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Women in Tech: Asking the Wrong Questions

So today is Ada Lovelace Day a day that brings women in technology to the forefront. For a while, this post has been brewing at the back of my head but considering this is a day celebrating women in tech, my celebrating it is understood, but I want to bring up some core issues with women in tech in the first place.

SXSWi is a great place to meet people and it was interesting that I had two distinct conversations about the same topic with Samantha Warren and Ariel Newland — where are the women in design. Now, we’ve been asking that question for years. In fact, SXSW has several panels about women in tech, on the web, recruiting women, understanding women, every single year and I find, every single year we’re not really much closer to any answers. At best, solutions include mentoring and starting at an early age; at worst, conversations devolve into men-bashing and stereotypes.

Very recently, Ryan Carson drew some ire at FOWA because of the lack of female speakers or attendees; like almost every event organizer who gets flack for this, he sends out a well meaning tweet for suggestions of female speakers and to have them tag it with #fowaspeak Some people took that at face value and simply recommended a few interesting people, others took offense thinking that he was simply asking for speakers for the sake of their gender. To fill a quota. At a recent local TED.com-like event, IDEAfest here in Edmonton, people were asked to volunteer to speak. First come, first served. This call-to-action occurred several weeks before the event. After the event occurred, some attendees were annoyed/flabbergasted at the lack of women or ethnic people presenting, with a thinly veiled accusation towards the organizers. At a volunteer event.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

A few things:

  • Prejudice and sexism (both ways) exist
  • The above will never be eradicated
  • Education is key, but is not enough

In many ways I think we’re running around chasing our own tail, and maybe that’s because we’ve been asking the wrong questions, and are too busy playing the blame game. Let’s stop asking Where are the women in tech? or “Where are the women in this conference?”

Instead, let’s ask:

WHY do SOME women find it “easier” and necessary to get out there and be active in the community?

Just like with creating a user experience, personas are a powerful way to figure out what’s out there. There are a lot of talented web women out there, but there are some people whose names just jump out at you. Whitney Hess, Stephanie Sullivan, and Jina Bolton are often called upon to speak at various conferences and have a ton of followers on social media. Perhaps instead of asking where are the women, we should ask the women who are visible their personal and professional opinions on how they get active and visible. Take personality profiles of these women, their histories, their backgrounds. What’s common? What’s different? Whitney speaks about how shy she normally is: how does she break free? Why are some women afraid of being “out there”?

Or is it simply that Women just don’t pimp their shit?

Why are SOME women more comfortable or even blasee around men? (a reality in the tech industry)

Some girls just play well with boys. But we’re not all tomboys nor want to be. This is a reality of the world. There is a majority of men in the tech industry; some are not as friendly to women as they should be. How can we make interactions between men and women in the workplace, in a web workplace, more congenial? Men are not the enemy: they have mothers, daughters, and sisters. Most decent men want the best for the women in their lives. How do we work together with those men to more naturally include women?

How can we encourage women to STAY in technology?

I have the fortunate pleasure of being friends with some brilliant women out there. In fact, many of these women have gone through, since birth, many exposures to science and technology. A set of friends of mine has a scientist for a father; one of them has an undergrad degree in computing science, the other in electrical engineering. Both very sharp, ambitious women… they went through the WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology) program, the typical encouraging and mentoring program that’s meant to entice women to technology. And yet, one completely abandoned computer science for international law, and the other sets up some technological infrastructure in Ghana — and mostly because she wanted to work in the non-profit sector, not necessarily related to her degree. Is it all because of personal preference? How do we keep brilliant and ambitious female minds in the technology sector?

Any answers?

Some women, like Alison Lewis, (who is an electrical engineer) are trying to lure women to technology through fashion and craft. This actually hits on another issue of mine: some women feel the need to de-feminize themselves in order to “fit in.” I like how Alison’s charge is to completely subvert that — be beautiful and fashionable! — while integrating technology into it. Nothing being shameful about being feminine in a male-dominated industry.

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that we need to ask different questions. Let’s stop treating the symptoms — randomly trying to find women to speak in conferences, etc — and address real problems.

44 blabs to Women in Tech: Asking the Wrong Questions

Add something to the conversation!

