You, me, Science & Technology

Declining number of women in technology. I hear and come face to face with this issue on daily basis these days. Initially, when I used to hear all the rantings about lesser numbers of women in technology and the issue of huge salary difference between women and men in executive positions simply based on gender differences, I used to wonder how real these issues are! I still don’t know about the executive salary variance. But, I certainly see the declining number of women in Science and technology out and about around me and in media and in statistical reports. (Example: Women in Science in Australia: Maximising Productivity, Diversity and Innovation). So, it is very real!

I once happened to have this conversation with a gentleman at my University. We asked each other about each other’s degrees. Ironically we both represented minority – he was studying towards getting a Secondary school Education degree (There aren’t many males studying this these days.) and I was studying towards an Information Technology degree. We shared our experiences of being the only one of our gender in quite a few classes at University. From his experience teaching Mathematics in a secondary school, he mentioned something very important that may be residing at the surface of this. He said of all the students he tried to teach maths to, most the girls would not attempt solving a mathematical problem at all. They would come up to him and say “I can’t do it”, he would ask why they can’t and where they were stuck. Soon he would find out that they haven’t even attempted giving it a go. He would ask why they don’t even try and the girls would simply say something along these lines “It’s not my thing” “It’s maths, I just don’t get it!” So, now we have reached a stage where girls perceive the idea that science isn’t a ‘thing’ for their gender. One more gender stereotype to add to the list of many that we have out there!

I was teaching maths to a primary school girl in her early teen-age for quite a few months. The only reason she was weak at it was the fact that she had made up her mind to be a home-staying mother in future (Yes, that 13 year old kid!) and that she didn’t think it was any important for her to study at all. In her case, all her surrounding was encouraging. The father figure in her house was studying and working in technology himself and trying to make her understand even if she wants to be able to run a house properly, she will need to learn basic maths! Somehow, this kid had conceived the idea and aspiration of being a house-wife from her surroundings.

This ‘thing’ also reminds me of an attempt European commission made just recently. In order to motivate and encourage female participation in Scientific and Technological careers, the commision created a video.  The commission said that the video had to “speak their language to get their attention” and that it was intended to be “fun, catchy” and strike a chord with young people. The attempt was par beyond pathetic as the video simply re-enforced the gender stereotypes that are already hurting us from centuries now! 

Meanwhile in Silicon Valley ….

Two women have managed to get cameras focused on them in last 6 months – Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo. As much as I see that tiny ray of hope seeing how Sheryl and Marissa’s stories are out there in news and the upcoming generation of women leaders may get to watch and hear about more female role-models, the way these ladies’ stories have been portrayed however, continues to concern me.

One of the first articles I read about the decision behind her joining Facebook board of directors was rather disappointing. It was a Forbes article that I had stumbled upon during my daily chorus. I read all the way till the end and failed to find out anything about how Facebook thought of all the potential contestants for the position, Sandberg deserved it the most or how Sandberg won in some directorial elections or anything along those lines. On the contrary it mostly conveyed the idea that it was a forced decision simply due to Facebook’s lack of diversity and that Sandberg was taken into the board not because she was one of the bests, but because she was better than most the other females at Facebook. The same case was with Bloomberg or Tech Crunch’s article. All conveyed the same message of Facebook being under pressure for lack of diversity and thus taking Sandberg on.

I thought to myself “Wow! This is odd. Appointing a director simply becaus you ‘Have to!?!” I wondered why a company would be willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a fat paycheck like this on somebody who doesn’t have much potential at all! I had heard Sandberg’s TED Talk. But, nowhere did I explicitly read about Sandberg’s actual achievements or what the hell she did at Facebook! Not even now when Sandberg has been appointed as a director and made it big in media. Later after putting some searching errofts in, to my very pleasant surprise in a corner I found the actual inspirational story hidden behind the ‘Facebook needed Diversity’ BS which never made it to popular media and how Facebook practically owes most of their profits to this brilliant lady.

The same case is in terms of Marissa Mayer. I read more about Marissa’s lifestyle, closet and so called ‘bitchiness’ than I did about her achievements in the popular media upon the instance of her joining Yahoo as the CEO.

On one hand where gender stereotyping is clearly being reflected in gender inequality in various careers, popular media is rather adding fuel to it than helping. We collectively need to make things better as a society. Small things like less focus on discussing how the particular woman’s last wedding was a disaster and more focus on how her presence has contributed giving the company the shape it is in, will help create a better and healthier environment for women in workforce and women in executive positions in general. And of course lesser pressure on women in terms of their appearance will help great amounts. Say what? “What do I mean by preassure in terms of appearance?” you may ask. About that in one of the next posts soon.

 

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