Women and technology, the final post

My mom sent me her thoughts via email (though I told her to post it as an essay on her blog). Since receiving her MSIS degree in 1986, she has worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation, CompuServe, and (for ten years) Sybase.

I took a look at the new postings you noted on megnut yesterday and feel that my experience is quite different. Maybe it’s not being in the ‘dot com’ area, but I just don’t see such a lack of women in the various places I’ve worked over the last 15 years. The workplaces I’m talking about are database and application companies, companies like Sybase, Peoplesoft and Lawson Software where I’ve worked with, and for, a balance of men and women, and where women have been equally well-versed in programming skills and respected for their technical capabilities.

Of course I did get my start in a special Master’s program at Northeastern University called Women in Information Systems. At that time in the mid 80’s it didn’t seem unusual for such a program to be designed specifically for people with non-technical degrees who wanted to move into a technical area, and to have the program in its title, assume those non-technical people would be women. However even in those first years, it was not strictly limited to women, and there was one male student in my class. In fact the program still exists, and with the same name, though it now specifically includes men in its introductory statements.

When I think specifically about technical women I’ve worked with, I think of the woman who co-managed the development of row-level locking at Sybase, as well as coding a major piece of it herself, the woman who was the mainstay of technical support for years and relied on by everyone in engineering to solve the most technically difficult problems, and all sorts of other women who did, and do, development programming and who know their way around performance and tuning issues on just about any operating system. Perhaps these sorts of women just haven’t jumped onto the web/blog bandwagon as yet, but should they choose to do so, there’s no question that they could hold their own technically. And, though I’ve singled out a couple of exceptional women, they were part of an overall balanced male/female workforce.

Of course, I’ve read the statistics on how fewer women are going into the field, but I wonder if that isn’t just in the US. Many of the technical women I was remembering were green-card holders, mainly from India, and fairly recent recruiting that I’ve done uncovered many female, primarily foreign, candidates as well. When I recruited at Northeastern I found this to be true of the WIS program, though when I went through, I can’t remember being classmates with any foreign students. Actually, in the last year or two at Sybase, I’ve noticed a dearth of native-born Americans in engineering in general, both male and female, with the preponderance of programmers being from India or China.

I don’t know what conclusions can or should be drawn from any of this, but you’re right that this area of attracting more (US) women into computing is fascinating.

More links and resources:

The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris was recommended to me by a reader. Kirku Reviews writes:

Social psychologist Tavris (Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, 1983) unveils society’s systemic and often unconscious definition of the male as the norm against which women must measure up or be found deficient–a provocative and thought-provoking look at how sexism persists today.

It’s received good ratings over at Amazon, I’m going to check it out.

Girlstart in Austin, TX is a non-profit which, “encourages and empowers girls in mathematics, science, technology, and engineering.”

Her Domain of Austin (a very cool resource which is great if you live in that area) has a list of women’s sites.

Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists? by Ellen Spertus from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “A theme of the report is that women’s underrepresentation is not primarily due to direct discrimination but to subconscious behavior that tends to perpetuate the status quo.” Highly recommended read.

And how could I have forgotten to mention the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing? Though the conference won’t occur until October 2002, I’m already looking forward to attending since I couldn’t make it last year.

And finally, WITI – Women in Technology International a women in technology portal of sorts.

Thanks again to folks who sent in links and recommendations.