There’s nothing to say that men are inherently better at software engineering than women. But then why are there so few female software engineers? Let’s examine a few of the common arguments, shall we?
It’s simple biology
Women are almost twice as likely to suffer an anxiety order than men. On average, women are more likely to be interested in people, rather than things. And women tend to be more agreeable than men. These three statements can all be backed by scientific studies (though there is existing research which would rebut the latter two), and yet when James Damore used these reasons to explain the gender gap in tech, Google fired him.
That’s because while the above might be true, it doesn’t add up to men making better software engineers – as Damore asserted. He also assumed these were biological differences, but they could just as easily be cultural – particularly when we consider that the gender divide in tech varies by culture around the world.
We’re going to have to give this argument a 0/10 for credibility. Next!
It STEMs from school
On average, girls take more A-Levels than boys and are more likely to go to university. Yet they remain underrepresented when it comes to STEM subjects – which are likely to lay the foundations for a career in software engineering. 35 per cent of students enrolled in STEM subjects in UK higher education are women.
When you break this down further, the numbers get even lower. Women make up just 19 per cent of Computer Science students and 19 per cent of Engineering and Technology students.
And yet, at school, girls are likely to outperform their male peers in STEM subjects. One study which surveyed 70,000 students over 10 years found that girls’ scores in Maths and Science were typically 4 per cent higher than boys’ scores. However, girls also do better in Humanities subjects – by around 12 per cent. Perhaps it’s not that girls aren’t good at STEM, but that boys aren’t good enough in Humanities?
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that women are absolutely as able to perform in STEM subjects as men.
It’s because we haven’t caught up yet
In most industries around the world, the work environment was created to suit men. And by that, I don’t mean modern men who do see things like housework, cooking and childcare both as joint responsibilities and, often, as enjoyable. The last big change to the world of work was probably the creation of the two-day weekend – and that was in 1930.
Progress is slow, but change is happening.
There’s evidence to support this. If low uptake of STEM subjects is what keeps women out of software engineering, then we should be encouraged that there are now more girls taking A-Level science subjects compared to boys. Women also make up 56.6 per cent of higher education students.
As of 2021, just 22 women have led IPOs. But female representation is increasing – the Hampton-Alexander review found that all companies in the FTSE 100, 250 and 350 had reached the target of women making up 33 per cent of boards by the end of 2020.
Changes are happening at the beginning of the pipeline, and at the end. We just need to make sure that we don’t lose women in software engineering somewhere along the way – likely at the time they choose to start a family. After all, most of the initiatives that could prevent this – flexible working, better parental leave, working from home – benefit men too.
So, no, men don’t make better software engineers, they just benefit from a system which is rigged in their favour. But we can change that.