My Opinion

The value of women in tech

The video above shines a light on an important topic. It may seem like a purely lexical trick – referring to women as ‘women’ rather than ‘girls’ – but it is so much more. Considering females constitute more than half of the world population and that in the western world at least, the female work force is both better educated and more skilled than the male counterpart, referring to them in a manner that properly indicates their age and maturity is vital.

But the issue goes much deeper than that: Even though many consider womens’ lib to be a thing of the past and feminism to be dead, women are still not treated as equal to men. This manifests itself in lower wages, lower positions and lower overall value in the work force. And this is especially true in the tech sector.

Why it is so is a mystery to me, but it is likely rooted in two main predispositions:

  1. Men don’t see women as equal
  2. Women don’t see themselves as valuable

Both of these ideas are fatally flawed and rooted in biasses that belong in the 17th century, not 2011. And to rid ourselves of them we all need to start thinking differently about gender in the workplace.

Consider James Chartrand – famed writer for Copyblogger and other online publications. When he published the article “Why James Chartrand wears women’s underpants” in 2009 it created a furore. James announced he was actually a she and was writing under a male pseudonym to gain respect. Her (yes, it’s confusing) claim was that as a man she had an easier time finding work and was paid more than as a woman.

Panzer Feminists and women’s lib (and anti-lib) opinionators world wide went ballistic on James for a variety of reasons. That itself was not a surprise. However, there were a group of arguments coming usually from women that really stuck out to me. I like to call them the head-burried-in-the-sand arguments. They came in two varieties:

  1. James is doing the women of the world a disservice by pretending to be a man. In fact, she is furthering the gender bias and worsening the situation. James should have her woMan card revoked.
  2. James is delusional. There is no gender bias in tech. Her woes were caused by her inferior writing and obvious self-loathing.

Both of these claims are, in my opinion, ludicrous. James did not do women a disservice or damage womens’ lib or feminism by doing what she did. In fact, by pretending to be a man she proved beyond any doubt there is a severe gender bias in the tech world. And by going public she made it impossible to ignore. And to the claim that there is no gender bias in tech? Get real. Of course there is. And it’s worse than most other industries. Don’t believe me? Check out this piece from Redit posted some 5 months ago entitled “I regularly hire woman for 65% to 75% of what males make“. A sobering piece of hard reality right there.

This last piece also highlights that often overlooked women devaluing themselves issue I mentioned earlier: Women, through cultural bias and lack of inbred arrogance will often sell themselves short either because they think they’re not worth more or because they think they’re not skilled enough. Men on the other hand will almost invariably oversell both their value and their skills. As a result there is an artificial gap created by honesty vs bravado. The only way to get past that dear oestrogen enriched human entities, is to start demanding what you deserve. Otherwise you’re just playing weak cards in an attempt to be well liked. And just like in poker, that won’t work if you have any plans of winning.

So what do we do now?

Inequality for women or between the sexes is nothing new. The sad thing is it continues today. So we have to do something about it. And bizarre as it may sound, it starts with the language we use. Just like you would never refer to me as a ‘boy’, you should never refer to a female over the age of 18 as a ‘girl’. She is a ‘woman’. And that goes for all you other women out there. I know you think it’s cute to call yourselves ‘girls’, but you’re not girls, and by doing so you are selling yourselves short. Girls are females between the ages of 0 and about what… 14? 16?. Anything older than that and they are either ‘young women’ or ‘women’ proper.

Try applying this simple rule: When referring to a female, if she were a male, would you call her a “boy” or a “man”? If ‘boy’, go with ‘girl’. If ‘man’, go with ‘woman’. That’s what this linguistic differential is for: to distinguish based on age as well as gender.

Once that’s settled, let’s start talking about not referring to people based on their gender but rather their skill set. But that’s a whole different argument.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.