Why women quit technology careers

Harvard Business Review has an answer to why women get sick of the tech business, despite excelling in it. It is because of "antigens" – elements of the culture that actively repel women. Which is another way of saying that it's full of misogynistic dicks. From Computer World:

"We found that 63% of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment. That's a really high figure. They talk about demeaning and condescending attitudes, lots of off-color jokes, sexual innuendo, arrogance; colleagues, particularly in the tech culture, who genuinely think women don't have what it takes -- who see them as genetically inferior. It's hard to take as a steady stream. It's predatory and demeaning. It's distressing to find this kind of data in 2008. "

The other "antigens" are consequential from this. Women feel isolated, because there are so few women in the trade. Women tend to see less long-term opportunities, because they don't bond with colleagues as a result. IT outfits also reward employees involved in patterns of ostentatious failure and rescue, "the diving catch" – Women, of course, get shit fixed before it starts to break.

Why women quite tech careers [Computer World]

Published by Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.

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  1. LOLWUT? Women? USING COMPUTERS? HA HA HA HA HA! Maybe when the moon men of the future figure out how to install them in a kitchen appliance or something! OR ON MY JUNK!


  3. Its a shame that there arent more women in technology industries especially as women tend to have a different way of thinking problems though (and so bring anoter viewpoint to the table). Even so I find the figures in this article odd, granted my degree course has about 10% girls but the office I’m on placement in has more like 45/50% women working on equal with men and several senior VPs are women.

    Dispite this I can see how women could find tech culture unappealing, to be honest when drinking with fellow tech heads our humour quality can dip into the “retarded chimp who gets maths/science” stage and the phrase “inyourendo” becomes the hight of comedy.

  4. I’m a woman, in software development. I’ve got the good fortune to be in a company owned by a woman, and with about a 7:3 ratio of women:men, with many of the women being in management positions.

    I haven’t run into a lot of sexism myself even before moving to this company, but that’s probably because I tend to look and act masculine, and many of my male friends and co-workers seem to mentally file me as “basically male”. I’ve been “one of the guys” since gradeschool; I’m a big girl, I have a deep voice and broad shoulders, I never wear makeup, I’m an unrepentant tomboy, and I’m loud.

    I’ve seen my more delicate co-workers get mistreated by a neanderthal of a manager, and I’ve once run into a co-worker who refused to treat even big ol’ butchy me as a person solely because I’ve got two X chromosones.

    The attitude is out there; I haven’t seen it as heavily as reported in the article, but that could just be me being in the lucky 1/3rd.

    Or it could be because I’m Canadian, and our culture is a little different from the US corporate culture.

  5. I’m a woman in a technical field, clinical lab science, which is traditionally female-dominated. While I’m always annoyed by how the few men in my department get promoted ahead of women, enough women are in managerial positions to make me feel confident that I have some kind of upward mobility here. It helps that my lab is almost entirely female, the only men we get are part-time student workers here for a summer or maybe a year.
    My boyfriend, however, works in a male-dominated tech industry: video game development. I get bothered by the fact that no women work for his company and all the wives of his coworkers are essentially baby factories. I shudder to think of the casual misogyny going on in their office, and I doubt I’d be able to put up with that environment for more than a couple years.

  6. I agree that the tech sector has a lot of gender bias in it. But I disagree with this statement:

    “Women, of course, get shit fixed before it starts to break.”

    Uhh..? No, probably not.

  7. My mother was a research scientist in ionospheric radio propagation. She started as a Bright Young Thing during WWII and continued working until her retirement in the early 1990s. She spent much of her career working on the DEW Line and had a Top Secret security clearance. Except for the secretaries, every co-worker that she ever had in almost 50 years was male. She never expected anyone to give her crap for being a woman and nobody ever did. If you expect and demand to be treated with respect, most people fall into line. The ones who are most likely to harass you are bullies, and bullies are usually cowards. She wouldn’t have backed up one inch and everybody knew it.

  8. Why work for/with misogynist pricks? Life is too short. Either find a better employer or start your own damn tech company! That’s what I did, and I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

  9. Men and women are, in general, different. On average, women do better at academics than men. Also on average, men do better in the working world than women. This is due to a combination of genetic and social factors.

