If you set up a Google Alert on the word "engineers," as I have, you'll see everyday efforts to interest kids in engineering careers - and specifically engineering events aimed at girls. Everyone from President Obama on down is calling for our country to produce more engineers if we want to remain a world leader in innovation. Sadly, the U.S. share of scientists and engineers has slightly declined in the past decade.
But interesting girls enough to pursue such a path in college isn't enough to even out the overwhelmingly male technology field. A study last year by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that women engineers were more likely to leave the field because they were uncomfortable with the work culture than for family reasons. One of the respondents to that survey wrote:
Engineering school was pure hell for me. My personality inspired much sexist behavior from my male classmates and my teaching assistants. At some point, after many interviews, I decided that I wouldn't want to spend the majority of my waking hours with the type of people interviewing me.
My colleague Ann All also wrote about research on the topic at the University of Washington, quoting researcher Sapna Cheryan as saying:
The environment can communicate a sense of belonging, but it also communicates a sense of exclusion, or a sense that this is not a place where I would fit in.
So a Bloomberg article of the frat-boy "brogrammer" ethos in the coding world - a mashup of the frathouse moniker "bro" and "programmer" - doesn't bode well for bringing more women into the field. Think Anthony DiNozo's juvenile demeanor morphed with Timothy McGee's computer smarts. One of the illustrations on the article shows a guy doing pushups with one hand while programming with the other.
Behind all this is the intimation that females have no sense of humor and just can't take a joke. Of course, that's been the cover for offensive behavior for years.
But just as female job candidates have to be alert for signs of a sexist work culture, employers have to decide if that is the image they want their companies to project. As I quoted Alan Lewis, owner of Grand Circle Travel, in a previous post on work culture:
Employees who do not adhere to a shared corporate culture dilute it, detracting from the essence that gives your company its identity and helps it achieve aggressive goals.