Women on the web, but absent from computing industry

// 17 May 2007

Computing is a Gender Issue Just to complete a hat-trick of geeky entries, the BBC are reporting that women outnumber men in internet use. Apparently young women (18-34 years) are now the most populous British users of the web, accounting for 18% of all online Britons. And they spend more time online accounting for 27% more computer time than male counterparts.

The spokesperson for the company who did the study, Alex Burmaster, says:

“This represents a seismic shift from the early days when the internet was the domain of the techno-geek,” From BBC News

Implying, naturally that, women can’t be techno-geeks and suggesting that the feminisation of the interweb is going to lead to a devaluing of it’s status, just as has happened with most other areas which have been “feminised”. He continues:

“Women in the 18- 34 category are visiting a variety of sites including those dedicated to fashion, family and lifestyle issues.”From BBC News

So that’s OK then, women may be using the net more but they’re doing it for feminine reasons then. Of course I’d query what was counted as “family and lifestyle issues” and thankfully the report does give us a breakdown of the top sites, which included four parenting sites, a radio station, four clothing stores, a site dedicated to hairstyles, an estate agents and social networking sites. Of course I would wonder whether the rise in female use of the internet for this age group was connected to the “double burden” and use of online banking and shopping facilities to ease, at least a little, the work-family tension.

So should we celebrate? Well previous research has shown that men and women use the internet differently.

The research found that men value the net for the freedom it gives them to try new ways of doing things. By contrast women like the opportunities the net gives them to make and maintain human connections. From this BBC News article

The same research, by Pew, found marked differences in usage patterns with women and men using the internet for bill paying and shopping in roughly equal numbers but then with women tending to use email to maintain social links and information searches to find medical and health information, map directions and religious information. Men on the other hand used information searches for sports results, weather, news and job offers and to support hobbies.

And these results were also ethnically and age divided with black women outstripping black men on usage and older men (60 and above) massively outnumbering older women. So whilst women may numerically dominate the internet they aren’t using it in similar patterns to men and their usage tends to be more domestically orientated. Add to that the fact that women are also less likely to work in technologically focussed areas and computing in particular and we still have a massive difference. Eva Turner’s research found that

  • The number of women in computing education is extremely low with estimates between 4 and 18%.
  • Working conditions and the expectations the computer industry has of its employees are almost Victorian.
  • Unionisation is non-existent
  • Workers are often expected to be on call 7 days a week.
  • Lack of opportunities for women to return after a career break, gender and race discrimination at the point of entry into the profession
  • Working environment is male-dominated
  • Women are not equally paid for equal work
  • The “glass ceiling” in the computer industry is probably lower than in many others. Whilst the number of women managers in the industrial West is increasing, in the computer industry statistics indicate that only 21% of senior managers, and 8% of top managers, are women.
  • In the UK alone there are some 50,000 women with degrees in science, engineering and technology (including computing), who are not using their qualifications.

Image by Oneras used under Creative Commons Licence

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