Current State of Women and Technology

Gender Bias in the Workplace

Computer science has a major problem. Women who are entering computer science fields are quickly leaving them after the gender bias at the workplace, among many other things, makes them feel unwelcome. Women are already underrepresented in the STEM fields with approximately 28 percent of computer science degrees going to women in 2011.[1] The computer science field cannot afford to alienate half of their potential employees because of this growing gender bias.

Headlines about tech companies are rife with articles about sexism in the workplace. It is common to encounter articles that tell of women seeking investment only to be shown “a picture of [the investor] on a boat—without clothes” or an investor asking about the effects of competitive biking on “her husband’s reproductive capabilities” as Candace Fleming experienced.[2] She remarked that it was incredibly hard for her to be taken seriously when she was looking for an investor for her start up company, Crimson Hexagon, in 2007. Unsurprisingly even though women account for 40 percent of private business, they only generate 8 percent of venture capital. [3]

However, the problem does not end there; even outside the workplace women face unnecessarily severe backlash when reporting on inappropriate behavior. For Adria Richards, this backlash meant her job. At a tech conference Richards was attending a panel about Python, the most popular introductory programming language.[4] Halfway through the panel she tweeted a photo of two men behind her to the conference conduct board saying, “Not cool, Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big dongles’. Right behind me #pycon”.[5] Even though the two men were escorted out of the conference, replies of people reading the tweet have been less than cordial, with the most polite replies being called “a disgrace to women everywhere” and another suggesting, “she could have moved [or] she could have asked them to speak quieter”.[6]

If the computer science industry wishes to have more diversity among their employees, it must address the gender bias problem. Not only are women not welcome in the office, they are also singled out at computer programming events such as conferences. Even if computer science succeeds in getting more women interested in the field by targeting coding programs toward young girls, the women who grow up and aspire to work in coding will be in for a nasty surprise if the tech industry cannot change its ways.

[1] Mitchell, R. (2013, April 4). Women computer science grads: The bump before the decline. Retrieved September 16, 2014.

[2] Miller, C. (2010, April 17). Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley. Retrieved September 16, 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Guo, P. (2014, July 7). Python is Now the Most Popular Introductory Teaching Language at Top U.S. Universities. Retrieved September 16, 2014.

[5] Richards, Adria [adriarichards]. (2013, March 17). Not cool, Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big dongles’. Right behind me #pycon [Tweet]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/03/25/adria-richards-fired-donglegate_n_2948161.html

[6] Woman Fired In ‘Donglegate’ Row. (2013, March 25). Retrieved September 16, 2014.

The Complexity of Women Helping Women In the Tech Industry

When looking at the numbers of  women in technology, especially computer science, we find that they are far outnumbered by male associates and CEOs[1]. And it can be discouraging for women pursuing careers in this industry. This is particularly applicable to the female entrepreneurs at the investment stage of a new technology company. For example, when pitching to an audience full of male investors, women are often turned away without real consideration for their products or ideas regarding technology, simply because they are female[2]. One straightforward solution to this problem is that women should pitch to women, or rather startups that cater to women, and they will have better luck. While this might be true and very beneficial to female entrepreneurs, it is a complex solution.

This solution appears beneficial on a surface level, but in reality it also reinforces women as the “other” in the world of entrepreneurship and startups. It almost gives male investors an excuse to push aside female startups and direct them to female investors. Many women realize this and openly acknowledge that this furthers the idea that women can’t thrive in a male-dominant field.  In the article by Issie Lapowsky, “This is What Tech’s Ugly Gender Problem Really Looks Like” from Wired, Danielle Weinblatt, Founder and CEO of the company Take the Interview, admits she is frustrated with this so-called solution[3]. Before she closed the deal for her company, Weinblatt was often redirected to female investors. She understood this was meant to be a solution to her being turned down by male investors, but it made her “feel like being a woman is something to overcome”.[4] In other words, it might be comforting for women to seek other women on the grounds that their gender won’t be held against them, but it also means that women are unable to break through the “bro-culture”.

