The IT Crowd Seems Destined to Remain a Boy's Club, At Least in the Short Term
Stop me if you've heard this one before:
A man is driving along with his son in the passenger seat when they hit some ice on the road and spin out. The car is totaled, and both the father and son are rushed to the hospital. The boy needs an emergency operation and is prepped for surgery, but the surgeon takes one look at him and refuses to operate. When asked why, the surgeon replies, "Because he's my son!" How is this possible?
Some of you know the answer, some of you will figure it out quickly, and some of you are probably wondering why I'm starting a tech article with a riddle. For those of you who are still chewing on it and consider it a matter of pride to figure it out on your own, you may want to stop here — while this next section won't give the answer outright, it will make it a lot easier.
Last year, Google took stock of its employees and saw some disturbing ratios. For starters, even though 47 percent of the United State work force is female, only 30 percent of Google's own employees were. Appalled, Google offered three months' worth of vouchers to women and minorities who wanted to learn to code. The program was swamped with applications. The Google doc where they were collected now simply displays an apology note and a link to Google's Women Techmakers newsletter.
The unfortunate thing is that, compared to tech careers in general, 30 percent is actually pretty commendable. The percentage of IT graduates that are women is somewhere below 20 percent at most. Alarmingly, those numbers seem to be declining.
No surprise, then, that the voucher program is only one of Google's many attempts to make tech more accessible to women. Google's not the only one, either — the massively successful Hour of Code (which we wrote about in a previous article) is aimed largely at younger girls. And, despite the complaints from IT curmudgeons, concerned activists will continue to roll out programs designed to help women integrate into tech. So why aren't we seeing a significant improvement in the numbers?
Because the problem isn't a sore that can be treated with a Band-Aid: It's an issue that runs deep. From what they're encouraged to pursue in school to the toys they're given to play with to the examples in prime-time television, the conditioning girls receive runs counter to tech-related fields. Two quick examples of this would be the American show The Big Bang Theory and the BBC's The IT Crowd.
Both shows are populated with crews of three or four awkward but highly intelligent "nerds" — all male. Both shows also feature one relatively-normal person who is not only decently social but also knows nothing about tech — and coincidentally is female. And while we're on that subject, one pair of studies suggests that one of the reasons women actually avoid tech fields is because of the "skinny pale nerd" stereotype — not an attractive concept for a man, but apparently even less so for a woman.
Perhaps the biggest reason women aren't sticking it out in tech is because tech doesn't really seem to want them. Try to Google "gender" and "tech" and scroll down the comments below the articles. I'm willing to bet you won't find a single one without women telling horror stories about how they were treated by their professors in tech classes.
It's not uncommon for the women who stuck it out in IT education to also have horror stories about how they were then treated by employers and co-workers once they actually made it into IT workplaces. It's a known problem, and it reflects poorly on tech professionals everywhere.
Tech is supposed to be a meritocracy, and in most cases it is — as long as you're male. We need to move away from the idea that this is a boys' club and show our female counterparts the respect they deserve. Maybe the next generation can be raised in a culture where tech is gender-neutral.
Oh, and in closing: The surgeon is the boy's mother.