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Researchers study software gender gap

Two computer scientists have found an interesting difference between how men and women use software. From an MSNBC report:

Laura Beckwith, a new computer science Ph.D. from Oregon State University, and her adviser, Margaret Burnett, specialize in studying the way people use computers to solve everyday problems — like adding formulas to spreadsheets, animation to Web sites and styles to word processing documents.

A couple of years ago, they stumbled upon an intriguing tidbit: Men, it seemed, were more likely than women to use advanced software features, specifically ones that help users find and fix errors. Programmers call this "debugging," and it's a crucial step in building programs that work.

Why might this be so? What could cause men and women to use software differently? Perhaps the men were better trained? No, that wasn't the case. Perhaps the men were more logical? No, wasn't that. Perhaps the men were just better programmers? Nope.

One theory grabbed her attention: High confidence correlates with success. Both men's and women's confidence in their ability to do a challenging task affects their approach and the outcome. And most studies indicated that women — even ones who study computer science — have less confidence than men in their computer skills.

So Beckwith wondered, could that be one of the culprits? Are women less confident than men when it comes to software debugging? Are women less willing than men to try using these advanced features?

It turns that Beckwith was correct: a woman's confidence plays a large role in how successful she is in using the software. Now, what to do about that? One could try to make women more confident. Beckwith decided to try to make software less intimidating. We should do both. Do you have ideas on how to do either?

Maybe men are more confident

Tue, 2008-09-16 03:18
ToddPD (not verified)

Maybe men are more confident with their computer/software skills, but when it comes to some other fields they are less confident.

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