Women in Tech: The Link to the Future

In the last year, I have been to three major conferences and numerous smaller gatherings and meetings. The one thing they have all had in common is that women were completely outnumbered by the men. The amount of women attending never exceeded the 30% mark and was often much lower. An essential ingredient for a successful gathering of the talented and the interested is good coffee and good wifi, but I would argue that the most vital ingredient would be a greater amount of women in attendance.

The question has to be asked why there are so few women in technology? In societies all around the world, women are seen primarily as the home-builders, so it is not expected for them to run their own businesses as well as run a family. They are the CEOs of the home and it has been determined that they should rule no further.

It all starts at school. Women don’t choose science subjects at school because maths and physics are not presented as being relevant. The problem is that neither technology nor science are made to seem appealing as subjects to study or careers to pursue. They are not hard subjects. In fact they are fun, but it is rare that they are portrayed in an attractive light from a female point of view. Science is clean, logic-filled fun and isn’t owned by anybody. Of course, you could argue that it is for women themselves to cast the obstacles aside and stride forth unimpaired. But for many women who also want, and have the right, to have a domestic life, it simply becomes another battle on too many fronts.

The role models are there but there are few and far between; Caroline Porco, Gina Trapani and Marissa Mayer are a few of the more well-known. Also, there are women like Jenny Rohn, whose work on fighting cutbacks in government spending by being the organiser and energiser behind the campaign “Science is Vital” have been featured in a previous article, “Scientists Take to the Streets“. But it’s not enough, and we shouldn’t be assessing accomplishment in terms of gender anyway. There is much more that needs to be done.

Of course, not all men are unsympathetic to the difficulties that women face in the workplace. However, we all operate under cultural assumptions about gender roles that constantly need to be challenged. Nevertheless, you would not think that in the highly-educated science and tech community that you would expect to see anything like the cover of last month’s edition of Wired.

The image on the front of the magazine only serves to add insult to injury. As a woman working in the tech sector, you get used to things and there is just no point in whining: no one is going to listen anyhow. However, this current cover takes the biscuit and it is disappointing that Wired magazine would want to alienate one-half of their potential customers. A stupidity, actually, from a business perspective. Their sheer arrogance is reflected in the publishing of a cover that looks like a soft-porn magazine. Fine if they are selling porn, but they are selling tech. This is just one of the reasons why so few women stay in or pursue work in tech. There seems to be a blur now between the tech and porn industries, neither of which treat women suitably, favourably or fairly.

Cindy Royal also makes some great points in regard to Wired’s poor treatment of women in her article “An Open Letter to Wired Magazine“. The most telling failure of Wired’s unjust behaviour is that it has been fourteen years since they had a woman on the cover that actually featured in an article. A lot of things can change in a decade and a half, but unfortunately it has not been the role of women in the workplace or in science and tech.

It is not just Wired magazine who are guilty of ill-treating women in this respect. Facebook itself is a platform that was built on rating females – not unlike the rating system that seventeen male accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper used which leaked via email to the press recently.

If we start to tolerate the behaviour towards women and accept it and say it is OK for them to be continued to be objectified, what does this say for future possibilities and equality in the workplace? Will it become only further out of reach? Is the possibility of equality an illusion – a myth in the workplace?

There is somehow the perceived notion that women are less valuable then men in the workplace – that maternity leave is seen as “time off” and men seen as superior. That deep down, women are only really as valuable as good as they look on their ‘hot or not’ ratings. It is ironic that women not only have to work twice as hard – but they get paid less for it. Women in the workplace also come under more scrutiny than their male peers, especially if they are in top positions.

I have given talks to girls at high-school level who are starting to give serious consideration to what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. When I advocated science and technology as a possible career path, their responses were impassive at best and rarely enthusiastic. It simply was not on the agenda. Since we know there are no intellectual reasons why women can’t succeed in science, the answer has to be in the culture that surrounds us. The problem is that computer science is not made to seem an appealing subject to study or career to pursue.

If there is to be a fundamental shift towards an increase of women in tech it needs to start at the primary school level. The negative associations of tech and women need to change – unfortunately the woeful current Wired cover doesn’t help much. What younger girls need is more influential role models – either male or female – and also all the support and encouragement that they can get.

The big loser in all this is human progress. We have so many challenges facing us and so much to do, and it needs all of us – men and women – to make as much of a contribution as possible in order to come up with the solutions we need so urgently. A lack of diversity always causes problems in the end. It will take both genders to make a difference. Men need to learn to share and women need to step forward and claim what they have a right to. It is the impact of all contributions that will help make the world a better place and have a positive and constructive impact on society.