Picture of Ann Davis

Name Ann Davis

Date Mar 24
01:25 PM

This is a great topic. I am a student changing careers to web/graphic deisgn. I am sensitized to the number of women in those fields. The film credits in production, design, animation, etc. have me asking, “Where are the women?” Is there sexism? There seems to be women being trained in the design fields but, they seem to be invisible. How difficult is it for a woman to get a job? I chose this field because I thought the arts would not be as exclusive as the corporate business world. Naive?

Picture of Mandy

Name Mandy

Date Mar 24
01:50 PM

I studied physics as an undergrad. There were a fair number of other women in the small undergrad program I attended, but mostly because the campus overall was better than 60% female. All but one of the instructors in the dept were men. We were all very aware of our uniqueness, and how much that uniqueness would increase as we moved up the chain. On my first research project, I was the only woman on a team of 30+ scientists.

I abandoned physics, for a lot of reasons; but in retrospect it’s likely that the complete outsiderness of my experience in the lab had a lot to do with it. Being a pioneer is cool for a little while; but no one wants to be a pioneer every day of the week, year after year after year.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 24
04:22 PM

Hi Mandy, thanks for comment and your two cents. That’s an interesting take about being a pioneer. At what point is being singled out cool and then when does it feel like you’re a “freak show”?

Your experience of being the only woman among a team of 30 scientists is not unlike my friends’ experiences. As recently at SXSW, I was at a business gathering where I was the only female in the summit of perhaps 25 males. Didn’t mind, but I did notice it.

PhD Comics has some really funny strips dealing with a woman in engineering.


Your post made me think of this great photo that I found yesterday on Tumblr.


Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 25
11:27 AM

Brooks, that’s awesome. My sister has that quote on her Facebook page, haha.

It’s also very very true.

Picture of Ann

Name Ann

Date Mar 25
11:35 AM

Hi Mandy,

I thought about what you wrote and have been in similar situations. What I took away is that “I noticed.” If I hadn’t noticed I would have been welcomed, accepted, into the group unnoticed. That kind of exclusion, however subtle, begins to take a toll. Other classes and groups in our society experienced this. And then one begins to question, “How long do I want to be part of a group that doesn’t accept me? Am I the one to make the (them) change?”

Picture of Mandy

Name Mandy

Date Mar 25
12:29 PM

Hi Ann,

Exactly. If you feel like you don’t belong somewhere, you naturally start to question your reasons for sticking around. Maybe if we can come up with ways to make women feel more welcome in the tech world—so they do stick around, and serve as evangelizers for other women—we can begin to effect change. I’m not sure how we go about that, but I do suspect it has a lot to do with the continuing dearth of women in the industry. There are no blockades preventing us from getting in—but there don’t seem to be many open arms, either.

Picture of Ann

Name Ann

Date Mar 25
12:44 PM

There may be fewer hiring hurdles, today. But the culture has not really changed. I have heard that younger men are more inclusive of women than older men are. It would be nice if the problem is that simplistic. Generational. And it will be fixed by attrition. But, for a long time we have heard that women need to form an “old girls network.” That means numbers, which translates to sticking to it. Women who have a strong sense of self find themselves in tech. She has to be even stronger to stand up to being the “lonely girl at the punch bowl.” I am, naively, surprised that after 30 years this is still an issue. But, it is. My personal experience was that work lunches, afternoon golfing, etc. did not include women. That is one place where relationships are solidified, ideas are hatched, promotions are planned, etc.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 25
06:14 PM

This is an excellent conversation, ladies, and does bring up the point that there are also so many work/fun activities that are more male-centric than female.

Like I mentioned above, we can’t all be tomboys and necessarily want to play video games with the guys or foosball — should we encourage more “gender neutral” activities? I wouldn’t want to eliminate the other cool activities, but I think there needs to be an addition to them.

And Mandy, I totally agree with you about no blockades, but no open arms thing, either. That’s why one of my questions above involves retention. How do we keep women on board? I think part of it is that we really need to find a way to make women feel less alienated. How? Maybe it should be mandatory that all students should have a gender issues course component. Kind of like how ethics courses are automatic for all business majors.

Picture of Ann

Name Ann

Date Mar 25
06:29 PM

I took golf lessons and I know other women have. Only to not be invited. Golf can be neutral. When the manager leaves early and takes some of the guys with him, quietly, to play golf; it sends a message to the women.

Happy hour is another event. My experience has been when I drank like the men, i.e., no “girlie” drinks, they noticed and brought me into the conversation more. I also tried to sit between them so I could hear the scoop.

