I just read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine (16 March 2014) called "A Tale of Two Valleys", by CS grad student Yiren Lu. Here's a link to the on-line version, called Silicon Valley's Youth Problem. The author mentions lots of start-ups in Silicon Valley and San Francisco (which seems to have replaced Silicon Valley as the "cool" place to work), and there seem to be lots of female engineers and programmers working alongside the males. Maybe this is just my impression of the (female) author's impression rather than a formal study, but I found this interesting.
The article is primarily about how young people are drawn to exciting new start-ups, while older engineers find that those "exciting new start-ups" are doing rather meaningless things. So you have many old companies that cannot attract new talent because their products seem boring to young people, and start-ups that can't attract "grown-ups" who can make products work robustly. The article also mentions that in many of these new start-ups, a lot of people know each other from the elite schools they got their degrees from, so there appears to be a certain amount of hiring people you already know rather than finding people who actually meet the company's needs.
Susan, you should read the article. In my experience, I disagree with the outcome of the study. When I was in school, (okay, it was the stone age), there was only one woman in the EE dept. By the time I was a senior, there were a few women freshmen. It was a male dominated degree program. Years later, when I was the hiring manager, there were many women applicants. I don't know if the mix in school changed or if HR made it seem that way. I hired about as many women as men. I guess a big difference could be the culture of the company. I am surprised that the study found that women hiring managers had the same bias towards men. That definately goes against my experience.
Thanks Daleste. You alone have probably done a lot for women in STEM, by hiring women. Thank you for that. So, do you feel that if the woman has the skill/know how in electronics, she'll get the job or is just as likely to get the job? The playing field is equal? If anything, women may be considered cheaper than certain male counterparts. Women usually make less, don't they?
Susan, in my experience, women and men were on an equal footing during the interview process. In the two large companies I worked for, pay was equal for men and women starting out. There was also a push to promote women faster than average, so they actually had an advantage. In the long run, men tended to put in more hours on the average and would tend to do better over a career.
Thank you for answering my question. Interesting. So, you noticed more of a difference after the hiring process. in your opinion, does the "glass ceiling" exist for women in STEM careers? And if so, what characterizes it and what causes it...are you saying it might be lack of ambition or because women may need more time off or have more familial duties (often called a "second shift") than some of their male counterparts? I have heard from women who worked in corporate environments in the 1970s and onward, that some men treated them differently and used subtle tactics to intimidate or not include the woman, for example, keeping the woman out of the loop even though she may be in a position of authority. (My experience is there can be both "old boy" and "old girl" networks so it works both ways.) Of course, it's better to focus on the work than politics, and engineering profession seems more focused on making a product. Your insights may be most helpful here.
I'm not conviced that a glass ceiling exists for women. All the points you make are true, but in the end, corporations do try to put the right person in the job. If one person works harder and produces good results, that person is more likely to advance. The situation I was in had a higher percentage of men, so that contributed to the number of men that would advance versus women. I also saw that many women at some point no longer wanted to advance. The number of hours that would have to be dedicated to the next level were more than she wanted to put in. Of course, many men also felt this way and would stop advancing. And then there was the peter principle, that people would rise to their level of incompetence.
Is there anything that can be done, as a female STEM job candidate to actively counteract this bias? Is it a case of the benefit of doubt not being extended in the same way to female candidates, or is it a case of communication styles differing?
The study seemed to invent some bogus hiring scheme, where applicants are made to add numbers, or other such foolishness. That's not how hiring works in the real world. Why not instead go to hiring managers, ask to see their list of applicants, and see what made them decide one way or another?
Set up some bogus test method, and you'll get the results you were after. Every time.
In my experience, female candidates, if anything, are given priority. It's just that there aren't many of them. But HR departments love to brag about "diversity," so what tends to happen is that any woman applicant who is at all qualified does get hired.
It's strange that it's taking so long to get beyond the 1973-era ERA rhetoric. Why not write a piece that explains why veterinary schools are now favoring female students 8 times out of 10, for example. Even medical schools are predominantly women these days. Why aren't the male applicants being accepted? Gender bias? I doubt it.
By the way, type "gender bias in stem hiring" in your search engine, and the press seems all atwitter about this new "proof." Really, they should go to universities and ask why more women than men are being accepted these days, and gauge the responses.
