back to article The immovable object versus the unstoppable force: How the tech boys club remains exclusive

For a generation we've wrung our hands and wondered why so few women have taken up careers in technology. Could it be, as Harvard President Lawrence Summers publicly mused 15 years ago, that women just don't have the brains for such analytic tasks? (That gaffe cost Summers his job.) Or perhaps those hobbyist "microcomputers", …

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  1. ptpeetee

    Misguided

    2 wrongs don't make a right

    1. StevenP

      Re: Misguided

      And your solution to the issue is .... ?

      1. el kabong Silver badge

        The answer is simple: remove both wrongs

        Easy, no?

      2. ptpeetee

        Re: Misguided

        It's equality, and that starts when we are kids in the educational choices made. It's not about punishing the next generation of men whilst ignoring their suitability for the role.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          The idea that the problem will solve itself once we're aware of it is what is misguided

          Sure equality is great, it is what we should aspire to. But if there are few women in the higher echelons of the tech world due to past discrimination, where are you going to get enough qualified women to be CEOs and sit on boards in anything approaching equal numbers?

          If you want a meritocracy that appoints the best qualified person regardless of sex to those positions, because the pool you are choosing from is overwhelming male, those top positions will continue to be overwhelmingly male. Because women choosing what to study in college and what career path to pursue after college will see the tech world dominated by men at the top, they are less likely to pursue that field if they have aspirations of being in a leadership role themselves someday. How many generations are you willing to wait for the problem to take care of itself on its own?

        2. Joseba4242

          Re: Misguided

          So with the flick of a switch you suddenly change all that is currently in the way of equality such as the encrusted views and attitudes of the typically older, male leadership.

          Sounds like a plan.

      3. DatacenterDweller

        Re: Misguided

        Fire this articles author and replace him with a woman. The people who write these articles want the sexism against men being aimed at the new hires. Not at themselves.

        This isn't merely discrimination against men but discrimination against young and innocent men in particular who are to pay the price for sexism they will never had a chance to perpetrate on account of having never had a job.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Misguided

      No, but sometimes you need a slap in the face to realize that you've done wrong.

      This is an interesting time for women's rights. They gained the right to vote in the 60s, they are now gaining the right to be respected.

      I, for one, am willing to bow to that.

      1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Misguided

        A slap followed by a bow? Not very respectful IMHO.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Misguided

        1960s? They got the vote in 1918. And a second law in 1928 in the UK lowering the voting age to 21.

      3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Misguided

        This is an interesting time for women's rights. They gained the right to vote in the 60s, they are now gaining the right to be respected.

        Or for the UK, 1928. But the old saying goes, respect has to be earned. If women are promoted over men, that's tokenism and would breed resentment rather than respect. It would also arguably be illegal and discriminatory because there are after all, equal rights.

        But such is politics. Equality shouldn't mean boards are 50:50 male/female but that men and women can have equal ability, and should have the opportunity to serve on those boards. Those posts should be filled based on merit, not gender. If rights are equal, it shouldn't matter how the gender balance falls out because the best candidates are selected regardless of gender.

        But that also assumes the selection process is really gender neutral, not run by the OBN. Over time, things should balance out, but challenges start with the education system. So if few women are doing STEM subjects, it's hardly a suprise if they're 'under represented' at senior levels. If students are 50:50, then over time, there should be equal opportunities to progress their careers.

        1. Bbuckley

          Re: Misguided

          Exactly! And if Male/Female STEM students are 80%/20% then why would anyone with half a brain expect more than 20% female representation on STEM-oriented companies?

        2. swm Bronze badge

          Re: Misguided

          When I taught computer science some of my best students were women. It was amusing to see them helping the men in the class.

          Symphony orchestras used to prefer men until blind listening tests were instituted to assess skill. Surprise - many women outperformed the men.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: Misguided

            There is something to be said for selection of candidates without prior knowledge of attributes that are irrelevant to the job, but could be used against them according to prejudice.

            Meritocracy is definitely the way forward for the human race, but implementing it is not the easiest challenge in the world.

            It is, however, something we should be focusing a lot more effort and energy on, imnsho.

            Sort out how to implement a true meritocracy and the need for knee-jerk responses to 'level the playing field' simply goes away.

          2. Mike 137 Bronze badge

            Re: Misguided

            "When I taught computer science some of my best students were women"

            Yes, and when I worked in physics research there were about equal numbers of brilliant post-docs of both genders, despite the majority of post-docs being guys. In ecology research there were more female post-docs than male, but the proportions of brilliant post-docs was again about equal.

