Women in Tech Exist
The professor had said “real programmers” and followed it by referring to all his hypothetical programmers as “he”. This was a graduate theory course at a top five school and ten percent of the room was women. All the women in the room collectively gasped and burned with silent indignation. It was 2005.
There are women in tech. In 2018. Despite knowing this, people refer to technology experts as “he”. IT people are called the “IT guys”. Programmers are referred to as “he”. Leaders of tech companies are called “he”. Professors in Computer Science and Engineering are called “he”. Our society assumes that people who are good at technology must be men.
Women in tech exist.
Women are good at tech.
In 1987 a software company in the U.K., Freelance Programmers, prepared a prospectus that used “she” as a stand-in for both masculine and feminine pronouns. This software company was largely staffed by women. They challenged the convention of using “he” to refer to both men and women [Dame Stephanie Shirley CH. Let IT Go. Ed. 2018. p 193].
Some of the most influential technology leaders have been women. One only needs to look at history and at the winners of the Turing Award.
Emmy Noether was a mathematician that helped found modern algebra and number theory, which are the fundamentals of discrete computing.
Admiral Grace Hopper designed the U.S. Navy’s modern approach to computing.
Anita Borg was a researcher at Xerox PARC who founded the modern movement for women in computing.
Frances Allen was the first woman to receive the Turing Award for excellence in compilers and parallel computing.
Barbara Liskov was one of the first women to be given a Ph.D. in Computer Science in the United States, and she made important contributions to distributed computing.
Shafi Goldwasser is a leader in complexity theory and cryptography.
Do you dare say “she” when addressing a room full of technology professionals?
Few leaders in technology have the stomach to reverse the pronoun convention. The majority of leaders fear a popular uprising if they were to try this.
Would you dare address Frances Allen as “he”? What about Barbara Liskov or Shafi Goldwasser? Do you dare call these influential women scientists by the wrong pronoun?
Perhaps it is better to adopt gender neutral wording. We can say “they” when referring to a group of people. We can say “people” instead of “guys” when addressing a crowd of technologists. We can say “IT people” instead of “IT guys”. We can call professors and CEOs “they” and “them”.
It is worth the effort. You will be calling Emmy Noether, Grace Hopper, Anita Borg, Frances Allen, Barbara Liskov, Shafi Goldwasser, and their successors by the correct pronouns.
I challenge you to change your language.