Do men and women have different standards of success?

This quote has been haunting me because it rings so true:

men tended to stick with their studies as long as they completed the coursework, while women did so only if they earned high grades

I don’t see that in all fields but I definitely see it in computer science. I wonder if it’s because only really competitive women tend to stick it out in a field that’s often less than 20% women (and comes with all the problems that entails.) They are used to working hard, competing and doing well. And when they don’t, well they figure they should be doing something else. Something they excel at.

I’ve seen it happen. (And for the record the women I know went on to be really successful in other scientific fields. I think they would have excelled in computer science too.)

What do you think?

22 Replies to “Do men and women have different standards of success?”

  1. I’m not sure if this answers your question, but it is probably related. As an undergrad, the women I knew in the CS department were without exception interested in programming-as-career. This probably fit in closely with this observation about grades- if you aren’t getting good grades, then it wasn’t going to be a good career, and you shouldn’t be there. (This was a very small sample size- 3? 4?) In contrast, many of the men I knew in the department (though definitely not all) were interested in the joy of programming- creating, etc. For them, the grades didn’t matter, because they were having fun, and so the details of the career would work themselves out.

    Obviously in many areas of study women happily focus on the creative and/or ignore the pragmatic, so if this gap is even real (caveats here about small sample sizes and all that) I’m not sure what the real cause is.

    1. Interesting point. (My sample size is very small too.) I was in it because it was fun and because computers were going to change the world. But if I’d never thought of careers, I might have just majored in math – it was a lot of fun too.

    2. I’ve observed both attitudes in both genders. I know both men and women who just want a career, and I know both men and women who hack for the joy of hacking. I wouldn’t associate either attitude more strongly with a gender.

      The same goes for caring about grades. However, the people I know who hack for the joy of hacking tend to also get excellent grades. 🙂

  2. I agree with the quote. I have noticed that none of my women colleagues are in CS out of enthusiast, they work for nothing but grades (or other similar goals).

  3. Well, that would mean you think all the women you know would be above average CS professionals.

    Since that is really unlikely (by definition, half should be below average), that probably means that is not the case.

    It´s a very common phenomenon, when you find a quote that agrees to what you want to believe.

    You want to believe those women (maybe brilliant in the field they are good at) would have been just as good in CS, and this quote enables you to keep believing that.

    1. Except that the study (which I haven’t checked the validity of – although in general I think the NYT does it’s homework) said that the quote holds true.

      FYI, you do not know that women are not above average CS professionals. Just because they are half the general population, does not mean that the subgroup that goes into CS is a representative group. By definition, I would say it’s not.

  4. Perhaps it has to do with men tending to overestimate their own self-worth. A lot of guys out there think they’re brilliant even as they are just barely passing a class. Maybe women are more likely to take a lower grade as a sign she is not as smart in that particular subject?

    1. Or maybe women in CS classes need more external validation? I had some awesome mentors, professors and fellow students. They are the reason I stayed.

      1. Interesting. FWIW, comments get assigned to the wrong thing if you have JavaScript disabled. Urgh. JavaScript Must Die.

        Anywho, my original comment, currently associated with because of the aforementioned JavaScript error:
        This. I suspect (here, “suspect” means “have a Wild Ass Guess” 😉 that it’s as simple as external vs internal validation. E.g. men are driven by society to be individuals and women are driven by society to be collective.

        As is the case with WAGs, I could always be completely off the mark.

  5. Indeed I don´t know if women are above average, below average, or average in CS. I suspect they are average like most other humans.

    Lacking any study that shows women to actually be above average at CS as a scientific field — and the Anita Borg study mentioned (did you read it?) says nothing of the sort, since it´s about K-12 education — I don´t see why “women are above average in CS” should be accepted as anything other than personal opinion.

    If you are referring to another study I haven´t seen, please clarify!

    1. I wasn’t saying they were above average. My point was just with such a small sample, you can’t assume they are average. By definition, they are such a small sample of the general population, that you have to assume that they are different in some way and probably not average. Whether above, below, green, blue, small, big, I don’t know. But probably not representative of the female population as a whole.

  6. Far be it from me to claim specific women to be above, below, or exactly average at anything, but all I say is that you may be subject to some degree of self confirmation bias.

    I believe most of my friends are smart, engaging, fun and kind. If I didn’t, why would they be my friends? That doesn’t mean they are smarter than other people’s friends, only that I like them better.

