One thing I have noticed as a creative and a woman in tech is that society favors men. When I was applying to art school, my teachers admitted boys could get into any art school because they were a minority in the arts. I didn’t think much of that as I pulled several all nighters developing my portfolio and trying to maintain my grades in honors classes. I was crushed when I received a rejection letter from my dream university. Then the kick in the teeth came, a fellow classmate who was barely passing some of his classes and submitted some half completed drawings was accepted to that very same university that boasted of high standards. He had ignored all advice to finish up those drawings he submitted. He was a boy and knew he’d get into any art school he wanted. I was a girl, and I had no such luck.
I moved on though. No one was more surprised than my art teachers when I decided to study graphic design at a tech school and eventually get into web design, instead of studying fine arts. Unlike art school, which is mostly women, the college campus was over 60% male when I attended. I didn’t realize that that becoming a web designer would make me a woman in tech, but I noticed my classes became more male dominated as I moved out of the foundational drawing classes.
I then followed the path of what many young people in tech do: I moved to Silicon Valley to work at a startup. Silicon Valley felt like a continuation of college. In major tech companies, women make up roughly 30% of the workforce, but that includes non-tech related jobs such as human resources. The statistic drops to less than 20% for women in actual tech related jobs (Garnett 2016). What I didn’t expect was to find a strong misogyny and stance against women in tech. Despite all the booming startups, women-led companies get just 2% of venture capital funding compared to companies with a man at the head of the table (Corbyn 2018). The discrimination doesn’t end with halted careers. Women in Silicon Valley deal with unwanted sexual advances and harassment because they were often the only woman in the room. In 2014, when Andy Rubin was forced to resign from Google because of sexual harassment, but he was still given a $90 million exit package (dailymail 2018). And this doesn’t surprise me sadly. I had my own #metoo moment where I had to report a coworker for sexual harassment. I was laid off from that job a few weeks later (I knew deep down the company was struggling, but it didn’t sting any less). How did tech become such a male dominated society? And why are so many engineers inappropriate with women?
Some psychologists contribute boys excelling in science and math due to the gendering of toys when children are little. Often little girls are given kitchen sets and dolls, while boys are given building blocks and puzzles which help develop spatial skills and problem solving which prepare them later for math principles. And on the other hand, dolls can teach empathy because children are practicing taking care of another individual (Oksman 2016).
Anne Moir also tried to tackle why men and women think differently. She stated that at 6 weeks, a fetus isn’t recognizable as male or female. As the fetus develops, if the fetus is female, the brain stays the same. Moir notes that if the fetus is male, then drastic changes in the brain occur with the development of male hormones (Jessel, Moir, 1992). I was almost buying into the theory that there was a learned and maybe even biological component to why men dominate the tech industry, until I found out that programming was originally considered “women’s work.” In the 1950s, women were often secretaries, but then a shift happened in the 1960s. Their skills in filing and typing were transitioned to writing computer software. And just like that, computer programming became a “natural career choice for savvy young women” (Frink 2011). Writing computer software and programming computers was seen as easier than building hardware, so it was deemed “women’s work” (Frink 2011). Computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper stated programming was “just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.” The Fashion focussed Cosmopolitan Magazine even urged their readers to consider careers in software development and called them “Computer Girls” (Frink 2011).
So how did we go from woman dominating technology to the male driven, misogynistic, boys club of Silicon Valley? Male programmers wanted to add more prestige to their industry and they did so by creating professional associations, setting up educational requirements for programming careers, and of course, discouraging the hiring of women. They even went as far as running a series of ad campaigns that linked women to “human error and inefficiency.” While the hiring tests appeared objective, they were typically math puzzles, which favored men who were more likely to have taken math classes. Plus the tests were distributed to study at all-male networks such as fraternities. Lastly, a personality test was given to applicants that even further alienated women. The test that had most of the same traits as other white-collar professions, except there was one notable characteristic they deemed important. It advised that successful programmers displayed a “disinterest in people” and that they dislike “activities involving close personal connection” (Frink 2011).
And so the anti-social programmer stereotype was born, and engineering became the Brotopia that it is known as today. By 1987, women in engineering dropped to 37%, and here we are now, less than 20% (Frink 2011). While I think the gendering of toys needs to end, there is no reason why women cannot be engineers. It personally infuriates me to hear men shrug their shoulders and say “women just aren’t interested in engineering” while women built the industry and were quickly forgotten. Women are just as capable of doing any career we set our minds to, if not better because we can thrive despite the adversity. We might not get opportunities handed to us (I’m looking at you, only 2% funding), so we need to be even more headstrong and show everyone what we have. I may have left Silicon Valley with battle scars, but I am a woman in tech. A personality test from the 1960s isn’t going to scare me.
Corbyn, Zoë. 2018. “Why sexism is rife in Silicon Valley” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Frink, Brenda. 2011. “Researcher reveals how ‘Computer Geeks’ replaced ‘Computer Girls’” Standford University. https://gender.stanford.edu Accessed April 15, 2019.
Garnett, Laura, 2016. “Women in Tech: What's the Real Status?” Inc. www.inc.com Accessed April 15, 2019.
“Google pay $90m exit package to 'top Android executive they forced out for coercing a woman into performing sex acts'” 2018. The Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk Accessed April 15, 2019.
Jessel, David. Anne Moir. 1992. “Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women” Dell Publishing. Pg 24
Oksman, Olga. 2016. “Are gendered toys harming childhood development?” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com. Accessed April 15, 2019.