My husband’s company recently offered a mandatory gender ethics workshop. An expert in ethics conducted the workshop. Their was alot of conversation, and my husband wasn’t shy about asking these types of questions. She said what is comes down to is don’t do it. She recommended to the managers and employees not to play golf, happy hour, touching, huggers, etc. There should be no impression of favoritism or impropriety.

So, I agree with the suggestion for course instruction. I would suggest that it be taught at the high school level.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 25
06:44 PM

Ann, I wonder though, if “don’t do it” is necessarily the right atmosphere, either. No activities? Don’t know if that’s a culture I’d love to work in.

I think a lot of companies on the web are more congenial than not. In fact, it’s often proud of its casual nature. I’ve pretty much hugged every male or female web friend I’ve met at SXSW. :) Web companies like to flaunt its foosball tables as an enticement to work there.

I don’t want people to neutralize genders as if the differences don’t exist. I don’t think that’s the answer, either. However, I think there can be cooler activities that isn’t necessarily catering to just male activities. Karaoke is fun, for example. Both genders can participate in humiliating each other. ;-)

High school level courses is good. The earlier the better. And then reinforced in university/college.

Picture of Ann

Name Ann

Date Mar 25
06:57 PM

Hi Lea,

You are right about the web businesses and maybe design houses. But, I don’t think the case is the same in a civil engineering firm, or petroleum exploration, for example. I think you know what I mean.

If we are talking about women in engineering, physics, high-level sciences; I think their experiences are going to be different than in companies that encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. The former are companies with the problem of female retention in tech.

With new technologies you have a younger workforce that is more accepting of women, because their mothers worked. That is good for women. But, in traditional technologies the old guard is still in play and at work. When that generation retires I think there will be some positive changes.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 25
07:35 PM

Ann, this gives me an idea. I know way too many women who subvert norm (speaking of petroleum industry, I have a engineer girlfriend right in it)… I should just take some time to compile and interview them. :)

If you have suggestions of questions to ask, let me know.

Picture of Ann

Name Ann

Date Mar 25
07:54 PM


That is a great idea you have to interview women in traditional engineering professions.

Q: What was your expectation when you were in college? Compare that with today?

Q: Do you think the same doors are open for you as the male counterparts?

Q: How long do you plan on staying at this company? What are your long term goals?

Q: What surprised you the most when you began your career?

Q: Do you know women/co-workers who have stayed/left? Why? How long did they work there? What is the career cycle of a woman in engineering?

Picture of Ariel

Name Ariel

Date Mar 26
10:18 AM

Hi Lea,
Thanks for blogging about this. I found myself meeting more men than women at SXSW, and when I did meet other women it was often on the note of “oh wow, it’s so great to meet another young, professional woman in design/tech.” I agree, we have been asking the wrong questions. I actually steer clear of many of the “women’s issues” panels at conferences.
As a woman in design, it has been curious to me to go from design school which was about 80% women, into the working world which is male dominated. I think your questions start to get at this issue of why there isn’t a carry over. At the same time, as a daughter of a woman who was the only woman when she went to architecture school in the 60s, I think we’ve come a long way!

Picture of Ann

Name Ann

Date Mar 26
11:01 AM

Hi Ariel,

I am just beginning a career change in design. I saw a little over 50% women in the classes I recently took. But, when I look at the design sources or film/TV credits there are hardly any women listed.

I naively thought if I went into the arts I would not experience segregation or differentiation.

I hope this article gets publicity so that we can find where the women are? Sometimes it seems they are invisible? Are they freelancing? Is there more outsourcing to other countries in design and fewer jobs for women?

It is incredulous to me that there are not more women credited in the production processes.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 26
11:07 AM

Hi Ann, unfortunately, I do believe it was a tad naive. :) Design has a huge technology component and that means: mostly men. There are exceptions of course, as I know locally there are almost all-female run production companies here, as well as publishers, etc.

Web businesses and design firms might be a little warmer to women than say, engineering firms, generally speaking, but we still have the same problems with retention and alienation. Hence, the reason for several panels, year after year, at a design conference about “where are women.”

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 26
11:10 AM

Ariel, it’s interesting you mention steering clear of the women panels from conferences. I think part of it is that we’re tired of hearing the same old argument.

