News Detail

Sapna Cheryan responds to essay by UW lecturer “Why Women Don’t Code” in this Seattle Times article.

Why don’t women code? A UW lecturer’s answer draws heat

A University of Washington computer-science teacher’s essay on why more women don’t go into tech has drawn a swift rebuke from professors in the school.

By Seattle Times higher education reporter

For thousands of undergrads at the University of Washington, Stuart Reges is the man who introduces them to computer science — a senior lecturer who teaches entry-level coding in a packed lecture hall every quarter, and has won awards for his teaching.

Now Reges has waded into one of tech’s most volatile issues by arguing that the number of women going into the industry has stagnated because women simply aren’t interested in computer science.

His 4,580-word essay headlined “Why Women Don’t Code,” is nuanced, and difficult to summarize in a few sentences. But it provoked an immediate backlash at the UW, where there has been a long-running effort to increase the number of women and people of color in computer science and engineering.

In the essay, Reges argues that women are unlikely to ever make up more than 20 percent of tech employees — perhaps because, according to research he cites, boys are better at math and science, and girls are better at reading.

“Men and women are different, and they make different choices,” Reges said in an interview Friday. “The different choices they make explain a lot of what we see in terms of lower percentages of women going into tech.”

UW professor Sapna Cheryan says her own research shows something different.

“In fact, there’s a great deal of evidence that students’ preferences for certain fields are powerfully shaped by the perceived social environment of these fields,” said Cheryan in an email.

An associate professor of psychology, Cheryan has conducted a series of experiments which show that simply redesigning a tech office environment — for example, taking away “Star Trek” posters and video games, and replacing them with art and nature posters — increase a women’s sense of belonging in the field.

n another paper , she found that “gender disparities exist when a field has both a masculine culture (that is, signals to women that they belong there less than men) and a lack of mandatory precollege coursework.”

Read the entire article here .