Thursday, 8 March 2007

Blogging against sexism

Blog Against Sexism Day

I work in IT. I’ve been in IT in some shape or form all my working life, a long time now. I started as a programmer for a large engineering firm in an industrial area and found myself almost alone in a man’s world.

I worked for seven years before stopping (had to stop in those days) to have my first child. By then I was far from the only woman though we were very much the tiny minority. However I remember thinking that progress was being made and that no doubt, things would even out. After all there is nothing about IT that need in any way be perceived as “unsuitable” for a woman. The usual excuse for many careers is that they are physically hard or that they are “dirty”. Debatable anyway, but IT just doesn't fit into those categories.

Indeed later on in my career, things did seem to even out. I had a good number of female colleagues and things seemed stable.

So what has happened?!!

I started working at my sons’ secondary school, helping out with computer studies lessons. Very few girls took it as an option and not one wanted to take it any further. Very few took maths. One mother came up to me and told me her son had said to her “Mrs {} knows an awful lot about computers considering she’s a housewife”. This was related to me with all seriousness, as a compliment.

What way are we educating our young people that these situations arise - that young women don’t feel a career in IT is attractive or suitable or relevant, or that young men can have these perceptions of a woman's place?

Of course now I'm getting the ageism. Powerful stuff when combined with sexism!


  1. A.,
    Do you think perhaps it's because you work in a non-traditional field for women that the issue cuts so close to the bone? The dearth of women in engineering, math, and the hard sciences is nothing new. This doesn't make it any more acceptable, just maybe less of a surprise. There are many programs underway here in the States at all levels (federal, state and local) to encourage girls to take up these studies/career paths, but they don't seem to have had much of an impact. If I remember from what research I have read, boys and girls show about equal interest until the high school years, and then those areas become increasingly male populated.
    I spent 26 years in a field that's about as non-traditional for women as you can get (the military). I personally believe that this is a career to which women are just as well suited as men - and in some cases better, but I recognize that it's simply not for everyone. I recognize that it's not strictly analogous to the IT/science situation, but maybe a little.
    About the perception, though. Maybe it's the fact that they're young, as well as that they're boys. How many times have you heard otherwise competent adults say they had to get one of their children to program the TV remote (well, this is common in the US, anyway)? But you're absolutely right, that the fewer the female role models in these fields, the stronger the perception becomes among all the young that it's not a field for girls/women.


  2. I agree with you entirely janeway. And it's interesting to hear that in the States you haven't had much success in encouraging girls to take up science & technology. I work for an organisation which aims to encourage all young people, not just, but particularly girls into these fields - with limited success. In our efforts we seem to have to keep aiming at lower and lower age groups, to try to"hook" them and then keep their interest. And indeed I would think there are a lot of parallels with the military situation.
    You made me smile though as far as programming the remote is concerned. Yes we have that in Europe too. There has to be a fair element of laziness involved, wouldn't you think? I am the primary technical support in our houshold - unless our sons are around, when I happily defer the honours.
    Many thanks for your comment.

  3. PS are you named after the Star Trek Janeway (I notice figleaf calls you captain) or after the author? I love one quote from Elizabeth Janeway: "I have a problem about being nearly sixty. I keep waking up in the morning and thinking I'm thirty-one". I may take that as my motto!

  4. It's the Star Trek Janeway. She's actually not my favorite Captain (that shifts between Archer and Picard, depending on my mood) but was the only female in a command position (role models again :-). But I love that quote; it's exactly how I feel (I'm 53)most days. I understand now why my mother always said that youth was wasted on the young.

  5. I do think this is the same as happens when a man works in a kindergarten: It's not masculin. He treats kids very well to be a man.

    Even it's not comme il faut, or correct politically to mention it, but some research lately states there is, after all, some differences between men's and women's preferences , behaviour and attitudes which can not be related to "society" or social pressure.

    I do think, by accepting there are differences, it would be far easier to obtain equal rights. The challenge is to agree upon what's "equal".

  6. A. and toraa,
    I was actually going to cite the scarcity of male teachers at the elementary level as a sort of reverse example of the dearth of women in science, but I thought that was perhaps just the situation in the US. But I do agree with toraa, that there are differences that have nothing to do with environmental influences. (I have children of both sexes and before I had my sons, nothing would have convinced me that there were actually gender differences other than the obvious ones). But what bearing, if any, those differences in "preferences , behaviour and attitudes" have on women in science or men in early childhood education is not an issue I think our level of scientific/sociological/psychological expertise is great enough to determine. And it's a slippery slope to start down.


  7. Very true about men being under-represented in teaching in primary schools, and in the UK also at secondary schools, to a lesser but increasing extent. Nursing too has very few men. In both cases though it's not entirely due to perception of the role, at least in part it has to be down to salary levels.
    I can quite accept that there may be gender differences in attitudes and so on, but for there to be only two women in one son's university class and none at all in the other's (both computer science) is alarming.

  8. I think IT is also represented by stats, like in football. To prove one is a geek, one has to spout off acronyms and other computerspeak in order to sound smarter than an average person. Early on it is a way for guys to intimidate girls. I do think their are differences in which women relate and this is not one of them. I am a very technical person, work as an engineering tech; but I am turned off by IT people, even though that's what I got a degree in.
    I wish that the early female programmers would have dominated computers technology. I think IT would be considered a non traditional male job now.
    I do think parents are providing subtle cues for their daughters, especially if their daughters would probably never expect to have any adversity in their lives.
    The one thing I noticed with the feminist of the 60's was that the non traditional jobs they sought were never the dirty( like construction or sanitation), engineering or science jobs, they were jobs only in an office. No jobs that we might get out hands dirty. Everything was still very lady like. When there were problems with sexism, usually blue collar women were on their own.
    Company's still openly discriminate in the guise of physical performance. In this century why would it be necessary to lift 50 lbs. to be an IT person.
    Software had made it possible to discriminate on all levels. I suspect I am being kicked out because of my age. I have been looking for another job for over a year and a half. Having seen young people resumes, I can't say that the way they are written is getting them the attention. I think its better if you have a gender neutral name.
    It seems that for every three steps forward, we are moving two steps back.
    I hope that my son has never pick up on any subtle sexist notions from me.

  9. Hathor, thanks for your comment. You have a point about the computerspeak - I call it technobabble :). Usually at work they ask me to translate but to my dismay I heard one person saying he didn't uderstand a word I said to him. Oh dear. Mind you I don't think jargon is restricted to IT people. When I was working for doctors as I have on a number of occasions, they are every bit as bad. I heard it described once as a way of preserving the "magic" of medicine.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin