Sexism in IT

Let’s talk about Larry.  If you’re lucky, Larry isn’t in your team.  But he’s in a team you work with.  You find yourself trying to avoid dealing with that team because there’s a good chance you’re going to end up working with Larry.  Larry is a pain in the neck.  It’s not that he’s incompetent, he just doesn’t seem to care.  Nothing he puts together works, and when it does work it requires settings he forgot to tell you about.  Larry is the bottom tier of men in technology.

And yes, he’s a man.  90% of people in technology are.  What would happen if it was only 50%?  Well, frankly, Larry would be out of a job.  In his place would be a better woman.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of women out there as useless as Larry, but in a 50/50 world, they wouldn’t have a place in technology either.

We Are The 50%

Let’s talk about how we got to this point.  Women cannot be considered an “educationally disadvantaged minority”*, so we don’t have that excuse.  Computing was 90% male in 1967, when female participation in the workforce was much lower than it was today.   That was after a sexist purge of women programmers in the 1950s.  The gender ratio of computer science graduates in 1984 was 60/40.  So we’ve slid back from the 50/50 dream really quite dramatically.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we (men) are fostering an environment that is subtly hostile to women.  I could spend all day adding to that particular list of links.  We need to stop.  Yes, we, meaning you right there and me right here.  I’ll be honest, it’s hard not to have a sexism bias when everyone you work with is a man.  That means the job is harder, not that it’s meaningless.

Full disclosure: I’ll admit that I’ve always been aware of this issue, but haven’t regarded it as my problem until the birth of my daughter.  It shifted my perspective quite dramatically.  I don’t aspire for her to follow in her father’s footsteps, but it offends me that chances could be denied her because of stupid rubbish like implicit sexism.  We can do better.  Moreover, we need to stop thinking of this as a problem that women have and we don’t.  The exclusion of women in the tech workforce affects us all and we’ve all got something to gain: better co-workers than Larry.  They probably won’t be as brilliant as Grace Hopper but, frankly, neither are we.

Unless, of course, you consider yourself to be in the bottom half of male programmers by ability.  Then you probably want to be as sexist and unwelcoming as possible.

*The observant will notice they’re not even a minority.

Post Script:  If you haven’t read Reg Braithwaite’s article about his mother, you really should.

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Julian Birch

Full time dad, does a bit of coding on the side.

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