9 thoughts on “Women in Tech: The Link to the Future

  1. Really interesting subject. But way to dangerous to tread in these waters…. I expect that is why there are not that many comments on your very interesting post.So given that I have the spirit of a Kamikaze, I’ll try saying something that is not just an empty “I agree”, which of course everyone will give you – there is no cost to agreeing right? Of course I can’t stand people who just agree with everything, because it does not really get one any further either. Women especially are in my view most likely to be flattered by men who will always agree to everything they say as long as it leads them to where they want. One gets this in business too.Now to be a bit critical the above post is the usual – there are not enough women in X field. I regret it too by the way, but then I’d be interested whether this is true in all fields of engineering. You speak of your own experience here, but perhaps there are fields of software engineering where women are present in much larger numbers. From my experience asking women what they are doing, they most often seem to be in subjects such as literature, psychology, biology. Rarely hard physics. But that is just as your statement above just personal experience. Is there any data about that?In any case is it really a problem from a general perspective (I’ll deal with the subjective perspective later)? (Assuming my personal experience generalises) If women were not interested in psychology, would men for all that be more interested in it? Or would we not just end up with a more brutal society?I would venture a hypothesis, that women tend to be more interested in social interactions, or at least certain types of them. Most of the subjects that men tend to be in are Object Oriented spaces: construction, plumbing, coding, tractor driving, car driving, building motors, solar panels, and so on. Those require teams to build, but they are less about psychological factors, emotions, relations between people, listening, and so on, as they are about things. I argued this position in more detail starting slide 78 of “Philosophy and the Social Web” that this is clearly the case in engineeringhttp://www.slideshare.net/bblf…So if girls are not interested overwhelmingly in those fields, this may be because theyunderstand that there are more important, or just as important fields of study that suit them better. (speaking in general here of course). Now this has to be the case, since there are more women in academia than men now and in most areas of life – (looking for that article but Facebook has such a bad search engine!)) It seems.From a subjective perspective it is of course very odd for women who are in the minority in a specific field of study, as in your case. It is just as odd for men I think. If there are under 10% women in a conference, it is an issue whether one should go to speak to her: if everyone did then it would be tantamount to molestation of some sort. And the issue of whether one should speak to the women then of course brings up all these feminist issues which perhaps stretch out the initial hesitancy to the point that one does not go to meet up with her at all. This may be a conference organisation issue then: if there are subjects where women are in larger numbers perhaps conferences should be paired where women outnumber men in their field and this has some relation to the issues that the men-outnumber women field is investigation. And so that could spark a deeper discussion between different fields of knowledge. Well that’s just a thought…Now for the photo in Wired, I don’t really read that magazine anymore. But I don’t find that prooves much. I looked at some women’s magazines and there are nearly naked women in those too – oddly enough, and to my surprise. In ancient greece it was mostly men that were sculpted as naked. Now it’s mostly women. What is even odder is the way in the US it seems to be a grosser crime to portray a naked women in film than a man shooting another one… Go figure….


  2. Isn’t it something to do with HR? They send you emails telling to work a 37 hour week, but then HR, and senior academics who have gone over to the dark side, set goals for promotion that you can’t achieve without working 70 hours a week. Women often can’t work 70 hours a week either because of other obligations or simply because they are too sensible.


  3. There are quite a few mixed-up threads of argument here I think – initial choices students make; representation of women in most fields at more senior levels, the existence of female role models in the technology field, (of which incidentally, I think there are many), and objectification of women .With respect to the initial choices students make there has been much research done on the area and it is a pity some of it was not referenced here.There are also standard arguments and guidelines for responsible journalism and media and gender stereotyping which most *responsible* and *reputable* media publications try to adhere to.It is important for educators to know what factors contribute to the career choices men and women make rather than just accepting the status quo.It is also incredibly important for responsible and reputable media to get a message across (to females in particular) of what is involved in a career in technology – and to change the impression of “sitting at a desk all day” – you may be relatively still but your mind can design and create something new every day! It is important for responsible and reputable media to show that women are accepted in the field and can, and **do**, make a huge contribution. The wired magazine cover(s) fail incredibly in this last regard and for that reason are objectionable. (Women’s magazines and are produced and sold in an entirely different context and in my view would not be considered reputable or responsible either).


  4. The story was originally commissioned before the PWC blowup and the issue of the Wired cover broke in the news. Considering our subject matter it was felt that contrary to our normal way of doing things we should include an ongoing topical event into one of our stories. We had already agreed to leave the PWC emails out of the first draft but when the Wired cover showed up a day or so later we decided that some sort of response was warranted.We attempt to take a positive view of things but it was just too relevant to our discussion and we thought it served to make a point about the objectification of women in society in a very immediate way.Although, it is unlikely this sort of thing will ever go away in our lifetimes we plan to carry on writing about interesting people doing interesting things and hope that with our own (usually) positive take on technology and its developments we can inspire and motivate others to take action and make a contribution.


  5. Ah so as I said (below) there are more women at universities than men, or close at least. I found the following articles online on the subject* “Women are soaring ahead of men at university (Times Online)* “Women ahead of men by degrees” (The Australian)* “Women earn more doctoral degrees than men( New York Times)So the main argument was that it may just be a choice that women are not in certain fields. What would be interesting would be an idea of which fields have more women. There have to be some if the statistics hold up.


