Study: Social self-image and stereotypes keep girls away from computer science

Study: Social self-image and stereotypes keep girls away from computer science

The proportion of girls and women in the fields of mathematics, computer science and natural sciences (MINT) is still low. A study by the Nexus Institute commissioned by the state-funded nationwide computer science competitions (BWINF) now shows that, above all, older girls’ own social self-image and clichés about “computer freaks” are increasingly in conflict with their initial interest in computer science.

The number of participants in the competitions shows that the interest in computer science is still evenly distributed among younger people: In the very low-threshold “Informatik-Biber”, in which 430,000 students took part last year, the proportion of girls in grades 5 and 6 is 50 percent . In the upper school it is already reduced to 35 percent. At the youth competition in computer science with 35,000 participants in the final, only 23 percent are female. In the performance area – the national computer science competition with around 1,600 participants – the proportion of women falls from 15 percent in the first round to seven percent in the final round.

The Nexus Institute surveyed over 3,000 BWINF participants between the ages of 10 and 21 and examined the reasons why girls’ interest declines while boys’ interest increases as they grow older. Among other things, the researchers found that more young girls take part in the competitions when other girls from the class are already there. Community plays a major role for them – just like the role model function of close contacts.

Conversely, a self-reinforcing exit effect can occur – at least subconsciously – if classmates no longer take part in the playful competition. According to the answers, a lack of support from teachers, little teamwork and little support at school make it difficult to arouse or keep the girls’ interest. Gender-specific self-confidence also has an effect: girls are more surprised than boys when they achieve good results in all three competitions.

Furthermore, stereotypes surrounding computer science affect both genders differently. The widespread nerd cliché, according to which hardcore computer users have little social contact and sit at the device all day, has a fundamentally negative effect on BWINF participation. However, this effect is more noticeable in girls, which confirms the results of an earlier study. On the other hand, the “success” stereotype, which is associated with intelligence and prosperity, generally has a positive influence on interest – but less so in girls than in boys.

According to the analysis, a central hurdle for both sexes is the time and energy expenditure, which increases with age and the number of laps. For girls, however, fun, their own ability and career prospects also represent obstacles to participation. The gender gap affects older participants in particular: they are more strongly influenced by relevant clichés and corresponding pressure on self-confidence and performance expectations.

In order to solve the problem, the respondents themselves suggest strengthening the social community at the competitions, for example through teamwork and creating exchange opportunities, and integrating the program better into everyday school life. According to them, computer science should also be presented more as a career perspective for girls and the BWINF infrastructure should be improved. The Nexus Institute also recommends involving those affected in the further development of the competitions, for example through a user advisory board or a participatory implementation of the results.

“We can no longer afford that so few girls choose computer science,” commented Christine Regitz, President of the Society for Computer Science (GI). “We need the creativity, commitment and ideas of girls and women to solve the challenges of our time” with the help of discipline. It is important to create points of contact early on: through the first relevant content in elementary school and a compulsory school subject from middle school at the latest. BWINF Managing Director Wolfgang Pohl also pleaded for “extracurricular and cross-school offers to encourage girls and network with each other”.

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