    There aren’t a lot of women in computer science jobs for the same reason why there aren’t that many men in elementary education or nursing. It’s not because of “sexism” or anything, but as the article said, the social environment. A typical guy wouldn’t feel comfortable working at a fabric store full of women talking about fashion and relationships or whatever, and a typical woman wouldn’t feel comfortable working at a construction site full of men making dirty jokes and talking about sports (to use a more stereotypical example).

  10. jdlyga,

    Are you communicating with us via a wormhole from the 1950s? Not one word of your comment holds true in my reality.

  11. I’m going to assume that Jdlyga really knows better and is just trolling with a little more subtlety than average. Believing that will make my head not hurt, so that’s what I’m going with.

  12. I experienced a lot of this when I worked in more traditional IT jobs. God, that was awful.

    The sexism was real, and ran along a gradient from in-your-face-blatant to ambient, which is worse IMO because you can’t fight it as easily.

    I hated it, even though I didn’t believe it, whatever — I still brought it home at night, it still affected my self-worth and my happiness, and I’m really glad that the work I do now allows me to be free of that sort of environment.

    It causes all kinds of harm, and it’s impossible to understand unless you experience it.

  13. Kerry: Calling your boyfriend’s co-worker’s wives “baby factories” is demeaning and condescending, and sounds like something that would be said in a sexist environment.

    Women who choose to raise children are contributing no less to the world than women who work in the IT field.

  14. The IT industry is just full of dicks period. They aren’t just dicks to women. Guys are just more tolerant of dicks than women are. If all the guys left because someone was mean to them, there would be an even larger demand for tech jobs than there is now because no one would be working in IT. I put up with the antisocial jackasses in this business because I get paid a metric boatload of money for doing something that I love to do. The humans in the system are just static.

  15. #14, +1. Babies are harder work than blogs or routers.

    Oh also? I really love Look Around You, especially this one. My last name is silent.

  16. Bless you, ants. Blants.

    I recall reading the introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of Gödel, Escher, Bach and initially finding it a little silly that Hofstadter made such a big deal about gender pronouns. Eventually, however, I came round to his point as I noticed examples of how pronoun choice shaped my perception of things, i.e. how jarring I tend to find it when “she” is used as the generic third party pronoun. That exposed how pervasive yet subtle language is in affecting how I thought about gender.

    I also recall reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and not knowing Scout was a girl until 5 chapters in or so. This seemed to be a relatively common phenomenon. Granted, Harper Lee may have purposely held this information from the reader given the theme of Scout being a tomboy and growing up, but it was sort of a wake-up.

    So how about that Soul Calibur IV eh? EH? Jesus.

  17. One of the better treatises on this subject is Phillip Greenspun’s Women in Science. The essay is centered on academia, but similar arguments can be made for engineering jobs.

    I graduated CS and did programming for a while. Aside from the absence of female role models there was little outright sexism in my workplace, but once I noticed that the average job lasts 2 years, after which you get your subsequent job based on how well you’ve mastered the new technology/programming language du jour, lather, rinse repeat, it all seemed like a waste of time. Given the hours demanded on an average project I felt that the “high” IT salaries hardly justified such effort, and left the trade. Is there something inherently “female” about this decision?

    I’m still connected to the industry in my current work, and my engineering background gives me both credibility and a boost in my rates.

    I know plenty of successful women pursuing interesting, long-term jobs in the IT industry, but those jobs tend not to on the engineering side: manager, designer, consultant, writer, entrepreneur.

  18. a few years ago I had a male coworker who honestly believed all women were incompetent. except the competent ones, who were lesbians. I never discovered which he considered me.

    sexual harassment in tech work is very real

    the choice is to deal with it or get out

  19. I am male, have been a software engineer for over 5 years and really cant stand it anymore. Can someone tell me where all the females are going so I can follow them?

  20. Although being a (male) programmer in a male-only IT department, I can only say that the chauvinists are wasting a very strong worker of the team!
    Seeing the other departments, women have a longer attention span, actually ‘want’ to work, aren’t afraid of asking questions, tend to be better team palyers and have a better time keeping record. (And looking up for a second, I would hazard a guess they’d be 100x tidier than the desks around me!)
    We have no women in our department because we have had no successful applicants (skills beyond ‘Word/Excel’).
    It sure would be nice to have an intelligent conversation too.

