Miscellaneous Ramblings

Female Dissatisfaction in the IT Industry

Not Just A Glass Ceiling

Charles Moore - 2001.06.11 - Tip Jar

Last week, Cheryl Segal of Cox News service reported on a survey commissioned by accounting, tax, and consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, which found, among other things, that:

  • Only one in 10 of the high-tech professionals surveyed worked for a company headed by a woman.
  • Only 56% of females working in the high-tech sector wanted to continue in the field, compared with 69% of males.
  • Only 40% of females working in high-tech said they would pursue it as a career if they could start over, compared with 55% of men.
  • A majority of women respondents thought the high-tech industry is governed by "traditional attitudes and practices" that favor males over female workers.

Well, that may be true, but I don't believe that it is so much a deliberate male conspiracy to exclude women or to place "glass ceiling" obstacles in their path to advancement, as a fundamental difference in the way women and men address technology.

Car Talk

While I was reflecting on this, I happened to read a Time magazine essay by Garrison Kiellor in which he recalled his father and uncles gathering around his grandmother's deathbed many years ago. The men sat in solemn and contemplative silence for a few minutes - and then began talking about cars.

This anecdote made me smile, because it is the same in my family. I can't recall ever attending a family funeral, wedding , birthday party, or reunion at which the male cohort didn't sooner or later (usually sooner) get around to talking about cars. One of my late uncles, musing on this phenomenon, once told me that it was the same when he was a kid during the first two decades of the 20th century, except that then they talked about horses. And in recent years, especially among the baby boomer and younger generations, an alternative topic competing with car talk, is computer talk.

I don't notice this happening among the female members of my family, most of whom drive cars, and many of whom use computers. I suspect that whatever the female members of Garrison Kiellor's family found to discuss while his grandmother was dying, the comparative virtues of Dodges vs. Fords didn't come up.

This is not to suggest that there are no female car freaks, and I'm confident that there would be a significantly larger proportion of female computer aficionados. There are some very competent female journalists covering both fields. However, I would venture once more that when, say, Jean Jennings of Automobile Magazine is hanging out with female members of her family or a group of her old high-school girl-buddies, debates about the relative superiority of the big block Chrysler 440 versus the Chevy 454 rarely come up. My guess is that when Mean Jean wants to have some serious car conversation, she is obliged to hang out with the guys, and I'm sure she gets a respectful hearing.

Even among women I know who genuinely love cars or computers, I rarely sense the gut-level enthusiasm and excitement over the hardware itself that most (not all) males I know find irresistible. Women tend to be more practical and software oriented in their computer enthusiasm than men, more interested in what they can do with the computer rather than in the machine for its own sake. This is a generality, but I think it is a fair one based on observation, and, I can't emphasize this enough, exceptions are acknowledged.

Information Technology

That more practical, utilitarian approach may well make women better IT workers, more effective software engineers, and so on, than men, but it appears to me that women, as a rule, just don't get the sheer kick from the hardware aspects of computing that most men do. That, more than gender politics, may explain why they get less satisfaction from working in the industry.

I have two teenage children, one of each gender. Both grew up around computers and both were encouraged equally to learn and experiment with technology. My son is now more knowledgeable in the field than I am. My daughter, while she genuinely loves her PowerBook and has even collaborated with me on a couple of articles for MacOpinion.com, values it as a tool - a means to an end - and is simply disinterested in the nuts and bolts of computing. It's the same with cars. She likes cars, but has no passion for the technical points of the hardware. [A good example of that perspective on computing is the Acoustic Mac column by Beverly Woods - ed.]

There are, of course, other factors relating to discrepancies in male/female satisfaction and advancement in the IT field noted in the Deloitte & Touche survey. However, don't hold your breath waiting for things to even out, at least until you find groups of women at weddings and parties hanging around discussing fuel injection vs. carburetion.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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