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Women in Technology: A Quick Observation and a Quick Straw Poll

A bit of background:  Those aren’t grand daughters of the Clampetts in the picture at right.  Those are my three daughters and three stepdaughters, all of whom I want to inherit the world – as little or as much as they want to take hold of.  (I already talked a bit about this in a post on my personal, family blog.  Be warned, it’s all boring family photos and such).  Enabling them to have all of the choices and opportunities that are open to my son is a big motivating factor in my life.  So many years ago, when several PASS volunteers wanted to start doing more to build a community of support for women in technology, I was an ardent supporter.  And as president of PASS, I was able to do a tiny bit to help move WIT forward.  Now, as I travel around speaking at various other conferences and events, I always try to sit in on the Women in Technology (WIT) sessions when I can.

A while back at a SQL Saturday in Indianapolis, I was enjoying the WIT panel discussion listening to the panelists discuss their  upbringing and how they became a success in the field of technology.  Their stories were, in some ways, similar.  They were smart.  They weren’t scared of math.  They had an important mentor who supported them and encouraged them that they could accomplish any goal.  They endured struggles such as financial hardship that, while difficult to overcome, also refined their desire to become successful in their careers.  Some of the women who had to deal with men of the previous generation even had to overcome blatant chauvinism.

But then another similarity among the panelists, just a hunch really, struck me.  I had to ask, to confirm my idea. “How many of you were a bit of loner or at least weren’t heavily influenced by your friends’ opinions before your professional career?  Because with my own daughters, it’s their friends who they want to please.  And they’d punt right away if their friends teased them about being good at math, or choosing a technical career, or anything else I can think of for that matter.”

It was pretty much unanimous.  All of the panelists were loners or had a very small social circle during their formative years.  Now perhaps I’m speaking from an inaccurate assumption, but most of my daughters are tight with their friends.  And friends mean a lot to them, perhaps more than any other aspect of their social lives (like their family).  So if their friends tell them that being interested in technology will “geekify” them, then they’d drop it like a hot potato.

So I wanted to put this question out to my female friends in the IT world.  Were you in a big circle of friends during your developing years?  What importance did you place on their opinions?  Did they give you any flack for going in to IT or doing well in technology related classes?

It seems like the days of overt chauvinism are behind us here in the US.  But I wonder if we need to start earlier with our daughters among their own peer groups to support them for a future in technology.




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Posted by ahperez on 30 August 2011

Such an interesting insight. Yes, I was a loner in my teens. I also took great pride in doing things differently than my peer group, being counter-culture. Today I wear the label Geek Girl proudly and my friends and family often describe me this way.

Posted by Kevin Kline on 2 September 2011

Yes, the early generations of WIT struggled with outright chauvinism.  But it seems like our younger generations (and I'm thinking of my own daughters) are held back as much by their peers at least as much as the boys are, if not more.  Several women I've spoken with have said their friends were boys.

But all the WIT I've talked with so far have said that other girls were a non-existent or very small part of their social circles.  Those who did have a lot of girl friends had friends who were also technophiles.

Very interesting!

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