Another concern of mine is this: do women-focused groups actually harm female advancement? Like I mentioned in Cindy’s thread

Gonna just copy-paste it here b/c I can’t link to the actual comment:

In many ways, yes, it empowers us women to congregate together and meet other like minded women and help each other out… and yes, I agree with that. HOWEVER, in another way, it just looks like another way to isolate ourselves from the majority of the game-players (i.e. the men). And when you take a look at some successful women, they tend to be the LONE successful woman in the sea of men. Andrea Jung and Marissa Mayer are probably the only women in the top echelons of each other’s company departments, but I don’t know if they necessarily had a problem getting there because there were less women in their field.

This is why one of the questions I asked above is “Why are SOME women more comfortable around men? “

Thanks for sending me a link to your blog post. Very much appreciated. Now onto the topic…

When I was younger, I wasn’t very feminine at all. I played video games, played in the sandbox with toy trucks, cars, etc. Although, the difference was that I looked like a girl and I wore pink. My parents (luckily for me) encouraged me to play in the sandbox and to learn the computer at an early age. Without them being more gender-streotypical flexible, perhaps I would have been a much different person.

When I did go into techinical courses in high school, I found to have a higher aptitude and continued.

Although, here is the kicker. Any high technology (no, I’m not including web design on this one… web development, though… yes) like computer science, programming, networking, etc…. Never was encouraged by my counselor at my high school, despite my clear understanding of concepts! Disappointing! For me, it’s just saying to girls, hey, it exists. It’s out there! And you know what, you can do it too! It’s really a lack of “Hey, this is a career choice, too!”

I’ll continue my discussion in a few hours time. :)

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 27
09:07 AM

Hi Kathleen, thanks for joining in the convo. Growing up sounds similar to me: my sisters and I were the first people in our class to even have a Super Nintendo. We had it even before the guys.

Also, maybe I have just been fortunate, but I have made many amazing male friends. I found it easier to become friends with guys at an early age before girls, even. So, my comfort level with interacting and perhaps even marginally understanding men has always been there.

LOL, let’s not argue about what encompasses web design. If you’re talking about just the visual aspect of it, no, maybe not as “high technology.” But once you start getting to HCI, which is a facet of web design, it can get highly technical and scientific. Just want to add my two cents to those who simply believe web design is making things pretty: it’s a multi-disciplinary industry. Many things are lumped under the umbrella phrase “web design” that can span extremely technical coding aspects, research, interactivity, as well as art and design.

But I digress and we’re not here to argue about the facets of web design. We’re here to talk about women in tech:

That’s a good observation Kathleen, regarding that perhaps a key difference regarding education is that men are perhaps actively encouraged to join certain careers, while women aren’t blocked, it’s certainly not pushed or encouraged with the same vigour, even if you have the aptitude, even if you bring the option up. I look forward for more of your thoughts! :)

Picture of Alison

Name Alison

Date Apr 01
04:44 PM

This is a great thread. I have browsed this blog quiet extensively and you are asking and answering some really good questions about women in technology and the place of design. I’ve had so much fun reading! Thank you for including me and Switch Craft in your post. <3

Picture of Divya

Name Divya

Date Apr 05
10:35 AM

I went to a presentation camp yesterday and one of the presenters stated this “Geeks like beer”, which made me uncomfortable. It seemed very subtle hint about the gender bias of the gathering that he was talking about. I generally dont feel left out in conferences, but some conversations do feel awkward and very gender biased.

The only thing that can work a change is to get more women attending such conferences and educating the men. Would economic incentives work? I think it might, affirmative action does seem to have an effect in any country, probably it might help in the conferences too?

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Apr 05
12:09 PM

I’m not necessarily a fan of any type of affirmative action. I think there should be some type of incentive, perhaps, but many will criticize it as tokenism. “You’re only inviting me because I’m female and you’re getting $” is not a positive way to go forward.

Regarding the geeks like beer, I mean it’s a double bias when you think about it. Some men hate beer. Some people are teetotalers — does that mean they’re biased against people who don’t drink? I don’t think so. It’s really a statement about hanging out and letting loose. However, I can understand how it may be construed to be subtly leaning towards the guys.

BUT, how much of that is personal perception (uncontrollable and subjective) versus actual bias (something that can be educated and worked on)?

I just came back from a women entrepreneur’s conference and I asked a lady (Jennifer, I forgot her last name) who has been a leader in IT for 30 years, about what she thought about women feeling “left out” or otherwise notice being the only woman.

