Beki Grinter

Arguments about Women in IT

In computer science, discipline, women on September 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm

A recent(ish) article in Tech Crunch argues that women themselves are part of the problem of why there are few women in IT.

It’s argument reads to me as a combination of acute frustration about the situation (including a lack of recognition for what the author and his colleagues have tried to do) accompanied by a portion that suggests that women should also look to their own traits and make improvements (stop being so nurturing and get out there and take some risk).

Contrast this with a recent piece in ComputerWorld. It makes some arguments about the machismo culture in IT, but it also makes another argument, isolation, being alone in a crowd. I have to say I find the ComputerWorld piece more thoughtful and balanced.

While I want to empathize with the TechCrunch author, really, I think that he underestimates the history of women taking risks, like the ones that earnt us the right to vote, the ones that saw women transformed from property into people, … and also feel that he underestimates some of the obstacles for women in science and engineering, we are a new generation working on those too, but that also requires a risk. Well worth it.

The line of argumentation in the TechCrunch piece has the capacity to perpetuate the idea that in IT women should be like men, rather than the culture of IT should be something that is inclusive of men and women.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shikoh Gitau, Beki Grinter. Beki Grinter said: Arguments about Women in IT: […]

  2. While I realize that he meant to write a sensationalist article (and he admits it himself), I’m inclined to believe Arrington when he says that women in the tech startup world aren’t doing enough outreach on their own, because his position lends him enough frequent contact with the people he complains about to back up his observations. I’m not sure that his argument necessitates a discussion of historical risk-taking, because he’s making a statement about current behaviors, and he’s not the type of person to let history serve as an excuse for shortcomings in those behaviors.

    I think where he falls short, though, is by not identifying the root cause of the issue (that not enough girls and women enter tech to begin with) and discussing what can be done to make the situation better. Yesterday’s post by Jolie O’Dell does a much better job of starting that discussion (which of course has been started countless times in the past).

    A common theme in this recurring discussion is that there’s a double standard for men and women, and people either say that this is bad (ie. that meritocracies should be preserved) or that this is good (ie. that women shouldn’t necessarily have to be treated like men). Either way, I would guess that the problem goes away as diversity increases and people become more sensitive to issues of diversity in the process. Obviously, that takes much conscious effort, and the organizations that I’d call relatively “healthy” in this regard invest a lot in building and maintaining diverse workforces; for it to happen, I think we need to do as O’Dell discusses and start at the beginning.

  3. Good points, the pipeline is an issue although as the ComputerWorld piece argues apparently it’s not just enough to get people into the pipeline.

    One thing I was really responding to was his paraphrasing of the quote about risk vs. nurture.

    I’m also relatively cynical!

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