Friday, March 14, 2014

Who is Discouraging Women From STEM Careers?

I was reading an article at Matt Walsh's blog1 where he pointed out that women don't have it worse than men. One of the comments2 caught my eye:
However, one thing about the .77 dollar argument that bears investigation is why women are underrepresented in the STEM professions, which tend to be the highest-paying professions. Studies have consistently revealed that girls are discouraged in math and science classrooms.
Having worked in a STEM field (computer programming) for over a quarter of a century, I found the idea that girls are discouraged from entering STEM fields to be curious. It certainly didn't line up with my experience in the industry. Schools have been pushing girls into math and science, not discouraging them. In my experience technology companies have been bending over backwards and jumping through hoops to get more women into IT (information technology). From programs aimed at getting high school students involved in technology to hiring decisions, there has always been a blunt, out-in-the-open emphasis on getting more women into IT.

So, if it's not “the patriarchy” pushing women down and denying them a chance to enter technology fields, what does account for women being underrepresented in technology fields? After a little research into personality types and career fields, I think I found the answer.

The Myers-Briggs3 personality test places people into 16 personality type categories. One reasearcher4 surveyed computer programmers to determine what personality types were represented. The chart below compares the personality types of the general population to the personality types of working programmers. Take ISFJ as an example. 14% of people have this personality type, but only 2% of programmers have this personality type. On the other hand, while 12% of people have a ISTJ personality type, 24% of programmers are an ISTJ.

The chart below looks at the numbers slightly differently. The number represents how common the personality types is among programmers compared to how common it is in the general population. Anything to the left of the vertical dashed line is underrepresented among programmers; anything to the right is overrepresented.

Take INTJ as an example. 2% of the general population are this type, but 7% of programmers are this type. Meaning, INTJs are 3.50 times as common among programmers than among the general population. On the other hand, the 0.50 number associate with INFPs means there are only ½ as many programmer INFPs compared to the general population.

Notice the pattern (I drew a horizontal dotted line to emphasize it)? Every overrepresented personality type has a T in the third position, and every underrepresented personality type has a F in the third position. According to Myers-Briggs, this is the indicator for decision making. T stands for thinking and means when making decisions you will first look at logic and consistency. F stands for feeling and means when making decisions you first look at people and special circumstances.

T decision makers have a bent towards programming, F decision makers do not. The association is so strong, that 81% of programmers have a T personality type, despite the fact that only 40% of the general population does.

Breaking down the decision makers personality type (T or F) by gender5 explains why women are underrepresented among programmers.

Like the earlier chart, I placed a horizontal dotted line to separate the T and F decision personality types. It's easy to see that in every T personality type men outnumber women, and in every F personality type women outnumber men. When you summarize the T numbers it becomes even clearer.
Percentage of men and women with T personality attribute:

Men: 57%
Women: 24%
If STEM jobs were filled based solely on personality type, they would be 70% male and 30% female. Unfortunately, 30% is probably the ceiling for female software engineers. Unless you would enjoy doing math problems all day with minimal human interaction, then you are not cut out to be a programmer. Personality matters when it comes to STEM.

Are women being discouraged from entering STEM fields? No. The more likely reason women don't enter STEM fields as often as men is that their base personality type makes STEM fields less appealing to them than other choices. Women aren't being prevented from entering STEM fields, they are simply choosing not to enter them, and instead are choosing to enter career fields more in line with their personality type.

Read part 2: Who is Discouraging Women From STEM Careers? Part 2 - Stay at Homes







  1. This is interesting. As a woman, I'm an INTJ (and I've took the test so many times), but I could never see myself as a computer programmer. I am going into the medical field and I do like science, math, and philosophy...but, I could not!
    I guess it carries some merit.
    There have been some theories debunking the Meyer's test though.

  2. Wonderful data.... most nt's intuitively aware of these numbers. Interesting on the high amount of istj's....

  3. It has been found that when newborn or even older babies are given dolls and trucks to look at, the boys stare at the trucks and the girls stare at the dolls (or play with them). As the results are done as babies, the results are independent of socialisation.

    Also the IQ of men and women is different. For men it varies from low to high, but for women it stays in the middle. If you look at the average IQ of people in different jobs, men's jobs are at the top like STEM which has an average IQ of 120, women's jobs are in the middle like teaching or secretary, and men's jobs are at the bottom, like cleaning - which matches the IQ distribution.

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