Manufactured anger over the lack of women in tech

I’m on a TechCrunch panel tomorrow entitled ‘Balancing Tech Culture: Getting more women involved in tech startups’. I’m likely to be a little controversial, but then again, I’ve never been known to sit back and clap other panelists or speakers on the back for the sake of it. You never know, some of the panelists might agree with me - I won’t make assumptions.

It’s my opinion, which I’ll articulate tomorrow, that the books of males vs females doesn’t need to be balanced in favour of more females. Why? Well, because there are plenty of females in tech and those that aren’t, don’t want to be. Ok, so there might be a small percent who would like to be in tech, but don’t make it. But can’t the same be said for any industry?

Are we trying to balance the books to encourage more males to become nurses?

It’s panel discussions like this one that does little to help - they’re likely to do more harm than good by devaluing the females already in tech.

To sidetrack for a minute; it seems I’m being called into the female-tech world - I’m heading to Greece next week to give a talk about entrepreneurial stuff to over 100 geek women and I’ve been invited to give a talk to a group of convent girls about entering into the interactive industry. So I guess I get to speak to the before and after. More about the Greece talk next week.

To summarise, I think females are as likely to go into tech as males are to enter into the nursing profession. What do you think?


Comments  Join the discussion


  1. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Dee Scott said...

    Seeing as you mention it twice, do you know of any efforts to get men into nursing and what the ratio is? Are you suggesting it would be a bad thing if there was?

    Incidentally, do you oppose recruiting ethnic minorities into the Police and other positive steps towards a more balanced workplace?

    How about the Recruitment industry and HR Departments? Would you oppose efforts to get more men into those sectors, as they are heavily balanced towards female staff?

    Such comments against efforts to even the balance seem odd if you feel all women who want to be in IT are in IT. If that’s the case then why comment against efforts to even things up as, by your arguement, they are pointless anyway.

    Regards,

    Dee, Business Analyst in a roughly 50:50 split Change department.


  2. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Leigh Honeywell said...

    Hi Paul,

    I don’t think anyone’s advocating for pushing women who aren’t interested in tech into it. That would just be silly.

    I’m not angry about the lack of women in technology - the mere 25% in commercial software development, or the around 10% currently enrolled in the undergraduate CS program at my university, for example. I’m just sad.

    I’m sad that women and girls are missing out on the fun and challenge of working in IT and technical professions in general, not due to any difference in innate ability, but due to shitty social pressure and the idea that tech work is geeky and uncool.

    There’s a lot of work being done to counteract this “uncool” image and more importantly (as research in the field has shown) to show girls and young women how studying and working in tech / CS can have an amazing, positive, and direct impact on the world we live in. The Unlocking the Clubhouse study at Carnegie Mellon, one of (if not the) most respected CS schools in the world, showed that with some simple attitude changes on the part of high school teachers, we can make a world of difference in getting girls interested in CS. I personally am really excited to be working with a program called Gr8 Designs for Gr8 Girls which brings Grade 8 girls to U of T and other schools and gets them coding and learning from industry professionals for a day. What we’re trying to do is to help the girls consider CS as an option for something interesting and inspiring to do with their lives (or at least with their undergrad degrees ;) )- because at 10% enrollment, it seems they currently aren’t.

    I actually bring up the situation in the nursing world all the time when talking about this issue. I think that medicine is the worse for not having more male nurses, and I wish that there was more encouragement in general for men to go into the “caring professions”. Gender stereotypes hurt men as well as women - “patriarchy hurts men too” is a commonly-heard reminder in the feminist blogosphere :)

    I hope this comment gives you some insight into why it may seem that folks are angry about this issue. We’re really just sad that women are missing out, and think that CS and tech in general is worse off for it.

    I’d be glad to send you a copy of the Unlocking the Clubhouse book if you’re interested in reading a bit more on the issue. I credit that book with keeping my confidence and interest in CS up through the long challenge of a part-time degree, and it’s a great, easy read. You’ve got access to my email through this comment; drop me a message with an amazon wishlist item or your address and I’ll send it your way.

    -Leigh


  3. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    Dee - I only mentioned nursing twice because I’d previously mentioned ‘non-gay fashion designers’. Don’t know why I changed it.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to encourage more females or more males to take up nursing, or any other profession - that’s my point.

    Yes, I have a massive problem with the recruitment of ethnic minorities into the Police for the sake of it. That’s called ‘positive discrimination which is just as bad as discrimination itself - some may argue that positive discrimination drives discrimination in some people - I’d be one of those people with this opinion.

