Friday, May 28, 2010

Percentages Of Women In Scientific Fields.

Three things I found interesting about the graphic below.
  1. Somehow, engineering has even less women percentage-wise than physics. (How did they manage that?)
  2. The only scientific field with  more women percentage-wise than the average non-scientific fields are the biological sciences.
  3. The only field where the percentage of women is significantly dropping is computer science. (CS people, whet did you start doing to drive out women starting in the 1980s?)


  1. yep, no women. We have just a handful of female software engineers here at Adobe/Omniture. I can think of three out of about 80 total. There are plenty in graphic design, sales/marketing. Hey but our V.P. of Engineering is female!

    Software engineering is probably, in practice, the least disciplined of all engineering fields. You can spend hours grappling with code trying to bend it to your will. Then things change and off you go again re-working the same code or bolting something new on. It's kindof a cross between engineering/design, prototype building and ad-hoc trial and error construction Myth Buster style. As I understand it this non-deterministic practice doesn't sit well with the more practical, organized female brain wiring. It's either that or us geeks are too scary and icky to hang around all day. I've worked with some pretty fantastic female software engineers and yeah, I wish there were more.

  2. Interesting Stan.

    I had a Nobel Prize winner, Leon Letterman, visit my quantum mechanics class and walked up to a female student and said "What are you doing here?" It was a joke, and perhaps a bad one, but it does go to show that females are rare in phsycis.

    Why is highly debated and can cost some people thier jobs, even if they are famous like the ex-president of harvard.

  3. "CS people, whet did you start doing to drive out women starting in the 1980s?"

    Playing video games.

  4. In chemical engineering the young women who were there were rather masculine, even if the teachers were trying to be nice with them what should have motivated some others to come. Apparently innovation is rather something masculine but I will do nothing to stop women to try.

  5. Cartesian,

    I wasn't aware females in chemical engineering were masculine. I'm sure they love to hear that. :)

  6. Joe,

    Some have really some masculine shapes, so I think that they are aware of the problem. But generally they have a bad character, so it depends on how you say it to them ;) . Nonetheless sometime some truths have to be said and philosophers are often doing this, also history should have learnt to some persons that they have better to control their reaction about what a philosopher is writing because afterward the spirit of justice is saying that the reactions are often unfair (one should learn about its mistakes); and that the worst thing is how some really intelligent and courageous persons have been treated : some things have to be accepted (justice is not all the time pleasant), but some punitions are not justified (some thinkers have been burnt or left without the possibility to live with the minimum required for their condition).

  7. interesting,.. I think if you look at the history of CS initially women were needed as "computers" during/after wwII when men were scarce and women entered the work force more prominently and computers required a ton of manual card punching programming work. In the 80's computers fundamentally changed and became a lot more accessible to people. I think it's possible women have declined in that field because there is less manual labor and more theory involved. Not that a woman can't do it or has less ability, but the women that were initially in that position were in it for jobs that perhaps required less education and more hands on training after leaving their homes to enter the work force with some training at that point in time in history. As CS has evolved into a wider field of study and women entering the workforce has become a more common expectation and choice earlier on in our lives, I think that perhaps the proportion of women in this field has evened out to the same as other similar technical fields. Furthermore I think women choose from a broader variety of jobs when they begin their education and choice of fields of study knowing that they are expecting to work in the workplace during the course of their life rather than working only in the home as a caretaker and home maker. So I think a combination of the change of that field in its infancy and in general a social change of expectation of what women will do in their lives has caused this change. Knowing that you are very likely going to work outside of the home in your lifetime makes a big difference in what education fields you choose to study in I think. Consequently if women choose to gain an education in a much broader range of fields than they used to, they don't find themselves in the situation of low education levels limiting their career prospects to manual labor jobs. Computer Science as an industry has changed and Women Careers have changed.

  8. Theresa, that's a very insightful comment. Speaking as women being needed "as computers" I know at Los Alamos they did hire women and children to act as human computers during the Manhattan Project so you might be right.

    This is where finite differencing methods were first implemented for those who care.

