O’Reilly’s Women in Technology: Hear Us Roar

O’Reilly Network has a series called Women in Technology beginning now and continuing through September. The series creator, Tatiana Apandi, describes the purpose of the series:

My hope is that the myriad of experiences you read about here will showcase how valuable it is to hear from different women at all stages of their careers and lives. Whether you believe that there is gender inequality within the tech community that we should all work to improve or if you think that there are no issues at all, one underlying truth is that we should support each other as individuals.

I’ll give you a taste of what’s been said in the first three posts. I hope this will give you an incentive to subscribe to or follow the entire series for the month of September.

The first article in the series is Social Engineering by Leslie Hawthorne. She tends to look at her work in terms of tasks, rather than gender specific. Her comments included:

I’ve never thought of my role in the technical community as being the result of or in any way inextricably tied to my femininity. If anything, in an effort to be the change I wish to see in the world, I’ve distanced myself from questions of gender roles in my work. If we are all (to be) equal, it seems counter-intuitive to look at my work as informed by my being a woman. I do and I make, I listen and I advise, I lead and I follow, and none of these things are the exclusive purview of women. While others might, I would not argue that either sex has a particular aptitude for any of these things. Still, when I look at what I do and what I make, I far more often than not find women playing a similar role and doing similar tasks: building communities, creating space for creativity and connection to manifest, taking care of mundane and arcane details so that others can focus on executing to a grander vision.

Maria Klawe, in A Fifty Year Wave of Change, said

In many ways, this is the best time ever to be a female student in a technical area. Most of the leading high-tech companies are trying to increase the recruitment and retention of women, and they are doing it for business reasons. They value the diverse perspectives women bring to technical teams and have found that women tend to make excellent project managers because of their people and organizational skills. There are more female professors in science and engineering than ever before, though in some fields (such as biology and chemistry), the numbers are still significantly lower than one would expect given the increased numbers of women receiving Ph.D.s.

Is everything rosy for women in technology? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In the computer science (CS) field in which I’ve ended up working, participation by women has been steadily decreasing at the undergraduate level. Despite hard work by many people, we haven’t turned that around yet. Today, the percentage of CS bachelor’s degrees granted in research universities to women is at 14 percent, its lowest ever (see http://www.cra.org/info/taulbee/women.html). Many of the top departments are reporting female enrollments of fewer than 10 percent in their CS major programs. The situation at the doctoral level is a bit better, with between 15 and 18 percent of CS Ph.D.s going to women over the last seven years, and the percentage of women faculty in CS departments steadily increasing.

The oh, so fabulous Nelly Yusupova wrote an article called Be a Part of Influencing the Future. Nelly talks about the stereotypic geek vs. the reality of what geeks are and do. She mentioned the lack of geek role models for young women. She commented,

When I started my career, I was lucky to have had many positive role models. I entered the technology field in 1996, just as the Internet craze was hitting its stride and I landed a job at Webgrrls International. Their mission has been to get more women online. Our office was full of technically savvy women from whom I could learn; and learn I did. I am now the CTO of Webgrrls International and the Founder of DigitalWoman.com. Webgrrls International has an outreach program called Team Webgrrls. We go into the inner-city to get girls excited about technology and show them how fun it can be. One of these sessions showcased the different career possibilities in Technology. We had a “career fair” at the Mercy Center for Women and Girls in the Bronx and, as I was talking about my career path, being a geek, and how cool it was, one of the girls said to me “But you don’t wear thick glasses!” She now has a different perspective of what being a geek means. It is with pleasure that I am a geek. I love technology and I live it; and, hopefully, I can be that role model that other girls need so much.

We need to change the geek stereotype and start showcasing that geek girls are the hip and cool people in society. We are driving society, creating the tools for the musicians, artists, actors, humanitarians, scientists, and doctors. If more girls knew the broader picture of the technology applications, I believe they would be intrigued to be a part of it. I became an expert at computers and technology by not being intimidated by new information and not giving up just because I did not know something.

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