First of all, she said that she either ignored, didn’t care or didn’t notice at all that she was the only female, throughout the years. Next, she then mentioned that no one but yourself can hold you back: that a lot of women find a reason to blame — their gender — as they teeter on the brink of what they may perceive as “failure.” She felt some women use their gender as a crutch.

Ruth Kelly, a big female business leader in our community (she is a publishing mogul who runs the only business interest magazine in the province), pointed out that as long as women continue to say that they don’t want to go to conferences because primarily men are involved, it will continue to limit women. People will always ask where the women are if they don’t show up! If you’re in an a primarily male-dominated industry, you still have to show up to male dominated conferences. It’s nice to have all-female get-togethers as well, but if that’s all you do, it will be highly limiting to your career.

This becomes a really complicated issue over how much of these problems are personality traits (i.e. high self confidence, indifferent around men) and how much of this is outside forces (gender bias, exclusivity, glass ceiling, etc) that are simply not helping? This is why I asked about personas, and if we should start compiling some about the women who are doing well.

Picture of Dmitri

Name Dmitri

Date Apr 15
02:56 AM

Thats really normal when women make science, technology, computers … etc. This is common part of the life, I am being enrage when read such topics. Men’s and women’s capability are the same.

It’s boring to hear words from men: “How bad females are”.
And boring to hear words from women: “How poor we are”.


Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Apr 15
09:44 AM

Hi Dmitri, I hope you understand that in this blog post, we’re championing men and women who do NOT say those words, and instead are trying to figure out answers to more direct questions about personality traits of successful women, how to encourage men to be more welcoming, and what retains bright minds.

Picture of Stella

Name Stella

Date Apr 15
06:30 PM

Woman-who-left-tech here. Just to speak from my own experience, my impression when I was in computing science is that there were not a lot of opportunities building technology that was really oriented around what PEOPLE wanted or needed, dealing with people and helping them, at least in the large technology corporations. The mavericks and stars were the ones passionate about programming for the sake of programming. Those more interested in dealing directly with people and helping people directly risked being relegated to limited tech support roles in interesting, non-tech organizations or to being “managers,” which is not the sexiest thing to be (with some exceptions!). Obviously things are more nuanced than that and in retrospect I was a bit hasty in writing off the whole industry, but I’ve turned away and never look back.

From my perspective, women aren’t interested in tech in significant part because of fundamental value differences that cannot easily be changed, and maybe should not be.

Or perhaps part of the solution is in rethinking how we structure tech jobs and the Fordist segregation of tasks that characterizes large tech corporations. Certainly, there could be more user-centered design in this world.

Picture of christine

Name christine

Date Jul 02
10:52 PM

I have been a software developer for the last 11 years and for the most part, with the exception of one job, it has been really tough. I feel like I dont belong to the point it depresses me. My male coworkers are less than welcoming. They go to lunch, have meetings and socialize but never include me. Days can go by where I am alone in my office programming and nobody sais a word to me. I am in the same general age group as the others and am always friendly. The guys swear in the office all the time but if I am as equally direct and to the point about what I think they look at me like im from another planet (lovin the double standard!). Skill wise, I am ahead of the others, yet the position of team lead was given to the intern who just graduated from college (I have 11 years professional experience). I recently stated concerns about a design flaw in our system and my team lead hinted at me having some other “ajenda”. I just cant win. The only thing keeping me in my job is the money, but the truth is I am miserable.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Jul 03
01:21 PM

Sorry to hear that, Christine.

However, I truly do believe that we have the means to affect our careers in a positive way. I don’t work where you do so I can’t comment on the behaviour of your co-workers, but you may be interested in reading a book called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.

Office politics and chemistry aside, sometimes the issue isn’t gender, but just poor culture fit. Issues like you’re in are also pervasive with both genders, and the issue, at least in my experience, is that the company culture or group dynamics doesn’t work out. For example, in big companies like Google and Yahoo, they have a TON of teams doing every little thing: not ALL teams are happy, but some thrive. It’s not necessarily Google or Yahoo’s fault, OR gender discrimination, as it is just group dynamics. It just seems clearly delineated being the only female in the group.

