of telling girls that their goals aren’t the right ones.