Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Girl Power

I have been reading recently that women are abandoning computer science, and that percentage of women in our profession is not just low, but getting lower. I'm not sure actually that the situation here is as bad as in North America, but it's certainly true that software engineering and computer science are not very popular among women. Why? To be honest, I don't have the answer.

Here is what comes to mind:

  • Geek-ness is viewed in the society as the opposite of being attractive; this is much more important for young women, than for men. For a guy - a nice high-tech salary will provide the attraction instead.
  • Sitting in a cube by the computer all day and doing one thing, coding, is probably not very attractive for most people, but for women especially, since most of us are better at performing a variety of tasks and interacting with people - I mean there has to be an explanation why "secretary" or "teacher" are such typical women professions.
  • Hi-tech jobs are very demanding, too demanding. For most women family life is at least as important as professional life, and usually family comes first. But there just aren't many positions you can find after getting computer science degree that allow you easily balance work and family life.
  • Hi-tech is for young people - look around, how many programmers you know are over 45? Why? For the same reason you don't see many women - it's hard to compete with the smart kids when you are pregnant, or haven't slept for a week, or worried about some family matter.
  • But can't we just switch roles with the husband? well, go back to first bullet, double standards of the society certainly don't make it easier on us or our partners.
  • People we are surrounded with (nerdy young men mostly) are pretty anti-social creatures in the first place, even more so with species of the other sex, even more so with the ones that don't fit social stereotype.
  • Now suppose you survived all the obstacles, because you passionately love science and engineering. Did you watch the knack? There's a grain of truth there... society became less tolerant of weirdness, and people who 100 years ago may have been referred to as crazy geniuses nowadays live "normal life" on prescribed medications. And for a girl it's even stranger to be a crazy genius then for a boy.
  • Male domination in the field - yes, it's chicken and egg problem. The field will change only if there will be enough women in it to drive the change from within and help other women. So I will devote the rest of the post to the ones who made it.
Lady Ada (Byron) Lovelace

She was more of a technical writer really, but she was a visionary.

Admiral Grace Hopper

The inventor of COBOL and debugging.

Professor Barbara Liskov

The one from the substitution principle. I chose her among several prominent computer scientist women because she was the first female computer science Ph.D in the US.

SVP Jayshree Ullal

I originally thought to put the Google princess here, but having personally met Jayshree (she was my manager's manager's manager at one point) and impressed by her personality and professionalism (she is so clever, and yet such nice and humble person), I decided she's a better candidate to represent successful women in computer industry.

Alice, Dilbert's workaholic colleague

What did she achieve exactly? Surviving in the office should not be underestimated! So I am going to honor another ex-colleague, although we never met, for providing inspiration for a character I can identify with :-)

Keep coding girls!


Paul said...

Hi Yardena,

I found this one fun! I generally tend to find that women tend to be more multi-dimensional and rounded. Being able to see the big picture for what it is may make them less willing to become cannon fodder on "death march" software development projects. Who knows :)

A lot of women in IT seem to migrate away from the coal face (programming)into marketing and business analysis. In the big picture, I guess it makes sense to stay close to the people who pay the bills :)

I found your post fun :) Especially guys relying on their salary in place of a personality to attract the girls :) (I guess girls count financial security as high on their needs).

One thing I've observed that I find quite sad, is the girl who thinks she needs to out do the boys. You know the one who thinks that having big balls and "being the boss" is what it is all about.

Men and women are different, and there are more subtle ways to gain influence then beating your chest like a baboon. An intelligent women, who uses her femininity to charm and influence. Now thats what I call attractive :)

In the UK, we've got an intellectual TV presenter called Carol Voderman, who has been voted the sexiest woman on TV several times!


Yardena said...

Hi Paul,

Glad you liked the post :-)

I agree that aggressive women at work are truly obnoxious, and the ones who know how to use their charm and femininity to achieve things are really top league.

Me - I am simply "one of the guys" most of the time, ...or at least that's what my colleagues say :-)

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