I recently had an interesting conversation discussing women in the tech fields. This led from the person I was talking to having previously had a conversation where people were lamenting the (limited) number of women in the tech field and trying to figure out what to do. Out of that conversation came an intriguing comment: Is the reason we do not have more women in tech fields because there is a lack of interest in the type of work it would entail? There are layers of assumptions found in this comment. The biggest one is that there is a natural difference in what men and women want to pursue in life. The other more subtle one is that there are a different set of skills that men and women have. Part of what I want to discuss today is why jumping to these conclusions without recognizing other issues is problematic. I was honestly surprised when I heard that someone made that comment.
The other part that I want to explore is all the areas that we need to look at when discussing a lack of women in a certain field (or men for that matter). One piece is looking at how society might generally view that particular field. This can greatly steer gender in a particular direction and while it is changing it can still be an influencer (especially if parents are questioning you when you break away from the societal norm). The other piece is that there might be a subculture around that particular field. In that subculture are there elements that might be telling someone, for whatever reason, that they are not welcome? Finally, is there something about the teachers or professors that are teaching the courses that make it unfriendly to someone? Now this might not be wide spread, but if there are teachers or professors that show favoritism to a particular gender it can cause a serious problem. There are those who might fight through it, but when it is a professor that can seem to hold your whole future in their hands, how easy is it to really fight against?
At the same time it is important to remember that we are progressing forward because you hear people talking about it. Continue reading