RE: What is Code? Women in STEM

Most of us know that the world of STEM is lacking in women and people of color. This is largely because of systematic discrimination that creates unequal access to resources and education. As Paul Ford explains in his article What is Code?, “Fewer than a fifth of undergraduate degrees in computer science awarded in 2012 went to women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Less than 30 percent of the people in computing are women. And the number of women in computing has fallen since the 1980s, even as the market for their skills has expanded.” These statistics are changing every year, but the point remains that women have faced consistent challenges getting their foot in the door to STEM fields.

I’ve had the privilege to grow up in a liberal, urban society with several organizations, after school programs, and community members focusing on expanding the reach of STEM to girls and children of color. This is wonderful! I am so pleased to see this encouragement, especially in my own community of Oakland, CA — a city that lacks the public school funding to focus on these important educational experiences.

My parents have always pushed me to get out of the box I’d been put in simply for being female. They are among many people pushing for more and more workplace equality, especially in the sciences. They wanted me to defy the odds and be in a STEM field, helping to pave a road for more women down the line. I can’t thank them enough for believing that any women is capable of accomplishing just as much, if not more, as any man. I am lucky to have had such support.

This is all great, so you’re probably wondering why there is a but coming. The truth is, and I don’t know how to put this without sounding like I am complaining about my privilege, this has always made me feel a little bit trapped. It is as if I have two options — follow the stereotypes and live in the humanities fields in which women have traditionally been confined to, or be some kind of revolutionary in the sciences, defy the stereotypes, change the world, and make my parents proud. I realize that this is an extreme, black-and-white view of the world, but that is what pressure and stress does to my thoughts.

Here is where the bigger problem comes: while I have always been strong enough in math and sciences, I have never really enjoyed them. They don’t capture my interests the way that words, history, society, and analyzing-everything-around-me-until-I-lose-the-mental-capacity-to-continue do. Does that mean I have failed the billions of women on this planet by not decreasing the STEM gap? Have I failed my parents’ vision of their daughter the doctor, scientist, or engineer (who knows what they envisioned me as)? Or did I just live up to the western world’s standards of women, and find my given place in this society?

What is Code? By Paul Ford reminded me that I am not a coder, computer scientist, or science enthusiast. Does that make me the average woman, or am I just a person who can’t quite wrap her head around the entirely new universe that computers and the internet have created?

Ford, Paul. “What is Code?” Bloomberg Business Online. June 11.2015. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-paul-ford-what-is-code/#grabbag