Picture of shannon

Name shannon

Date Jul 29
11:15 AM

Women in tech… fabulous topic and one I’m very experienced in. For me, it’s been an interesting ride. Graduating high school just prior to the computer explosion, I thought I might as well try out tech, as I had a knack for it and didn’t feel any fear. So, I got myself an electronics technology diploma… only female in the class. I then proceeded to have a career in tech for about 10 years. During that time, there were highs and lows and many interesting situations to overcome. I once had an interviewer from Dell say to me “women in this field don’t usually look like you” as he shifted uncomfortably. What exactly do you say to a comment like that? And, I’m just an average looking woman, nothing special. Anyway, the interactions with men could be difficult at times, but if you prove you know your stuff, they can sometimes be your greatest advocate. It’s tough. It’s also hard to balance between being labeled the b!tch or being a pushover. I always seemed to overcompensate too much.

Anyway, I got disenchanted with tech from a values standpoint… I didn’t think what I was doing mattered enough. So, I tried a career change. I went into Psychology, came out of my undergraduate degree and got a job in the field where I felt I’d be helping people. Turns out that field seemed even less “helpful” to people than tech did.

So, I’m trying to get back into tech after a somewhat lengthy absence. Coming full circle and appreciating the honesty and sincerity of majority of the people in the tech world. I think it is our perceptions at times that have us feeling left out. Perhaps it’s time to start inviting the men out for lunch if the invitation isn’t coming your way. It’s a two way interaction. They may feel awkward doing the inviting, as it can be construed as a come on by women. Anyway, there are multiple reasons for difficult interactions, but with effort and desire to overcome, they can be overcome.

Picture of Dave

Name Dave

Date Aug 05
07:22 PM

Maybe I don’t have any business putting comment in here since I am a man, but I am reminded of the sketch Eddie Murphy did on SNL, ‘Things that White People do when Black People aren’t around’. And as a man I can’t honestly remember a single time when I heard another guy IT Manager indicate in any way that he wouldn’t hire or promote a woman. Maybe I am blind, but I think woman have the exact same opportunities in IT that a man does. Now maybe there are barriers to becoming CIO of Coke for a woman but then I think you can easily argue that many top level C people (men and woman) are crazy anyway.

I know that we are suppose to say that men and women are identical but my wife runs a program for at risk children and overwhelmingly the interns that she gets are young woman. Is it possible that women are, on the average, drawn to careers that involve working with people, rather than technology? If women are underrepresented in IT are they overrepresented in health care and social services. Maybe the average women just isn’t that into technology?

Plus you have to remember that women are much more flexible than men. A guy who starts in IT will stay in IT until some billygoat kicks him out. But a woman may start in IT and then move on to something else quite naturally.

Great post and discussion. I read every comment. Two thoughts came into my head.

First, I think women are equally capable and talented as men when it comes to technology. I have two daughters, one is 12 yo and the other is 8 yo. They can both smoke their guys friends on using the computer and other technology. I hope they continue using and being involved in technology.

Secondly, why is it that women are naturally assumed to be the primary caregiver for the family? I mean, I work from home and I do a fair amount, close to half, of the caregiving for my four kids. I was talking to a neighbor and I said to him “you can’t really understand how much work it is and how much time it takes to raise kids during the day. You can spend an entire day with them and realize that it’s 5:00 PM and wonder where the time went.” He just looked at me like I was crazy, because he goes to the office from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM most days. He has no idea what goes on at home. Why don’t more men stay home and more women go to the office to work? It may have to do with pay. A recent study indicates that women today, in most industries, still make 15% to 20% less than men in comparable jobs. So if a woman wants to be involved in a career, technology or otherwise, she has to make some tough choices. Men don’t have to make the same tough choices, it’s easier, for the most part for a man to start a family and continue his job/career and he’ll be paid more for doing the work. As a side note, I’m involved in the human resources industry and I estimate 80% of the people I deal with in client organizations are women. HR is a female dominated industry. I don’t know what that means from a societal standpoint, but I find it an interesting fact.

Great blog, I’ve subscribed to it and I look forward to your next post.

Somehow this blog post escaped me until now. Thank you so much for writing it. I think you ask a ton of interesting questions that might possibly just not have answers. I try not to think about whether I do things or don’t do things because I’m a woman because that just traps you. Instead I try to figure out what I want to change and work towards it without making excuses (even if they’re really true and good ones!). I can’t change how the world sees me or what has come before, but maybe I can create a positive effect.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Aug 11
04:39 PM

First of all, I want to make it clear that both men and women should comment on this piece. It deals with women issues, but men certainly can and should have a voice, too.

Meanwhile, I do think that the major onus of one’s success is a person’s own choices, barring unexpected personal circumstances like a health situation (and even then…). This is true for both genders.

