Girls in Technology

In 2007, A List Apart conducted a Web Design Survey. They found that overall, women make up just 16.1% of the web design industry. That number was further broken down by job title. While as many as 41.6% of Writers/Editors were women just 7.2% of Developers were women. Overall, there’s a very definite bias toward fewer women being involved in the more technology-heavy types of positions.

The small number of women working in technology becomes a topic of discussion in the blogosphere every few months when conference attendees complain that all or nearly all of the presenters or speakers are male. It only makes sense that the speakers and presenters would be representative of the industry as a whole, so the problem is not that there’s a lack of female presenters and speakers, but a lack of women working in the field. Then everyone wonders why.

Male technology workers get interviewed about a great variety of subjects, but I’ve yet to hear an interview of a female technology worker where she wasn’t asked about why she thought there were no women in the field. I find that really frustrating – not only are her skills being ignored, but she’s being called to answer for her entire gender.

Recently at South by Southwest, I attended a panel titled “Attracting Girls to IT“. It was fascinating. Apparently in elementary school, interest in math, science and technology is about equal between genders, but by 5th grade, girls start to lose interest in these subjects. By high school, they’re barely interested, leaving just a tiny group of us geek girls.

I think that sometimes people like to think that sexual discrimination doesn’t happen all that often. But it does! We like to think that we’re a modern culture, and that things like gender don’t affect the subjects we like in school. But gender obviously plays a role. Parents, teachers, media, and others are all sending a message that math and science and technology are “boys’ subjects”. I know I got that message over and over again, sometimes in very subtle ways and sometimes in blatant, kick-you-in-the-gut-you’re-a-girl-and-you-don’t-belong-here kind of way. I think it takes a special kind of girl to stand up for herself through that and stick with what she really loves doing, no matter what the other students or the teacher think.

That kind of discrimination still happens in workplaces too. Some workplaces more than others, some coworkers more than others. I’ve experienced it. It’s awful, the feeling that your skills and knowledge and talent are somehow less valuable just because you’re a woman. Some days I can just ignore it and put my head down and get my work done, but other days I just feel defeated.

I’ve decided to become a volunteer mentor for girls interested in working in technology through MentorNet. Maybe I can keep one more girl from being turned away from her dream by the thoughtlessness of others. Maybe you can, too!

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