Gender Dominated Majors


It isn't uncommon for a DePauw student to sit down on the first day of class and be surrounded by members of the opposite gender.
According to DePauw's Institutional Research reports, of the 50 majors offered at DePauw, many show gaps of gender representation in the current senior and junior classes. For instance, the class of 2013 consists of six female and 33 male computer science majors, and 31 female and five male psychology majors.
Gloria Townsend, professor of computer science, shared her thoughts on why more men major in the subject than women.
"There are societal and cultural stereotypes, and those stereotypes dictate that computer science might be antisocial, that people, particularly men, sit in cubicles and acquire monitor tans, and don't mix with other people at all," Townsend said.
At DePauw, computer science classes emphasize learning about problem solving, programming, and creation of application, among other lessons.
"We do a lot of teamwork, which dispels the myth that everything is solitary," Townsend said.
Townsend said that DePauw plans to have more contact soon with the National Center for Women in Information Technology, an organization that has listed numerous benefits of having women in computer science field.
"NCWIT says, 'Computing needs women,'" Townsend said as she held an informative card up.
Some of the points outlined on the informative card include work teams with a 50-50 gender membership have been shown to be more efficient and experimental than same-sex teams.
"The point I think NCWIT is making is that we need to tap [into] a new pool," Townsend said.
Townsend said there is no reason why women shouldn't major in computer science if they're interested in the subject. Townsend said that DePauw has a 24 percent average of female computer science majors over the past decade or dozen years, but across the United States the average is about 11.7 percent.
Still, Townsend said that a 50-50 split would be even better, as she thinks that an even split of gender representation is important in the classroom.
"Anything approaching a third is when one stops feeling like the minority and starts feeling like part of the clubhouse," Townsend said.
Senior Emily Bichler, a computer science major, said that she thinks the importance of even gender representation depends on the type of class the student is taking.
"If it's discussion-based, and a class that ensures a lot of opinions will be coming out, you need to see things from different realms," Bichler said. "It's important for the learning atmosphere."
However, in technical classes, she doesn't think it's necessary for a certain gender to be represented because it's not as discussion-based.
"I would appreciate a few more women in class, but I don't think it would make or break a class," Bichler said.
Bichler said that she thinks that women are generally more accustomed to taking classes that have human interaction, but that many of them could master the material of computer science.
"I think it's just a matter of [having] confidence in themselves," Bichler said.
Eric Gasper, a senior psychology major, said that psychology might not appeal to some men at DePauw since it's often seen as a "soft" science.
"Maybe they see it as something that can directly relate to or that they could just figure out on their own," Gasper said.
Gasper thinks that class size, an interesting teacher, and content of a class are more important than an even split of gender representation.
"It doesn't really matter to me," Gasper said of the uneven split in his classrooms. "It doesn't really affect your learning or your studying."
The communications courses at DePauw, like the psychology courses, have also been attracting more women than men, at 46 women and 28 men in the senior class and 49 women and 30 men in the junior class, as seen on the institutional research website.
"I think, in general, the humanities fields attract more women than men, and that's often because of cultural norms and expectations associated with different fields of study," Seth Friedman, assistant professor of communication and theatre, said.
Friedman said that reasons why people don't major in a subject comes down to a number of variables, such as a communications major not always being seen as the best pre-professional training.
"The pressure on men still to be traditional breadwinners, to be able to make a certain base salary, may scare some away from the field of study," Friedman said.
Friedman said some may not understand what communications is all about, and they might see fields such as advertising and marketing as the feminized side of the business world. Additionally, it may come down to taking classes with their friends, or the fear that the content of a certain course could attack men.
Friedman said that having multiple perspectives in class and a variety of voices are good things, but he does not see attracting more men to communications as a problem for the major.
"I don't want to cater to a niche audience that I feel is somehow underserved or underrepresented," Friedman said. "I don't feel that is the case anyway, and even if it was, I don't think we should re-tool our curriculum for the purposes of that."
Friedman said that he does not support trying to engineer the constitution of classes with statistic benchmarks in mind. He said that if he saw a problem, he would want to remedy it, but does not see it as a problem for the communications department.
"I still have a good threshold of men in each of my classes, and I don't feel that men's voices and perspectives are being drowned out or not heard," Friedman said.
Michele Villinski, associate professor of economics and management, said that she has never taught a course that had a 50-50 gender representation, but she isn't sure that's something she would want to artificially receive.
"I think anybody can benefit from taking econ or from minoring or majoring in econ," Villinski said. "I think that just like all the different majors and courses on campus, econ helps use think critically about the world."
However, Villinski said she thinks that there is always more that can be done to attract more women to the major, such as more activities and more partnerships with organizations on campus.
Women in Economics and Business was established in 2010-2011, and Villinski said that she thinks that the reaction has been quite positive from students who attend regularly. They listen to speakers and attend review sessions and learn about networking.
"We generally try to support and encourage women who are thinking about what they might want to do related to economics and business while they're here, but also once they leave DePauw," Villinski said.
Villinski said that her colleague Mary Dixon, who is a professor of economics and management, had a faculty fellowship from the university to look at the distribution of men and women in the economics major and some of the reasons behind the distribution. She presented her findings on the disparity to an audience on campus in 2011.
"She found that the percentage of econ majors who are women has hovered around 30 percent since 1975," Villinski said. "That's stayed pretty constant, even though the number of Ph.D. economists who are women at DePauw has increased from zero in 1987 to five today."
Some of the reasons why students did not major in economics, according to Dixon's study, included that they thought economics was hard, not very interesting, or that it required too much math. Nevertheless, the study found that the majority of students who were economics majors were satisfied with their major, even though they found it to be difficult.
"Student initiative is a wonderful thing," Villinski said. "I have high hopes that we'll continue to grow and expand our opportunities through [Women in Economics and Business] and other things we can do through the department."