    Equally, I have a problem with hiring more men in recruitment, or any other industry for the sake of it, is bad. I have no problem with trying to promote and encourage. But to hire a male or female to offer balance is just wrong.

    I just hope you don’t have 50/50 because someone felt it was necessary to hire a male or female - that should make you or your colleagues wonder if they were the best people for the job.

    Great questions as I clearly didn’t answer them in my original post. Cheers :)


  4. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Anton Mannering said...

    @Leigh I think Star Trek is cool and I think there are disproportionately few female Star Trek fans. I think we need to start an intervention program immediately. We need to bring young girls to Star Trek conventions at an early age to alert more young women to the entertainment benefits of Star Trek.
    I feel genuinely sad that so many women are missing out on a fantastically entertaining show because of what is obviously a sexist cultural bias.

    Or maybe they just think Star Trek isn’t very interesting and they’d rather spend their time watching something else… I dunno, you tell me. ;-)


  5. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Coletta said...

    Hi Paul - I have to say I agree with Leigh. It is sad that women and girls are missing out on the fun and challenge of working in IT and technical professions and I might add the creativity found in those professions.


  6. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist » Blog Archive » Manufactured … | tech-gals.com said...

    [...] post: Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist » Blog Archive » Manufactured … Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist » Blog Archive » Manufactured …Women Who Tech Telesummit: [...]


  7. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Kate Craig-Wood said...

    1) There is abundant evidence that gender-balanced teams work better.*

    2) Only 11% of IT professionals working within the industry are female.**

    I would encourage you to read my posting on it here (which has some of the latest figures from the BCS/eSkills/Intellect research):

    http://www.katescomment.com/women-in-it-scorecard/ **

    Finally, I can confirm from first-hand experience than boys are encourage more towards technology than girls. It is about society’s preconceptions, not about likes or abilities - I explain here (and explain why getting girls into IT should matter for us all):

    http://kate.craig-wood.com/girls-into-it.php *

    if you prefer the version published in the Financial Times online:

    http://is.gd/tAb7

    Women are being discouraged from IT by pervasism sexism (yes, I can prove that too - see my blog), and by gross pay inequality. Can you say the same for nursing?


  8. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Matt said...

    Hi Paul,

    Love the blog, typos and all :) but having proudly participated as a blogger in last month’s Ada Lovelace Day I can’t let this one pass.

    Of course there are some very talented and successful women in our industry. That’s not in doubt. It’s not so much that there are too few women in the tech sectors as that there are too many men! Look around you at most tech conferences and you’ll see mainly male audiences listening mainly to other men.

    This is not just bad because women are missing out on opportunities (though I believe some are) but also because, in the words of David Ogilvy, “diversity is the mother of invention.” We are all missing out on the creativity and customer-centricity that a more diverse culture would engender. Think, for example, of how long the games industry remained stuck on the demands of a small power user niche while the needs of the much bigger casual user segments went unmet. What other business opportunities might be there for the taking right now?

    The nursing analogy is an interesting one. Why not doctors, one might ask, and how much by nature, how much by nurture? (And yes, I do think men should be encouraged to consider nursing as a career!) Either way, if, as I think you’re suggesting, there are deeply engrained differences between men and women then there’s a clear imperative for us to capitalise on those differences.

    That means taking active steps such as ensuring that girls can see strong female role models in our industry, as it seems they might in medicine. It means making work more compatible with family life (from which men also stand to benefit). It means changing our business culture so women’s voices can be heard, and their contributions recognised and rewarded equally with those of men.

    The conversation will be more profitable as a result.

    Regards,
    Matt


  9. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  James Whatley said...

    Good points, well made.

    I got into a similar issue a couple of months ago with Helen Keegan over twitter re: Shining a light on women in tech.

    My argument was I would rather applaud great work in tech than the gender of the person that achieved it.

    Good luck tonight, you may need ;)


  10. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Leigh Honeywell said...

    @Anton Mannering: while I’m amused by your analogy (as a longtime Star Wars nerd :) ), it doesn’t really hold. Careers are a little more important than fandoms, and the thing that you’re not questioning in either case is the /why/ of that interest. See related comments regarding nursing. We miss out as a profession when women aren’t interested for shitty reasons like stereotypes and social conditioning.

