A Dundee University lecturer has come up with a mathematical model to explain why women in computer science bear the brunt of sexism.
Senior lecturer Dr Karen Petrie has come up with a calculation dubbed the “Petrie Multiplier” to demonstrate how being in a minority, as experienced by female tech employees, makes someone more vulnerable to sexist comments.
“This has been a particularly good way to demonstrate it, so it is mathematical and there are no feelings involved,” said Dr Petrie.
The school of computing academic said her research on sexism in tech jobs was not an attack on men, as it assumed men and women were equally sexist.
“This isn’t anti-men. Even if men and women are making the same level of sexist comments, if women are in the minority they bear the brunt of it.”
Her findings impressed Professor Ian Gent from the school of computer science at St Andrews University. Prof Gent wrote about the research on his online blog, and it has been shared many times on Twitter.
“The maths that explains this is simple,” he said.
“With 20% women the gender ratio is one to four. So there are four times as many men to make sexist remarks, so four times as many sexist remarks are made to women as to men.
“But there are four times fewer women to receive sexist remarks, so each individual woman is four times as likely to receive a given remark than an individual man is.
“These effects multiply, so in this example the mean number of sexist remarks per woman is 16 times the number per man.
“There is an unlucky guy who receives three sexist remarks, as it happens from the same woman. That is not acceptable, and she should stop.
“But that’s the unluckiest guy out of 40. The luckiest woman receives four sexist remarks.
“So let’s get this straight: the luckiest woman out of 10 experiences worse sexism than the unluckiest man out of 40.”
Dr Petrie is all too aware of the gender imbalances facing women in computing science, being immersed in the industry herself.
She used to chair the British Computing Society group for women, where her work involved helping women working in internet technology make contact with colleagues.