            One of the unnoticed problems that might contribute to the current imbalance is the shallowness of our general exposure to "technologies" - we're encouraged to be primarily passive consumers of complex technical artefacts created by supposedly smarter magicians, delivered on the basis that you don't need to know how it works, just use it (aka toys).

            I've spent many years trying to reverse the trend by creating simple but useful digital systems that users can understand and build for themselves, but it's always been an uphill struggle. The high integration black box modules still dominate the market and the funding. 99% of crowd sourced electronics projects are in the too complex to understand category for the young folks we would hope to engage with and inspire to become engineers.

            There's a noticeable progressive decline in the median quality of electronics hardware and software, which may at least in part derive from the building blocks now considered the norm being too complex and abstracted. We're increasingly relying on the equivalent of flat pack assembly that sidesteps (and thus does not inculcate) understanding of principles.

        3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          Actually, 1882 in the Municipal Corporations Act which equalised the local government franchise.

      4. OssianScotland Silver badge

        Re: Misguided

        1918 in the UK, at least - I don't know where the 60s came from?

      5. tim 13

        Re: Misguided

        60's? What country are you in?

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          Not Switzerland, they got the right only in 1971....

          1. MiguelC Silver badge

            Re: Switzerland

            Or only in 1990 if they had the misfortune of being from the Appenzell Innerrhoden canton.

      6. PM from Hell

        Re: Misguided

        Whilst I appreciate the sentiment, women have always had the right to be respected. I've been in IT for over 30 years when I started 30% of the team or more were female this has dropped and dropped and I'm now surprised when i come across a female dev. The proportion is higher in long established teams but the I don't see a lot of new blood coming through.

        I think we have a cultural issue which ends to be addressed. This is only my experience and I'd love to be wrong but young male dev teams seem to get very 'blokey' and end up creating a hostile environment for women. I feel that us older members of the tech community need to help foster a more inclusive environment by example. I've tried to do this with as couple of teams but it does mean you need to sit down with the guys and point out how their behaviour appears. I've had variable success with this approach, some teams are genuinely shocked that they might appear hostile and are happy to dial it back, others just complain that women need to grow a thicker skin. The latter attitude needs challenging if we are going to improve the situation. I personally find a more diverse team (including ethnicity and sexuality as well as gender) tends tp be a kinder, more caring environment with in built support for team members. It doesn't mean they don't have to meet tight deadlines or work the stupid hours we all do during project deadlines. It does mean that as a manager you might get someone warning you when a team member is struggling before they burn out

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          I agree. I've had more female managers over the years than male managers, working in IT. But over the last decade or so, the numbers of female IT employees has dropped off sharply at the companies where I have worked.

          In my first job, in the late 80s, I would guess 30% - 40% of the IT employees at the site where I worked were female and they made up over 50% of management grades at the time. At the last software house I worked at, the number of female managers was 1, from about 10 in total.

          The last couple of places I was at, there were only a couple of IT staff, although at my previous employer, my replacement is female.

        2. Bbuckley

          Re: Misguided

          Or maybe females simply are not interested in IT?

          1. LDS Silver badge
            Joke

            Or maybe females simply are not interested in IT?

            Often, in my experience, not even in men working in IT.... 20-25 years ago telling you were working with computers was a sure way to kill any interest many women could have had in you....

          2. Outski

            Re: Misguided

            And why do you think that might be?

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

              Re: Misguided

              And why do you think that might be?

              Because, as I've often been told, it's "boring and soulless".

              Not an argument I've tried to fight to be honest.

          3. JulieM Silver badge

            Re: Misguided

            Perhaps it's the way some men in that field behave, that's putting them off?

            1. DatacenterDweller

              Re: Misguided

              I've always found the casual metasexist allegations that man are just mistreating women and that's why they avoid the field being used to justify broad sweeping workplace discrimination against men baffling.

              What is it about Men in tech which makes them so uniquely offensive to women unlike men in other fields to the point women avoid the field? I've never quite been able to figure it out. It just comes off as a post-hoc rationalization for sexist policy.

              1. tfb Silver badge
                Boffin

                Re: Misguided

                What is it about Men in tech which makes them so uniquely offensive to women unlike men in other fields to the point women avoid the field?

                There doesn't have to be anything which makes them uniquely offensive. This is, however, a website which concentrates on technology, so understandably they are going to write articles which discuss the problem in technology rather than in other fields. If this was a website which focussed on teaching you would find articles worrying about the bias towards women in the profession and the dangers of that and how to positively discriminate towards men.

