Between my partner and I, we have six daughters, and as they have grown I have thought more interested in their long term future, the role of women in society, the way technology will change our lives and in particular the role of women in technology.
On the last topic, all the articles I have read have been written my women. In this post, I hope to outline my experiences in this regard.
Women face many challenges, most typical of male dominated professions as well as some specific to the technology field. I believe that there will be a time when IT, like teaching and accounting, will have more women than men.
I can understand it is frustrating as a woman in technology to be treated as a novelty. Perhaps my experience can illustrate why that might be.
One thing I have learnt over the years is that while I am happy to talk technology all day, there is one time to stop, in social situations when women are present. This doesn't come from men, but women overwhelmingly.
Men in Tech
In high school, those interested in computers were not generally the most popular. In fact, I hung out with a large circle of friends which were some of the smartest, creative, kindest people I have known, but being popular was not priority for them.
The first time I met a women who was interested in computers was at university. Those I got to know were at a disadvantage, as I saw it, as none of them had programmed a computer before university whereas the male friends of mine had been programming for 4 - 6 years (in my case, an average of 5 days of the week)
When I tutored at university, all my students in computing were female, one has retired many years previous and had gone back to university. While they were all A-level students , each had plans other than IT after they left university.
My first serious relationships also started at university. Some of my girlfriends studied computer science courses but dropped them after the first year.
When I went out socially with my girlfriend, and I found someone interested in computers, I would happily talk to them about what interesting topics we could think of. At some point it would be made clear that it was time to talk about something else, usually by my significant other who was a bit embarrassed or bored with the topic by this stage. Usually this would start with hints, but as I am not so good with hints, she would make it really clear, resulting in her telling me repeatedly before we got there; Don't talk about the "C-word" at all. And thus she taught me to not mention Computers when there were ladies present. I am not referred to one woman in particular, but all my other halves preferred I not talk about computers.
I can remember a number of occasions when a group of men were talking about IT and a girlfriend or woman would join the group, we would immediately change the subject of conversation. We all understood while our significant others were happy to go out with computer geeks, they didn't want to hear about it.
I was at a conference recently where there was a large proportion of partners attending, joining the lunches, dinners and field trips. Even though it was an IT conference, it was generally understood that we minimise discussion of computers when women were around.
I can be confident that if I am asked what I did for a living, this would be a conversation stopper and a change of subject would follow. Most men are not interested in IT, but almost all women I have met have nothing to follow such a revelation. There have been exceptions and a few women were polite enough to carry on talking about it, and from my point have view these conversations have been memorable in terms of their rarity, no matter how brief. I regularly attend conferences and give regular training sessions and I would say I can remember every conversation I had about IT with a woman for the last four years or more, with whom and broadly what we discussed.
I have found that being an IT Consultant is more interesting because involves a lot of travel and I can talk about where I have been. Certainly I wouldn't volunteer that I work in IT as an ice breaker.
I believe that having more women in technology is essential for the industry and society as a whole. I also believe while it is inevitable, we should try to ensure it happens soon rather than later especially as technology is growing at such a rapid pace. For this to happen, the attitudes of both men and women need to change.