Looking at the technology industry from the outside in, one might be forgiven for thinking that it is a place of contradictions; the IT world’s geek image generating ‘cool’ brands, social media initiating anti-social behaviour, well, you get the picture.
Women in tech: Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman
However, as writer Ayn Rand once said: ‘Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.’
This week had me addressing my own premises to understand the contradiction of women in technology and here is why: the technology industry, and IT in particular, struggles to make careers attractive to women.
To start with the positive, Fortune announced its annual Most Powerful Women Ranking this week, showing that the technology sector dominates when it comes to the world’s most influential women. At number one was IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, with Hewlett-Packard¹s Meg Whitman, Facebook¹s Sheryl Sandberg and Oracle’s Safra Catz appearing in the top ten.
A total of 16 per cent of the women in the league came from the technology sector, the highest proportion of any industry named.
So clearly something is working to attract some of the best female business minds to technology.
However, after witnessing two recent cases of institutionalised sexism, generated from two key institutions of the technology sector, as people looked on unphased, no comment made, I was left perplexed, trying to understand the lack of reaction.
First, at the Gartner Security & Risk Symposium, an analyst made a joke about people being available to answer technical questions ‘unlike the ones in short-skirts’.
The second case came in the form of a headline on the Computer Weekly site, reading: “Wives of Computer Weekly readers rejoice we’re no longer in print.”
Not the most favourable moments from these pillars of the technology industry I think you and, indeed, they, would agree.
Only in March this year, the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur asked in an article: “Why aren’t there more women in technology?” He cited several cases that had occurred at that time on the US west coast, a pivotal home to technology, where women had been treated with contempt under the guise of jokes and flip remarks.
The key point raised, for me, came as Arthur posed, to his male readers, the question: “How much of this behaviour goes on which you just don’t notice?”