Want more women developers? Lose the Star Wars posters

No seriously.   That’s what a study by Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington found.    The more stereotypical nerd and sci-fi images there are about, the more off putting an environment is for women.

According to Science Daily, Cheryan took 250 students who weren’t studying computer science and took them into a small classroom and told them to ignore the objects they saw as another class was sharing the room with them.   Said objects included Star Trek posters, video game boxes and coke cans on one hand (what?  no empty pizza boxes?), and nature posters, art and coffee cups on the other.

The students were then asked about their attitude towards computer science classes.  The women exposed to the nerd room expressed less interest in computer science than those who weren’t.

Another study involved students being asked about two web design companies and receiving hypothetical, identical, job offers from each.   The key factor on whether women accepted each offer?   The objects on display in each company’s workplace, with women more likely to accept an offer with the “non stereotypical” company.

What does it show us?

First of all, something we all knew, that the environment – the place where you spend most of your waking hours – has a deciding influence on the decisions we make.   It’s something a lot of companies tend to forget though.

Secondly, related to that, according to Cheryan, “objects…communicate whether or not a person belongs in an environment.” So in our mind trekkies = (mainly) male nerds = off putting for those not in the know.

Finally, that the media plays a role in perpetuating stereotypes: “It would be nice for computer scientists in moves and television to be typical people, not only computer geeks.”

Image – Jparise

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