Byte code with a Y chromosome

Women and Computers
February 14, 1997

This book should be compulsory reading for those connected with the ever widening computing industry, all of whom should be interested in the social issues raised by Frances Grundy. As a society of men and women in similar numbers, where equal opportunities have led to an increase of female representation in nearly all areas of society, why is it that in the field of computing the reverse trend is true? Why should there be a decline in the number of females entering the profession? This book looks at these issues, examines how any woman may be affected or not affected by computing and looks at the attitudes of women towards computing and the activity of computing.

The ideas of job-gendering and gender-channelling are examined; the former term means that some jobs are identified as more suitable for females, while the latter covers the belief that girls in their upbringing identify themselves with particular careers. "Computing is not immune from job-gendering nor are women immune from gender-channelling with respect to computing", however computing provides the opportunity for both sexes and for individuals to be chosen on merit.

The author believes that job-gendering and gender-channelling are undesirable, particularly restricting the freedom of women, and that we should be looking to a computing workplace in which female styles are encouraged. She explores the attributes that women bring to the computing field and whether these are particularly desirable - skills of nurturing and negotiation rather than of aggression; of motivation and a wish to get the job done, rather than the need for money and absorption with the machine.

The narrative continues with a discussion of computing as either pure or messy - the former representing an insular microworld inhabited by men, compared to the latter, representing perhaps a more tedious, less glamorous arena, in which women find themselves. The players in the microworld are generally rewarded with higher kudos and promotion. The women are prevented from entering this world by sexism and elitism.

The book covers all the appropriate areas for considering why women appear to have accepted computing as essentially a male domain, and the topic of women and computers in general. These range from girls and boys, to computer games, role models, end-users, language, teaching and the National Curriculum; from university and workplace perspectives to male logic and female intuition.

The developers of technology for the workplace would do well to examine the chapter "And Not in the Home", which explores the possible uses of technology in the home, perhaps in the 21st century. The author presents interesting and forceful arguments for its use and sends a clear signal to receptive developers.

The material is written for a generally female audience and as such takes a strongly feminist standpoint. In the past the area of women and computers has not been generally well researched and since, as this book explains, the computing industry positively discourages research in this area, writers in the past have tended to adopt a humanistic rather than a feminist approach. While such a feminist approach is therefore refreshing, it will inevitably alienate some male readers to the very real ideas and important considerations presented in these chapters - ideas which as a matter of urgency need airing and discussing and which can, if implemented, actively play a part in the wealth creation of this nation.

Frances Grundy is only too aware of the safe approach and she writes about how she herself has suffered through her beliefs and ideas. The book I commend, however, for giving explanations to my thoughts, feelings and behaviour, which I had previously accepted without question or analysis. I wholeheartedly uphold the explanations she puts forward.

It does give me pause for thought, however. If this is the way females in the industry are seen, is it worth the fight? This feeds the male doctrine as I abandon the feminist approach and once more return to emulate the male gender in order to survive in a field for which I feel great affection.

The book develops difficult concepts with clarity, using clear definitions of computing terms. Arguments are well developed and whilst some may hinge on accepting interim points, these points are well backed up with other research, not necessarily just as a single reference but as a historical development of research with references.

It is written in a style which is extremely readable and the breakdown into parts, with chapters and many subheadings, allows the reader to dip into the material at any point of interest. Humour, of a feminist nature, but with which many females will empathise, is included in the form of cartoons. "She's more qualified than me therefore we are equal" is the male line on the cover cartoon.

This book is as suitable for members of the computing profession as it is for teachers in schools or career personnel. It is particularly relevant to human resource departments responsible for recruiting computing personnel, and to students studying sociology, psychology or human computer interaction. I would recommend it to any female groups - from groups involved with feminism to others wanting to understand computing subjects such as teleworking and the impact of technology. Finally I am sure that this book will form a valuable source of reference to further researchers in this field, the inclusion of statistics at the end of the book ensuring that students may easily dip into this book for numerical support.

Christine Whitehouse islecturer in information systems, Staffordshire University.

Women and Computers

Author - Frances Grundy
ISBN - 1 8715 36 6
Publisher - Intellect
Price - £14.95
Pages - 168

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