Business Management

William Butler (Global) - A Paradigm Shift for Women

In 1960, my mother, a programmer and keypunch operator, was offered a position by Hughes in Los Angeles. Hughes paid for the move and in February of that year our family relocated from Washington DC to the West Coast. Being female and a racial minority placed her as a true anomaly in the field, yet it seemed her skills were in demand as throughout the 60s she moved back and forth between IBM, NCR, STL (now TRW) and other industry firms; each time garnering higher salaries.

Between my sisters and I, only I found any interest in technology; finally changing careers (after twenty-five years) to IT at the tender age of forty-three. What I observed prior to and since then is IT attracts essentially two types of people. The first are passionate about technology in and of itself. The second are "means-to-an-end" people; those looking at job availability or technology as a tool to accomplish a task. While both types can find themselves in the same jobs, because their motivations are so different, the levels of performance and longevity can both be affected depending upon which camp the person belongs to.

It seems women, through childhood, are traditionally raised with different self-image roles. For many of the same reasons there are fewer women interested in becoming professional football, baseball, and basketball players, there are fewer whose childhood environments push them in the direction of IT. It seems to have far less to do with physical or mental capability than simply how they played in the earliest years of their lives.

There also is the "boys and their toys" issue. Men, even those not interested in IT, per se, have a greater interest in accumulating electronic toys than women. While we've begun to see a shift with the advent of iPads and similar devices; women see and use them as tools rather than acquiring them for the aesthetic value of the "thing" itself.

As such, there are fewer women who brag about their newest big screen TV, multi-hundred watt stereo, or even the new remote with three dozen buttons. To be certain, women fitting this mold exist, but like women desiring to compete on a level playing field with male athletes, they tend to be few and far between. I don't believe it's innate; I believe it has more to do with childhood environments (how they're raised) than any other, single factor.

My wife and I took specific and particular steps when raising our daughter (the only female with three male siblings) to create and surround her in the same environment as her brothers. As a result, she excelled in athletics, had disdain for Barbies, and is equally at home with computers as cooking. However, even she sees a computer as a means to and end rather than a toy with which to play.

I think that if change is going to come it must come at an early age because paradigms are formed at an early age. Taking a woman raised in a traditional Western household and pushing her into the IT world will continue to be less effective than taking one raised, from the ground up, with a different thought process and placing her in the same role.

Until I left law enforcement, I never realized how pervasive anti-women attitudes were in our culture. I never realized, in this day and age, there are mothers who raise daughters to believe women should be subservient and submissive to men, in personal and professional life. It never crossed my mind some women still believe they should never take jobs from men with equal qualifications because men, by virtue of their gender roles, are more deserving.

From a historical perspective, it has been less than a century since women across the United States have been able to vote; a long-fought and at times, bloody battle. Former slaves were afforded the same right at an earlier stage. Even though there has been significant progress in the last half century, much remains to be done. While those participating in active subjugation may be either dead or dying, their offspring continue to perpetuate the ideals of the original actors.

With the advent and proliferation of portable electronic devices, a shift can be seen with regard to the interest of girls and young women in IT. It appears video games, digital music players, and tablet computing devices care little whether the user is male or female. The content consumed by, with, and on such devices, likewise has no concern for gender. The shift is also toward an interest in the technology itself rather than the technology as a tool.

The issue, however, is too important to be left to random chance with the hope that paradigms will shift of their own accord. As a recent European Parliament report indicates, steps need to be taken to carry the trend and cause it to become the norm. Without such steps the long sought yet seldom seen equality among the genders may never become a reality.

By William Butler, IT Professional


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