I get asked a lot about being a woman in technology and its various niches–social media, open source, entrepreneurship, blogging. Interviewers want to know whether or not things are getting better for women, why there aren’t more women here or there, what women should or shouldn’t be doing, and what the future holds for those of us in tech who happen to have the XX chromosome. When I get these questions, I never know what to say. Being a woman doesn’t make me an expert on gender. I can only draw from my own subjective experiences during what’s been a very charmed career. But folks keep asking. So, here’s my official line on the topic, which I sent off to an interviewer just this week.
In both offline and online life, women are more visible, respected, and accomplished than they’ve ever been before. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I believe now is a golden time for women in technology, a time when an awareness of the need for diversity in our field is at its highest. Conference organizers, editors, journalists, and CTOs are desperate to get knowledgeable women onto their speaker rosters, mastheads, source lists, and staff. (I know, because they ask me!) There are many opportunities for those of us who don’t look like Bill Gates, but it’s up to us to make ourselves visible, eligible, and take them.
Ladies, now is not the time for timidity. Step up, take chances, push yourself beyond your comfort zone, use your powers and influence for good, and let your expertise shine. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but we’ll only get there if you do your work, do it well, and do it where others can see and appreciate your example.
That is all. Now, speaking of work: back to it.
…and for girls still in school – it’s ok to be a geek! We need more girls believing technology is a cool thing to study and not thinking they are not as good as the boys. We see this too much in K12 education. Girls – step up!
Is this partially in response to Clay Shirky’s rant about female humility (or at least a lack of machismo, as it were, among women): http://bit.ly/4PabLz?
On a vaguely related note, my friend and I are running this little side project, seeking to assemble a book of foundational essays about the web. We’re calling it ‘Get the Web’, and there’s more information at http://www.gettheweb.org (or http://sites.google.com/a/gettheweb.org/home/, as the latter seems slow to resolve).
We’re soliciting recommendations and looking for more great essays, but we’ve yet to receive a single suggested essay written by a woman. There surely are a bunch. Any suggestions? Maybe you’ve written one?
Do you mention Bill Gates because he’s a man or because he’s unattractive? I’m assuming the former.
May I ask an artless question?
Why, exactly, is it important that women become more involved in technology?
I understand that it’s important that employers in technology not discriminate against women. But why should employers be “… desperate to get knowledgeable women …”. Shouldn’t it be that they’re desperate to simply get the most qualified individual, regardless of gender?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about women pursuing their goals unencumbered by prejudices and “glass ceilings”.
But when employers are seeking out an expert *woman*, simply because of the XX chromosome, it’s sexism all over again.
Am I completely off base here? I don’t have experience as an employer in the technology field.
Is it the case that women truly bring something to technology that men don’t? If so, what is it?
Sorry if I’m being dense, but this just seems like a big mystery to me.
What’s important is diversity in general, not just women. O’Reilly’s diversity statement puts it well: “innovation is enhanced by a variety of perspectives.”
This would so fire me up to go do something in the world but I’m not a woman. Sorry.
But honestly I think it’s kind of sad that more women aren’t in this field. Besides you and Marissa Mayer, I can’t think of any really prominent women in the tech field. I heard from Leo on TWiG one time that his daughter has received death threats and that he never has and that bugs me. That shouldn’t happen. There’s still too much prejudice in this world and I’m worried that I’ll wind up like them.
But probably not because I’m just too funny for that. 😉
Interesting in the same post where you call on women to step up, you don’t mention anything about men stepping up. You say you don’t know what to say to guys when they come looking at you as a gender expert on women for them but you seem to have no problem telling women that they just need to do more to succeed. How come you aren’t tell this fellow to go ask more than one woman to represent all women.
How about you be more assertive and tell this guys that you don’t speak for all women in technology, how about instead of being flattered they are inviting only you to their events, you give them lists of the huge amount of women you claim are in this golden age of tech that would surely be just as happy as you to attend their events? It’s interesting that you assume they must really want women there because you are constantly get asked to event rather than the reality that they are too lazy or already have a token in you so they don’t need to ask anyone else to come.
I agree it is time for action. That action would be for the technology field to take off it’s blinders about being a field that is open to anyone of any gender or color just so long as they have the skills. It’s no different from any other business and the change is only come when both men and women work on having more than tokens and doing lip service.
I am an American who has done server work and software development in Thailand for several years. Much of my work involved collaborating with HP, Nokia, and Sun on big projects for large customers.
