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The Role of Women in IT: Leaders of Men

July 31st, 2009 · 12 Comments

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.

Tags: Men

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lukobe // Jul 31, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Yes, what is the evidence for the assertion that “women are generally held to be better at language skills, such as verbal fluency, giving them an advantage in human discourse and writing activities”? Or, rather, the statement is true, in that they generally are held to be better. But why is that the case?

  • 2 Welmer // Jul 31, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Maybe because they talk more? Or maybe because relatively speaking they are better at it, i.e. they are closer to the male norm in language ability than in math.

    I suspect it’s the former.

  • 3 Lukobe // Jul 31, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Well, what about the “writing activities” bit?

  • 4 Derek // Jul 31, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I have yet meet a really good female programmer. Most lack the innate curiosity to be constantly learning new things and generalizing old concepts to new one.

    The best female IT mangers I have met were very manly in how they handled things. The rest have been, uh you said the exact opposite yesterday; You really don’t know what you are doing. They love policy but really care about getting things done efficiency. Even worse many are perfectionist… and with programming doing things perfectly means you never finish the project. You have to make trade offs to get things done.

    One of the things I have seen repeatedly: Most people who manage IT are overpaid. Most of them really don’t understand the decisions they make and it often leads to major project blunders. As a societal rule we pay people more for being mangers on the assumption that they could do most of the jobs below them. This is way we pay them more than the average worker.

    This is no longer true. Most can’t do any of the jobs they are charge of and in fact most don’t even understand the jobs of the people they manage. You end up with a lot of people pushing to become mangers would benefit the company more if they stayed engineers or techs. The pay scale really should be adjusted to not pay mangers more than the average very talented employee.

    Our artificial pay scale for mangers is causing the rush of women into the market place.

  • 5 novaseeker // Jul 31, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I think that the stereotype about women being better at verbal skills is just that: a stereotype.

    If you look at writers, for example, you’ll find plenty of them at all levels — journalism, fiction, non-fiction, technical writing and so on. Yes, women are *closer* to men in verbal/writing ability than they are naturally in maths. But in no way are they dominant there.

    The areas where women are dominant are the caring/nurturing areas like nursing, teaching, social work, certain medical fields (pediatrics, gynecology, geriatrics, etc.) and so on.

    It’s simply the latest canard that women are better managers and have better people skills and so on. That interview with Carol Smith indicated that she has terrible people skills, because she couldn’t even understand why men often begin meetings with a few jokes and so on — indicating a pretty low emotional intelligence, I think.

  • 6 Lukobe // Jul 31, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Fascinating interview: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/business/26corner.html

  • 7 novaseeker // Aug 1, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Fascinating in that the NYT would never have printed an interview where a male manager said that men were, hands down, better managers.

    We’ve plowed right past “equality” and directly into matriarchal sexism.

  • 8 Lukobe // Aug 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    That’s kind of what I meant.

    At least the Times marked this comment by “Michael” as an “Editor’s Selection”:

    “I’ve worked under both male and female bosses. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. It is bigoted and sexist to claim that either is better than the other. Shamefully, we only condemn people when they claim male superiority, not when they claim female superiority.”

  • 9 miles // Aug 1, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Whats so comic is that in many fields now, your boss might not be able to do —-anything—-the employees do. The boss might simply have an office management or business management degree, but know nada, zilch, zero, and nothing about how to do what the employees are doing. Hence they dont’ understand whats what, or whats causing delays, setbacks, inconsistency or any other problem. They just know how to threaten and whip-crack.

    As Welmer pointed out, often times these jobs are simply given to females to kill some AA birds with one stone, because the UPPER-upper management wants the best team possible in actual production, and figures that a boss is just there to keep some semblance of propriety so the sailors dont become full-bore pirates. Thats a bad strategy though. Bad management hurts in beaucoup little ways, not the least of which is old fashioned morale.

    Parting shot: women in H.R. end up hiring way to many other women, even when they are blatantly less qualified than other male applicants. Contrary to social beliefs, women tend to be much less fair or morale than men.

  • 10 Lukobe // Aug 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

    It isn’t so much that HR hires people, it’s that they screen applicants and do the dirty work of firing when it’s necessarily, no?

  • 11 Zencommand // Aug 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    This is why it’s best to start your own business.
    I simply cannot deal with having a woman for a boss. Period.
    When a woman enters your work environment it’s like someone through a big ‘suck switch’ that kills off all the comraderie, productivity, and morale.
    B.S. ‘social’ skills are not what gets things done.
    Hard work does.

  • 12 Lukobe // Aug 4, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I was just sent some interesting links on the subject of woman-on-woman workplace bullying by a former (female) coworker:



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