Part of the complexity of women entrepreneurs seeking funding specifically for women, is admitting that we need these companies. There are empowering and progressive intentions behind these companies[5]. Yet at the same time, it says something about how women may not be able to go past this. Women should eventually be able to pitch to male investors without any concerns that gender could hold them back.  According to Scarlett Sieber, vice president of Operations at Infomous, if we keep business exclusively between women, we aren’t making as much progress as we could if we included men[6].  If there was a balance of sorts, perhaps as long as we encourage female and male investors, it won’t necessarily be understood as a handicap to some. As we have often said in class, in order to make some major changes, we have to start small. Perhaps starting small means admitting that sometimes women need to help women, while also including men in the conversation about the gender gap.

[1] Miller, Claire. “Technology’s Man Problem”. New York Times. 5 April 2014. Web 16 Sept. 2014

[2] Lapowsky, Issie. “This Is What Tech’s Ugly Gender Problem Really Looks Like”. Wired. 28 July 2014. Web 16 Sept. 2014

[3] Lapowsky

[4] Lapowsky

[5]  Casserly, Meghan. “Tipping the Scales: Women Angel Investing Reaches All-Time High”. Forbes. 25 April 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014

[6] Sieber, Scarlett. “Including Men in the Conversation About Women”. Huffington Post: The Blog. 02 June 2014. Web 17 Sept. 2014.

Understanding the Bro Culture in Tech

Women face a large struggle in technological fields. In fact, only about twenty percent of computer programmers in the US are female.1 There are many reasons for this disparity, but one common claim is that men in computer science-related fields actively persecute women in computing by discouraging their involvement through a cultural phenomenon known as “bro culture” or the “bro code”. In short, bro culture is a form of social interaction that perpetuates masculinity over femininity. In his film The Bro Code, Thomas Keith, an anti-sexism activist, filmmaker, author, and lecturer, has theorized that “forces in [popular and] male culture condition boys and men to dehumanize and disrespect women.”2 (more…)

Female Characters in Video Games

When it comes to the characterization of women in video games, several sources suggest that to be a female characters are the background eye-candy for the player, the damsel in distress to be saved rather than one who directly takes action. The female character, in contrast to the powerful, dominant male hero, is portrayed as requiring constant aid or rescuing over the course of the story, often exhibited as an overtly sexual figure to be desired and lusted after. This is apparent when examining how female characters are portrayed via their clothing or appearance in video games as many are “dressed in such a way as to bring attention to their bodies, particularly their breasts”.[1] This provocative look, in turn, takes away notions of the women as characters and portrays them more like objects or goals for the player to reach.

In many cases, “while there are instances in which female characters are portrayed as positive role models, in general most games minimize the roles of females,”[2] further creating the sense of women as passive inactive objects for the player to court and protect. Furthermore, women in video games are often considered lesser in comparison to their significant male counterpart, the character of Ms. Pacman being a prime example. According to Anita Sarkeesian, the example of Ms. Pacman articulates the principle of the ‘Ms. Male Character,’ a female character “defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts”.[3] In terms of the Ms. Male Character principle, the female character exists only because of the popularity or relevance of her male counterpart, once again submitting the notion that women in video games lack a distinct, strong identity.

However, I find myself feeling more optimistic on the subject, taking characters such as Ellie from The Last of Us or Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as female characters that are more than simple sexual tools or Ms. Male characters. While the claim that female characters are not considered as important as male characters might seem like a statement with strong evidence, I like to believe that things are not so black and white. Many good franchises exist out there where there are women who do more than just fade in the background or exist to motivate the male characters. As we grow and evolve as a society, I am confident that more female characters will begin to pop up and thrive as powerful, strong figures in video games.

[1] This quote can be found in Berrin Beasley and Tracy Collins Standley’s Academic article on clothing as an indicator of gender and stereotyping in video games. Mass Communication and Society, Vol. 5 Issue 3 (2002): 279-293.

