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July 6, 2011 AT 9:41 pm

Google Exec @marissamayer Explains Why There Aren’t More Girl Geeks

Google Exec Marissa Mayer Explains Why There Aren’t More Girl Geeks

Mayer blames the dearth of female programmers and Internet entrepreneurs in part on tech’s image problem. She argues that growing up, girls are offered a narrow stereotype of what it means to be a “geek” — something akin to the bespectacled loner who spends hours typing away at a screen. Attracting more women to the Silicon Valleys, Alleys and Roundabouts of the world requires doing away with those stereotypes and showing young women that techies don’t have to love video games.

“The number one most important thing we can do to increase the number of women in tech is to show a multiplicity of different role models,” Mayer said. “The stereotype of that very complete and rigid picture of what being a computer scientist means really hurts people’s understanding and ability to identify with the role and say, ‘Yes, this is something I can be in and want to be in.’”

“The number one most important thing we can do to increase the number of women in tech is to show a multiplicity of different role models,” Mayer said. “The stereotype of that very complete and rigid picture of what being a computer scientist means really hurts people’s understanding and ability to identify with the role and say, ‘Yes, this is something I can be in and want to be in.’”

Hey Marissa! You said you solder on weekends in previous interviews right? Why not do a soldering workshop at the next Maker Faire? Or pop in to a hacker space and do a workshop – we’ll help out with the kits. In our experience men *and* women who grew up seeing other wo/men doing engineering, tend to become engineers! Let’s do this!

Phil has tried unsuccessfully to make this happen for a few years now

Julian Guthrie’s profile of Google’s Marissa Mayer for San Francisco magazine back in 2008 had the following…

A wall-size light panel with 576 individually placed Ping-Pong balls, which Mayer made over eight weekends spent home alone, inspired by the light display she’d seen at a 2005 U2 concert.

In the NYTimes it was also reported that she spends “her weekends doing hardware electronics”….


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11 Comments

  1. It seems like that observation applies to both boys and girls. Fewer positive “geek” role models leads to fewer people in the tech industry overall. I’m sure most people, man or woman, think negative things when they hear the word “geek.”

    It’s a cultural thing; when our society reveres engineers and scientists as much as it does athletes and singers, more people will aspire to join the tech industry. I remember you posted an article a few months ago mentioning this…

  2. It’s not like there are a lot of positive role models for male geeks either. In fact, the sort of “history of science and technology” education that might provide that sort of thing seems to have largely disappeared, some at the hands of “more rigorous” science (I vaguely recall my HS chemistry class being full of “X discovered Y about Z.” My daughter’s class had electron orbitals and such instead…)
    It’s too bad all the history books are written by sociologists, soldiers and politicians; a history text centered on science and technology might be doable and perhaps similarly valid…

  3. @westfW, that’s right we do not celebrate scientists or engineers (in the USA) as much as we could. at one time for example (50s, atomic age) you could ask any kid in the USA who is a famous scientist and they’d know at least one, but now… ? dean kamen said “we are what we celebrate”.

    this old INTEL campaign was close, the just didn’t use the real USB inventor…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERxAY3XZpX4

  4. The other thing is … I’m not sure I like the idea of needing “correct gender and racial role models” for a role that I’ve always been sort proud of for not having strong prejudices in the first place. (OTOH, as a white male, I probably am not in a good position to understand…)

  5. it’s good to hear you are enlightened 🙂

    if you’re a women or someone other than what you said you are (a white male) – you will have a different and sometimes more challenge experience in the “tech” world, this is our opinion and experience. speaking from experience and talking with many female engineers, you’ll need to be better, be smarter and put up with more unpleasantries than your male counterparts. that said, there’s no sense giving attention to the bad and discouraging young women who read this time, so we try to stick to the positive here. it’s worth it and rewarding.

    progress has been made, most of it recently, but we all have a long long long way to go.

  6. Disclaimer: I’m a white male too.

    I have a theory that engineers have their brain wired a particular way by genetics, some sort of “curiosity gene”, that makes them seek explanations and understanding of how things work right down to the most fundamental level.

    As a father of 3, I can have a conversation with my children about how something works, and watch my two boys’ eyes follow the conversation and my daughter’s eyes glaze over.

