What’s up with women in tech?

As I was pondering where to start this new blog, I attended an interesting discussion that revealed Unconventional Wisdom coming from a group of young women in tech. I hadn’t attended Girl Geeks Toronto for a while, but decided to check out their panel on being a woman in tech and while it started out sounding like the same discussions we’d had when I was their age, I was intrigued by where it went.

The fact that the event took place underlines what hasn’t changed – women are still a small minority in technical roles.

When I first jumped into tech, as a router jockey in the 90’s Internet explosion, I was “the girl” on every team I joined. Customers didn’t need to ask my name because if they called back they could just say it was “the girl” who deployed their network or fixed their problem. That didn’t change much as I progressed through operations and engineering roles or even technical management. Until I made the leap over to marketing, I was “the girl”. Back then, I thought for sure the picture would be different by now, but both the stats and the other night’s anecdotes told a different story. Women in tech might now be a few among many, instead of the only one, but it’s still largely a man’s game.

Then as now, conventional wisdom said this is the result of things like sexism in hiring, lack of encouraging girls to study tech, and negative pressure from male peers. But that’s not what I heard from the Girl Geeks the other night.

Here’s a sampling of what the panel and audience had to say:

  • “Companies want more women but not many women apply.”
  • “Kids decide by middle school [whether to go into tech]”
  • “Girls enter tech programs but then most of them shift over to business.”
  • “Women are afraid we’ll break things”
  • “Boys have hacked their hardware to win video games. Girls usually haven’t.”
  • “More boys code as a hobby.”
  • “Women in tech courses are more goal oriented; men keep playing just to understand how the tech works.”
  • “Women often choose HR and Marketing to have more impact than production has.”
  • “When we ask for submissions from women techs, we don’t get many.  Some are afraid to fail or be judged.”
  • “We have lots of women’s tech organizations now”

(From my own notes and Sacha Chua’s nifty Sketchnotes of the event.)

Whether these views are right or wrong, they all have something in common.

They show the panel and audience focusing on why girls and women CHOOSE not to pursue tech jobs, instead of who might be preventing them.

So much for the conventional wisdom of external roadblocks keeping the numbers of women in tech small. So what can we do about it? What should we do? Is it even a problem?

Those are questions we couldn’t tackle when the focus was on external barriers. By looking past those assumptions to discover that girls and women are keeping their own numbers low, we can start to address these new questions.

I’m not saying that initiatives to hire more women and make sure girls aren’t discouraged from studying tech haven’t been worthwhile or should be stopped. They just aren’t the whole answer.

Sacha Chua’s Sketchnotes of the
Girl Geeks Toronto “Vexed In The City” Event

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About Sandi_Jones
Technical marketer, product developer, geek, unconventional entrepreneur. I fell in love with technology in the mid-90's, found my inner geek, and never looked back.

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