I do believe men and women have the same opportunities, at least in our privileged Western society, but like Kathy Sierra recently tweeted, and our commenter Stella above, context and “a point” is really important in helping encourage and retain women in certain fields, and in THAT, I don’t believe has had enough emphasis placed on it. Men view a result as an end onto itself, but women want a reason to even pursue a result.

Meanwhile, Whitney, I don’t want people to view the questions in the “perspective of a woman” – rather, interview women to give a PERSONAL perspective. I can answer the 3 questions I pose myself, but that isn’t necessarily indicative of what is true for most women, heh. In user experience terms, what I’m really asking for with the above questions are to create a “personality profile” or “persona” for the ideal, “successful” woman in tech. What traits do they have and how can we bring them out in other women?

Picture of David Shirey

Name David Shirey

Date Aug 23
09:28 PM

Christine, The problem is, you are working with jerks. I have not worked in any IT shop over the last ten years where there was swearing or where women are not valued. This is truly the exception. My experience, as a consultant, is that women are treated just as men are, and their contribution is valued. Seriously, you are in an abnormal situation. And PS, I am a male working in a consulting situation and no one, male or femail, has talked to me in two weeks if I didn’t talk to them first. Some places are just weird.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Aug 23
09:59 PM

David, I edited your comment reply to address Christine as she was the real commentor. I have been having problems with spammers who copy paste older comments.

Meanwhile, my response to Christine is above as well.

Picture of Bryant

Name Bryant

Date Sep 02
04:17 PM

Great article… I actually think that women in tech are encouraged. It’s awesome seeing a woman doing cutting edge work, I think that in itself helps generate buzz on it’s own when it comes to marketing yourself online. I’m a white guy, so there are thousands of competitors out there just like me… nothing really sets me apart physically. So you could say you guys have an advantage if you choose to exploit it. (Just thought I’d give another perspective)

Picture of Sveta

Name Sveta

Date Sep 10
11:38 PM

When talking about being both female and deaf, it creates even more challenges in employment and career advancement in the mainstream environment. I feel more frustrated as a deaf person, however, than being female – due to oral communication issues and little awareness of employers about hearing loss and how to deal with deaf employees.

Picture of Tamara

Name Tamara

Date Sep 22
04:36 PM

It shoud be a normal thing that women in tech don’t have to think of such questions. It’s the fun factor, tech can make fun, for men and us women.

Picture of Gina B

Name Gina B

Date Nov 14
10:36 PM

I’m a female Flash developer for the ad industry and have felt and experienced much of what has been expressed here.

I think two main factors for the lack of female presence in the tech industry are male ego and the social nature of women, which was already pointed out by another commenter.

I am as social as I am completely comfortable being alone and spending long hours on the computer, but I don’t think it’s too far off to consider that perhaps most women are not. I fell into web completely by accident. I was studying for a career in primatology, but saw that money was being made by web developers. I bought an HTML book in college and fell in love with web design and development from then on. But I knew plenty of women in art school and am left to wonder whether they were not encouraged to pursue interactive design or simply lacked interest? (I see more female designers than developers, but they’re still a sharp minority among males.)

I’m a guy’s gal so to speak and work extremely well with and like the fellows, but that doesn’t stop me from always noticing the lack of women. As a freelancer, I see lots of places and the oddity of my presence as a female is always pointed out by interviewers and coworkers, which unintentionally contributes to that sense of not really belonging. I don’t particularly feel like they are questioning my expertise, but my experience has taught me that I need an ego as much as talent to get the jobs I want and for the rate I want.

I do firmly believe that women are more sheepish when it comes to salary and promotion and male bosses will take advantage of this if you let them. I often find out about males making more money than I have for the same job and it took years of experience for me to develop the confidence to demand what I deserve. Unfortunately, I never worked with any women who could teach me this up front.

Picture of Jen

Name Jen

Date Nov 19
03:20 PM

Hey Lea, thanks for the invite to this conversation. I’m a firm believer that there isn’t a “lack” of women in technology, though it’s obvious the numbers aren’t as high as social work, nursing, etc., but the lack of visibility.

I don’t know how we create more female role models but I believe that it’s very important to do so. I feel that younger generations need people of their own gender to look up to, particularly if that younger person belongs to a minority group—i.e. women, for example.

