Why are there so few women in technology?

It must be their innate lack of ability, as the tech community is doing everything they can to make them feel welcome– even using images of them in powerpoint presentations! Like this one, from this conference. Reading the comments also reveals such a sophisticated understanding of feminism that one is shocked, shocked, to learn that there are very few actual women at the conference. (Thanks, Lani.)

Update: Mr Jender tells me there were 6 women out of the 200 at the conference, and he’s referred me to this post on the topic by one of those women.

12 thoughts on “Why are there so few women in technology?

  1. Bakka, I just got your comment out of the spam box. I think it went in because of the links.

    I keep mentioning at various points the book on Carnegie Mellon’s efforts to diversify computer science, Unlocking the Clubhouse, which might apply here some. The atmosphere of computer science was hostile (with male grad students telling the women they didn’t belong) and the class problems were ones that the women found uninteresting. The women students liked working on problems that linked several areas, while the guys seemed to like much narrower problems. And, surprise!, when the students were put in groups, the women got assigned secretarial duties.

  2. Thanks for rescuing my comments!

    I am not surprised to find out that the women were assigned secretarial duties. I think that when the sex ratio is very skewed, sexist assumptions tend to get stronger. Perhaps because of less interaction.

    I also read in the New York Times about a year or two ago that women who do get advanced degrees in technology, science and engineering leave by age 35-40 at a rate of 50%. That is remarkably high. I think the article said that many of the women interviewed did not think they had a realistic chance of advancing, because they were not taken seriously as programmers, and were instead treated like assistants.

    In the Financial Times (again a while ago) I read a story about a trans woman who was describing her experience in IT pre- and post-transition. The story reminded me of the one by Ben Barres about math and science.

  3. I agree, dana, but I do like the update: “I obviously made a mistake. I didn’t mean to offend anyone but since I did, I failed.”
    Not sure if he realises how he made a mistake, though, from what he said. It’s more like an “oh drat, a lot of people are shouting at me, this is unpleasant” kind of admission of a mistake.

  4. hippocampus, I think you may be being charitable in your interpretation. He is utterly clueless about what makes something offensive and I expect he thinks that he can tell by introspection that he isn’t really offensive.

    I would suggest to him that the inference should run the other way: given his choices, we can infer that there’s something going on inside that looks like sexism. He may be unaware of it, but that would be largely because he hasn’t really looked at himself critically. He’s like the person who “isn’t racist,” but finds lynching jokes funny. (That might be a bit harsh, but perhaps it will make the point.)

  5. I agree with JJ’s last comment. Take a look at the `apology’s’ third paragraph:
    My view is that offending someone is walking up to them and saying: “You suck, your code sucks and your partner’s code sucks!”.
    That is not what I did in my talk. In the case of my talk, people knew what to expect, they *picked* the talk, and were warned by the organizers before I started that I would be using imagery potentially offensive to some. The topic of my talk was obvious, and I would have hoped that people who were likely to be offended would have simply chosen not to attend my talk or read my slides on the internet. It’s like complaining that television has too much material unsuitable for children, yet not taking steps to limit their viewing of it. You can’t have it both ways.

    I think it’s pretty clear here that he thinks (1) the problem is that feminists are offended, and (2) this problem is the fault of feminists who didn’t avoid his powerpoint.

    What I find especially interesting, skimming the comment thread under the apology, is the complete lack of dialogue. A large minority are making pretty much the standard feminist points in a reasonable way — your intentions don’t matter, what matters is that you’re objectifying and marginalizing women, etc. — over and over again, and the defenders of this powerpoint either completely ignore these points, or they focus on the handful of ad hominem attacks that go along with them. (Look, for example, at #9, and then #12.)

  6. […] is a few weeks old, but worth sharing. Jender at Feminist Philosophers asks Why are there so few women in technology fields?: It must be their innate lack of ability, as the tech community is doing everything they can to […]

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