    It’s easy to say “well, you’re obviously treating them differently”, but from a very young age I’ve tried to instill that sense of curiosity into my daughter, it just hasn’t worked. As a parent

    Sample size of 3 in my case I realise, but to generalise I’d have to say that in a population of people, a minority of men are interested in gaining this sort of understanding, but a much smaller minority of women are.

    It’s not the maths that puts women off, there are plenty of accounting roles filled by women, and it’s not the creative aspect either, women’s representation in the arts is fairly balanced.

    I suspect that even with a highly disproportionate amount of encouragement for women in engineering you will end up with a minority representation. Not to say encouraging women is wrong, I believe that women often offer interesting and highly valuable viewpoints to engineering problem solving.

    TL;DR: Less women are interested in engineering than men, it’s genetic. Encouragement is good, but not if it results in overall engineer number reductions.

  7. @crimony – we disagree with 100% of everything you said, we do not feel women lack a “curiosity gene” but thanks for posting your thoughts, we do appreciate it and this is always an interesting discussion 🙂

  8. Marissa is impressive and she makes a strong aspirational role model for anyone; but pointing to Marissa and saying "here is a woman in technology" is in a way reconfirming a bias to only give attention to glamorous women in technology. The unflattering truth is that being a female engineer, technician or scientist is about as glamorous as being a male engineer, technician or scientist.

    In the interview Marissa actually recognizes a dichotomy in that the world needs people with "the ability to go really deep on a topic and understand it really thoroughly" but that she is driving a part of the technological revolution that is diminishing this by elevating multitasking and the connected environment; "it’s hard to deeply understand a concept when you have ten things going on." Yeah it is.

    We need more female geeks but what if noone really wants to be a geek anymore.

  9. Having worked in engineering for 12 years now as a white male, I can certainly agree to the struggles that women have with working in an engineering environment.

    What I’ve found, is that the generation ahead of me sees a woman as an “object” and if she isn’t pretty, they have no interest in interacting with her. This creates an environment that automatically forces the women to close up to everyone else, except for fellow female engineers.

    Oddly enough, my generation and younger, tend to treat females in the workplace with more respect, even though outside of work, in bars and clubs, we’re probably more “rowdy” than the older generations ever were.

    My personal take and approach. When I walk in the door to work, everyone is gender neutral. If you are good at what you do, I want to work with you. If you aren’t very skilled, I don’t want to work with you. I’ve met female engineers that put 99% of the male engineers to shame, so they have the capacity genetically.

    What I will comment on, from a prior poster… I do absolutely HATE the attention being brought to engineers, just because they are female. I feel it discredits the accomplishments of ANYONE to bring in gender/race/ethnicity. I have been absolutely captivated by Limor’s success and every talk I’ve heard her give, and it has zero to do with which set of chromosomes she received at conception.

    Last comment, I swear… Mayer stating that the stereotype of hiding away, whacking at keyboards all the time, is wrong… yet she spent an entire weekend building a project? Part of being an engineer *IS* that passion. Without that passion, you’ll be whisked away to a management position, because you’re outdated in the knowledge you obtained from college. Again, minor comment, but still something I had to state.

  10. I stopped reading at "video games". Its like she’s passing on stereotypes and ironically creating the problem she is alerting to the reader.

    What a hypocrite.

    I swear there will be another Marissa Mayer explaining that there aren’t enough women in the gaming industry because of said stereotypes of a loner/loser. — Video games can be as or even more artistic, innovative, jaw dropping, and engaging as Movies, Books and Plays. Take a look at Bioshock, Half Life, Portal and Fallout.

    /angst

    And I read on…

    I believe geeks exist because its something to hold on to — their ego. It gives self-worth, not absolutely, but a significant portion of it. You know more, do more and feel better that you know more in one subject, like an addiction… Women can feel better about themselves by simply taking pictures and posting them on facebook (depending on how pretty they are). Unless you’re a guy that gets tons of chicks and works out 90 times a day, this is impossible, so you find alternatives.

    And, I simply, no offense to females out there, cannot find female engineers attractive. Its more of a wired in thing. I mean, I bet they have great personalities and all, but I just can’t see myself with an engineer talking about our romantic lives — I have too much logic in my life, I’d rather be with someone more "abstract".

  11. @polkunus – when someone says “no offense to females out there” it’s always followed by something offensive. congrats, you succeeded at that. what a mean and horrible thing to say.

    we’re not going to delete that stupid comments/statement – but, please do not comment on this post again, thanks.

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