And fewer than 1 in 10 adults can even name a prominent woman working in the tech industry.
Kids can picture female scientists clearly – for a time.
U.S. children and adolescents are actually drawing more women in STEM today than they have in the past five decades, according to a meta-analysis of “Draw a Scientist” tests done by Northwestern University. In the 1960s and 1970s, less than 1% of U.S. children’s drawings depicted a female scientist, but in the 1980s and later, that has jumped to 28%.
Still, that’s just over 1 in 4 pictures, illustrating that women are still drawn much less frequently as scientists than men are. But it doesn’t begin that way.
In fact, researchers found that kindergartners doodled about equal numbers of men and women scientists, and that equal representation on the coloring page continues until they reach 7 or 8 years old. It’s during elementary and middle school that the tendency to draw male scientists over female scientists increased rapidly with age. The research team suggests that this is because kids become influenced by a growing awareness of societal gender differences and being exposed to more male than female science role models in school and in mass media.
“Given these results, girls today may develop interests in science more freely than before because children’s stereotypes of scientists have become less masculine over time,” wrote study coauthor Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “But because stereotypes remain, teachers and parents should present children with multiple examples of female as well as male scientists across many contexts such as in science courses, on television shows, and in informal conversations.”
Older kids and teens aren’t the only ones drawing a blank when it comes to women in science.
Most Americans can’t name a single prominent woman in the tech industry, according to a new survey by a messaging and bot platform LivePerson. Indeed, only 8.3% of Americans said they could name one, according to the survey of 1,000 people — and when asked to actually write in the name of a prominent female in tech, only 4% were actually able to do so. On top of that, about a quarter of those people wrote in “Siri” or “Alexa.”
Meanwhile, most Americans have no trouble naming a prominent male in tech. Over half (57%) said they could name a famous man in the technology industry, with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg being the most cited examples.
So what’s with that huge discrepancy? Part of this is the makeup of the tech industry, says Rurik Bradbury, global head of conversational strategy at LivePerson — as the execs of tech firms are overwhelmingly men. One study found that only about one in 10 executive leadership positions at Silicon Valley firms were held by women.
And the men that do make it to the top sometimes benefit from a couple things — including a lot of stories around their seemingly mythical rise to CEO-stardom, and their own self-promotion, notes Bradbury — both of which can make them seem even larger than life. Consider how many times you’ve likely heard about both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropping out of college to start their firms. Or how someone like Elon Musk uses Twitter (he has more than 20 million followers) and social media to relentlessly promote this new projects, be they space exploration or super-rapid transit.
Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain: There are plenty of women who have shaken up the tech field that most of us should know about. Bradbury highlights Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM; Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook; Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard; and Meg Whitman, former CEO of both eBay and Hewlett-Packard, as women in tech who should be household names. There’s also Carol Bartz, who Moneyish recently spoke to about the gender pay gap, and Marissa Mayer, both of whom held the top spots at Yahoo.
And these women are just the tip of the iceberg. Forbes has an annual list of the most powerful women in tech, as does The Balance; on both you will find women like Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube.
This article was originally published on March 17, 2018 and has been updated with the drawing study.
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