Back in the 90s, we all knew who Bill Gates was, but that was mostly because he was ridiculously rich and because we cursed his name every time our PCs crashed for no apparent reason. He never had the celebrity of Mark Zuckerberg, who has already been the subject of a movie. And then there’s Steve Jobs, who’s portrayed by Ashton Kutcher in an upcoming movie about his life. Not bad for a computer geek.
But the status of girl geeks isn’t as pretty. Two new studies show that the perpetuation of the stereotype of the socially awkward geek — think Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory”–pushes young women away from careers in science and technology. One of the studies found that women who read an article debunking stereotypes about computer science majors (lousy social skills, obsessed with science fiction and video games, poor hygiene) were significantly more interested in majoring in computer science than women who read an article which confirmed those stereotypes.
What’s clear is that young women could use some role models of women in technology, both in the media and in their own lives. There are efforts in North Carolina to expose girls to opportunities in the sciences and connect them to professional women in technology fields, including summer camps and numerous STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.
But whether these efforts will translate into more young women pursuing careers in computer science and other technology fields remains to be seen. Maybe if we saw more women like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!; Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox; Jocelyn Goldfein, director of engineering at Facebook; and Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president in charge of hardware engineering at Microsoft in the media, it wouldn’t be so hard for young women to visualize themselves as successful technology geeks.