  21. “Women who choose to raise children are contributing no less to the world than women who work in the IT field.”

    But they are contributing less than women who work in the IT field and raise children.

    Thr r wmn whs nly mbtn s t mrry nd hv bbs. Ths wmn r dcl nd ctlly blv n th gndr strtyps thy rnfrc. I have an equal contempt for them as I do the chauvinists who drive women out of my field. Those kind of people deserve each other, but it is a shame the rest of us have to work with half of them.

    (Thankfully there is a correlation between chauvinism and incompetence, as the former masks the insecurity over the latter, so the troglodytes tend to stay on the bottom rungs of any organization. But still, I knew their type in college, and heard the horrible stories from my female friends. And sadly, I don’t think any of them still work in IT.)

  22. 0xdeadbeef @23: So, women are either working & raising children, or docile breeders? I think you’re doing a pretty good job of reinforcing stereotypes yourself, there. A pretty good example of the prejudice women who have chosen to take time out to raise their children for a few years find when they seek work again. You’re not tearing down chauvinism, 0xdeadbeef, you’re a part of it.

  23. Taking time out for your children for one thing. Affirming it as a lifestyle choice equal to accomplishing something the rest of the world cares about is a fantasy to build up the self esteem of those who never learned a trade.

  24. It’s funny, when I worked in Human Services I was one of the only men working in the company. All of my co-workers and bosses were women. I was the target of constant sexual harassment, from many of the women I worked with and for. It was often brutal but I’m bent enough to have rather enjoyed it. My point isn’t that people should just suck it up, but that in many cases a majority, despite being male or female, can be just as bad as any other majority depending on the environment. There will be unprofessionalism on both sides of the fence if it’s left to fester. It’s not a women are better than men (or vice versa) thing, we can all be pigs.

  25. oxdeadbeef @25: Unless you are the parent of well-adjusted adult offspring, please refrain from judging the skillset required to raise children.

    Your blanket statements are insulting to those who invest staggering amounts time, effort, skill and wisdom into providing an enriching environment for their kids.

    I hope I’m reading too much into your comments, but your rhetoric reminds me of the people who complain about their taxes going to schools and children’s programs, and who protest that having children is a lifestyle choice equivalent to purchasing an expensive sports car.

  26. This is good news if you ask me. Women are better parents, have more skills in the home, and can mediate things much better with children than men. Men might have the edge in programming and being thick skinned, but thats not always a good thing.

  27. 0xdeadbeef,

    Announcing that women have to play by your rules is just plain, old-fashioned misogyny. Your characterization of women who don’t follow your rules is just plain, old-fashioned offensive.

  28. Palindromic –
    That you could ever think it’s good news that people are being sexually harassed, in any situation, pretty much says everything that needs saying there, but let me posit this – You think that this is ‘good’ because it plays out the world according to your expectations, and it doesn’t limit YOU. Please try to imagine what other people might want, and why it matters.

    Underrat –
    That you think your experience working in an office of women and being harassed by them could possibly be ‘just as bad’ as the experience of women in the tech fields would be amusingly naive if it weren’t a little worrying. At any point, did you fear for your bodily safety? Women in male-dominated arenas, even businesses, have to worry about it all the time, because sexual harassment, in their cases, often includes unwanted touching and pressuring from bosses, and a lot more sexual assaults than we want to admit. Men are the positions of power in this culture. There isn’t an equivalence. That said, I’m sorry you had a rotten and unprofessional working environment. I’m not saying women are angels, just that it ISN’T the same.

  29. 0xdeadbeef: So the only two stereotypes in your mind are working & raising children, or docile, untrained breeders? Are you through digging that hole you’re in, or do you think you’ll hit the motherlode soon?

  30. Statistics like this that don’t include a comparison to similar/comparable areas are a classic example of how a number in itself can invoke heated debate.

    How was the concept of “sexual harassment” defined? In any workplace where women comprise the minority, it would be trivial to phrase the questioning of them so that you could come up with an “eye-opening” percentage of (female) employees that have experienced *sexual harassment* in one form or another.

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