In this blog post, a New York venture capitalist expresses his concern about an urgent national problem: the underrepresentation of women in software engineering.
Why this would, by itself, be an urgent national problem is hard to imagine. From an end-user’s perspective, what matters is that software does what it’s supposed to, reliably and without risk. (The genital anatomy of the programmer, as far as I am aware, is ignored by most compilers.)
No, this is seen as a social problem, of considerable urgency. Why would that be? I can think of two possible reasons.
The first is the belief that the relatively low numbers of female programmers must be due to pernicious social oppression and obstruction. This is a serious charge! In order to convict, however, one should establish its truth beyond a reasonable doubt. To do that, one must rule out other possible causes.
First among the possibilities to eliminate, of course, is that the innate cognitive and dispositional qualities that confer programming talent, and that attract people to this peculiar and highly abstract profession,might be distributed differently among males and females, as a result of our evolutionary history. There will always, nevertheless, be women who love solving the sort of problems that programmers solve, and who don’t mind spending long hours at the computer every day solving them. I’m a professional software engineer myself, and I have known some gifted female coders. But might it not be the case that software engineering is simply the sort of thing to which more males are attracted, and for which more males have the talent to succeed? One thing I know about programming: if you don’t love it, you’ll soon come to hate it. The hours are long and sedentary, the work can be terribly frustrating, and the workplace pressure can be almost unbearable. Maybe males are just, on average, more likely to be the ones who love it enough to want to do it for a living. Maybe they are also just somewhat more likely to have the kind of cognitive architecture it takes to do it well.
Do we have any compelling reason to eliminate this hypothesis? No. What we have instead is, rather, a growing body of evidence that coherently and consistently supports it, as well as the simple common sense of the ages, and the plain, overwhelming fact that all human societies, always and everywhere, have divided themselves into sexually differentiated roles.
Does this mean that some sort of social obstruction doesn’t exist, or has never existed, regarding women programmers? Of course not. But the numbers are stubborn, even as society ties itself into knots trying to equalize them. The author of the post in question, for example, speaks about a training program that admits qualified applicants purely by lottery. It’s still mostly males, nevertheless:
At The Academy For Software Engineering (AFSE), we use a “limited unscreened” model to accept students. It’s limited because you have to attend an open house and make AFSE your first choice, but once you do those two things, its a lottery system to get in. So effectively the distributiion of students admitted is going to be very similar to the distribution of students who apply and make the school their first choice. In our first year, we admitted 24% young women. In our second year, the percentage was less, I believe below 20%.
So things are getting worse, not better. (As I said, we are looking at a national emergency here.)
If you insist on ruling out the possibility of natural male/female asymmetries, however, then the only explanation that remains is the one that consumes “progressive” sorts as an unquenchable flame: systematic cultural oppression, the eradication of which, down to the last “microagression”, is the primary duty of a just society. (We note that to do so requires assuming power, and exerting control. This has an obvious, and timeless, appeal.)
The other possibility is that such differences are, in fact, innate, but that they must be eliminated (admittedly, a minority view; the blank-slate/cultural-oppression tine of this fork is far more popular). Fortunately, human nature itself being but clay in the hands of the wise and the just, this can be fixed, too, if the right sort of pressure is applied.
By a happy convergence, both problems are amenable to the same remedies. Regarding the declining numbers quoted above, we read:
This is very upsetting to me and we are working on a number of things to change this.
It will require working hard on the parents of the young women and the middle school guidance counselors.
All I can say is that were I such a parent, to learn that I was about to be “worked hard on” by some busybody on a mission to adjust my daughter’s ambitions to fit his Procrustean template would have me reaching for my revolver.
We see here, yet again, the chief feature of the “progressive” way of looking at the world: to reverse cause and effect, and so to imagine that our nature is the product of our culture, rather than the other way around.
As it happens, the maverick feminist Camille Paglia took up the same topic in an astringent interview published just yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. “What you’re seeing”, she begins, “is how a civilization commits suicide.”
Right she is, and so we are. Read more here.