There’s a shortage of women in IT. And I know why.

Written by: on October 18, 2016
Tags: Guest Blogger, Women in Tech

Hey all! I’m a man. And I’ve been coding professionally for just a tad under thirty years. I don’t code much now, of course, as I run an IT company instead. We make websites, mostly big ones. This article isn’t, I hope, a mansplaining piece, but an attempt to find out why I don’t employ any women coders. And I want to fix that, because that sucks. Especially given that one of our clients is all about fixing gender disparity!

What’s surprised me about the IT industry is the lack of women, given there’s no good technical reason why a woman wouldn’t work in it. And what’s surprised me even more is that it’s got worse! 30 years ago when I started, I worked with several women in the team. Today in my own company there are no women who code professionally. It can’t be because the industry is rampantly sexist. At least in the UK, because it isn’t. Work on a building site, a car repair garage, and in many other industries and the talk and expectations of what women can do will be far worse than in IT. And IT is, on average, a youthful industry so shouldn’t be suffering too much from older cultural hangovers.

Stock photo

So what is it then?

Well, I have a pile of pet hypotheses that run around my little head. But most are untested and ultimately amount to little more than opinion.

Is it because if an industry has a slight bias, that bias multiplies over time? So if for random reasons IT starts out at 60/40 in favour of men, over time the shift becomes more and more masculine simply because it’s seen as a more masculine job? Look at nursing. Ask teenage boys if they fancy a career in nursing and most say no. Why not? It’s rewarding, it does often involve a surprising amount of manual lifting, and it’s important. It’s even fairly well paid. But nope. It probably works both ways, to the detriment of many. Why shouldn’t a man do a traditionally feminine job, or a woman a traditionally masculine one? Unequal gender ratios in jobs create pay disparities, and they’re no good for anybody!

Ask boys if they want to be footballers and they’re mad keen. I know my six year old is, even though he never saw me play football.

We do know that in certain situations studies have shown time and again that there are unconscious biases. When names are removed from CVs, people pick just as many male as female candidates, but otherwise, they have a bias.

But that doesn’t get to the root. Where does that bias come from? Is it society? Is it from what we’ve seen of others in roles that are out there? In popular culture?

So do we need more ‘pop’ female role models, like we have Rachel Riley for maths? I guess it must help. So that means we need to put pressure on TV producers to help ensure appropriate representation across genders (and for minorities and so on).

Is it because men are a bit more autistic than women and that suits working at a computer for hours on end?

Perhaps. But I’m unconvinced. Borderline Asperger’s types sometimes make dreadful client facing developers because, you know, speaking to clients and understanding their needs and unravelling the ambiguity of humanity is kind of a critical part of the job. If anything, that’s something where I find women perform better.

So what else?

Is it a fundamentally sexist society where gender roles are too defined, too early on?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. I suspect it’s more that people see what’s around them and make assumptions. My eldest, who’s six, is convinced that teachers are mostly women and footballers mostly men, but interestingly rates a girl as one of the best players in his school football team. So it’s not as set in stone as it used to be. But for a while I noticed that girls always turned up to parties in princess outfits and boys in superhero costumes. I found it weird, really. You never see boys dressed up as princesses.

I think we do more in teaching equality than we used to, but there’s a lot of latency in cultural and educational systems. 22 year old women may feel a lot less limited than their mothers, but the effects of gender biases thirty or forty years ago will still have a massive and visible impact today.

So here’s what I think.

We still don’t do enough. We don’t do enough to ensure that we promote what we do as beneficial to society. And we don’t run our companies in ways that women will tolerate. Too many development shops think that 60hr weeks are perfectly acceptable. But women are better at some things than men, and social skills are known to be better from a very early age. Women are academically better, but perhaps then, they’re not stupid enough to think that crazy hours, working in cramped and poorly managed offices and being expected to be on permanent call out for every little problem is acceptable?

And so that’s why I’ve decided to run a company where 37.5hrs a week is all that’s expected for full time staff. Where people have the space and the environment to thrive, and where everyone is expected to learn and grow, we have flexible working, childcare vouchers for those who qualify, and so on. It works well… but there’s still no women actually coding. I feel ashamed at this ongoing situation and I want to do something about it. Out of the last recruitment round we had 39 applicants. Two were women, both foreign, one needed a visa and both didn’t actually meet the job requirements. This summer we finally did get an intern who wasn’t a boy, however, so that’s something.

Is it how we recruit? Is it something we’re saying or not saying?

So I’m calling out for help here – are you a woman? Do you code? Why wouldn’t you apply to work with us compared to another agency? Tell me more, so I can do something about it.

Maybe it’ll encourage other agencies like ours to fix their gender biases as well. Because we all have them, even when we think we don’t. We know that. Scientists have proved it. You can even take the gender bias test and find out for yourself.

Until half my applicants and successful candidates are female, I won’t be happy.

Written by David Coveney, Director at interconnect/it

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