Women in Tech: a message for men
On March 8th 2017 it will be a year since I started working in my current job, in a renowned Agile software company. It’s been a year of intense pursuit of Agile, Lean, product management, user-centered design application and focus.
It’s also International Women’s Day. Being immersed in the technology market for the last 11 years, I know there’s still a lot to be done to improve the culture in the tech space.
One of the principles of Agile is the belief that multidisciplinary teams are more productive. Plurality and diversity of knowledge, thought and experience is always in everyone’s best interest. The team must be a cohesive organism, with the sum of their skills combined.
This is directly opposed to the reality of what software companies and IT departments look like. The estimate is that 12 to 17% of people working in IT are women.
But it hasn’t always been this way. The first programmer in the world was a woman. She created the first algorithm, and her mind model showed us we could “teach” machines to do things.
During WWII, women were in charge of decoding encrypted messages. The war effort had huge departments of women working on these messages. Bletchley Park is a great example of this. Grace Hopper, one of the women working with intelligence in WWII, created the first programming language and compiler, changing the way we input commands from a numeric to a “near human” language. The list of under appreciated women in tech is many miles long.
Up to 1980, despite an overwhelming gender prejudice regarding women’s education and work, they were seen as good mathematicians, good codebreakers, and good software specialists. At the time the male archetype seemed to be more attracted to building — through construction, spatial or mechanical engineering.
Building up to 1980, the number of women who graduated with a computer science degree had been on the rise, reaching almost 40%. Sadly, from this decade on, the number of women graduating and working in tech dropped until it reached the 12–17% we see today.
This data points to the inaccuracy of perceptions like “Tech’s no place for women”, “girls can’t do math”, “women can’t code”. In fact, this seems to be much more a product of culture, in a given period of time, than a symptom of biological characteristics.
This means we are losing nearly half of our innovation potential because these women can’t reach the Tech market!
When I look at the Agile culture and its values, as I go deeper into user-centered design and lean product management, I am surprised at how many “feminine” traits are exactly the skills that we find missing. We need communication, empathy, exchange, and nonviolent negotiation skills. Be it nature or nurture, we desperately need more women in Tech!
What we have in Tech companies today is a hostile, unsympathetic, barren environment, in which difference is often placed as a problem you have to solve to fit in. If we are creating products for people who all have different backgrounds, ideas and points of view, then the people creating them also need to have a diverse set of experiences, thoughts, and beliefs.
Not only that, but companies with gender equal environments have less turn-over, greater employee satisfaction, greater talent retention, and better productivity than companies with less gender diversity.
Men who work and live in gender equal environments smoke less, drink less, take less recreational drugs, need less emergency health care, are less prone to depression, take less of prescription drugs, and…. have more sex than men in companies with less gender diversity.
Given all this why don’t we see more women in tech? It seems like it would be the most economically sound approach to staffing a company.
What can you do to change this?
Inspire girls to consider careers in technology
Over the last 3 decades, the children’s toy market has suffered from strong gender polarization. Research from the 1990s shows that families were more prone to buying a computer for a boy than a girl. That would happen even with girls that showed interest in technology.
As the stereotypes were reinforced, girls played with dolls, beauty parlors, and fashion. They were trained to be stereotypical mothers and wives. Boys were not…
Girls need female role models and mentors to look up to.
You can only envision yourself as something that can be reached by your imagination. If you don’t know any female astrophysicists, it’s hard to imagine yourself becoming one. Having people to look up to in STEM fields is crucial to enable women to have confidence in pursuing a STEM career.
We must actively fight mansplaining, manterruption, bropriation.
Studies show that women only speak about 25% of the time in corporate meetings. Similarly, while analyzing lectures in Tech, the conclusion was that men have a 42.6% chance of being interrupted, while women stand a 89.3% chance.
Men interrupt other men about twice every 3 minutes, while women get interrupted between 2.6 and 2.8 times for the same period.
You can help! In these meetings give them the credit they deserve by quoting them. Specifically ask for their opinions in meetings and reiterate that the ideas came from them later in the meeting.
Helping women achieve their potential
Weighing all environmental factors in, it’s not a surprise that women apply less for leadership positions, deem themselves less capable, are more susceptible to suffering from impostor syndrome and give up on careers in Tech altogether because they believe they aren’t good enough. If you know someone that’s going through this, encourage them, be supportive, give them a more realistic point of view and help them feel valued.
Counter inappropriate behavior and social stigmatization
Comments like "she's a tough bitch", “why don't you smile more?”, "she's bossy", "when are you having children?" happen to women all the time, and are much more harmful than they seem.
The mosquito bite metaphor works great for me here. One bite is annoying, a few bits are irritating, but a lot of bites are intolerable. It is easy to dismiss one or two inappropriate comments, a dozen gets very tiresome, but many is like death by a 1000 paper cuts. It is unbearable.
When you hear inappropriate comments, or if you are reproducing them yourself, pause and question yourself, would you make those comments to a man? If not, stop. If it wasn’t you, explain to the person who said them why they are inappropriate.
A male voice is frequently given more credit (for anything they say, really). Use that to advocate on women's behalf, by pointing out the injustices you see, or helping women regain their right to speak when they have no voice. We all profit from that, including men.