Constructing Gender Bias in Computer Science

Constructing Gender Bias in Computer Science

Tarja Tiainen (University of Tampere, Finland)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch022
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Gender bias in technical fields, as in computer science (CS), is a well-known phenomenon. It is shown in presenting computing history as a male victory, while female computing pioneers have been forgotten (Gürer, 1995; Vehviläinen, 1999). The statistics demonstrate gender bias in IT (information technology) workplaces nowadays: only about 20 to 30% of computer professionals are women, and they also have lower salaries than men working in IT (Ahuja, 2002; Pateli, Stack, Atkinson, & Ramsay, 1999). Furthermore, there are studies dealing with CS students (e.g., von Hellens, Nielsen, & Beekhuyzen, 2004). Few studies focus on CS academics. Camp (1997) is one of the rare ones: She describes the shrinking pipeline problem in the USA. Women hold 25% of master’s degrees in CS, but only 6% of full professors are women. (Camp, 1997) The CS field is not the only one where female professors are rare. Husu (2001) presents two reasons the general bias is causing: (1) like professionalism in general, academic professionalism is also connected to masculinity and (2) female post-graduate students and newly qualified doctors get less support from their senior colleagues than their male counterparts. Besides supporting to complete studies successfully, older colleagues can support post-graduate students in becoming members of the academic society, which is essential in making an academic career. This article concerns on the construction of the gender bias among CS academics. I will focus on what happens in everyday practice and how gender bias is reproduced over and over again. I see gender as a process which is constantly under negotiation. In this article, the negotiation process is studied by analysing one case, which is one university department in the technical field. This article focuses on the negotiation of gender within the department; it does not deal with what happens in society or in families (such as taking care of children), although they both affect women’s working situation in a department. The structure of this article is as follows. First, the theoretical background of the relationship between masculinity and technology is described, as it forms the basis for understanding the gender bias in the CS field. Second, the empirical case is described. Third, the suggested explanations for the gender bias are dealt with and connected to the theoretical understanding of gender and technology. Fourth, a forecast of future trends is given, and, finally, conclusions are drawn on the main points of the article.

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