Women in Technology

Before I start, I feel I should preface this with the statement of “I’m a guy” and therefore I have no personal understanding of the woman’s plight when it comes to working in the technology field or as a programmer.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I just want to write good code and make the best products I can and to that end I don’t really care if you’re male or female, if you can do those things I’m all for working with you. And finally, what follows is based on the reading of several articles on this subject and some real life, face to face conversations I’ve had on this.

There’s been a lot of talk about “women in technology” lately. Most of it is centered around the discussion that there are not enough women working in technology, specifically as developers. There are miles upon miles of prose about how programming is a “boy’s club” and that we’re “sexist” or a million other insulting things about male developers. Some posts even get flat out offensive about this.

I’m not saying that these complaints and opinions aren’t completely valid. Sure, the profession has it share of idiots just like all the other professions out there. But we only seem to hear about these cases. We never hear big deals being made about men mentoring at events like Rails Girls, an event specifically about getting more women interested in programming. Or about the conference planners who actively attempt to balance out the rosters with female speakers. You don’t hear about this stuff simply because it isn’t part of the angry side of agenda.

But here’s the thing that bothers me most. When people talk about this topic, it’s usually about how there aren’t enough women in leadership positions or that a conference is being boycotted because they didn’t line up “enough” female speakers. While valid points, I have to ask, are we solving the problem or the symptom?

Sure we can have the discussion about how there aren’t enough women programmers, the next big conference doesn’t have enough female speakers, and how some jerk at the last conference made a sexist comment or had a near naked lady in his slide deck. These are things that need to be talked about. But I think to specifically pick a woman for a job position or a speaker at a conference simply because they’re a women is the exact opposite of fixing the problem. In fact, one could argue that to do so is still sexist.

But no one seems to ask why things are the way they are. Is the actual problem deeper than simply “we need to hire more women programmers” or “we need to make sure our speaker gender ratio is close to equal”? Aren’t those really just fixing the symptom rather than the problem? Because what if no women are applying for the job? Is the company suppose to sit on the opening until a woman applies? What if there aren’t any women sending in talk proposals to the conference organizers? What if the topics women are submitting aren’t as interesting as the ones a guy is proposing? Is it the conference organizers job to pick a woman’s talk simply because it’s given by a woman or to pick and organize the most interesting talks among those submitted, regardless of the speaker’s gender?

Why are there not more women getting into programming at a younger age? What problems are they facing when they’re younger that seems to discourage them from pursuing software development as a career path? This, to me, seems to be the more important problem to solve. More specifically, it’s the actual problem to solve. Don’t we need to find out what is causing younger women to not choose technology or programming as a hobby? At what age are we losing them? Are we even losing them? Did we even have them to begin with?

Would there be benefit in local user groups hosting something like Rails Girls for younger girls (think junior high and high school age)? Should we, as software developers be working with the local schools to give these girls the opportunity to work with computers and really see how much fun writing code can be? Can we offer special classes to the Girl Scout troops in our local area? What about something like “Maker Girls”, a Maker Fair but targeted specifically at females?

I agree that there aren’t enough women working in the technology field today. But I think to say that companies aren’t hiring enough women or that conference organizers aren’t picking enough women speakers isn’t really tackling the actual problem, which is more about numbers than women not being picked (while I’m sure there’s some of the latter I don’t really feel it’s the bigger problem). Put another way, there aren’t enough women in the field to be hired into top positions and there aren’t enough females submitting talks to conference to better balance the gender ratio because women aren’t picking this as a hobby or career path.

Getting the root of the problem about why the numbers are skewed, to me, is what we should be focusing on. Getting females interested in the field at a younger age by showing them this isn’t “just for boys” may go a long way in solving the problem rather than just attacking the symptoms.

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