Today’s post is a bit off our normal topic of grain-free delights and yoga sequences, though I promise to post the recipes for the grain-free, veggie-based pizzas tomorrow!
For those who don’t know (read: those outside my immediate family and the club itself) I am vice president and co-founder of Women in Technology at QUT. I got started with the club via a mutual friend before I even started at QUT, and it seemed like a great way to get my foot in the door socially, help a fledgling organization grow, and meet industry professionals. Particularly considering the fact that I was new to IT myself, being part of the club seemed like a great way to start.
When people hear about WiT, they usually come up with one of two responses; either “I am so happy that WiT exists! There’s nothing like it here, and boy, do we need it.” The other response is, “Why on Earth, in this day and age, does Women in Technology exist? Why do we need to be separated by gender? Isn’t that anti-feministic? Misogynistic? Just plain unnecessary? ‘”
This post is written in response to the latter.
As a woman coming from a performing arts background, where women outnumber men, I can’t quite say I understand the “in this day and age” line, particularly when I read statistics such as these.
According to a recent New York Times article, the participation of Women in IT is in dire straits. As recently as 1985, 37 percept of graduates in computer science were women. In 2010, the percentage sank to 18.2 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nicholas Pippenger, a mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd university in California, assesses that “It must be the unique area of science and technology where women have made negative progress.”
It’s hard to believe statistics like these, in this “day and age”, but all I have to do is look around the lecture halls of My Programming and Database design classes for anecdotal evidence. In both of these lectures with 300 or more students, I can count the number of women on my fingers and toes. For whatever reason, only a very small number of women receive degrees in IT, and for those of us that do, looking around a room and seeing but one other female face is a rather sobering experience.
Considering that IT is not, in fact, the ‘next’ frontier but is indeed the frontier, and that nearly every field in the world has a strong IT component, the fact that women will make up less than 20% of the educated workforce in this field is horrifying. I am not blaming men for this any more than I am blaming women. There are plenty of research studies that discuss this disparity, but the two reasons that come up the most are that
- Women are convinced that IT is too hard.
- Women are afraid of the cultural stereotype of Computer Scientist as the ultimate loner geek.
The club Women in IT aims to do its part to rectify a these misconceptions and encourage women to take part in what is undoubtedly the fastest growing and most dynamic field in the world. By offering a mentorship program with women who are already in the field, a student-supported-study and tutoring program, WiT also, ideally, takes out the pressure to be “one of the guys” if you don’t want to be one. WiT gives women a place to be supported, meet successful men and women in the industry, and see a group of wildly diverse, intelligent, and hard-working women in action. Men and alumni are also welcome members of the club, and have been some of our strongest supporters and contributors to date.
To come to a larger point, however, I don’t quite understand how giving women a particular opportunity to be with other women is anti-feministic. Indeed, as a staunch feminist who has volunteered and worked with organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Women for Women, I can’t wrap my head around the argument that not ignoring the giant elephant in the room that there simply aren’t enough women in IT somehow makes me less of an equal player in the IT field. In fact, I think it’s perhaps exemplary of the most hard-won aspects of the Feminist Revolution – the ability for women to make a choice. In today’s ‘day and age’ if you don’t want to be in a Women-focused group, guess what? You don’t have to. Join ITSA, or QUT IT or Engineers without Boarders, all of whom will welcome you with open arms.
So, if you believe, as I do, that women deserve truly equal treatment, attention and advancement in the field of IT, or if you are one of the far too few women who are breaking into one of the most gender imbalanced industries out there, and would like some extra support, educational, career and social opportunities, we would love to meet you. If you’d prefer not to, celebrate that, and the extraordinary work and effort of the women who came before you to give you that opportunity – to make a choice, follow your dreams, and join any club your heart desires.