    Plus, having wandered through some Trek event that was going on at the same time as last year’s Defcon, I know that there are TONS of female Trekkers. It was a pretty important show, after all - gender-integrated Bridge, first inter-racial kiss on television… amazingly progressive for a show from the Sixties :)

    @James Whatley: there’s been a bunch of interesting research of late that has shown that women require role models more than men in order to feel comfortable pursuing career options. That was what inspired the Ada Lovelace Day blogging event - an effort to showcase some of those role models. I think it was a worthwhile effort.

    -Leigh


  11. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Leigh Honeywell said...

    @Kate Craig-Wood: actually, pervasive sexism is an issue in nursing as well. It’s a particularly interesting case, as it affects men both negatively and positively. Google for the concept of the “glass elevator” for some interesting reading.

    -Leigh


  12. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Marie Boran said...

    This makes sense to me if you just ask the question: does it matter that there is a large gender imbalance in the technology industry?

    I’m not bothered at all about someone’s gender as long as they are good at what they do. The reason why it matters for me is that more people - regardless of gender - should be encouraged to consider a career in technology *but* this does mean recognising that 50pc of who you are potentially targeting are female and as such go through the education system where assumptions are made because of their gender.

    I’m old so the education system has moved on quite a bit but a decade ago when I was 18 and thinking of what I would do in college it should have been obvious from my interest in maths, computer classes and the fact that I taught the IT teacher how to do more than create Word documents, that I would be interested in a career in technology but my careers teacher in this all-girls convent school told me to study languages. Not one girl in my class was advised to study computer science, engineering or the like. I would have liked options.

    So no, someone in the technology sector should not be celebrated for being female but because of assumed gender roles and expectations in society females are less likely to be exposed to career choices in the tech sector so extra effort has to be made to correct this imbalance.

    For me, it is all about providing opportunities. No-one wants to accept girls into technology or give special allowances just to have a 50/50 work environment.


  13. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  emily_hatchpr said...

    Sorry - the gender inequality is ‘Not a problem’? Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of attending a tech networking event with 500 guys and 2 girls would probably beg to differ. With groups being totally one-sided you lose a whole set of skills that women tend to have in spades over men. (There are skills men tend to have in spades over women, too, but at the moment the tech industry isn’t suffering from that particular problem).

    Case in point: I’m involved with a tech startup right now and I’m the only female alongside six other founders. They love the fact that I bring a different perspective to them. And I love the fact that I can be assertive in this environment. It’s a huge shame that other women don’t get these experiences because of not going into tech in the first place.

    I’m sure female nurses would wholeheartedly support more men getting into the profession and male nurses would be all for it, too.

    It just proves how long the tentacles of this problem are, that some men in tech won’t even admit there is an issue.


  14. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  emily_hatchpr said...

    Sorry, could I restate one sentence on my comment as I missed a word and the meaning changed:

    “It’s a huge shame that other women don’t get these experiences because of not going into tech in the first place.”

    [There are obviously other women getting these experiences; I meant it's a shame that more aren't getting these experiences.]


  15. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist » Blog Archive » Why men perform better in the kitchen said...

    [...] wrote a post during the week entitled ‘Manufactured anger over the lack of women in tech‘. It was supposed to be a lead-up to my panel debate yesterday - which I was unable to attend [...]


  16. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Kate - everyone can prove their argument using numbers. let’s go with our own experience. I’ve been asked to give a talk to convent girls about moving into a career within the interactive industry. That’s just one example to prove a point… although your findings are very interesting to say the least.

    @Anton Great point. Some might think you’re taking the piss, or being sarcastic. I think you make a great point with a very good analogy.

    @Leight @Coletta - I’m an advisor to the British Council. On of the projects I helped with was the International Creative Entrepreneur competition. I help them put it together and I was then later a judge. There was balance because ‘creative’ included people who owned design agencies and people who designed saris. We’re talking about tech. We’re not talking about interactive or creative.

    @Matt - the number of men vs women at events and conferences doesn’t accurately represent the number of men vs women in the industry. Women are less likely to attend events/conferences - possibly because they know it’s mostly men. I run a lot of events and I don’t know the answer. What I can say is that OpenSoho sees a good balance - but that could be because the agenda is wide open to all industry sectors. I won’t pretend to know the answer.

    @Marie I agree that we’re told different stories during school. However, how many of us end up doing what we wanted at school, or advised by our teachers? Very few I’d imagine.

    @emily_hatchpr couldn’t agree more. And I’m delighted to see you acknowledge that men and women do bring different things to the table. For one, you have a better chance of appearing in an article about entrepreneurs - especially if you’re attractive. The latter is sexist but (un)fortunately true ;)


  17. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    … hope I didn’t miss anyone


  18. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Leigh Honeywell said...