When I first started working here, I was immediately struck by the fact that women occupied half or *more* of the *engineering* workforce in IT companies. I specifically remember working on-site for a mobile phone carrier. On their engineering floor which had perhaps 150 employees, it felt like women outnumbered men (I never took a census). These were hard-core IT jobs, too: HP-UX administrators, Solaris administrators, Cisco people, security people, plus their managers.
Why? That is a tough question with many factors. I do not want to stereotype, however here are two of my guesses:
There is a high demand and short supply of IT talent in Thailand. If a good candidate comes along, you hire them!
Stronger communication organization skills make many women valuable assets to a team, and even get them promoted to technical leads.
(I’m not sure about professionals, but in many developing countries, women do a ton of unskilled and semi-skilled labor because they are just plain more reliable and trustworthy. In Bangkok, women comprise perhaps 25% of construction crews.)
Sorry to double post, but I thought of something else.
“IT” is a huge ecosystem and I think the Silicon Valley crowd is myopic when discussing IT. IT would seem to mean either shrink-wrap software companies or tech startups. If you listen to the podcasts and the web-TV shows (big TWIG fan here), it is very obvious.
Every large or medium company in every city in every state has an IT department. Every municipal government has an IT department. Every state has a galaxy of agencies with internal IT support (I used to work at one–TNRCC in Austin). Utility companies have big IT departments. A colleague of mine consults for a power company that is spinning off a very ambitious ISP-over-power-line company. They have a huge budget and massive workforce but you’d never hear of them in a Silicon Valley podcast.
I believe you will see a more even gender balance in these organizations. It might not be perfect, but it will not reflect that of the macho tech startup crowd.
Here’s a way of thinking about it that may help. Your question is a common one. I’ve asked it on occasion as well (before taking a gender studies course).
Without looking at data, can we take as a given that the proportion of men vs women is nowhere near 50/50? If so, do we believe there is some inherent quality in women that makes them inferior in the technology field? I would think not. At least, no data backs this up. In this case, that would imply there is some kind of gender discrimination happening down the line toward becoming a technologist.
This isn’t so crazy to believe. It’s more socially acceptable for men to be antisocial when they’re young, giving them more opportunities to learn at the computer. There is still this antiquated idea in society that women are naturally inferior at math, when experimental data hasn’t backed that up for years (the notion originates from an observational study decades ago, and decades ago, women were never encouraged to be mathy, hence the results…correlation != causation). It may be true that women are equal to men in math ability, but we certainly haven’t done as good of a job encouraging young women to be mathematicians.
If there is discrimination going on (even unconsciously), we should take as a given that it’s our responsibility to help correct it. In this case, it’s a perception issue. If more prominent women appear, it will be seen as a more woman-friendly profession. As men, we don’t tend to appreciate this aspect of things because it’s almost unthinkable to tell ourselves we’re not going to be good at something before we even really attempt it. But then again, we went into technology, not nursing…
“Is it the case that women truly bring something to technology that men donâ€™t?”
“If so, what is it?”
A growing body of data over the last decade and a half has made it pretty clear that throughout business, workgroups and management teams that are more diverse, that embrace more different points of view, produce better results.
They have better management, more successful products and better customer relationships.
When you consider, furthermore, that women are more than half the buying public in any product category you can think of, it makes sense to have both male and female customers’ points of view at the source – when you’re designing the product.
What’s more, the corpus collossum in women – the connection between left and right brains – is more than twice as thick as men’s. And women have thousands more neural connections, capable of laying down thousands more, that specialize in communication between people and noticing subtle changes in visual patterns.
So they can find one elusive anomaly in a screenful of otherwise normal-looking code AND tell you why the team leader got so pissed off after somebody made a joke about his kid’s soccer jersey on the wall (when most of the guys in the room didn’t even see that there was a soccer jersey on the wall or hear the joke.) Plus know from years of experience why the shopping cart needs to ask for information in a certain way, or be totally non-credible from the customer’s point of view.
Of course, would we be in the mess we’re in now – as a country and with our economy – if performance was our top priority?
I think its worth mentioning that on the Internet, gender’s a little less important. I subscribed to your RSS feed months ago off another site’s recomendation. Up until this post, I’d never been specifically aware that it was written by a woman, just by a very good technologist.
As a male in the IT industry for the past 15 years I have never cared if the information/training I needed came from a male or female. The only thing I ever cared about was getting the best information/training I could find. Matter of fact my first tech mentor was a female that I worked for back in the 90’s. She is still a great friend and a source of information I use regularly. Looking at tech on its own there may need to be an influx of females to even everything out, but when we look at math and science/tech on the global scale we need more k-12 kids (both male and female) getting interested and knowing its okay to me a math, science/tech geek. America has been in a decline in math and science for a long time and we need to do more to encourage so we dont fall even further behind.