                Bias in technology matters a lot, however: we all spend increasing amounts of our time using systems built and maintained by technology companies, and if the people who build those systems are biased against or in favour of certain groups then the systems they build probably will be, too. If Facebook, for instance, was controlled by people who thought having sex with goats was OK, we'd worry, wouldn't we? Well, it's not, but it may be controlled by people who have other biases, and that's worrying as well.

                I suspect that, in fact, gender bias in technology is particularly severe. We know for instance that the number of female CS graduates has fallen by approximately a factor of two since 1985, so something is actively driving them away, and that thing started happening in the mid 1980s. This hasn't happened, for instance, in physics, where the rate of female physics graduates rose steadily from 1985 to the mid 2000s before falling back a little (however the rate of female graduates was lower than in CS for most of this time). I'm not going to speculate on what the thing is that is driving women away from CS.

                1. tfb Silver badge
                  Boffin

                  Re: Misguided

                  I wrote

                  the number of female CS graduates

                  I meant the proportion of female CS graduates: the raw numbers have climbed because the overall numbers have climbed, of course. Sorry.

        3. Sherrie Ludwig

          Re: Misguided

          "This is only my experience and I'd love to be wrong but young male dev teams seem to get very 'blokey' and end up creating a hostile environment for women."

          In the 1980s I was a member of a city planning and development computer mapping group.the only woman out of about a dozen guys, A woman in a related department said, "how can you stand working there? It's like walking into a men's room." Being blessed with a gift for sarcastic repartee, I found that I got accepted only when I pushed back on the worst of the sexism, ignored most of it, and was more productive than most of the rest of the team. The pay was good, the guys individually decent, with one hostile exception, (he was a bit of dead weight that the other team members just tolerated) but the constant background sexism was like having a cold that won't go away, not completely hampering,but a drain on energy and an annoyance.

          I wish that men who do not see the problem would get transferred to a 90% woman department, and deal with hearing complaints about other men, frank appraisals of their attributes, discussions of menstrual periods, and the like.

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Misguided

        We found our first White Knight! Put down the e-cig and fedora and back away from the keyboard and everything's gonna be all right!

      8. Bbuckley

        Re: Misguided

        So you slap 'you' in the face - 'you' being completely innocent boys??? This reminds me of my (long ago dumped) Irish Catholic upbringing when we were all told we were BORN with ORIGINAL SIN. I really cannot believe the stupidity, arrogance and frankly fascist remark here.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          "original sin"

          Is that the same or different to "inheriting the sins of the father"? Because I can understand that.

          For example, my father's father used to beat him as a child, and my father sometimes beat my elder brother, even though it wasn't his true nature - but when people are put under a lot of stress and pressure they tend towards the things they learnt as a child, regardless of their 'conscious' wishes.

          I've also read that abused children often go on to be abusers themselves. Same thing.

          That's how I see it anyway.

      9. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Misguided

        Are you in Switzerland? UK was 1918, Denmark 1915 (AFAIR), France 1945. NZ even the century before.

    3. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

      Re: Misguided

      You may not like the solution presented, but head-in-the-sand time is over. Not just for this, but for a multitude of issues. If you don't like it, present your own solution.

      I had really hoped that my generation would be the forward looking, outreaching, progressive, inclusive, liberal generation. It didn't happen, but when I see now people pushing against entrenched beliefs of those in power and striving to force change for the better, I am encouraged. When I see comments like this, I see people who got where they are on the status quo, and are scared.

      I see the same fear when Trump, Clarkson et al. mock a sixteen year old girl for calling them out on their world view. It's frankly embarrassing.

      I see fear in the House of Commons. The current shower of a parliament are behaving more and more like parliaments of old, rabble rousing, cheap points scoring and shouting over one another. There is no sensible, measured discourse any more, there is no democratic process. They fear that the people will (and imo should) throw them all out at the next election, so revert back to what they know.

      Change is coming, one way or another. Some will like it and some won't but we are long past the point where ignoring our societal issues is an option.

      In the specific case of women in business and employment (for I don't see it as specifically a tech issue) changing attitudes is only right. How we change those attitudes, how we correct the imbalance that currently exists, I don't yet know. But I do know it should be corrected and ignoring those presenting solutions will only mean that you get a result you definitely don't agree with.

      I was privileged enough (if you see it that way) to have been born male, but I don't see why my daughter shouldn't have the same advantages I had.

      1. Not also known as SC

        Re: Misguided

        "I see the same fear when Trump, Clarkson et al. mock a sixteen year old girl for calling them out on their world view. It's frankly embarrassing."

