Computer science are computer science students nerds

Study: "Nerd" cliché discourages women from studying computer science

The stereotype of the "nerd" is widespread and it discourages women from studying mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology (MINT). This is the result of a study that has now been published by Yves Jeanrenaud, visiting professor for gender studies in MINT and medicine at the University of Ulm. Above all, he identified cultural and structural barriers such as gender stereotypes related to hackers.

Low proportion of women

The proportion of women among STEM students in Germany is around a third. This is low in an international comparison, even if the number of new students in these subjects has at least doubled in the past twelve years. The proportion of female employees in STEM professions is significantly lower: it is just one sixth - even though experts emphasize that in the course of digitization, career opportunities, especially in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT), are better than ever .

Male occupied terrain

"Job descriptions such as engineer or computer scientist still have male connotations," says Jeanrenaud, explaining the background. In particular, clichéd role models such as that of the "computer freak" are used almost exclusively for young men. "Many women are afraid of losing their 'femininity' if they venture into this male-occupied territory," the sociologist has found out. "It is not uncommon for them to decide against studying computer science, although they certainly have a certain interest in it."

From childhood on, people have gender-specific socialization experiences and internalize certain expectations that are tied to their gender, writes Jeanrenaud in his 50-page report for the Federal Government's Third Gender Equality Report, which is to be published next week. If this internalized model does not fit the current job description or a certain subject culture, a defensive attitude threatens. This applies to men in nursing as well as to women in engineering or IT.

In addition, according to the Swiss, when choosing a career, young women often still orientate themselves on certain social patterns and want professional activities "in which they deal with other people or have the feeling that they are doing something meaningful". On the other hand, many MINT professions still have "the image of isolated preoccupation with things instead of people". A survey on behalf of Microsoft had already shown in 2017 that IT & Co. are often seen as not being creative enough by girls. Because many students have only vague or no ideas about most technical professions, Jeanrenaud recommends emphasizing the social importance of such fields of work.

There is a lack of positive role models

According to Jeanrenaud, specialist cultures that are strongly male-dominated could have a deterrent effect on women. According to the study, the so-called "gatekeepers", i.e. parents and teachers, also have a major influence on the career path children will take later on. In any case, "more female role models and positive role models" are necessary, according to the gender researcher. They don't always have to be nerdy superheroes like Lisbeth Salander, the hacker from the crime novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson.

Occasionally, mathematics is overemphasized in computer science studies, in which the proportion of women is particularly low at 22 percent: "We also have to inspire normally gifted female students to study computer science or technology." MINT courses with a significantly higher proportion of women are, for example, media informatics, medical technology or energy technology, Jeanrenaud had previously underlined. This is also due to the greater practical relevance, the specific applicability and social relevance of these disciplines. On the other hand, game developers, for example, often have a questionable image of women. Female characters in computer games are "still too often designed as sex objects".

Fewer first-year students

At the same time, the industry association VDE sounded the alarm that, compared to the previous year, according to the number of new students currently reported by the Federal Statistical Office, 14.5 percent fewer interested parties had registered in the subject of electrical engineering and information technology; the rate of female students at almost 17 percent remained at least at the previous year's level.


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