“Geek” culture and participation in computer science

December 18, 2009

Via geekfeminism.org (that weekly link round up is really invaluable), I read about a study that one factor turning off women from computer science is the close identification of geek culture and computer science (and IT in general). (It also turns off men, but apparently not as much.)

(I recall this being discussed in prior work as well, but the reference eludes me for the moment.)

I’m unclear as to the degree that the “not fitting in” is due to anticipated sexism rather than “mere” distaste for the culture. (Some things might be ambiguous, e.g., if you anticipate long to insane hours and also anticipate being a primary caregiver, you might look elsewhere; while it’s true that many technical and certainly most academic fields are known to require long hours, perhaps the marginal distaste for geek culture tips the decision.)

This suggests a positive campaign (i.e., not denigrating geeks, but highlighting other subcommunities) could be helpful. It also suggests that geek identification (e.g., I’m pretty clearly not a huge geek, but I’ll exaggerate it for fun) needs to be considered careful in recruitment circumstances. (E.g., “Girl Geek Dinners” might attract only girl geeks, whereas to get good participation by women in CS requires non-geek women as well.)

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