Because there has been some discussion in the blogosphere lately concerning the role of women in the American workforce, which they are apparently coming to dominate, I thought a 2008 Financial Times (one of my favorite publications) article on women in software development and IT might be worth examining.
It starts out with a story of a talented girl, Emma McGrattan, who became a software company executive despite misgivings on the part of her father. These stories are often used as examples of how women are held back, but the fact is that Ms. McGrattan is one of a very few exceptions. Not only do fewer girls want to become engineers, fewer of them have the visuospatial and mathematical skills that are required in that field.
Nevertheless, concerted efforts are being made to push girls into engineering and development, extending to unabashed gender discrimination on the part of female employers:
“I’m always urging my human resources department to get me more resumés from women and encouraging my managers to bring their daughters into work,” says Siki Giunta, president and CEO of Managed Objects, the business service management software company. “We need to make young women understand the scope of this business and the excellent pay and promotion opportunities it has to offer, regardless of gender,” she says.
Some, it seems, are taking direct action. “If I see a man and a woman candidate who are equally qualified to take a role in my organisation, I’ll pick the woman every time,” says Daphna Steinmetz, chief innovation officer at Comverse (NASDAQ: CMVT – News) , the telecommunications software company. “Because I want to extend the opportunities I’ve enjoyed to other women.”
Despite their best efforts, most girls remain uninterested in becoming technology workers:
“I find news of such declines very sobering in light of the increasing influence of technology in all our lives and the fact that women make up half the working population. There’s a growing disconnect between who’s using technology and who’s delivering it and that needs to be addressed,” says Charmaine Eggberry, vice-president and managing director for EMEA at Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM – News) (RIM), developer and manufacturer of the BlackBerry.
The situation could get worse before it gets better, she warns. In a recent survey commissioned by her company, 90 per cent of young people of both sexes aged between 11 and 16 said they thought using technology was “cool” and regularly chatted with their friends about technology. Yet only 28 per cent of girls had considered a career in technology, compared with more than 52 per cent of boys.
Quel horreur! Fewer girls than boys are interested in machines and programming… What is the world coming to?
One might think that there has been a millennial conspiracy to keep females out these professions, despite their intimate involvement with the mechanics of running a household for all this time, which gave them ample opportunities to tinker with or invent machines of all sorts.
However, the article does get down to what the true goal is, and it is what a few of us have been chafing at for a while on this blog and others:
Women, she found, tend to demonstrate better bilateral brain involvement in listening – in combining left-brain thinking (logic, analysis and a concern for accuracy) with right-brain thinking (aesthetics, feeling and creativity) simultaneously. This ability, she says, is highly prized by the IT sector in roles such as business analyst and team leader.
Women are generally held to be better at language skills, such as verbal fluency, giving them an advantage in human discourse and writing activities. They also score better on social skills and understanding other people’s viewpoints, valuable in team building and negotiation.
So there you have it. Although women may not be as focused on the nuts and bolts, they are uniquely qualified to manage men in high-tech industry — at least according to analysts at Gartner Research.
Does this suggest that, in the future, men will be the cubicle line workers slaving away in a strange sort of polyandrous occupational setup, where their at-work activities are monitored by an on-the-job equivalent of a domineering nanny or wife?
What I’d like to discuss is the banishment of men from cultural and linguistic pursuits in favor of women. Why is it taken for granted that women are better at language and communication than men, even though men still outscore women on the verbal section of the SAT?
Sometimes I get the feeling that we are living in one of those strange times when dysfunctional systems are supported with every effort despite their obvious failure in many very important areas.