  6. Thanks Henry for your comments and outlook on the topic. It’s a sensitive issue that women don’t complain or point out too much about as of the fear of attracting unnecessary attention for whinging.There is absolutely no cost for agreeing that’s for sure.”Women especially are in my view most likely to be flattered by men who will always agree to everything they say as long as it leads them to where they want. One gets this in business too.”Indeed.Yes the article is subjective but I think women (speaking again from my personal experience) would agree with me that in all female schools there is no heavy sway towards technologies in tech and science. I have taught in both an all boys and all female school in Ireland and seen firsthand the emphasis on technology and science from both types of schools – and especially the all boys school perspective. I taught science in the all girls school and was shocked that the book I taught from was the very one I had used whilst in school (although a later edition but not much had changed).The all boys school had an incredible Physics teacher who went out of his way to get as many interested students involved in the Young Scientist Exhibitions in Ireland. The school won many prizes. The all girls school just did not have such an equivalent. That however is only 2 schools and I am sure that there is a number of excellent physics,maths and science teachers going out of their way in all girls schools but I just don’t believe that their classes would be as full as in an all boys school. I don’t think that women are not interested in as so much as not exposed to interesting science and tech in schools. I personally think that if they had more exposure and encouragement that we would see more women in tech. I also do know that many school girls enter the Young Scientist of the Year competition held here in Ireland annually and that girls have won prizes. Sarah Flannery, Emer Jones (youngest ever winner) and Aisling Judge are the girls that spring to mind.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y…Sarah Flannery seems to have been extremely exceptional:”Wrote a book on her algorithm and number theory in general, In Code: A Mathematical Journey (ISBN 0-7611-2384-9)First place — 11th European Union Contest for Young ScientistsGained a BA in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge in 2003, worked for Wolfram Research for a period and in 2006 was working with the EA Software Company in California, United States. Her book In Code (2001), co-written with her father, retells the story of the making and breaking of the algorithm and of the enjoyment that she got, as a child and throughout her life, from solving mathematical puzzles.”I know plenty of women that love solving puzzles it’s a pity this love for puzzles is not embraced in the schooling system directly.Your background and family environment also has a lot to do with your future development. Sarah’s father David was a mathematics professor at Cork Institute of Technology.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S…Facebook has a dreadful search engine.I hope that Sally looked in both the basket and the box…or at least had the intelligence to! : )Regarding the conferences – it is a conference organizational issue but if no women apply will then no women apply and its clearly down to a lack of numbers attending which loops back down all the way to the secondary school level and the lack of interest given to science and tech at this level to girls….The Wired photo was used to get attention but its just a cheap shot in the long run and as I said they only serve to alienate women who work and earn money and from a business perspective (especially in this climate) just doesn’t make any business sense.And yes I find the double standards in the US incredible – the pix-elating out of body parts on Perfume adverts on the TV over there doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever if you have ever seen a “European” advert on American TV. Are women’s magazines owned by women and is there an agenda in having so many nearly naked women in them? That is a whole other blog post in itself and not suitable for socialmedia.net but perhaps a forum group elsewhere…


  7. Hi David,I know a number of woman that work more then 37 hours a week but for the most part most of them are sensible and go home after their 37 hours.Depends on your environment I guess but being sensible always helps in life….


  8. Yes, it is a complex issue. For example if you go in the opposite direction you could look at the pressures that exist against boys from becoming dancers. I have not yet seen it but apparently Billy Elliot is a beautiful film on the subject http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0249462/ . My guess is that men and women have different attractors and interests, and that you just won’t get 50% man/women in every discipline, unless you recategorise the disciplines. For example if you put athletics and dance together, or if you put computer science and design in one category. But that does not mean that one should not be careful to remove unnecessary obstacles, and work not on removing but reducing the tendency of society to create stereotypes. This is known as a civilisational project.


  9. 30% female attendance, well, my dear, it’s a considerable improvement. When I started attending this type of conferences in the 80’s, female participation at such events could be less than 1%. And I remember to this day the 1st time I saw a lady on the stage. Yes, Big Blue had done the unthinkable, add a female to its list of speakers… I also stopped counting long ago how many times business cards got exchanged in my presence without even the pretense I was worth receiving one.Just try talking about this issue at the break to see the response that you get. I’ve done it many times and no subject can make you more unpopular. Worse than talking about religion at table, akin to making yourself hara-kiri in the group. Watch the shoulder movement and the looks you get as if there’s something wrong with you which should confine you to your bed or to the lunatic asylum.They basically think you’re paranoid and hate you for trying to intrude and question their ultracomfortable universe.And why do you get this? Because these guys are unable to grasp a situation they were never confronted with. They’re the majority in their profession and you’re the minority. Same with race. Françoise Giroud, of Turkish origin, who achieved being the first editor-in chief in France of a news weekly and was appointed to a sub-minister job for equality she later had the guts to resign from for lack of real purpose, wrote in her memoires that being female and foreigner is the worst combination that you can inherit.Nothing to do with the level of education, language, achievement, teamwork or communication skills, you get it. That’s why it’s called the GLASS wall to start with or the GLASS ceiling to move up.More to come, I have to go right now


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