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Is the standard for women in technology dropping?

This is a controversial question but one that needs to be asked. The tech industry despite being one of the most innovative industries in the world is stuck in the 1900s. Only 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women there has been efforts to change this statistic. The diversity movement surrounding the Technology field is focused on finding women – any women and multi-cultural men. This is a contrast to industries that came over the gender hurdle a decade ago and are consciously trying to find both men and women from different backgrounds.

Tech is a male-dominated industry, that’s no secret. In the last few years measures have been taken to change the image of the workers inside the walls of a binary factory. No more very male sweaty geek with glasses, right?

Images are hard to shake, especially ones that have been built up by years of media typecasting, lack of role models and the diluted facts surrounding what mysterious magic happens at the hands of a ‘computer magician’.

In the college environment, it is not a surprise for any female who walks into her latest Java lecture to see rows and rows of guys and maybe one or two girls, if everyone decides to show up. There are not a lot of us female types. Due to that small percentage that make up those types companies are lined up outside the campus door waiting to fill the gender gap in their business. All they need is the word female and a degree. This is very apparent in the scholarships given out in institutions like CIT from big named companies. The requirements for these scholarships often are being female and having the highest leaving cert points in the college class. It is not a hard feat when the competition is against yourself and a handful of others. Up until the latest addition to the Irish Leaving cert, Computer Science, the leaving cert showed no evidence of interest in tech.

The piece of paper highlights an examinee’s memorisation of secondary school subjects, most of which will be never touched on in a technology degree again.

Returning to image, the data cannot be disputed. According to a survey by the Guardian, 73% of workers in tech fields believe the technology workplace is sexist. Getting the job is not the real challenge for women. It is staying in the role, facing the maternity leave issues and facing the obvious gender gap every day. In college, most women studying tech get introduced to this male-dominated culture taking place, the elite brogrammers’ club. With the high makeup of computers course being male, it is not surprising a guy can move through his degree without working or chatting with a female in his discipline. And that coupled with the programmer image painted onto men equates to some men walking out of college not sure how to interact towards and work with women in their field. This isolating bubble has contributed to reports and rumours around Technology courses such as those in UCC and CIT of inappropriate sexual behaviour – not just to girls but to other males too.

What prompted this Feature was the questions rotating like a carousel in my head. These questions were brought to light for me at a Woman in Tech event that I attended, run by a high-ranking company that will remain nameless. At the start of this event, I stood in a group of other young women eating triangle sandwiches, mingling. One of the workers from the company running the event approached us. She was in IT support and after the usual pleasantries of ‘What course are you doing?’ she had this piece of ‘wisdom’ to pass onto us. ‘Women are better at programming than men.’

I froze, not out of excitement like some of the girls making up the group but out of disgust. That was the last thing I wanted to hear at a Women in Tech talk. I wanted to be equal, not better. And if I was going to be better, I wanted to achieve that status based on how hard I worked and the knowledge I built up, not with something I had no control over like what gender I identified as. It felt like a slap in the face to my modules.

That woman’s statement is part of the huge issue when it comes to blurry descriptions of the effort involved in a technology course. It is not just pushing a button and hoping something will work – most of the time. A girls who code blogger puts this perfectly, ‘Coding is a lot of work, so get ready to develop some grit… as I listened to the students complain about the workload, I realized that many had not been prepared for this.’ Most importantly, whatever hard work anyone puts into their course should be acknowledged awarded and encouraged. It is about what you put into your course and how much of yourself you give over.

The day at the tech talk did not get better. The freebies everyone who goes to an event brings a second bag for were pink makeup with the company’s logo slapped across it. I understand a lot of girls liked this, but I could not shake wanting to be equal. I did not want to be different. Why pink? Why makeup? Because we are girls is the only answer that can be given and that is weak and pathetic. At other tech events, the company notebook is a stable freebie, pens, rulers, brochures – but when women go about their studies, I guess lip balm helps more than a pen and paper.

The line-up of speakers was not what I was expecting. Women who worked in the building as human resources and secretaries populated the panels as women in tech, bar one that spoke about her programming experience and achievements in her field. The event, it soon became clear, was pushed towards uncertain Arts students not studying tech. The majority of the panel’s histories and their five hour championing of Arts degrees pointed to this.

One of the highlights was supposedly, a human resources woman telling her backstory: turning her unrelated degree into an opportunity to work in a tech building. She then went on to tell a story about her interviewing people for a position at company. The female interviewee was applying for a technical role but when asked did she know about this concept, this method she said no, and when asked could she do this or that, she replied the same, no. The interviewee then added what we all do when our experience does not fit the part-time sales job we are applying for during the summer break, ‘but I could learn it.’ The human resources woman interviewed a man for the same role. He knew all the answers to the questions, he had the experience. So who do you think, reader got the job? He didn’t. The woman did because she was honest. Was the man honest? He knew the answers to all her questions… and therefore was not honest?

So what does the title woman in tech mean?

A woman under the roof of a tech building? A woman that works with technology? A woman who knows how to code? Or one that proudly sports the ‘I-can-not-be-bothered’ badge?