The XX Factor

Nerd Alert!

In partnership with the Washington Post Magazine , we’ll debate a new question each week and invite you to join in. This week: Research suggests that a “nerdy” environment-one that includes Star Wars paraphernalia, computer games, and junk food-can turn women off from careers in computer science. What sort of factors would you say make a work environment unattractive or unwelcoming to women?

Hanna Rosin : At DoubleX , we insist on pink wallpaper and pictures of Gloria Steinem. Just kidding. Not to sound unsympathetic, but it seems to me that Darth Vader and Doritos are a vast improvement over pinups and boob jokes. Maybe we can mandate that offices full of developers have a Wii, so that gaming remains strictly gender-neutral.

Dahlia Lithwick : Star Wars paraphernalia, computer games, and junk food-you’ve just described every room in my house.

KJ Dell’Antonia : I think this “nerdy environment” thing is just another way to say that women perceive computer science as a male field. Some women love to polish up their lightsabers and charge right into that; others don’t, and all the Barbie computer games in the world aren’t going to change that. Programs that encourage women to enter a field, scholarships, schools seeking out female students-those are the things that put women into classrooms and later, into those work environments. That’s when we bring in the pink wallpaper. With pictures of Gloria-and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course.

Ellen Tarlin : Yes, I’d have to say the main thing that makes work environments unfriendly to women is people who work there who are unfriendly to women or who exclude them either intentionally or unintentionally. Plenty of women like Star Wars , computer games, and junk food and don’t need to work in offices that look like the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine.