COMPUTER PROGRAMMING, HISTORY, AND THE GENDER PAY GAP

programmer who uses Progentra coding on his laptop

COMPUTER PROGRAMMING, HISTORY, AND THE GENDER PAY GAP

        The computer programming field used to be female-dominated. From the ENIAC, the first digital computer to NASA to the first operating system, programmers were female. Grace Hopper said in the 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan that, “Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”

        But, this fact was not realized. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s programming was not a glamorous position or paid well. Though it was just as demanding, intensive, and complex as it is now, actually more so, considering they were using languages like Assembly and COBOL, programming was a menial job relegated to women. Considered to be a clerical job, the real prestige and high pay were reserved for those who were allowed to build the hardware, i.e. the men, rather than for those who would build the software that ran on the computer. In the United Kingdom and the U.S., women were essentially banned from building hardware while the Soviet Union recognized women’s skills and employed them to construct the first computer in 1951. This digital behemoth was a great feat of many brilliant minds.

        With women dominating the field, programming was presumed to be nothing but a plug-and-play field where the plans were already drawn up and just needed a feminine touch to execute them. Systemic sexism led to the downplaying of women’s skills and their immense contribution to the computing world.

 

        But, this all changed in the late 1960’s when men entered the field. After skipping over this field, this “women’s work”, men realized just how much complexity was needed to program a computer. The sheer levels of highly complex analysis, testing, planning, research and debugging were now promising career options. Though the core of programming stayed the same, this influx of men transformed the field of computer programming into a prestigious, male-dominated, career path that was highly sought after. And with this prestige programming became a highly paid field that few women would be a part of. Rather than a clerical position, it became a field that needed high levels of mathematical ability. So, now, as of 2013, just a quarter of the computer programming field is female. Just a quarter. The tables have turned and most girls and women feel they don’t have “the brain” for programming. It is regarded as a field that needs systematic male brains. This limits the field because it has removed the inventors of computer programming.

        Though this article will focus on the field of computer programming, other fields have also swapped genders. The enduring pattern? When a field becomes male-dominated it gains prestige and a higher salary, but when it becomes female-dominated the prestige and salary lower.

        This is due to the devaluation of women and their contributions to society, at all levels of occupation, in most areas of the world.

 

HOW DID THE FEMALE-DOMINATED FIELD OF COMPUTER PROGRAMMING TRANSFORM? WHERE WERE THE WOMEN PLACED?

At this time in history, 2018, computer programmers have a very distinctive look. Male, young, hoodies, highly paid, antisocial. But, where did this representation come from?

female programmer working while colleagues look onWhen Grace Hopper was interviewed by Cosmopolitan in 1967, the computer programming field was already leaning towards male domination. The 1950s and 1960s were filled with aptitude tests and personality profiles to help the selection process of job candidates. These tests greatly pushed the shift of the programming field from female to male domination. Most hiring managers believed these tests to be objective, but, in truth, they targeted certain stereotypical characteristics rather than the applicant’s suitability for the job. These characteristics were male-oriented so women did not fit the profile.

In addition, tests like the IBM PAT focused on mathematical ability, though leaders in the industry said these skills weren’t needed to succeed in modern programming. To back up their claims, a paper published in 1957 and presented at a computing conference stated that scores on these tests had no correlation with performance reviews given. Many of these math aptitude tests needed little nuance or problem-solving ability within a certain context. As men were more likely to have learned these skills in school, they had an advantage, because women were already being guided away from STEM careers. This discrepancy in the scores was used as evidence that women couldn’t be programmers because they didn’t have the mathematical ability, rather than the recognition that they were being directed away from highly technical fields.

Personality profiles began to overtake the field of computer programming. They assessed soft skills. The crux? These skills were skewed toward the male profile.

Two psychologists highlighted the standard look and personality of computer programmers, noting that many who programmed computers possessed the “striking characteristic” of “their interest in people”. With this, companies began hiring antisocial people who were strong in mathematics. As women are strictly socialized to be warm, empathetic, social, and were being driven away from STEM fields, they met none of the criteria that were needed for these profiles and so the field became dominated by antisocial men who loved math.

Mentioned before, but this shift in genders boasted immense increases in both pay and prestige. This pattern is common is most fields, which will be noted below.

 

TEACHING: FROM MALE TO FEMALE

In the early 1800s, teaching was a male-dominated field. It was highly respected and well-paid. Men were expected to impart wisdom, knowledge, and discipline in their students.

gender pay gap coins stacked together with gender symbolsAs the middle of the century came, a high demand for teachers was needed, so women were taken from their dormant labor environment and employed as teachers. Women, unlike men, weren’t expected to impart wisdom, knowledge, and discipline, they were expected to shape their students’ moral development. They were not meant to be an authority or disciplinary figure, but a mother.

This prompted a shift of prestige in the field: less prestige and less pay.

Many thought, due to the emphasis on nurturing, that teaching was not a true career but an altruistic vocation, so required little wages. At least for women. Indeed, women were doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. To emphasize this, hiring female teachers became an excellent benefit to taxpayers as they could save more. This was evidenced by the bargains taxpayers received. In 1905, male teachers received double the pay of their female counterparts. Double!

By the 1900s, teaching had become female-dominated and poorly paid. Though, this did not extend to leadership roles. These positions were male-dominated and highly paid. Currently, 76 percent of teachers are women and they take home modest to low pay and little to no respect. It is, indeed, fascinating that teaching the future is considered to be a menial and effortless job.

 

        In conclusion, the gender gap has a long history that is continuously supported by a significant inverse relationship between gender segregation and equal pay. The larger the concentrations of one gender in a field, the larger the differences in men’s and women’s pay. This gap widens even further in higher-paid jobs. For instance, female doctors and surgeons make just 71 percent of what their male colleagues make. Though the work may be the same, the determination of prestige and pay is, in most cases, based on which gender dominates the field.