This is an activity for FCE Reading Part 7 practice – but it’s important reading for anyone who is studying English, is interested in computers, or in gender equality! 
At the end of the text, there will be a 2-part exercise, where FCE and English-language students can test their understanding of the text. We have included definitions of some words in the text (highlighted in blue).

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More FCE Reading Part 7 – Closing the Gender Gap

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NOTE: some individual words are higlighted in the text. If you don’t know these words, you can learn them by clicking on them and going to our Twitter page.
Where more than one word is highlighted, you can click on them to learn more about the subject.

To download a free, printable version of this exercise (with answers), click here.

Why Have Women Stopped Coding?

A

It is a little-known fact that many of the earliest leaders in computing and software engineering were women. Even many women today choose to avoid the tech industry, seeing it as a male-dominated world. They are right. Perhaps by seeing the important role women played in the early days of the sector, today’s women will change thinking. This role possibly started in the Second World War, a time when computers started to be used by all sides in the war. Women built many of these early computers, while most men were fighting abroad. They were treated as equals in places like Bletchley Park, a military base where top-secret codes were broken on large machines known as bombes. Outside the workplace they still faced inequality, and indeed their vital role in the ‘fight against tyranny’ would be forgotten after the war.

B

Some women continued to live and work quietly in the shadows. They have not received the same credit as men like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, whose creations continue to be celebrated and used to this day. Nevertheless, their achievements were impossible without the work that these women had done. Moreover, this work was arguably just as useful and innovative as today’s iPhone and Windows operating system. Take women like Grace Hopper for example. Hopper was an officer in the US Navy. She developed a code which was used as the basis for COBOL, a programming language which is still popular among business and government systems.  Another woman, Elsie Shutt worked on early operating systems. She founded CompInc, which employed mostly women, working sometimes from home and sometimes in the office. After almost 50 years, the company is still in business, and is proud of being a female- and minority-friendly employer.

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C

However, the present-day tech industry comes across as a strongly male dominated industry. This contrasts sharply with women’s earlier status as equals. In fact, the early female pioneers were amazed to discover that this had happened. Shutt commented: “It really amazed me that these men were programmers, because I thought it was women’s work!” Nevertheless, a 2015 study showed that women make up the minority of employees in the industry. In other fields, like medicine and law, women have risen to become around half of the workforce. In places like Silicon Valley, however, only around 20% of employees are women. Is there a clear reason for this? Is there any hope for girls who dream of developing software?

D

Thankfully, the answer to both questions is “Yes”.
1984 was the year when the destiny of women in coding changed. It was in this year that the amount of women in the tech labour force started to decline. For the rest of this decade the number would continue to fall steadily. In the 90s it plunged. The reason for this is not government policy or social change – but advertising.
In the late 1970s, hardware stores like Radio Shack and brands like Apple began advertising computers as a toy for boys. Girls weren’t encouraged to play games or to experiment with the software, like the boys were. When the children grew up and went to university and the workplace, the boys were able to use this knowledge to excel. The girls in computer courses felt overwhelmed. The advertising continued, and so did the idea that computers were mainly for men.

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E

However, things have started to change. Institutions like Harvard recognise the problem and want to fix it. Universities are now identifying reasons for the lack of women in their computer labs. They are removing the obstacles which prevent more women from applying and succeeding in tech courses. On a more personal note, there are the men that we mentioned earlier. Male executives and developers want their daughters to have the same opportunities that the world of technology has given them, and they are working to make sure that this happens. These changes will take time, probably years. For our daughters and our equal world, though, there is hope.

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For questions 1.10., choose from the sections (A E) in the text. The sections may be chosen more than once.

In which section does the writer mention:

For questions 1.10., choose from the sections (A E) in the text. The sections may be chosen more than once.

In which section does the writer mention: