Thursday, September 04, 2008

Google comic: Where are all the women?

Like every other techie out there, I was excited when I found out this week that Google was releasing their own browser, Google Chrome. And I was dazzled by the array of technical enhancements they outlined in their comic book, illustrated by Scott McCloud.

But as I thumbed through the comic, I couldn't help but notice the dearth of female characters. Almost every comic character resembled your typical twenty-something computer dude, like the Mac guy from those (in)famous commercials.

I only found three women in the entire 38 page comic, and only one of them was a main character, pictured below twice. (Racial diversity is also an issue, but I won't go there.)

Now I understand that the characters featured in the comic were members of the Google Chrome team, and so the comic just reflected the gender makeup of the team. Google wasn't trying to be sexist. However, it does underscore an important point:
Technical fields like computer science are badly hurting for women.
As I look at my roster of 60 CS students this semester, I count only three females. There's only 10 females out of 75 students currently enrolled in an our introduction to programming classes this fall (13%), so that certainly doesn't bode well for the future.

And if Google, the tech company everyone wants to work for, can't find more than one woman to put on their team, we're all in trouble.

Something else about the comic that got me wondering: How is a comic book of young guys talking tech going to convert Internet Explorer users to Chrome users? The comic will only be interesting to guys that like comics and/or tech, and those guys are all using Firefox.

Perhaps that wasn't the point of the comic, but you have to believe Google wants the IE crowd to trade-up. The only browser marketshare I see Google capturing is from the Firefox crowd which is at roughly 18%. IE users, people like my parents who don't even really know what a browser is, are going to remain with IE. (That is unless Google figures out a sneaky way to put Chrome on their desktop through a "software update".)