Archive for May 22nd, 2007

Discrimination Against Women in Technology

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Jono has been writing about discrimination and in particular discrimination towards women in technology. This is a subject that I have mixed feelings about. I don’t believe that anyone, male or female, should be treated badly simply because of their gender but I do think that it’s very hard to treat men and women in the same way as they are different. I’ll give you an example. As part of my job I used to have to move computer equipment between labs. Some of the men who worked with me found it very difficult to let me carry heavy equipment. Was this sexual discrimination or mere politeness on their part? Or was their reluctance to let me lift things something I should have been annoyed at or something that should have pleased me?

I also get concerned because we often overlook the fact that woman can discriminate against other women. I can remember working on a team at ICL were it was very noticeable that the woman on the team would only ever ask the men for help if they had a problem with their computer or printer or any other piece of hardware. They never expected a woman to be able to help with these things and I couldn’t quite work out why. But I did get the impression that they thought that if they didn’t know how to fix the computer another woman wasn’t likely to know either.

I also worked in a couple of schools and on more than one occasion found myself explaining to a female member of staff that I didn’t need to get help from one of the male technicians to fix a computer. They expected me to be equally skilled with using the computers but only when they were working.

I have been discriminated against in the work place regarding my programming skills but I never felt it was because I was woman. My male team mate just didn’t like me. This happens everywhere. You end up on a team with someone who treats you badly, puts you down and tries to make you look stupid. This is wrong but sometimes we are too quick to label this as sexual discrimination if someone of the opposite sex is causing the problem.

I am also guilty of making it look as if I couldn’t do something and needed to get a male member of the team to help. I used to work on a client’s site where women were expected to wear suits with skirts. I never wanted to crawl under a table and sort out cables dressed like that. So, if the problem was under the table I used to go and ask one of the men on the team to come and sort it out for me. The men I worked with knew that I just didn’t want to crawl under the table but I was probably making the customers think that it was part of the job that I wasn’t capable of doing.

I am also not sure how I feel about “women in technology” groups. Every time I hear about one of these I want to know where the equivalent “men in technology” group is. Why do we need separate groups for women? Does this separation promote discrimination? I’ve been to talks at conferences such as E-tech that were promoting women in technology but I usually end up feeling angry. I’ll give an example of a topic that really angered me. The underlying theme was that qualification requirements should be relaxed to allow more women into the software industry. How insulting. Why should the bar be lowered for women? We are every bit as capable as men to getting qualifications. It really offends me to think that any woman would think that other women are somehow not capable. I never want to get a technical job merely because I am a woman. I want to get the job because I am the best person for the job.

As I said at the start I have mixed feelings about this topic and I am never sure how to articulate them well. However, I do think at times I’m treated differently because I’m female but I believe that men and women will always be treated differently. I expect both to be treated with respect.