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In 1882 renowned English scientist Charles Darwin announced that “[t]he chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman” (Darwin, 1871, p. 564). This belief in women’s inferior intellect was not new, but as an eminent scientist, Darwin’s proclamations held great sway in his time and place – and since – although nowadays few would admit to this. Or would they? Jump forward to 1992 and we see the arrival of John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which became a phenomenal best-seller (selling more than fifteen million copies globally), and continues to be so. While the book is not as forthright in saying women’s intellect is inferior, it does explain the many ways in which men and women differ – including the ways they think (Gray, 1992).
Dr. Black is perhaps most well known for initiating – and succeeding – in “saving Bletchley Park” (which is also the title of her book). Bletchley Park was a top-secret center for the famous World War II code breakers, including many women, whose work was credited with shortening the war by two to four years. The center deteriorated rapidly after the war and would most probably have been dismantled if not for the fundraising efforts of Dr. Black and her supporters. Bletchley Park is now a thriving visitors’ center and is co-housed with the UK National Museum of Computing. Dr. Black’s initial involvement with Bletchley Park inspired her to conduct an oral history project to capture the memories of the women who worked there. She met several of the surviving women code breakers; some shared their stories with her, others never revealed the details of their highly secret work.
As we close this collection of many perspectives from multiple cultures and countries we hope to have shown that women’s participation in computing is largely determined by cultural factors. We hope this book has provided a convincing argument that alternative ways of thinking about, and acting on, gender and computing issues could benefit both the field and the people in it. We have argued for the examination of variables outside a gender dichotomy as possible sources of differences in women’s participation in computing. In particular, we have suggested and illustrated that a cultural approach, an approach that pays close attention to culture and environment, focuses on the many factors that can allow for, or hinder, women’s participation.
Is computing just for men? Are men and women suited to different careers? This collection of global perspectives challenges these commonly held western views, perpetuated as explanations for women's low participation in computing. By providing an insider look at how different cultures worldwide impact the experiences of women in computing, the book introduces readers to theories and evidence that support the need to turn to environmental factors, rather than innate potential, to understand what determines women's participation in this growing field. This wakeup call to examine the obstacles and catalysts within various cultures and environments will help those interested in improving the situation understand where they might look to make changes that could impact women's participation in their classrooms, companies, and administrations. Computer scientists, STEM educators, students of all disciplines, professionals in the tech industry, leaders in gender equity, anthropologists, and policy makers will all benefit from reading this book.
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