I know the headline of this post is at the very least, controversial. Bear with me as I unpack my thoughts on this dicey subject and perhaps you might agree with me. Simply, I’m bothered by the segregation between men and women in technology because it doesn’t address the issue of gender equality and opportunity. It reinforces the gender discrepancies in compensation, ability and merit of their occupations.
I don’t view professionals in their roles as men or women. They are professionals. Whether a person has two X chromosomes or one, it does not define their abilities or competency.
A Woman in NASCAR
My discontent on this subject was magnified in 2013 when Danica Patrick switched from Indy Car racing to NASCAR. The sincere shock from the commentators, media and even fellow drivers was deeply upsetting because she wasn’t a “female driver” in NASCAR; she was “a driver” competing to win a race. Many of the misogynistic sentiments can be easily paralleled in the technology world. It was disappointing to see her Facebook feed fill up with vitriolic statements declaring that she would crash, not finish or otherwise impede the advancement of automotive racing. It was complete and total bullshit.
That was disrespectful. "Drivers and Danica …start your engines!" #daytona500
— Joe Manna (@JoeManna) February 24, 2013
… This opening statement announced by the Grand Marshal, James Franco, infuriated me. He essentially classified Danica Patrick as not a driver.
Driving in an open-wheel racing environment is entirely different from a stock car. For one, you have different aerodynamics, different physics affecting the performance of the car and lesser visibility of one’s surroundings. I’d even contend that NASCAR is a team sport relying on the physicists, pit crew and spotters just as much as the driver who is driving a vehicle more than 200 MPH.
The interviews and media spectacle continued throughout the entire race. In fact, the race was dominated by cameras focused on her every move.
These interviews with Danica Patrick are so patronizing. The good ol' boys treat her like she hasn't raced before. #nascar
— Joe Manna (@JoeManna) February 26, 2012
During her NASCAR debut in the Daytona 500, I expressed my disappointment in some of the public’s reaction. It wasn’t the only the misogynistic comments; it was also the sheer excitement that she was the first woman to compete in NASCAR. So, you’re telling me the it is a *good* thing that in 2013, a female enters into an automotive sport? Of course, she is a role model for many women, so her camp ran with it to make the best of this unequal praise.
I understand that there is historical significance in a female entering into a male-dominated sport. But, it is hardly a ‘win’ to only have one female among 43 drivers. It underscores the inequality and the vacuum for discovering and developing diverse talent in the sport. And it’s not only gender, but also racial equality. In NASCAR’s 66 years of existence, there has been only three African-Americans to compete in the sport. The association is hardly progressing to reflect interests and talents found in the current American demographic.
So, what do I recommend? I’m not suggesting to implement “affirmative action” in the sport. Talent is talent. However, targeting all persons across all communities and backgrounds at young ages to develop their interest, skill and opportunity to compete in the sport is the only way to move forward. And also don’t stop the presses when a minority joins the association; treat them as worthy competitors — an assumption given to any other driver — and promote the healthy and competitive spirit of NASCAR.
Women in Tech
In my career, I’ve always interacted with and reported to women. Maybe it was the fact I cut my teeth in the Community, Public Relations and Marketing industry, but I’ve never viewed them as any less competent. They all have counseled me in my strategies and tactical operating plans. They all have been creative, innovative and ambitious thinkers. And yet, some have felt at least an inordinate amount of pressure to outperform at all times due to their male colleagues.
I admit in my ignorance and past life experience, I don’t know what it’s like to be a female professional in the technology world. That said, I’ve always presumed that women, just as much as men, are considered for leadership roles in organizations.
Let’s step back for a moment and not marginalize the topic to only technology.
Largely, society as adopted a pseudo-scientific explanation that women tend to be nurturers and men are providers. I find this explanation is a pejorative of “science,” but is actually a rationalization that men are superior to women. Studies have called into question the understanding that women are nurturers because these gender role assignments are simply the urban legends passed down from generation to generation. And whose to say that nurturing is any more or less inferior than providing? Science does not prove that nurturing is a trait that is only possessed by women.
Also, we must consider that women have been in the workforce a lesser time (per capita) than men. The US Census indicates that inequality has returned to relatively equal norms. What is “normal?” According to the CIA World Fact Book, the global male-to-female ratio is 1.014 to 1. In a population of 7.14 billion people, that means there is about 100 million more men than women. There are other factors to consider including mortality rates, global industrialization, educational and literacy rates — but my point is that women in the workforce has leveled out.
I realize that working doesn’t necessarily mean corporate leadership, but it could relate to why, statistically, women have not held leadership positions in many companies. However, we can see that in the 90s (information age), measurable growth has been seen on this front.
In a study from Catalyst, there has been a 76 percent increase of leadership/officer roles held by women during a span of 18 years. This is meaningful and should also be attributed in the “women in tech” discussions. This growth rate has outpaced the women in the labor workforce rate dramatically.
There are a few sound theories why women have been rapidly accelerating their standing in the workforce. As noted in the Census, women have had less time in the workforce. And it’s only sound to presume that in darker times, women were not granted many leadership positions. Following the industrial revolution, women had been empowered to enter the workforce, seek higher education and gain independence from male providers in households. As this “trend” became the new normal, it has continued, resulting in more women gaining traction in the workforce. As technology flourished, so did the opportunities for information-based labor and less mechanical labor.
Wow, that was quite a departure from my original topic of women in tech … I’ll explain.
The presumption that women can not be capable of holding leadership roles is fundamentally false. This perception only gives rise to further paint the picture that this is a male-dominated workforce. As popular opinion shifts with younger generations defining the next generation’s perspectives, so will the expectation that any man or woman (and others not defined by a binary gender), has just as much opportunity to succeed. Through competition, we breed innovation, creativity and further economic growth. This is a human perception problem. The cognitive dissonance between the ideals of equality and the lack of seeing it first-hand only further perpetuates the presumption that there’s inequality.
Okay, enough trying to explain history …
Today, I look around to my peers and I see women holding their ground in corporate battlefields, laying down computer code, administering technology and making business and technological decisions. In my perception, there might be fewer of them compared to men in technology, but it doesn’t mean they are any less capable. We must continue to reach all students from all backgrounds to lead in technology, much in the same fashion NASCAR needs to reach a more diverse audience to grow into the mainstream.
Maybe this means buying less Barbie dolls and it means buying more Legos. Maybe it means buying less toy ovens and buying more R/C helicopters. Maybe it means less of a focus on vanity in pop-culture and more on intellectual prowess. It’s not one solution; it’s a collective effort to activate and propel more women into the workforce.
Having women in technology doesn’t bother me at all. Handing out opportunities based solely on gender is what frustrates me. There are not men and women in tech — there are people in technology. So, please, stop soliciting women to talk about women in tech. Govern their equality through meritocracy, not on skewed views of their inferiority.
To summarize my points if it’s not clear–
- We shouldn’t define roles or career choices by gender.
- We shouldn’t be any more or less compelled by a professional’s gender.
- We shouldn’t compensate women more or less than men given similar occupational functions.
- We shouldn’t marginalize women in any industry. They are people. They are competitors. They are leaders. They are equals.
After 1,500 words, I hope I’m making at least a bit of sense. I dislike the fact I feel I must apologize in advance for simply believing that women and men are equal counterparts. Despite some of these views are fantasy more than the current reality, I hope you are able to read the context and the intent behind these words. However, I am open to the possibility of being incorrect or misled on the arguments about women in tech. Please feel invited to share your candid thoughts in the comments.
This post is a part of my 60 days of blogging. Read more about #60DOB.
Photo credit: Daniel Shirey