As for solving this issue or getting answers to our questions, I think the most important thing is for women in our field that have the available time and the drive should attempt to get on panels. It only takes one pebble to start the ripple.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Nov 19
07:25 PM

Hi Jen, Thanks for piping in! I also agree it’s visibility that’s the issue more than anything; however, I don’t agree with your last paragraph. The names you’ve listed cite women that are repeatedly mentioned: these women are the “pebbles” that started the ripple… a while ago.

And yet, here we are, wondering why there aren’t more women on stage yet. These women (including myself) have been speaking for YEARS and yet, we are still having this argument about visibility. And several organizers have cited inviting a lot of qualified women who simply were either too busy for their event or were otherwise unable to attend.

Meanwhile, being a great designer, content creator, developer, techie, etc does NOT automatically equal public speaker, nor should it. Great talent doesn’t always translate to great communicator to massive amounts of people in a public forum.

Picture of Jessica

Name Jessica

Date Dec 15
10:11 PM

This conversation could go on and on. Since I work from home, I never really noticed how few women are in the tech sector. With the advent and proliferation of Twitter, I’ve found myself conversing with many SEO, Internet Marketing experts and 99.9 percent of them are men. I wonder why this is??? I’d never given much thought to it until 2009, but it really bothers me that I have a hard time finding other females in this industry to speak with. I think women bring a different perspective and new, fresh ideas. It has been proven time and again that women think differently than men, so the tech industry could only benefit and diversify its knowledge with an infusion of estrogen.

Great questions and discussion. I’ve been a web designer/developer for 11 years and have worked in co-working tech spaces filled with guys, so I can relate to the comment, “no barriers for women, but no open arms either.” That’s true for all minorities. Any group of similar people tends to be initially suspicious of someone who is obviously “other.” The onus is always on the outsider who wants in, to prove that s/he is worthy of being accepted by the group. That, or start their own scene. It’s not fair, but that’s life.

It’s also important to remember that tech attracts introverts, so the guys don’t necessarily get a welcoming band either. Sometimes tech scenes are just inherently anti-social.

That said, men are (still) socialized to be more competitive than women, so they expect a certain amount of hostility as part of the game. They enter a room in offense mode, “with their game face on.” Women are (still) socialized to “play nice” and be collaborative, to seek consensus, and to passively wait their turn. You know, like Sleeping Beauty. (Yes, fairy tales have a lot to answer for. Thank God for Little Red Riding Hood. At least she talked back to a wolf.)

In return for “playing nice” women expect others to do likewise. So they often feel blind-sided by overtly aggressive competition in the workplace. Sensing an attack, they assume a defensive mode to survive. If women do dare to react with the same level of aggression, men are caught off guard (okay, shocked, since they expect comfort and empathy from women, not competition) and tend to respond, inwardly if not outwardly, more harshly than they would to a man. Result: even more defensive attitudes from women.

Just as men have acquired a deeper understanding of the unspoken rules of competition, so women have learned to detect the subtle signals of collaboration and communication. Women sense subtle shifts in tone and body language that men often miss. (“But she said she was okay with that!” “Yes, but she didn’t mean it. Didn’t you hear her tone?” “Her tone?? What are you talking about? “) Men tend to take communication at face value and don’t understand why women aren’t more direct. Women have learned to be indirect in order to get what they need and to avoid being called a demanding beeyotch. They’ve watched their mothers (and fathers) and learned. It’s a complicated dance that is centuries old, but it is changing. Slowly.

Picture of Lindsay

Name Lindsay

Date Oct 28
06:15 AM

I really like the three points you make. I’m a front-end developer. I am usually bulked on the dev team at web firms/companies/departments. I can’t remember the last time I worked with a female. In fact, I don’t think I ever have before. Designers yes. But I’ve never worked with a female developer. Maybe I’m the quota at my jobs?
This has been actually bothering me for years and it’s also been effecting my career. I never get the same treatment from guys. EVER.
I should say, some guys know how to work with women on the same level but there are always men out there that just can’t deal with it.
I get left out of pertinent conversations/information, I’m not shared the same knowledge and resources some times.. thinking it’s a guy thing (uh.. im working here too!)
The most obvious one is the tone and listening skills.
I’ve spent a good 2 hours tonight researching everything I’m talking about and you’re discussing so I’m happy to read this article.

I still don’t have any clear answers on how to handle certain situations I have to deal with but it’s good to know there are others out there.

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