Google Proves That TV Teaches Girls to Not Like Computer Science

Google Proves That TV Teaches Girls to Not Like Computer Science

By Emily DeRuy | December 1, 2015

National Journal

Girls are less likely to consider a career portrayed as the haven for geeky boys.

A new Google re­port that in­cludes sur­veys of par­ents and stu­dents con­duc­ted by Gal­lup sug­gests that ste­reo­types per­petu­ated by TV and movies foster mis­lead­ing per­cep­tions about who is cap­able of pur­su­ing com­puter sci­ence.

Gendered ste­reo­types furthered by tele­vi­sion and film por­tray­als of com­puter sci­ence as nerdy or for boys only seem to have real-world im­pact. Most stu­dents sur­veyed re­port see­ing primar­ily White char­ac­ters en­ga­ging in com­puter sci­ence, while a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber also see Asi­an char­ac­ters. However, just 7 per­cent of stu­dents say they see Black or Latino com­puter-sci­ence char­ac­ters most of the time. The lack of di­versity on shows that young people watch also feeds in­to a lack of con­fid­ence among young people who don’t see them­selves re­flec­ted in those por­tray­als.

“Even though they value it, stu­dents don’t of­ten see that com­puter sci­ence is for them,” said Sepi Hejazi Moghadam, head of re­search and de­vel­op­ment for the K-12/pre-uni­versity edu­ca­tion out­reach pro­gram and man­ager at Google.

Google hopes that by in­creas­ing the num­ber of girls and young people of col­or on tele­vi­sion and in movies, a broad­er ar­ray of young people will think about pur­su­ing com­puter sci­ence.

“If we can’t break through the silly ste­reo­types por­trayed in pop­u­lar me­dia, that’s a real shame be­cause it’s a power­ful driver” of who pur­sues com­puter sci­ence, said Brandon Busteed, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of edu­ca­tion and work­force de­vel­op­ment at Gal­lup.

More than 60 per­cent of male middle- and high-school stu­dents sur­veyed say they are “very con­fid­ent” they could learn com­puter sci­ence, while just 46 per­cent of girls say the same. While 35 per­cent of male stu­dents say they are “very likely” to learn com­puter sci­ence at some point, just 18 per­cent of fe­male stu­dents feel that way. And more than 40 per­cent of boys think they are likely to have a job where they need to know com­puter sci­ence com­pared with 33 per­cent of girls.


“ The lack of diversity on shows that young people watch also feeds into a lack of confidence among young people who don’t see themselves reflected in those portrayals.  ”

The nat­ur­al ex­ten­sion of these at­ti­tudes bears out in real­ity, where wo­men, Blacks, and Lati­nos re­main sig­ni­fic­antly un­der­rep­res­en­ted in tech jobs and in com­puter-sci­ence de­gree pro­grams at uni­versit­ies.

In re­cent years, Google says it has worked with dif­fer­ent TV shows, in­clud­ing ABC’s The Fosters and Dis­ney Jr.’s Miles From To­mor­row­land, to por­tray more people of col­or in tech roles. “We want to in­crease ac­cess to op­por­tun­it­ies by break­ing down bar­ri­ers,” Moghadam said.

Ac­cess is crit­ic­al. As Moghadam said, “struc­tur­al in­equit­ies” are re­in­for­cing neg­at­ive per­cep­tions of who can be a com­puter sci­ent­ist. Of­fer­ing more pos­it­ive por­tray­als of com­puter sci­ence will only work if the young people who are in­spired ac­tu­ally have the abil­ity to pur­sue com­puter sci­ence. The sur­vey sug­gests that lower-in­come fam­il­ies are the most likely to want some form­al com­puter-sci­ence in­struc­tion for their chil­dren. Three-quar­ters think com­puter sci­ence should be re­quired in school.

But right now, low-in­come stu­dents and young people of col­or are dis­pro­por­tion­ately less likely to have ac­cess to ad­vanced com­puter-sci­ence courses or to pur­sue the ma­jor in col­lege. In 2014, 12 states had no Black stu­dents take the A.P. com­puter-sci­ence ex­am. Stu­dents who are fe­male, Latino, or from poorer back­grounds are the least likely to have learned any com­puter sci­ence, which may lim­it their con­fid­ence in their abil­ity to take on a com­puter-sci­ence ca­reer in the fu­ture, the re­port sug­gests.

Google says it wants to help fill that gap broadly and add more people of col­or to its own work­force in the pro­cess. The com­pany is one of a num­ber of Sil­ic­on Val­ley gi­ants that has faced cri­ti­cism for be­ing a White boys’ club. In the past couple of years, the tech­no­logy gi­ant has launched pro­grams like CS First, free com­puter-sci­ence edu­ca­tion tools that teach­ers or oth­er adults can use to ex­pose kids to things like ba­sic cod­ing. More than 100,000 kids have ac­cessed the tool, Google said. The com­pany, Moghadam said, has also widened the num­ber of col­leges it con­siders when it re­cruits new em­ploy­ees. Google began work­ing in 2013 with Howard Uni­versity, a his­tor­ic­ally Black school, to bol­ster its com­puter-sci­ence pro­gram, after find­ing that HB­CUs gradu­ate a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of the na­tion’s Black en­gin­eers. Since then, Moghadam said, the num­ber of in­terns from HB­CUs has more than doubled.

There is no quick fix, though, and Google ac­know­ledges that in­creas­ing the per­cent­age of people of col­or will be a long pro­cess. But Moghadam thinks there is “a lot of mo­mentum” na­tion­ally right now around ex­pand­ing ac­cess to com­puter-sci­ence edu­ca­tion and ca­reers. In­creas­ing the di­versity of per­spect­ives and ideas at Google and in the in­dustry as a whole, he said, will ul­ti­mately lead to bet­ter products for every­one.

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