        Is this mocking because they are men or just because they are total tossers? How many men support the girl and don't mock her?

        1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          How many men support the girl and don't mock her?

          The ones who don't feel their position of power is threatened by a prominent environmentalist for a start. I can only guess at their motives, however my I would say that one is backed very heavily by oil companies and the other made a career out of being controversial while getting gooey-eyed over a V8 engine.

          I'm not saying every man mocks her, I'm saying the ones who do, do so because they feel threatened.

        2. Bbuckley

          Re: Misguided

          I don't. She is a clueless child with empty words that ignore the gravity of any solution that would take her seriously (e.g. the destruction of the World Economy, etc.). I mock her abusive parents for subjecting this child to public puppetry (and she is also on the autistic spectrum so easy prey to manipulators). I find it astonishing that people cannot see the clear parallels with Islamic radicalisation - brainwashed kids being used by dark forces.

          1. Not also known as SC

            Re: Misguided

            Two angles to this.

            The environmental message and the girl herself.

            I don't have any problem with people disagreeing with her message. That is called debate. What I have problems with is when it turns into personal attacks on, what is after all, just a child.

            1. holmegm Bronze badge

              Re: Misguided

              The child is being used to try to make her immune to any response. Any response that doesn't agree with her is going to be characterized as hateful and out of bounds.

              1. DatacenterDweller

                Re: Misguided

                I keep hearing this yet I don't at all believe it's true in the least. I have not seen anybody chastised for simply disagreeing with her. I've mostly seen people reamed out for attacking her as non-credible because she's a disabled teen, which is both an ad hominem AND offensive, followed by people whinging that by criticizing their ignorent ad-hominem attacks they're playing right into the hands of Greta's puppeteers.

          2. vgrig_us

            Re: Misguided

            @bbuckley Thank you! Clueless child she absolutely is. Don't if it's parents or a teacher behind her words - but someone is pulling the strings for sure.

          3. DatacenterDweller

            Re: Misguided

            Don't agree that autistic people are easy prey for manipluators. You have to be more specific. They're vulnerable to ignoring red flags and desperately seeking out friendships that are abusive.

            In other more profound ways they're incredibly hard to manipluate. They're just stubborn and unswayed by manipluation that would affect other people. If Thunberg was easily manipluated her teachers would have been able to convince her to stop protesting and come to class back when she started all this by protesting through skipping school long before she sailed across the Atlantic. If Thunberg was as easy to manipluate as you think we wouldn't be talking about her.

        3. Aussie Doc
          Joke

          Re: Misguided

          Tell you what, if that young lady wins a Nobel Peace Prize, Pimplethinskin/Trump will have a coronary on the spot.

          Just think about all the tweeting he'll do.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Misguided

        Interesting, just read the Jeremy Clarkson link. The popular press, here in Germany, have been covering here for a year and have always shown her in a positive light and her actions have caused thousands of pupils and students to protest on Fridays here as well.

        1. holmegm Bronze badge

          Re: Misguided

          And here I thought it would be so difficult to get kids to cut school on Friday. Well done, well done.

        2. Orv Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          Jeremy Clarkson has made a career out of being a professional asshole, and he's been a global warming denier for something like 20 years at a minimum, so it's not that surprising.

          He and Trump have something in common, which is they won't still be alive when the chickens come home to roost. A short-term outlook is probably a natural result of a combination of selfishness and being near the end of your lifespan. Why sacrifice now if the benefits will go to other people?

      3. Bbuckley

        Re: Misguided

        A solution requires a problem. Is this a problem? As mentioned elsewhere females are not choosing (note that word carefully!) to do STEM and are choosing (note that word carefully!) to move from technical work (with little social interaction) to analysis/management work (with lots of social interaction). I don't think we need any solution where there is no problem in the first place.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Misguided

          "A solution requires a problem. Is this a problem? As mentioned elsewhere females are not choosing (note that word carefully!) to do STEM and are choosing (note that word carefully!) to move from technical work (with little social interaction) to analysis/management work (with lots of social interaction). I don't think we need any solution where there is no problem in the first place."

          "Equality" should NOT mean equality of outcome, it should mean equality of opportunity. The countries with most equality of opportunity such as Scandinavian ones actually show more difference in outcome rather than less - because, exactly as you say, women CHOOSE different career paths than men.

          On the other hand, part of that choice could (and probably is) based on reasons of feeling uncomfortable in certain environments, not feeling valued etc. So certainly alongside the choice, we need to remove barriers.

          It's not too much to ask to treat women (especially, but not only, in the workplace) as people and not as sexual objects

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