[2] This quote can be found in Tracy L. Dietz’s academic article on Violence and Gender Portrayals in Video Games. Sex Roles, Vol. 38 No. 516 (1998): 425-442.

[3] This quote taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqYLfm1rWA and features an intellectual discussion and examination of the Ms. Male Character principle.

Building the Future of Women in Technology on the Global Stage

The disparity of women in the fields of computer science and technology is much more than a national issue. The distinctly unbalanced ratio of men to women in the technology field is a global pattern that spans from modernized first world societies like the U.S. to developing African nations like Ghana.

In the U.S., the recent surge of increasing the participation of women in the areas of programming, critical thinking, coding, and executive level leadership has taken key steps to meet the growing demand for technology professionals. Recognizing the lack of encouragement for young girls to become interested and passionate about STEM fields, many programs from Google’s Made with Code program, to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Code Camp, and even local startups such as the San Antonio VentureLab, have begun to address this issue by targeting younger generations of girls.

The U.S seems to be on the forefront of the global movement to integrate women in STEM fields. With approximately 82% of the population having Internet access in the U.S, the accessibility of getting young kids, particularly girls, involved with educational programs is highly achievable.[1] In comparison, African nations represent only 9.8% of the total world’s population with Internet access. [2] These conditions are particularly discouraging for the advancement of women in STEM fields in African nations, mainly because of the lack of resources that are critical to teach younger generations about technology. African women and young girls in particular are at a severe disadvantage, as they are not often encouraged to pursue a professional career in general. However, the first ever pan-African Women in Tech took place recently on August 2, 2014, in which multiple live viewing events in Uganda, South Africa and Ghana connected women across the African continent to discuss matters of technological initiatives to raise awareness and reach potential African women interested in STEM related fields. [3]

As these tech initiatives begin to gain momentum in the U.S, other countries look to follow along with startup organizations of their own. One noteworthy recent startup is gaining momentum in African nation of Ghana. Here, Regina Agyare has taken Ghana’s first steps to invite young women into the world of technology with her mentorship program, appropriately named Tech Needs Girls.[4] Recognizing that the technology industry is a fast growing and highly lucrative field, Agyare feels it is imperative to introduce young girls to critical thinking technological-based skills.

Building upon her personal experience in the technology industry- Agyare was the first female IT specialist at the International Bank of Ghana in Accra- she knows first-hand how difficult it is for women to break into this male-dominant field.[5] After six years of working as an IT specialist for the International Bank, a very high paying job for a woman in the technology business, Agyare left her job in 2012 and begin her own software development company called Sornoko Solutions.[6] Literally translated, Sornoko means unique in Agyare’s native language of Twi.

Agyare, the company’s founder, and lead software developer, has continued to expand Sornoko Soultion’s very unique mission of integrating technology into Ghanaian communities so that individuals can learn to use technology to enhance their everyday lives.[7] In particular, Sornoko has developed apps and software for the disabled. Recently, Sornoko has been working on developing an app that will convert text into sign language for deaf individuals.[8] In the non-profit sector, the skills development program, Tech Needs Girls, aims at teaching the next generation of women to “speak up and stand tall” while claiming their place in the STEM fields, according to Agyare. [9] Agyare’s involvement in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders encouraged her to use an interdisciplinary approach when introducing younger girls to the technology field. [10] The incorporation of technology skills with fields such as engineering, design, math, social planning, and entrepreneurship broadens the horizon of potential careers for young girls involved with Tech Needs Girls, and other similar programs for girls around the world.

Entrepreneurial tech companies such as Sornoko, in association with programs teaching younger generations, such as Tech Needs Girls, have begun to build a foundation for advancing the female percentage in STEM fields. As this trend spreads from the US to African nations like Ghana and to other parts of the world, there is great hope for a future of women in technology because of the efforts and leadership of women like Regina Agyare.