    Hey Paul,

    I don’t really feel that you addressed any of what I said. The “Gr8 Designs” program that I’m involved with is about CS, not “interactive / creative”…

    The fundamental point I was trying to make is that we in tech are missing out on the potential contributions of women through the cultural perception that “this geeky stuff isn’t cool”. That’s what I’m interested in challenging. It’s never been about quotas or 50% for me; it’s about opening up the /possibilities/ of technologies to young women.

    -Leigh


  19. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul O'Mahony (Omaniblog) said...

    Is this a conversation or a stating of positions? Dialogue or broadcast? I’m asking myself what’s going on?

    The people who value diversity as some sort of primary good (I suppose I mean as a fundamental value) are going to keep on striving to equalise the extent to which men and women participate in work contexts - I suspect.

    Those who don’t subscribe to that way of thinking, feeling and behaving won’t go out of their way to try to influence things in that direction.

    So we have diverse values and views…

    I have a 3.6 year old daughter, and two sons in their 20s. I hope she goes down a different route to each of them because I’d be interested to learn about that way too.

    Perhaps I’m not contributing much.


  20. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Why I took part in Ada Lovelace Day « matt.me63.com - Matt Edgar said...

    [...] this post from Paul Walsh, trailing a Techcrunch Europe panel on the subject of women and start-ups, prompted [...]


  21. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Ciara Byrne said...

    As a woman who has actually worked in IT for 13 years (developer, dev team lead, engineering manager, now aspiring startup founder) I can tell you that diversity is definitely a good thing. I have learnt a lot from my male colleagues’ way of doing things but I hope they have also learnt from me. It’s beneficial to get a different perspective. It breaks up the groupthink.

    I work in this industry because it’s intellectually challenging, creative and well-paid in comparison with other careers. It’s also not very institutionally sexist in comparison to other male dominated professions like the City. But socially it’s quite hard because of the “odd one out” situation you always find yourself in as the only woman. For many people the social life associated with their job is a large part of the satisfaction they get from it and men in IT get this benefit a lot more since they are working with people “like themselves”. The few projects on which I have had at least one female colleague have been much more enjoyable.


  22. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Leigh Who said been a geek is cool? I don’t want to be known as a geek as I don’t think it’s cool for me. Just saying :)

    @Ciara - exactly. That’s why I’m more interested in asking the question; ‘how can we better engage the women who *are* in tech and encourage them to attend social/networking events/gatherings. I’m sure I said that in my original post.


  23. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Just a Girl - Why we put on the “Balancing Tech Culture” debate @GeeknRolla said...

    [...] Manufactured anger over the lack of women in tech (22 comments) It’s my opinion, which I’ll articulate tomorrow, that the books of males vs females doesn’t need to be balanced in favour of more females. Why? Well, because there are plenty of females in tech and those that aren’t, don’t want to be. Ok, so there might be a small percent who would like to be in tech, but don’t make it. But can’t the same be said for any industry? [...]


  24. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Evan said...

    One thing that’s confusing to me is that people will argue that diversity along gender/racial/cultural lines because people have different skillsets/viewpoints. This would seem to be implying that race/gender/culture causes people to have different talents.

    But, those same people will complain about unequal representation in the workforce or unequal pay (which I’d dispute). It seems to me if different groups REALLY ARE bringing different talents to the team (which i doubt), maybe some of those talents aren’t valued by management. If so then that would seem perfectly reasonable, since they want whatever it is they want and whatever extra a person brings because of “diversity” is not highly valued ($). It seems to me that most managers don’t care about your gender. They just need a code-monkey and if you can prove you’ve got the skills, then you’ve got the job.


  25. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Ciara Byrne said...

    @Paul It’s pretty easy to get more women at tech/business conferences - have more women on the organising team and get good female speakers on stage. Nobody is saying that you should give people speaking slots just because they are women. In fact it’s even more depressing if there is a “token woman” on stage who turns out to not be a good speaker. Most people go to these events for a bit of inspiration as well as the networking. Having an event on tech or startups where there is at least one credible female speaker is inspiring for other women. I wasn’t at GeeknRolla but it looks like they did a great job on this front whereas I was recently at a conference in Amsterdam where a pretty high proportion of the audience was female but this wasn’t at all reflected on stage. I also help run a networking event here and partly I think because half the organisers are women, we also get more women coming along.


