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Seeking Geek Girls – Exploring the Gender Gap

gender gap

The end of my summer was a sequence of trade shows first the Gartner Catalyst Show followed by Jenkins World and finally the Atlassian Summit all in a row.  To my surprise, there were actually women at the Atlassian show, unlike the others.  So my curiosity got the best of me and I started asking these brave Atlassian users their job title.  What I learned should not be surprising, but is still disturbing. The IT gender gap still exists.

Both the Gartner show and the Jenkins show held Women in Technology events, which were well attended.  By attending these events, it was easy to see the number of women actually attending these two shows.  At both shows, it was reported that there were only about 10% of women and the large majority attended the luncheons.  It is clear, women are feeling a bit alone in the technology space and are desperately seeking other women.

Tech Vs. People

So what was the difference between Atlassian and the other two shows?   Women I spoke to at both the Gartner and Jenkins shows were performing technical jobs.  They were Developers, Release Engineers, DevOps Architects, and QA Engineers.  Atlassian however was different. Instead of technical positions, most of the women I met stated they were project managers with few exceptions.  They proclaimed to know little about programming, CI/CD, DevOps, or even Agile Methods.  Most were focused on tracking team progress, understanding how teams could better collaborate, process design tools and metrics.

So if you are wondering why more women are not in technology, the answer might be ‘they have moved to mid-level management positions.’  The disturbing part of this revelation was how far removed these project managers were from the technology their teams were using.  Even though they were responsible for the results of these teams, they left it up to the teams to decide on the process.  Maybe good – I’m just not sure.  But what was clear, these women were not interested in the nuts and bolts of software development. They were focused on ‘people’ issues.

A Young Lady’s Insight

I did meet one young lady at the Atlassian show who was working in the QA field.  She was attending the show as a vendor.  She was fascinating to speak to and held some interesting insights on her own path to the tech business.  She and I agreed that we were equally confused by the lack of women who choose to be ‘technical.’  This young woman had a Master’s degree in the Biomedical field. She had spent a majority of her career seeking a cure for cancer.  She explained that there were ‘lots of women’ in this field, what she estimated was close to 75%.  Her biggest complaint about her previous career choice was the pay.  She explained that after realizing that Biomed R&D would never provide her a decent living, she decided to make the jump to the technology sector taking a chance on a 3 month contract in testing position.  And now after just 2 years, she is making more money than she would have after years in the Biomed field – a sad state of affairs.

This young woman explained to me how she and her brother both had similar aptitudes for math and science. She wanted to ‘save the world’ by curing cancer.  He felt an obligation to find a job that paid the bills.  Does this insight provide some clues why so many women do not choose technical careers?  Do women have more of a ‘Hero’ architype then our male counterparts?  I would bet yes.  Women become Doctors, Teachers, Social Workers, Human Resource Managers and Project Managers.  Maybe professional women have a need to help better the lives of others.  Men want to make money and support their families.  I may be generalizing here, but not too much.

Key to Attracting More Women to Tech

So maybe the key to attracting more women into the technology field is to show them how developing software improves the lives of others.  Developing education software is teaching children.  Applying technology to medicine does save lives.  Shopping on Amazon saves time and money for countless stay at home Moms who are the real heroes.   Does that message come across when young ladies are exploring possible careers?

I don’t think this message is clear enough.  I say this based on a recent college visit with my own Niece who is exploring career opportunities.  We visited one of her possible University choices and I encouraged her to explore computer science as an option. We visited the computer science department and spoke to the Dean and some of the Professors.  We got to check out the robotics lab, 3D printers and the server rooms.  We played with games that students had developed and saw where they tested drones.  But there was little discussion about how those skills can be applied to impact the lives of thousands of people, such as improving ways to find water in drought stricken geographies for crop production, or using technology to improve home safety,  or reducing the cost of communications keeping families together or writing software that pattern matches on MRIs to improve cancer detection.

For women to go into technology it must be less about the cool ‘gadgets’ and more about the end results and how it can impact humanity. Because saving the world tends to be what motivates the female psyche.  Yes, we are all Wonder Women and we are needed in technology.

For more on this topic, don’t miss the new Documentary – “Code – Debugging the Gender Gap”.  You can view online or even host a screening.

Jason Skidmore
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