Women In Technology: Still a Big Deal?
Is the supposed fairer sex still the minority in the tech industry?
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: August 10th, 2012
The fact that people within the tech industry aren't surprised by women working in the field shows us that the rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do.
hree to five years ago, it seemed that nearly every website was publishing articles about "women in technology." Twenty years ago, it was much more unheard of to learn of a woman in a powerful position in the tech industry. Nowadays, gender in those fields has equaled out at least somewhat, but we still see "women in technology" stories. And they have us scratching our head—in 2012, is it still such a shock to see a woman in web design, coding, or IT?
According to Mo Kudeki, a software engineer at Twitter, yes. And it's been like that for a while. She told us in a recent interview that when she was in college, the gender ratio in her department (computer science) was pretty similar to what it is in the industry—about one woman in every ten people. And as for her level of expertise, she said that she didn't start coding until she was in college, and that while that's not necessarily related to gender, it's much more common for women to start coding later in life. "Many of my peers had been coding since they were 12," she pointed out.
But as she worked her way through the system and found herself looking for work, had anything changed? Thankfully, she notes that the culture in Silicon Valley (and tech in general) is more of a meritocracy than a gender-grab, so "while I'm sure [the companies she interviewed with and worked for] were happy to get a qualified female engineer, I definitely feel like my female coworkers and I were evaluated exactly the same way guys are during the interview process."
And while working as a female in a male-dominated field might seem like it would bring some additional attention, she says she mostly experiences that with people not in her field—"Probably the most awkward times are when people are overly excited about the fact that I'm a woman in Computer Science...but the reaction of non-engineers is usually pretty extreme, and ranges anywhere from, 'Whoa! You go, girl!!' to 'Don't you work with all guys then?' to 'Wow, I totally expected you to be a recruiter or something. Wait, that's offensive, I meant that as a compliment!' The reaction is actually most minor amongst engineers—both guys and girls usually just smile and are like, 'Cool!'"
But the fact that people within the industry aren't as shocked by it just tells us that the rest of the world has a long way to go before they acept women as equals in the workplace—and not necessarily just in the tech industry, although that's seemingly more a prevalent issue than say, healthcare.
Women in tech are still a minority, but with any luck, thanks to groups like Women In Technology, which is located in the D.C. area, and other support networks, young women entering college won't feel intimidated by the profession, they'll feel welcomed.
Women In Technology's president, Nancy Lamberton, strives to help girls and women with programs like Girls In Technology, which supports academic and community programs that include younger girls in technology and computer-related classes and learning. For example, like Kudeki said, many girls don't get around to coding until later on in their academic careers, and this would help them get involved sooner. They also offer The Leadership Foundry (TLF), which provides board training for women in tech at the executive level. TLF offers informal networking and mentoring opportunities to help women attain their first corporate board seat. In other words, Women In Technology not only prepares women for a career in tech, it helps them prosper.
Lamberton says that one of the key pieces of advice she offers to women looking to break into the tech field is to not only develop technical skills, but leadership skills and networking skills as well. She notes that the issue isn't women competing with men for the same jobs, but that as they climb the corporate ladder, women don't have a lot of flexible work options (for example, needing to leave to spend more time with family, take maternity leave, etc.) and thus they seek other options, so female executives are scarce.
So, if you're surprised by a woman who is able to do some coding, stop being surprised. Just because more women go into careers like teaching doesn't mean that men shouldn't be able to do the same, just like how it doesn't mean that women aren't cut out for tech work. The next time you are surprised by someone's profession, ask yourself why. Is it because instead of wearing slacks and a tie, they are wearing a dress and have makeup on? Is it because you're surprised that a girl is doing a job that traditionally, a man does? If that's the case, reassess your perspective, and work towards changing your opinion—women have been in tech for a while now, and they're going to keep being in tech, and there's going to be more of them there in the future. While women in tech are still a minority, it's only because they aren't encouraged to persue work in that field, but thanks to programs like WIT, that's changing.