While reading on Twitter, I came across a few links for Grace Hopper 2010: Collaborating Across Boundaries. I figured I’d check out the site to see what they had planned, but then I saw something that really got me thinking that this another WiT initiative that’s doing it wrong.
Look at this picture:
I see some collaboration against cultural boundaries, but there’s a gender or age boundary that is quite visible. That character on the far right – I’ll call them Captain Androgynous because I can’t tell if it’s an older guy or professional looking older lady, but either way, that person seems to be a significant distance away from the group, compared to the other group members. Now mind you, this is probably unintentional – not many marketing people think their images through like this. But on an age factor, it looks more like an older age is getting excluded – rather than collaborating against the age boundary. And if Captain Androgynous is female, then there’s a missing gender; if Captain Androgynous is male, then that gap looks like guys are still excluded rather than collaborating against the gender boundary. (Edited: My apologies – I was only aware of Grace Hopper by story and not by actual picture.)
And this, my friends, is why I am not a fan of Women in Tech initiatives in general. There are a lot of “form girls’ clubs to fight the boys’ clubs” and “gather in groups of women and empower” approaches, and honestly, it’s not the right approach. The first thing I think of when I see that is “You’re doing it wrong.” Let’s continue the segregation and separation that we’re fighting against. Wait… that doesn’t sound right. That doesn’t sound like a good plan at all.
Women in Tech initiatives should try to bring women into technology-oriented fields without acknowledging and encouraging the myths that our predecessors have left behind. Our predecessors have told us the war stories, the horror stories of what happens when gender differences are realized. I’ve got my fair share of those stories, but gender differences and situations as such will happen in any field – it isn’t limited to just technology-oriented fields. Our predecessors have told us that there’s a glass ceiling; this only exists if you continue to believe in it. Otherwise, shoot for the sky. Do your research on what the going rate is in the field and don’t sell yourself short. Our predecessors have told us that male-dominated fields are full of boys’ clubs; these continue to exist if you think of it that way. The way I see it - ignore the gender factor and we’re technology professionals who are competing in the economy to be the best we can while keeping our jobs.
I have a feeling I’ll be one of the biggest female critics of WiT initiatives, but rightfully so. I’ve been privileged enough to learn from some of the greatest guys in IT and development, and being trained by guys has taught me a lot about the gender differences and how to work with them, collaborating across the gender boundary. It has also given me the perspective that we need to really listen to the guys, as they too have feedback on WiT topics and not necessarily the sexist ideas that our predecessors want us to believe.