Debugging the Gender Gap

Women have always been an equal part of the past—just not an equal part of history.”   – Gloria Steinem

I recently had the opportunity to attend a viewing of the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. According to their website, the documentary serves to expose “the dearth of American female and minority software engineers and explores the reasons for this gender gap.”

Female Programmers in History

When conjuring up an image of a computer programmer, many would defer to a male stereotype. However, it is perhaps (and of course it shouldn’t be) surprising to learn that the earliest computer programmers were female and that the programming field was once stereoptyped as female.

As late as the 1960’s, computer programming was still perceived to be a natural career choice for young women. This is a fact demonstrated by an article published in Cocosmopolitan-april-1967-1-largesmopolitan Magazine, in which readers were encouraged to consider programming careers. Indeed the article, “The Computer Girls” informed it’s readership that the field of programming offered greater opportunities for women than alternative careers. As James Adams, the director of education at the Association for Computing Machinery elucidates within the article: “I don’t know of any other field, outside of teaching, where there’s as much opportunity for a woman.”

The article  also features another interesting and pertinent quote from Dr. Grace Hopper, in which she likens programming to planning what’s for dinner: “You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”



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