Women In Technology: The Challenge And The Responsibility – Forbes

Women In Technology: The Challenge And The Responsibility – Forbes

Is it almost reverse logic in some ways to call out ‘women in technology’ as an issue that needs addressing? Surely it should just be people in technology, some of whom are women, right? Speaking as a man married to a female professional software application developer who feels exactly this way, it’s kind of tough not to see women coder initiatives as sexist in their own right.

I put this question to a senior technical editor (male) colleague of mine who said, “Yes you’re right, in some ways it becomes a negative — but there is an imbalance in the industry and so its even worse if we don’t do it.”

There’s no invisible hand

Indeed, as tech analyst at Red Monk James Governor wrote this week, “Diversity in tech is an important issue that can’t be left to the ‘invisible hand’. We need to be visible, encouraging diversity, making welcoming spaces. At my events we always offer free tickets for underrepresented groups.”

Red Monk recently partnered with Women Who Code’s UK chapter — the firm is also involved with an event called ‘Coed Code’ designed to encourage more women to consider systems programming, which is normally a male bastion.

Why the discussion? Because news now emanates from The Linux Foundation detailing its partnership with Women Who Code — the aim of this connection is quite straightforward i.e. to increase diversity in the technology industry and support women who want to attend Linux Foundation events.

The partnership includes free and discounted passes to Linux Foundation events for Women Who Code members, as well as an initial donation to the organization to back its greater efforts to support women in technology. Women Who Code was created in 2011 and the nonprofit is best known for its CODE Review and free technical study groups, hack nights, career development and speaking events featuring technology industry experts and investors.

The Linux Foundation says that it, “Seeks to increase the number of individuals from underrepresented communities contributing to technology development through a variety of initiatives.”

Whether those ‘underrepresented communities’ also include ethnic groups, individuals with physical and/or mental impairment challenges and other minorities is not made clear. Having said that, the nonprofit foundation is an equal and open opportunity player on all levels, so we can safely assume that the system is one based purely upon meritocracy and deservedness.

Practical sensitivities

The foundation is offering diversity scholarships to attend its events, onsite childcare, mothers’ rooms and enforcing a respectful code of conduct for attendees. One can only comment that, in this day and age, that many of these things should be standard practice for any technical event — or indeed any event or venue.

The Linux Foundation also recently announced a partnership with Goodwill to increase access to Linux training and certification to disadvantaged populations.

“Increasing diversity in technology takes more than one approach. From our partnership with Goodwill to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to our work with Women Who Code and a variety of other organizations, we hope to have at least a small impact on this important issue,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation. “We’re looking forward to meeting and working with women from the program and helping them to advance their careers and contributions in the open source community.”

Why do we need more women in tech?

The answer (which most of us already now) is quite simply down to diversity. By this we mean diversity of mindset, diversity of thought process and diversity of approach to problem solving. Salesforce senior VP of strategic planning Peter Schwartz spoke at an event in the Middle East recently explaining how IBM IBM +% had turned down the chance to develop Windows when Bill Gates presented it to the company in its very early stages.

“Was that because IBM were a bunch of dumb clucks,” asked Schwartz. “No, they were a bunch of pretty smart guys. The trouble was, they were an all male crew. Having a woman on the team could have made a difference.”

Schwartz’s comments are amusing and the reader can take them as throwaway if needed. Or, you can take the point made as just a small example of how a lack of diversity plays out in the big picture.

“The Linux Foundation sets the example for other organizations that want to increase the number of women contributing to technology development,” said Zassmin Montes de Oca, WWCode board vice chair. “We look forward to their continued sponsorship to propel women’s careers in technology.”

Current viewpoints

Sarah Macleod is a 23 year old IT graduate who works as a technical project manager on software development projects for UK-based MSM Software Solved. Macleod agrees that as a relatively recent graduate, her view is that she wants to build a successful career in technology and be promoted on merit, rather than gender.

“However, the lack of diversity is an issue and this was apparent to me at university. In my cohorts of computer science and maths there were only three females out of 20. During university, I attended an event ‘It’s not just for the boys’ which was a recruitment fair for women in tech and there were talks from inspirational women who had set up their own businesses or were in senior positions at tech firms. I found about this event myself through my own research, it wasn’t promoted at university,” she said.

Macleod asserts that it should be ‘standard practice’ in all organisations, to give both women AND MEN the ability to continue working whilst raising a family. One of the major issues in schools & universities and among tech firms is that a lot of the role marketing appears to be geared towards males.

Sophie Guibaud, VP of European Expansion at Fidor bank also commented on this story to say that having a diverse workforce is essential. “This should be a priority for the so-called forward-thinking tech startup scene, however there are still not enough women working in technology. Two important considerations need to be made here,” she insists.

“Firstly, companies must educate on how to combat gender bias to ensure leaders select and promote the best candidates irrespective of gender. Secondly, we need to encourage women to apply to more diverse sectors by showing there is a place for them at a senior level when historically there hasn’t been. It’s important to fight cliches so that more women apply to tech startups.”

Altruism, philanthropy and justice?

So Is the Linux Foundation all about altruism, philanthropy and justice from start to finish? Well, mostly. Yes the foundation exists to help advance like-minded organizations that protect and advance free and open source software. But ultimately, it also exists to help support the growth of commercially supported and licensed Linux (that costs money) in a world where open source is becoming a more established technological norm.

With that commercial element in mind then, is the foundation using the #womenintech issue to bolster its own PR and profile? Actually no, the motives here come from the heart.

Whichever side you sit on, this is positive news for women in tech.


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