On Women in Tech and Feminism.

I am tired to always be the only woman in the room. Well, almost always. Sometimes there is another woman. But usually in a meeting with 15/20 people, I will end up being the only woman. Does not matter where I go either: France, Spain, Italy, Nordics, Germany, UK, USA. Just one exception, at least that’s the way it was a few years ago when I was at IBM: Turkey (that surprises you, he?). In Turkey, there were a lot of women in IT, and this at all levels in the hierarchy. My company (WSO2) is pretty good too, around 1/3 of our engineers are women.

I recently went through the Frankfurt airport and visited the Business Lounge. It was packed, like 300 people. For some reason, it hit me: there were about 10 women in that huge room.

Few months ago, I was presenting at a conference in Spain. Journalists who were covering the event wanted an interview, and their first question was: “How come you’re the only woman presenting at this conference?”

This sucks. Bad time. When and where are we loosing 51% of the population ??! in IT careers. Where can I go, if not to this conference, to finally find a whole group of women working in IT. I would need to state clearly my intentions if I go! but I am sure it would be loads of fun 🙂

My experience though is that once you have proven in that meeting you know what you’re talking about, the respect you get is the same than if you were a man. Never have I faced a professional who would treat me differently because I was a woman. So the problem is not to be there, the problem is how to get there.

I love that campaign about #LikeAGirl. May be that’s when it starts:  working in technology is not  a “girl thing”, it’s a boy thing, and we loose most of people there.  The quote below comes from this article.

James Gross, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has a 13-year-old daughter who loves math and science. It hasn’t occurred to her yet that that’s unusual, he says. “But I know in the next couple of years, it will.”

I want to live in a world where girls can do what they want and not being restricted by social barriers or judged by not being “in the norm”. I like to work with my hands and build stuff, I like technology as I find it fascinating (it’s shaping the world we live in), I like to drive fast cars with plenty of torque, or fly a drone. I like to jump into conversations where nobody expects a woman to bring any value: I once explained to an Italian F1 fan what the  coanda effect  was, you should have seen his face. Priceless.

My take is that this is a manipulation of men to make sure we don’t get to play with their toys. Girls/Ladies, it’s a load of fun and very rewarding IMO to work with your hands. Yes, you’ll break a nail or two, don’t worry, they grow back 🙂 Try it and if you don’t like it, then leave it. But don’t restrict yourself just because somebody says so. And don’t think you can’t do it , because you’re not a man. There a very few things in this world a woman cannot do, and those are mainly related to physical strength. But being a carpenter or learning technology, there are no parts of the human anatomy that only men have required to do any of those things. You’ve equal chances than a man to be good or bad at it.

By the way, the same social pressure applies to men: you are expected to know things when you’re a man, for example changing a car wheel. You would not believe how many of my friends who would be in great trouble if they had to do that (and no, another cliché, most of them are not gay…). Same applies to knowing how to read a map or follow directions.

I see you coming: another of those feminists. I am not a feminist, at least not in the sense most people think about feminism. I like the feminism defended by Isabel Allende. I like the causes worth fighting for she describes in that talk.

I am for equal rights, across the board. I hate quotas, even if I can understand it’s a way to give people a chance they would not otherwise get, but I think positive discrimination as this is often called, is actually not serving women at all. When a woman is promoted, there is this little thing bothering many: “if she had not been a woman, would she have been promoted?” and even if everybody recognizes you’re brilliant and deserve it, there is this slight doubt hanging in there.That’s why I am saying I am for equal rights: same salary for all, same opportunities for all. The fact that some companies still pay women less for the same job just drives me nuts. There is no way to justify that.

But I am drifting away from the original topic: women in tech. Let’s work with the young generations and educate girls and boys so that in 20 years from now, I can look at this text again and hopefully see some progress. Happy to volunteer to help change that!

I can promise you that women working together – linked, informed and educated – can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.

Isabel Allende

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