The ploy in this study is a standard in social psychology research. The task that the candidates are supposed to be differentiated on is intentionally meaningless and their backgrounds are disguised to be similar, leaving only appearance/gender as the statistically significant difference among the candidates. If hiring managers were not biased by gender, then men and women should be chosen evenly. However, men were twice as likely to be chosen as women, indicating that there is a significant gender bias in hiring. Without more access to the description of the actual study, I can't personally judge if there may have been other biases at work, but the design of the study in general is valid.
Thanks, Bert for that article link. That New York Times article, mentioned in the beginning of your article is really interesting. If you read to the bottom of the article, the author interviews some women who do have PhDs in science and who are successful in their fields; she asks them how they made it so far. The women said:
"Oh, that's easy," one of them said. "We're the women who don't give a crap."
Don't give a crap about — ?
"What people expect us to do."
"Or not do."
"Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you're not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that's your problem."
"Face it," one of the women said, "grad school is a hazing for anyone, male or female. But if there are enough women in your class, you can help each other get through."
I like that attitude and think that may be the key. Don't wait for society to change if you want to do science. Step up and do it.
Exactly, Susan. And as a matter of fact, "society" is us. People make the changes, not some amorphous faceless concept that we can conveniently blame.
I especially liked that quote about "not giving a crap," because of course, that applies to ANYONE in STEM fields. You don't succeed by spending your time in school trying to be the most popular jock in the class, right?
I really liked the movie October Sky. It shows kids who had the courage of their convictions.
Thanks for the movie recommendation, Bert. It looks like a good one. I'll have to check it out. (Good actors in it, too). Yes, society is "us." I think government is us, too, at least that's the concept in a democracy.
There may be hiring managers who favor male over female. There could be the % of female candidates is far less than the % of male candidates.
In the past, female was perceived less mathematically and scientifically competence that include how some women see themselves. It's unfortunate. They ended up lossing interest in mathematics and science that put them into a not so good position. However, there seems to be changes in the past few years. More young women are going into computer science. As electronic products and cloud services move towards better user experience. Women seem to play a better role. Their understanding of programming languages has put them into the same level playing field as the counterpart. I believe we will see a further shift in the near future.
The more women do a better today; the more women will benefit tomorrow. Stay competence! This applies to all young engineers.
Indeed, it is unfortunate. This is exactly my point that even some women believe their mathematical skill wasn't as good when they were in high school. It's a myth to me.
When I was in school back in HK. I didn't think of it and, didn't notice there was any difference in analytical and mathematical skills between boy and girl. . In US, I learned from my friends that some of their friends started believing the myth as soon as they were in high school.
Conicidentially, I heard similar topic from KQED. I believe the world is changing.
I think there's a common factor here. Basically, what a lot of companies are looking for are employees that have no outside interests whatsoever so they can spend every minute of their lives doing work for the company. There's a Dilbert cartoon about this, from January 1998:
Wally asks new employee Rex how his personal life is going. Rex answers "I don't have one... that would be like stealing from the company."
Geeky young men are widely regarded as having no personal life whatsoever, so that makes them much more attractive as tech employees. You just chain them to their desks (or share of a common table), feed them high-energy food, and watch them churn out code.
The big problem with middle-aged employees is not that they cost more, because they produce higher-quality results since they've learned the most common things that can go wrong and how to avoid them. Somebody else paid for their mistakes. No, IMO the problem with middle-aged employees is that they have problems with aging parents and difficult teenagers, and these distract them from the job. It's much easier to hire young people who don't have these responsibilities so they can concentrate on the job.
Cartoonist Roz Chast has a poignant graphical essay about her own aging parents in a recent New Yorker magazine. The essay is called "Can't we talk about something more pleasant?" Along with the expense, time, and anxiety of caring for aging parents, Roz Chast brings up an interesting point. One of the things she has to deal with is two lifetimes' worth of stuff that her parents have accumulated. She says it gives you an entirely different view of stuff, where instead of seeing the latest great thing and thinking "Cool! I want one of those!" you instead think "someone is going to have to deal with this stuff some day". It makes you a lousy consumer (see her recent cartoon "Not the target demographic").