 

[1] Internet User Trends. (2014) Provided by International Telecommunication Union , United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India, and The World Bank. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

[2] http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ (see footnote 1)

[3] Ninyeh, Albert A. ( July 30 2014) “3 Countries Team Up For First Pan African ‘Women In Tech’ Meetup” InfoBoxDaily. http://infoboxdaily.com/index.php/component/k2/item/1672-3-countries-team-up-for-first-pan-african-women-in-tech-meetup

[4] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (26 March 2014). “5 reasons technology world needs more geek girls.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/tech/5-reasons-tech-needs-geek-girls/index.html?iref=allsearch

[5] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[6] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[7] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[8] Soronko Soultions. “Apps for the Disabled” http://www.soronkosolutions.com/apps.html

[9] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[10] U.S. Dept. of State. Young African Leaders Initiative: Meet the Fellows https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/meet-the-fellows-regina-agyare/

Women led start-ups less likely to receive venture capital funding

When someone says ‘high-tech entrepreneur,’ the first thought that comes to my mind is not typically ‘woman.’ More often than not the first things are probably, ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ or (more generally stated) ‘men.’ This is because often times, companies started and run by women are overlooked or discredited by investors simply because women are at the helm. Now, this is not always an overt display of discrimination[1], but rather investors invest in what they are comfortable with; a practice called “pattern matching,” or “trying to invest in founders who remind them of other successful entrepreneurs”[2]. And even though high-tech start-ups founded and run by diverse groups are more likely to succeed[3], women led start-ups are far less likely to receive venture capital funding. [4]

The fact is, 40 percent of privately owned businesses are owned by women, but only about 10 percent of “venture-backed start-ups” are led by women.[5] In a report published by Illuminate Ventures, a venture capital firm that seeks out “innovative business ideas led by committed and talented teams,” the author found that not only were women-led, high-tech companies successful, they were also more “capital efficient than the norm.” The study found that the “average venture-backed company run by a woman” had similar “early-year revenues,” using an average of “one-third less committed capital.”[6] In a separate study sponsored by Dow Jones, start-ups with “five or more” women were 61 percent successful compared to 39 percent that failed.[7] However, research conducted by the Kauffman Foundation revealed that between 2004 and 2007 women started merely three percent of technology firms, and one percent of high-tech firms.[8]

These numbers are staggering, especially considering that in 2012 “an estimated 126 million women were starting or running new businesses in 67 economies around the world.”[9] Where is that statistic in the high-tech industry? Where are women venture capitalists? All of the shortcomings found in The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report can be attributed to status expectations and gender roles in business and in the technology industry. It is unfortunate, but true that these gender biases exist in modern business. Women should not be discriminated against (either overtly or covertly) because of their gender. Venture capitalists need to be more aware of the changing climate for business; it’s no longer an all-boys-club. As the trend obviously shows, if venture capitalists intend to make money in the years to come, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to look to new, innovative, and women-led companies.

[1] Kelley, Donna J., Candida G. Brush, Patricia G. Greene, and Yana Litovsky. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report. Rep. The Center For Women’s Leadership, 31 July 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

[2] Chafkin, Max. “The Ugly Truth about Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem.” Fast Company. N.p., 12 May 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.

[3] Canning, Jessica, Maryam Haque, and Yimeng Wang. Women at the Wheel: Do Female Executives Drive Start-Up Success? Rep. Dow Jones and Company Inc., Sept. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

[4] Gates, Lisa. “Do Women Have a Unique Genome for Startup Success?” Forbes. Forbes, Inc., 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[5] See footnote 4

[6] Padnos, Cindy. High Performance Entrepreneurs: Women In High-Tech. Rep. Illuminate Ventures, 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[7] See footnote 3

[8] Robb, Alicia M., and Susan Coleman. 2009. Sources of financing for new technology firms: A comparison by gender. The Kauffman Foundation.

[9] See footnote 1