Is lack of gender diversity in tech really shocking?

Is lack of gender diversity in tech really shocking?

In the past year, I’ve written several pieces on the gender gap in cyber security. Only last month, the fact that women were members of college teams competing in national cyber competitions was news worthy. When I posted last week about hiring women, I received a message from a reader who had shared the blog with his three daughters. He said, “Your title should have been: Don’t wait for educational process to close jobs gap: Hire women and Pay them Like Men.”

It’s definitely a frequently talked about issue, and one that Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, the hosts of Boston Public Radio dedicated some time to on Wednesday. The recently released MassTLC annual report on the expanding ecosystem of technology in Massachusetts, not surprisingly, found that while tech jobs are widely available, women aren’t getting them.

Jim and Margery opened up the phone lines to hear from listeners who had experienced either hostility or any other form of gender bias in the work place. Several callers shared personal stories. Again, no surprise.

Both The Boston Globe and ran stories on the unimpressive growth rate of women in the technology industry. Curt Woodward who wrote, “The findings underscore a high-profile problem for the tech industry: it is harder for women than men to get into core tech jobs, to stay in the field, and to advance.”

Indeed, the lack of diversity, particularly gender diversity, is a high-profile and oft talked about problem in both IT and cybersecurity.

That’s why I was a little confused when Brian McGrory, editor at The Boston Globe, said that the findings in the report were “utterly astounding.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this BPR segment, and I don’t know why McGrory’s comment bothered me so much. While I don’t want to generalize or demean his reaction, I wonder how much of McGrory’s being astounded is rooted in his being a man.

It’s tantamount to saying that 30 years ago it was utterly astounding to learn that women were frequently the target of sexual harassment in the work place.

Even the headline of the article, “In seven years, men in Massachusetts took thousands more tech jobs than women” speaks to the fact that none of the statistics in the MassTLC report are new information.

While Jim and Margery moved on, I pontificated on my feelings in response to the exchange with McGrory. Why was I so affected by his being astounded?

I was disappointed at his choice of words, likely because I am a woman and I’ve talked to a lot of women who have had really negative experiences working in the tech industry. I wanted something more along the lines of, “No kidding. We’ve been talking about this for years, and little has changed.”

Instead, his words reminded me of an article I read several years ago by Peggy McIntosh entitled, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In it, McIntosh suggests that those who hold a position of privilege are often completely unaware of the privileges they hold in every walk of life. McIntosh first wrote about gender bias and male privilege and later adapted her work to explore white privilege.

Many women, especially young women, fear that they are not good enough to compete in what has traditionally been a man’s world. They lack mentors and leadership that encourages them to think about the trajectory of their careers. While these are common factors that prevent women from entering into or staying in the tech industry, I’m not sure that men understand how their privileges create what women feel is an uncomfortable and unwelcoming working environment.

If there is any hope of changing the work place culture of the tech industry, those who have privileges unavailable to others need to recognize what those privileges are in order to share them. As McIntosh points out, though, privilege is a form of power. If one recognizes his privilege, will he really want to give it up?

Kacy Zurkus


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