CNet’s Benn Parr tackles the question of why the tech field is still short of women after all these years. He says, “The lack of women in technology is disturbing. To fix it, we need to re-engineer the industry’s male-dominated culture.”
Certainly, the number of women in tech is not on par with the number of men. Although, there are way more of them now than when I entered the field 30 years ago, and it’s continuing to trend up. Yet parity remains a ways off and it’s quite reasonable to question why a field with lots of open jobs is having trouble attracting and keeping women in this economy.
Parr cites some examples of highly insensitive actions and downright hostile workplace issues as his reason for concluding that the male dominated field is simply not a welcoming place for women. While I agree those issues exist to varying degrees at different employers and schools, I do not agree that this is the core issue.
In full recognition that I’m treading way out on a politically incorrect limb here, I think the core issue is that while women are every bit as capable as men in the tech field, far too few of them have it in their blood. And in the tech field, that blood passion makes a difference.
A critical minority of the tech field is made up of tech geeks—people who live and breathe tech. These are people who leave work and go home to their other tech projects. They fix computers, create apps, build crazy gadgets, put up websites, and learn new languages and tools just for fun. They own spudgers and Arduino boards and they don’t know why you can’t wire a simple TTL circuit to access the firmware controller on your hard drive. And yes, they are almost exclusively guys.
I don’t know why they are almost all guys, but it starts early. When my son was a toddler, I recall taking him to a friend’s house who had a daughter the same age. Both children were the offspring of two parents with engineering degrees. Yet while my friend’s daughter was excited that she would get to play with someone new, my son was looking forward to a whole house full of different toys.
In school, there were girls who were excellent engineering students. But when their hair dryers died, they called on the guys to fix it. If repairing a hair dryer was a lab project, I have no doubt that any and all of them would have aced the assignment. But this was not something they had to do, and they seemed to lack the innate drive many of the guys had to dive in and figure it out for fun.
This is in no way to suggest that girls aren’t capable of doing tech jobs. They absolutely are. But there’s a motivational tech spark that, while not present in all guys, is almost exclusively present in guys. Yes, I have known the occasional female tech geek, but they are few and far between.
What complicates the tech field is that it evolves at such a rapid pace. Tools and techniques you learn in school are often obsolete before you graduate. It’s virtually impossible to stay abreast of the field if you only work at it during business hours. One answer is to be a workaholic, and those come in both genders. But the easier answer is to be a geek. Then you’re not working after hours, you’re playing. Same result; less stress.
Over time, the demands of this rapidly changing field result in a large number of non-geeks migrating to management, support, or other tech-adjacent jobs. Those are valuable jobs that need to get done, but the women in those jobs don’t contribute to the number of women in tech. And so, over the years, the non-geeks tend to self-select out of the field. As a result, the number of senior level non-management tech jobs filled by women is very small.
I will grant up-front that I have no scientific evidence or data to back this up. It’s based entirely upon having spent decades in the tech field, where I worked with, and went to school with, lots of different men and women. Perhaps my experience is unusual, but I suspect it’s not. (Just in case I’m going to put on my flame-retardant underwear before I hit the Publish button.)