Just Add Women and Stir

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This article has been brought to my attention a couple of times in the past week or so. On first read, I thought it was hogwash. Mostly (after a second and third reading), I still do. The difference now is that I believe there may be a small something of value in it. I'm still not entirely certain which facts I trust, and which I do not, but there's some bits that ring true for me:

The second one was the sheer isolation many women cope with daily. She might be the only woman on the team or the only senior woman at a facility. Isolation in and of itself is debilitating, with no mentors, no role models, no buddies. And if you're surrounded by men who don't appreciate you, that can be corrosive.
Note the qualifier - "Men who don't appreciate you..." - not just "surrounded by men". Very important distinction there, methinks.


If a man fails, his buddies dust him off and say, "It's not your fault; try again next time." A women fails and is never seen again. A woman cannot survive a failure. So they become risk-averse in a culture where risk is rewarded. Women would rather build a system that didn't crash in the first place, but men enjoy that diving catch and have a system of support that allows them to go out on a limb.
I don't think that is unique to tech, but it has a ring of truth to it, to my ears.

But then, what about this bit?

The fifth one is a combination of extremely long hours -- in tech, the average workweek is 71 hours -- emergencies and a very family-unfriendly atmosphere.
71 hour weeks is an average. This means that, in addition to those working 40 hour weeks, we have at least as many working 80 or 100 hour weeks. I'd be interested to find the gender breakup in this - what percentage of those in tech working more than 40 hours a week are female? Is this an expectation in the tech industry, or is it just that people who work in tech are more likely to love what they do and less likely to have hectic social lives? The mind boggles.

In my experience, many people in this industry do work long hours. It always seems to be (and bear in mind the small comparative sample size here) those who are significantly more techy that do it and, when questioned, the answers always seem to be that they work longer hours because they would be doing it in their spare time anyway. For example, the programmer who codes on a project all day, and then by night - instead of reading a book or watching TV - sits down to do some more coding, because it's what she enjoys. When that person decides to continue on a work-based project, rather than their own project, or another outside interest, is that considered overwork? Granted, it skews the figures somewhat, but it's not like her boss is holding her at gunpoint to get it done.

And why the "family-unfriendly atmosphere"? Because there's a minority of women. Why the female minority? Because of the family-unfriendly atmosphere. Catch-22.

And what do you think of this bit?

We found that 63 per cent of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment. That's a really high figure.
Too right it's a really high figure! If the research is accurate (and I still find it hard to believe that it is), then it makes me wonder if it's a case of the tech industry trying to "add women and stir". Women in technology, especially those that very distinctly classify themselves as such (I prefer to think about the fact that I work in technology, rather than being a woman who works in technology. The fact that I am female is part of my identity, but it's not related to my profession), also tend to react very strongly to every slight. While I by no means condone sexist (or any other "-ist") behaviour - especially in a workplace - there has to be a line drawn. I suspect that where there are women that react like this, others may try and redress the balance by not reacting appropriately to sexism. Also, where women over-react, it's possible that men are going to continue, or even increase, the sexist behaviour, shrugging it off by saying, "oh yeah, she's always like that, she's not serious, she's never made a complaint". Which brings me to my other point. Women may be talking to each other about these issues - and I know for a fact that they are, and sometimes to excess - but are we talking to the people that matter?

All we can do to fix this, I think, is to encourage women and girls to enter the professions. Despite the article stating that 52% of female talent in the tech industry is dropping out between the ages of 35 and 40 (and I happen to believe it), the only way we can counteract it is to keep on putting more women in to the industry. The more we can get the female average up (even if it is only in the younger or less experienced categories), the better the atmosphere will get. As the atmosphere improves, women will be more inclined to stay. And eventually some of them will stick ...


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