I’ve seen the topic of “women in technology” geyser up numerous times over last few years, and while reading another instance of it here I decided to capture my opinion on the topic.
I believe the primary reason there are fewer women than men in information technology careers is because fewer women enjoy doing information technology work. Preferences lead to enjoyment of an activity, and enjoyment leads to competence. So if fewer women enjoy the primary activities that are involved in the field, then they’re not going to be as good at it overall.
It’s Occam’s Razor at its finest: Don’t add additional actors into the explanation if they aren’t needed. In this case, the simplest (and correct) explanation is that fewer women like I.T. the way men do–not that they’re less competent when they possess equal enthusiasm. This causes two effects:
- Fewer women will enter the fields in the first place
- Fewer women will rise to the top if they do enter the fields
To give some anecdotal evidence of this, I have known many women in various IT positions, ranging from sysadmins to developers. In all but a few cases they were the types of IT worker to leave work at work. This is the same category that most men fall into. They weren’t going home and doing more of the same geeky stuff in their time off. They didn’t have massive home networks, or blogs that required them to configure and reconfigure servers and CMS software, etc. They were like most men in the field–just doing the job–some well and others not so well.
The big difference is that in each group where one of these women worked, there were at least a couple of guys who did do those extra things. They were the über-geeks, and they thrived in their jobs because of that extra passion for their field. How many women fall into that category? How many women in IT can’t wait to get home so they can install the latest version of WordPress and try out that new Ruby program she’s writing? Not many. These hyper-geek-tech urges are almost completely dominated by men.
For the deeply-techical women who are reading this and seething already, let me ask you something. When you go out in the the non-technical world and interact with the female masses, what reaction do you get when you say that you spend your free time writing code, or breaking into networks? Be honest. You get a lack of comprehension. You get sidelong glances wondering why you’re “weird”. Notice that there are no men involved in that equation. That’s the society we have right now, and whether it’s nature or cultural programming the result is the same: the number of women in the world who love the geek life is a tiny fraction that of men.
And it’s the same for many professions where there are precious few women. Look at Wall Street traders. They stand up and scream for hours at a time in a highly competitive environment. If you simply ask around you’ll find that these are things that most women just don’t like to do. I find it very peculiar that it is actually the desires of women that are being ignored by the militant pro-equality types. The knight’s move goes like so:
- You ask a large dataset of women what they’d like to do
- Most say not the type of work found in the IT field because it’s not interesting to them
- Militant pro-equality types take a poll of who’s in IT
- They find relatively few women
- They assume that it couldn’t be because women don’t want to be there
You can make the argument that society forced women to dislike these things via chauvinist programming, and I agree this is probably happening as well, but science is increasingly showing that you can take very young boys and girls (even of other primate species, evidently) and they will pick certain tasks or play-styles above others right down the gender line–trucks vs. dolls, etc.
The fact is that there are differences that are innate to the genders, and those differences are reflected in the activities and careers that they choose to partake in. Yelling and screaming on a stock floor is not enjoyable to most women, while it is for many more men–hence the profession is overwhelmingly male. This should fail to surprise. Programming today is similar in that it involves many activities that men seem to enjoy more than women. Programming often requires constant puzzle-solving while staring alone focused on lines of text on a screen. Most women don’t find that interesting or compelling in any way. You can’t blame anyone for that–not women, and not men.
Another issue people get twisted over is how men react to attractive women, or women who dress attractively, in the IT workplace. The claim of some women is that they keep getting stared at when they come into the office, and all she is doing is being herself. The problem is that “herself” is an extremely finely dressed platinum blonde with perfect makeup — red lips, nail polish, etc.
Both men and women know exactly how to react to this woman at 5:01pm on the street. You’re supposed to look, you’re supposed to compliment, and you’re damn sure supposed to notice. So if that’s who you are, and you bring that into an overwhelmingly male work environment, you should be prepared to be noticed. Expect to make men uncomfortable. Hell, expect to make women uncomfortable. Beautiful women are a world phenomenon. Nothing has been talked about more in the history of the world. The notion that this will suddenly stop when in a work environment–IT be damned–is simply ridiculous.
Now, the lesson here isn’t that women who happen to like looking good (and putting effort into it) need to somehow nerf themselves to comply with the overly excitable IT crowd. No, you shouldn’t have to change who you are. But damn–at least don’t be surprised when it happens. The ability for humans to focus on work and not on the fact that we’re biological animals looking to reproduce at any given moment is the reason we wear clothes in the first place. Masculinity and femininity is supposed to fade into the background. We’re there to be brains, not animals.
If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why we still wear clothes in climate controlled buildings. Answer: starting at people’s private parts isn’t conducive to people focusing on the work at hand. Once you realize that you will also see that an extremely attractive dress (see showing off body), professional hair/makeup, etc. all overtly violate the principle of concealing ourselves in clothing. It’s nothing other than a full-force magnification of femininity in an environment that is supposed to gender-neutral. In short, we as a society need to understand that despite our best efforts to quell our animal origins, our interactions with the opposite sex in all situations are still subordinate to nature.
We can work to fight this all we want, but the one thing not to do is make it harder to do so by bringing the differences to the surface in dramatic fashion, e.g. red lips, tight dresses, tight muscle shirts showing how ripped and buff a guy is, super high-heels, etc. Again, the goal is to have gender simply melt into the background when at work. So if you’re a woman who likes to look good, and puts effort at magnifying her femininity and beauty, please don’t be surprised when all the males around you suddenly become retarded. You’re fighting tens of thousands of years of evolution on that one, and you’re going to lose.
The truths about these types of things are often unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean we should hide from them or pretend they don’t exist. We need to accept that men and women are different and it’s not “better” or “worse” if one gender prefers a certain type of activity to another. And the unpleasant but natural tail to that point is that if one gender happens to enjoy, or be predisposed to, activities that happen to make more money in our society, then we shouldn’t find ways to explain our way out of that fact. And the fact that women are doing their best outside the workplace to look good and be noticed by men is quite confusing to men inside the workplace–especially said women obviously spent 20x the effort the men did (he spent 2 minutes) on being attractive before starting the work day.
Alas, having given something of a naturalistic defense of why women are often treated different in the workplace (especially IT) it must be stated clearly that this doesn’t mean there is no discrimination against women in IT that is categorically wrong. There is something we need to watch for and crush when we see it. We need to avoid confusing the fact that most women don’t want to be in IT with an idea that women who do make that choice will be less competent.
The problem occurs when most men think a woman who does want to be a programmer must not be as good as most men since most women don’t want to be programmers. This is the logic flaw that needs to die a quick death. And the fact that some women in the workplace happen to like putting effort into looking good should be discarded as noise in the signal.
The way to approach this debate is not to try to force us to accept something untrue (that women and men want to be in IT in equal amounts to men, and that evil men force them out), but rather to say that while it’s true many high-paying professions reward people who enjoy traditionally “masculine” activities, it doesn’t mean that women can’t, or won’t, choose those professions.
And as such, when a woman shows up and says she wants to be a programmer, or a sysadmin, or an infosec guru, she should be treated as an absolute equal–no matter whether she looks like the girl from Roger Rabbit or the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And men who insist on forcing women into submissive, traditionally feminine roles that their behavior is not warranting need not only disciplinary action but ridicule. Shame is often more effective than law.
That’s the path we should be on: accept the unpleasant truth that most women don’t like IT work, and embrace the fact that those who do should be treated equally. It’s that simple. ::