  9. Oh, I got this one!

    1. Being good a physics/engineereing/programing requires you to be more or less autistic.

    2. Men are genetically more likely to be autistic.


    (Excuse me while I remove my tongue from my cheek.)

    By the way, Feyman said that the women who acted as computer were just as fast as the real thing back then. The only problem was they got tired and were unwilling to work around the clock like a real computer. If not for that, the computer would have been unnecessary. They also debugged their algorithm using the women before the computer's arrived.

  10. Bruce,

    You're right, there does seem to be some autistic-ness required.

  11. Honestly autists are not the best for these kind of things. But a bit of history can be good :

    Here are some excerpts from “Julie” by J-J Rousseau (Second part, letter 21) which was written during the eighteenth century :

    About the women from Paris : “They have seen that an uncovered throat is a scandal in public ; they have widely low-cut their body…This charming modesty which, honors and makes more attractive the feminine persons like you, did seem vile and not noble to them ; they have animated their gesture and their words by a noble impudence ; and there is not any honest man to who their confident look do not make the eyes go down. This is thus that stopping to be women, by fear to be confused with the other women they prefer their rank to their femininity, and imitate prostitutes, in order not to be imitated.”
    “The natural happiness to the nation, nor the desire to imitate the great airs, are not the only causes of this liberty of words and of carriage that it is possible to remark here with the women. It seems to have a deeper cause in morals, by the indiscreet and continual mixing of males and females, which makes acquire to both the air, the language and the manners of the other.”
    “Adultery is not revolting here, one do not find anything against decency about it : the most decent novels, those that everybody reads in order to learn are full of it ; and disorder cannot be blamed any more as soon as it is joined to infidelity… It looks like that wedding is not at Paris of the same nature as anywhere else. This is a sacrament, they pretend, and this sacrament does not have the strength of the lesser civil contracts ; it seems to be only the agreement of two free persons who agree to stay together, to have the same surname, to recognize the same children, but who have, moreover not any kind of right one about the other ; and a husband who takes it into his head to control here the behavior of his wife should not excite less murmurs than the one who could stand the disorder of his one where we live. The women, on their side, do not use any rigor toward their husbands and one cannot still see that they ask to punish them because they imitate their infidelity.”
    “A quite common remark, which seems to be dependent on the women, is that they do everything in this country, and then more harm than good ; but what justifies them is that they do the harm pushed by the men, and the good by their own action.”
    “They are less indiscreet, causing less worries than in our country, less perhaps than anywhere else. They are more learned, and their judgment profits in a better way from their instruction.”

    But I am not sure that we can make more remarks to the Parisian women than to some others currently, on the top of that Rousseau did write that this did seem to spread at this time. Anyway what seems clear is that we cannot blame the USA for what appears in this text.

  12. Here are some excerpts of “Emile” by J.-J. Rousseau :

    “ All the faculties common to men and women are not equally shared among them, but taken as a whole they do compensate ; woman is better as woman and worse as man ; any time that she asserts her rights she has the advantage ; any time she wants to usurp ours she stays below us. One can answer to this general truth only by some exceptions ; constant way to argue of the gallant supporters of women.” (See book 5)

    Women did not have the liberty to be intelligent ?

    “Also Miss de l’Enclos did pass as a prodigy.” (See book 5)

    We can find in the commentaries by Pierre Burgelin of the French “Folio essais” 2002 edition :
    Ninon de Lenclos (or de l’Enclos) (1620-1705) is staying an exception in the fact that the liberty of her morals and her absence of modesty do not deprive her of some other virtues, which are rather male ones. “The famous Ninon de Lenclos, loose lover, sure friend, honest man and philosopher (as so-called), …” (Duclos, Confessions du comte de ***)
    Also it is possible to read that the role of the women in literature is an important feature of morals (they were some important referees for censorship, see book 4). They did have a great place, particularly in the novel style, for example Mrs de Tencin, Mrs de Grafigny, Mrs Riccoboni, in order to quote the most famous.

    But there was also Mrs Lambert or Emilie du Châtelet (on the scientific side).


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