    In the same way, just because one of your friends is now a brilliant exoplanetologist or whatever, that doesn’t mean she would have been any good at CS, much less above average.

    For example, you just assumed that the study cited in the article actually was about the same subject as the article (it’s not even close).

    For example, I find that someone, (regardless of gender!) can just go around saying CS guys are “male, skinny, no social life, eats junk food, plays video games, likes science fiction,” not horribly offensive, but kinda sad, since it’s just falling for a stupid stereotype and not noticing falling for this one is just like Barbie saying “math is hard”.

    In short: I am 100% against stupid stereotyping of women, just as I am 100% against stupid stereotyping of anyone, and this article is just more of the same.

    And if the reason why members of group A think they are not sufficiently represented in activity B is “members of group A think people who work in activity B are icky”… well, that speaks badly about group A.

    Sad stuff all around.

    1. Quite possible I’m engaging in self confirmation bias. I wasn’t saying all women are like that quote. I was just saying the quote stuck with me. I don’t know why it haunted me. But I’m sure if I had done poorly in my first few CS classes I would have changed majors – I certainly watched many other women do that.

      I am not trying to stereotype anyone.

  7. and that’s the thing… there are no below-average women in CS, because if a woman isn’t above average she’ll go do something else.

    so… basically, women are perfectionists? … do women in other areas behave like that? there’s lots of women in .. say.. education. do those women tend to quit if they get bad grades? or not?

  8. Hi Stormy,

    My day job is in a discipline whre women are also under represented on average, (Physics,) although it is somewhat better than Free Software at least. We have around 25 -30% women now.

    My observation is that women tend to do about the same on average as men. ie The fraction of first rate as compared to passing for women is about the same as men at all levels in Physics. (undergrad, MSc, Ph.D.)

    What I find interesting is that disciplines that are dominated by women (like biology) don’t seem to have the same urge to attact men as we do to attract women.

    Biological sciences are about 80% women these days. At least in Australia.

    1. Yeah, most of our teachers – especially at the younger grades – are women. I’d like to have more men teachers as role models too.

    2. Part of it is^H^Hmay be (must resist urge to take WAGs I’ve heard before as fact) that traditional women’s jobs are (relatively) low-paying compared to traditional men’s jobs and therefore men aren’t clamoring to join up.

      Of course, that rests on numerous untested assumptions. Just like any good take on statistics. 🙂

  9. Actually, as far as enrolled students in the computer science course at my university, there’s more women than men. With very crude name-gender-detection (might turn out a few false positives and a few false negatives), it comes out to 663 female students out of 1306, or 50.77% 🙂

    Anyway, I was always under the impression that we had about an even number of boys and girls, and this just confirms my intuition. My intuition also agrees with your statement in the article: girls tend to have better grades, but they do not tend to enjoy “hacking” as much as boys. Now, to put that into perspective, out of perhaps 200-300 students that I am acquainted with, I know about 10 guys who are “really into it”, and no girls: this obviously skews the “general opinion” that all guys are there for the fun, and girls for the career. All those guys are usually not very good at completing their courses. I know 5 guys who are really after their grades, and something like 20 girls in the same position (my outside guess as to their motivation: I am not claiming it to be true).

    These might be useful data points, but I am definitely positive that the percentage of women in computer science is not the reason behind this all. I think it’s just about how many real, deeply involved geeks you have out of each (the usual “vocal minority” theme). And at this time, it’s probably more socially acceptable for men to be such, or perhaps there are ultimately entirely different reasons for it.

  10. I can see the point.

    What my mother long time ago told about difference of mens and womens working way, it is still valid. It is about cleaning the house.

    For mens, cleaning the house is just a task what is needed to complete.
    For womens, cleaning the house is job what is needed to get a clean results.

    That in rough translation.

  11. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because women seek out studies where they can excel simply because they MUST excel to be considered equal to men.

    1. Yeah, this. As a woman with a physics degree, I know that in academia and industry, if I can’t prove with hard data (grades, scholarships, grants, etc.) that I’m 125% better than all the guys out there, I’m getting no slack, no networking, no promotions, no job offers, nothing to build a career on.

      Not to mention that mediocrity is pretty hard on self-esteem, and enthusiasm for subject matter can’t always make up for it.

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