Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Women In Tech

21st November, 2009

There has been a lot of debate in recent times on the subject of women in technology.

Blogs, the media, and more have been getting into the debate. I’ve seen bits and pieces, and read a few posts, but to be honest with you, I haven’t really connected with the problem.

I think (but I’m not certain) the issue this cause is trying to address that women are underrepresented in technology courses, jobs, and the sector in general.

And I think I’ve finally figured out why I never saw it as an issue, and this is why I wasn’t previously concerned.

I don’t know if it’s because I am part of the “next” generation, after those who are currently running our large corporations and businesses. Maybe it’s because I’ve been brought up with different values. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe it’s because all the tech companies I’ve worked for (ok, that’s only 2, but still) have a good gender balance. I wouldn’t claim it to be exactly equal, but they’re not all 100% guys. The thought had never crossed my mind that a gender would need help or support getting the same support, opportunites, or anything than the other in an industry.

Imagine I was managing a department or running a company in tech at the moment. If I had 10 people come for an interview for a new role, would I choose a women over a man simply because of their gender? No, of course I wouldn’t, and I hope no person who ever is in that position makes a decision based on that - if they do, they need to go.

Why would I hire someone? Clearly their suitability for the role; their talents; past experience. So maybe the concerns do not lie at the point where women are hired.

Does this lie in education, then? I know for certain that at University (in tech courses, at least), there is an overwhelming majority of guys. If you took out the women who are doing non-Engineering / Computer Science degrees in my department (this mostly leaves IT and combos like IT and Management), I could probably count the ones remaining on my fingers. But all of those make it to the end of their course, so staying at Uni doesn’t seem to be a problem. The number of women applying may be a problem, but I don’t think that is a reflection on the University - I have taken groups round open days (and been on many open days myself), and the balance of male/female lecturers is great, and if anything the Uni prefer female students to lead the groups (they tend to be more reliable than the oft-still-drunk guy geeks just there for the money).

Going back further in education, is it in high school that women are being put off tech? Quite possibly. My experience at high school was very much that being good with computers wasn’t “cool”, and therefore not the done thing - which probably didn’t help. But I don’t think we can attribute all of this to peer pressure.

So just having a quick dig through how I got to where I am today, I couldn’t really come up with a reason why there would be a discrepancy between men and women in tech. There may have been a few small influences, but nothing that could cause thus cataclysmic divide that is being suggested.

Don’t get me wrong here - I strongly believe women and men should be treated equally - so much so, in fact, I failed to even conceive that other people may do otherwise.

So help me out - what do you think? What could contribute to this?