Kathryn Cave (Global) - International Women's Day: A Celebration of Women in Tech or Just More Pointless Chest Beating?

International Women's Day - what does it mean for women in IT.

Royal godchildren who grow up in picturesque Scottish castles aren't often motivated to dedicate their lives to science - especially if they're women born at the end of the 19th century. Maybe I'm being unfair here and have missed a heap of examples, but Victoria Drummond strikes me as a notable exception. Goddaughter to Queen Victoria, she served an unlikely apprenticeship in a Dundee shipworks, worked on numerous sea-craft, yet faced constant opposition from the male establishment to get her chief engineer's certificate. Finally after a lifetime of tribulation she was awarded the MBE for single-handedly keeping the engines of the SS Bonita going whilst under German fire.

Victoria Drummond is just one of the many (mostly forgotten) women in science featured in the current display at the National Library of Scotland to mark International Women's Day - celebrated round the world today. This is a big event and each year there appears to be more focus placed on women in science and technology. In fact this is the overarching theme for Manchester's International Women's Day celebrations 2013.

There has also seemed to be increasing levels of coverage on women in technology recently. This is probably not surprising when you consider the escalating importance of IT departments within the enterprise. However, opinion does tend to fall into one of two camps: alarm about the lack of female industry professionals; or an excited ‘celebration' of the women who have done well for themselves. This in turn means there is a general tendency to place less emphasis (or gloss over with hyperbole at least) the more negative elements for women in technology.

Women bosses get a lambasting of course, but this group has always been ripe for a bashing and numerous studies appear to show a general preference amongst the population for male management. This might be especially true in IT but seems consistent with trends elsewhere. More worryingly, research to our own audience showed some incredibly negative views of women in IT - with nearly a quarter (22%) of male respondents (and 8% of female respondents) stating the shortage of women in IT was a good thing. This is pretty astonishing really because gender in the workplace really shouldn't make any difference at all.

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Illuminatingly perhaps, the majority of female respondents who shared this negative opinion of women in IT didn't give a reason. However, the strongest answer was "80% of women in the workforce are only interested in bitching about each other, personal politics (not corporate politics), playing the role of damsel-in-distress or any other means to avoid real work. I am myself a woman in a senior position, but fed up with work attitude of most women in the workforce".

Generally the male respondents who voiced this belief tended to focus on how emotional and non-analytical women are (perceived to be): "I have worked in the industry for over 13 years, managed many women on my team. Women do not enjoy problem solving or analytical IT work." There were also some overtly negative comments such as "Women ruin the chemistry of a department. It's a business, not a social program. In general, women also make terrible managers because of their insecurities" or "Women tend to create unnecessary overheads by having to care for their (so-called) special needs, gender balance, guarding against any potential allegation of sexual harassment."

So, with such unbridled negativity to contend with, do events like International Women's Day really make any difference? I spoke to Jacqui Taylor Founder and CEO of Flying Binary, a lady who is extremely passionate on the subject, "As a Tech City mentor I was forcibly reminded recently by a woman CEO of one of our Tech City early stage start-ups how important it is for us to be role models, to encourage more women to join our profession. International Women's Day is a vivid reminder that we are in a fortunate position to be doing what we do in our everyday Tech roles, something that a majority of women across the world have no access to. It reminds me of the phrase ‘A rising tide raises all ships'. In our interconnected world what change might we inspire as women by celebrating this day?"


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect. Read the full paper "Women in IT: Does the Shortage Matter?" here.