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.