  26. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  bena roberts said...

    This is an interesting debate but I think there is IT or Technology and TECHNOLOGY. I love mobile, search, tech, star trek, buffy, football, cricket, barcodes and am also an SEO. I know about six other leading female SEO’s (which is great) ….but if you ask me to fix a PC - write about RF - re-install vista…. do maths I turn off. The funny thing is that I am a qualified Microsoft Professional -but I realised after doing my MCP’s I hated it.

    The fact of the matter is I don’t like it. I would never be a doctor or a nurse as I hate blood and its my choice.

    Any discussion about women and IT must centre around choice.


  27. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Philip Wilkinson said...

    We need more entrepreneurs full stop - don’t care whether they are male or female! Isn’t that the better discussion?


  28. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Olu said...

    Well this is my take on the whole “more women in tech saga”

    In my own opinion there will always be professions and industries that are more dominated by a particular gender than the other, it’s a part of life. There are professions that are male dominated and others that are female dominated as a result of the natural nature of gender.

    If women want to get into the tech/IT world they are welcome, no one’s saying no to them. In my opinion it is dominated by men because of the high technical knowledge and ability required which to be honest most women don’t or can’t be asked to put themselves through. Am not saying that women don’t possess the technical ability required, they do just like men. Its more the case that women cant be arsed.

    From personal experience while studying technology there were 30 males and 10 females and only 1 female made it through to the final stages. The other 29 dropped out to study business, fashion etc complaining that it was too hard for them to study technology. Amongst the complaints I got was “this is not for women”, “women are meant to be pretty heads not geeks”, “too hard for a woman” etc. So why the complain about the low number of women in tech? if women want to be more dominant in the tech world it is simple, do what men do and pursue a career in technology, don’t drop out, see it through all the ups and downs after all you all want to be like men.

    I get the feeling women always want to compete with men in all levels. Do you see men wanting to compete with women in women-only or women-specific professions or fields? The answer is no.

    Why do we have more women in nursing? It’s a simple answer because more women study nursing. So if more women want to get into tech/IT then the same process should be applied.

    Enough of the moans and grunts by women about being marginalised in the tech world. I’ll be happy if more women are in tech it adds a whole new angle and diversity to it.

    Thanks.


  29. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Dr Mariann Hardey said...

    This is an excellent debate. An important point that I would like to raise is - as Paul, quite rightly, outlines in the post - women do work in the technology industry. BUT, they have less visibility. Why? because they are in positions that are not as centre stage as their male counterparts; they are not as high up the career ladder; they work in different sectors of the technology industry?…

    Or all of the above.

    It IS very striking (especially as a woman) when you attend the technology events e.g. O’Reilly conferences, Geek dinners etc. the ratio of men to women is unbalanced.

    It is the gender (in)visibility that needs to be addressed. These are issues that we need to consider.

    More debate please!


  30. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Ciara regarding events specifically, I agree. I try to do that as best I can at my events.

    @Olu A (girl)friend said to me last night that we’re just wired differently. I thought that was pretty succinct. I agree with you.


  31. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Daiva Naravaite Twitter.com/DivineTech said...

    I agree that gender (in)visibility as well as choice have to be addressed. Research of French women turning 30 today (across various professions) demonstrated how unsatisfying success at all costs was for previous generations. Anything but a successful career was almost labelled a dropout.
    I believe there’s a change in lifestyle and attitude now globally. There’s no guilt about not making to the very top of the mountain: the success in relationships - be it friends, partners, family - is getting more attention.
    A lot of very successful women I know nowadays are drawing more efforts to get pleasure in their personal lives (vs. professional) and it is not regarded as lack of ambition.

    Is it the same for ‘women in tech’? Will we, as a society, benefit in having more women as leaders OR team members in the tech industry?
    -DivineTech


  32. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Ciara Byrne said...

    I just want to point out some excellent comments made by Mary Fodder on this issue over on the Techcrunch site. She gives some practical measures you can take now to get more women into startups and on to conference stages.

    http://uk.techcrunch.com/2009/04/23/just-a-girl-why-we-put-on-the-balancing-tech-culture-debate-geeknrolla/#comment-216195

    Ciara


  33. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  SIME Talks 6: Women and the Tech World - is it a bad marriage? at SIME said...

    [...] from: Tech Crunch UK Geek n Rolla, Guardian’s Naomi Alderman’s, Paul Walsh , The Athena Factor by Harvard Business School Share this [...]


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