By Oscar S. Cisneros
The gender gap in computer-related classes in Inland high schools has educators worried, even as advanced computer classes flourish.
"There was a much higher percentage of boys in the classroom," said Denise Hoyt, a technology instructor at Yucaipa High School. "When I look at my class, and you see such a gender inequality, you've got to wonder why."
Although girls generally sign up for Yucaipa's introductory computer class, which includes desktop and Web publishing, Hoyt said, the girls then shun more intensive courses, like computer programming and setting up networks.
The trend in the schools reflects the reality of the male-dominated industry, Hoyt said, recalling a computer convention she attended in June at which the men-to-women ratio approached 200 to one.
"It was certainly an eye-opener -- there were very few women," she said.
Hoyt returned to her networking class aware of the industry's gender inequality and ready to keep the girls in her class informed.
"I kept telling them that the job opportunities to them were much greater, . . . because the industry needs more women," Hoyt said.
Companies that lack female employees will want to hire female academy graduates to create a better workplace balance, she said.
Jeanne Galindo, educational marketing manager for Cisco Systems Inc., said gender imbalance is common in a lot of Cisco Networking Academies -- a fact that she keeps in mind when talking to students about the program.
"I specifically talk to the young ladies in the audience and encourage them to participate and not to be afraid to take the class," she said. "I think women need to be invited into the industry."
Galindo said lack of confidence may contribute to the problem. Acknowledging and talking about weaknesses in math or computer sciences may be a way to address the problem.
"I think there's still a lot of women who subscribe to the model of getting married and they don't think about their careers and college," she said.
"Girls in high school are trying to identify themselves and I think move away from math and science," she said.
To counter this Galindo often invites a woman from Pacific Bell to speak with her at high schools about careers in technology.
"They saw us as role-models," Galindo said about a recent speaking event. "They saw this as something that women do."
Diana Fryer, 16, whom Hoyt described as her top Cisco student, agreed that girls need more role-models. Diana has been disappointed with the number of girls in her computer classes.
"I just thought it was really cool to have a woman teacher because it showed me that women can do it," Diana said.
"I've been a straight-A student all my life so when I want something I just go and get it, but maybe other girls weren't raised that way," Diana said. "Some of the girls may have a low self-esteem and think, `How can I compete with all those guys?' "
Galindo and Hoyt said that they will be working toward increasing enrollment in the Cisco Networking Academies.
"For the following school year, we're going to start developing strategies to market the course to girls," she said.
In the meantime, Galindo and Hoyt confessed to not knowing the definitive cause of the gender gap. Neither is an expert in child psychology, but both expressed concern and curiosity.
"I wonder why," Hoyt said. "We're not doing anything to discourage them."