People in their twenties and thirties can just go out and buy these things without considering the long run. I would also think that it would be hard to be enthusiastic about designing these meaningless gewgaws, and you do want to have tech staff who are excited about designing "the next great thing" instead of middle-aged engineers who think "I like my job, I like my cow-orkers, but I would never buy this product".
Interesting observations, but I think that a prosepective sweat-shop employer could find "problems" with potential employees of any age group or either gender. "Geeky young men," as you call them, might be perceived as having no personal life and able to just work/sleep/work. The same could be said for geeky young women. But neither has much experience, and in just a few short years, they are no longer those same geeky young men and women -- they start thinking about starting a family and doing more with their lives than just work.
For those of the family-raising age, roughly the 30s & 40s, there are the "distractions" of raising children, that tend to inhibit the willingness of employees to do nothing but work/sleep/work.
Then by the time the kids are grown & out of the house, the employee may experience age bias. He or she is very experienced, and ironically now at a point in life where focusing more intensely on work & career is a more feasible possibility, but they may be perceived as too old or too expensive.
It is a cynical view to say that "what a lot of companies are looking for are employees that have no outside interests whatsoever so they can spend every minute of their lives working for the company." I am sure some companies fit that description, as I am also sure many do not.
Which ones do you think attract the best employees?
Yes, actually, i've heard people say that the autistic person really has the advantage in tech. Someone who will live at work and not have a social life....that kind of thing. Lack of social skills of course only goes so far. (Getting into management often requires a smooze-factor. You have to be presentable and marketable and sell yourself to get into management in some companies...and / or -- depending on what leadership values -- you have to be able produce a successful product. That's a whole other conversation...).
Survey is one part of story. And observing things happening in real life is another part. Survey may indicate bias. However, in real life, I have not seen it to be true. In contrast, I would say, they get special treatment from most colleagues.
I suppose if I had just crawled out of a cave and read these study results, I might "be concerned." But I didn't, and am not. Consider this (quoting from Ernesto Reuben):
Studies that seek to answer why there are more men than women in STEM fields typically focus on women's interests and choices. This may be important, but our experiments show that another culprit of this phenomenon is that hiring managers possess an extraordinary level of gender bias ...
What about reading this the other way around? Instead of "focus on women's interest and choices may be important, but ... ," how about women's choices and interests (which, after all, manifest a lot of years prior to any hiring manager involvement) being the primary factor here?
Another point. Concerning this quote:
Despite more than a decade of pressure from government and civil rights groups to balance the ratio, women held only 23% of US jobs focused primarily on skills in science, technology, engineering, and math in 2008,
Why isn't that proof that some things can't be forced?
I'd again urge people to read this, before putting cart before horse:
Another point. If gender bias in hiring were a big factor, then you'd expect women engineers to be head and shoulders better than their male counterparts. But I haven't noticed any such thing. Has anyone else?
If anything, this being 2014 and not 1973, I'd be a lot more concerned that fewer boys than girls are going to college, and in general excelling in academics at all.
It would be most interesting to hear from women engineers on this matter, I think. Just what their own hiring experiences were, first hand.
One of the reasons why hiring managers prefer Men over Women could be that the hiring managers have a feeling that very few of the women employees have a long term career goal and may not stay long with the company , that hires them.
This is actually not true as now most of the women employees have long term career aspirations and would like to keep their career in tact even after the marriage and kids if they supportive husbands .
Why do hiring managers persist in the illusion that they are offering a "long-term career". Even if the firm is still in existence in 5 years' time, what is the likelihood that they won't have downsized, outsourced, or otherwise shed the marks they are trying to lure into their employment?
If I was in a position to hire, I would look for "non-traditional" candidates. If they've chosen to buck a stereotype, they're probably enthusiatic and better than average. There's also likely to be much less competition (from the blinkered bigots) to hire and keep them.
Indeed, if there are two equal candidates, discrimination is illegal. We'll have to disagree on whether the candidates were equal on the evidence provided. People at the same level should be treated equally. This means we should get rid of affirmative action based on irrelevant factors and judge people on relevant merit alone. The gender of a manager should make no difference if the manager is doing good management. Lisa, manager from VitaLoans
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