The Technical Divide.

by jennifermshoop

I read three interesting articles on women in technology this week: one by a male programmer angered by the fact that he had enjoyed certain privileges by “looking the part” (i.e., fitting the gender and ethnic norms as to what a “programmer” looks like) while friends of different ethnicities and the opposite gender had been micro-bullied out of the industry; another by a female programmer frustrated by  her position outside of the “technically entitled” caste because of her gender; and a final one about steps companies can take to attract and retain women in their technology departments.

I always cringe when I read these articles.  I find myself sucking in or holding my breath or contorting my body in a strange way.  I think it’s because many of these articles teeter dangerously on the edge of circular reasoning.  That is, they pose an argument that is useless because their conclusion is one of their premises: women should be in technology because women should be in technology.   And there’s nothing like circular logic disguised as a truism to hook unwilling listeners.  I don’t denigrate the impulse, the frustration, the genuine anger, especially in the voice of Tess Rinearson above.  In fact, I share it.  And I’m glad that there are women and men upset by the obvious imbalance and the “micro-aggressions” (I’m borderline on that concept) they experience in the workplace and beyond.  I’m thrilled that this is a conversation.  I’m ecstatic that women are leaning in.   (I should mention that I am a huge, huge, huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s — I listen to her TED talk before I need to deliver a big presentation or attend an important meeting.  Her success and her thoughtfulness about it — pure adrenaline.)

But then I read a statement like this: “This problem can be fixed, but we need to start by acknowledging that the fault is with the employer rather than with women.”  [Insert me wringing my hands.]  There must be a more elegant, meritocratic, thoughtful approach to this issue than villainizing corporate America.  At a minimum, let’s acknowledge that employers are only a part of the issue.  What do we learn from our families, communities, religions, political environments as we’re growing up?  Who are our role models?  What do our educators tell us?  What do our peers tell us?  What do our magazines tell us?  What do our books tell us?  What do our toys tell us?  I resent the idea that women can’t “make it” because a group of smarmy men are sitting in a back room, burning the resumes of female applicants — which, while I exaggerate the representation, is frankly not that far off from what you’ll read.  I guess that I feel uncomfortable — angry? — when articles make me feel as though I’m a victim.  I don’t want that label, thankyouverymuch.  I want to be a competitor.

In my opinion, the most powerful lever for change is in women in the aggregate — that is, women who are willing to band together and help other girls and women up the ladder.  (Heads up: I’m importing Sheryl Sandberg’s credo here, nearly wholesale.  If you’ve not yet Lean In yet, get thee to Amazon.)  In order to change the equation, we need to have female pioneers who make it to the top and both proactively help others into the network and, more passively, serve as a role model for future generations.  We need forums for women to gather, set a precedent, and make a statement en masse.  We need spaces and programs geared specifically towards teaching girls and women to code.  This is why I’ve co-founded a chapter of the EdTechWomen  community up here in Chicago.  This is why I have been hauling ass the last few years, chasing the C-level — at least, in part.  Part of it was just me wanting to do me.