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.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Kev

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Comments

  1. Small number of friends, most of whom were more geek than I was.

    One I used to swap StarTrek tapes with and discuss, debate and dissect the episodes with. She’s now an actuary somewhere in the US. Another friend who wasn’t fond of computers but loved reading. She’s now a research librarian

  2. Up until high school I was very much a loner. In high school I had a tight circle of friends – but they were all geeks, and almost all guys. I agree that we need to start with girls social groups and take the nerdiness out of geek work.

  3. I’ve battled a little with my 9 year old girl and even my 6 year old boy. My girl is great at math and enjoys it and, so far, has had no trouble with her friends (but her friends are also high achievers at school). It would seem to depend on the circle of friends as to how early you encourage (not that it’s ever too early to encourage growth where ability exists). My son, however, has already faced challenges (not math or science relate, but it speaks to the peer pressure problem) of wearing sandals…since boys don’t wear girls’ shoes. Regardless of what the focus is, WIT or encouraging children, we need to be concious of our children, their abilities, and what we can do to encourage them to have positive self image no matter where their interests lie. This won’t start when a daughter comes home with a good math test score but should be evaluated much more often, say like when we work on homework together. If we’re going to help children break long standing societal molds then we’ve got to be more interested and involved in it much earlier in their lives, if it’s WIT or sandal wearing boys.

    Maybe a visit to the new MLK monument in DC is in order, it seems that equality doesn’t stop/start at racial lines.

  4. Kathy Greene says:

    I had a small circle of friends in high school. I only remember one friend making negative comments about my knowledge: adv English & vocabulary – I tried to use the new vocabulary that I was learning in class but my friend complained that she didn’t always understand me. Other influence was parents – “No, you don’t really want to do that…” Getting into technology was more a result of the secretarial job I had in a tech. company and realizing that as a single woman a secretary’s salary wasn’t enough that I could afford to buy a home! That’s when I started college. My employer allowed me to continue working while going to school. I switched to computers after changing jobs (same employer) about halfway through college (and that decision was based on my new job).

    And yes, I was good at math.

  5. Kathi Kellenberger says:

    Hmmm, never thought about it before, but I was someone who loved bucking the trends. It was important to me to be unique. I had some close friends, but I think that peer pressure was not as bad back then. My daughter, now a chemist, would hide the fact that she was good at science and math to impress boys as needed. But, that didn’t stop her from having a great career.

  6. Interesting premise that I hadn’t considered before either. I had a relatively small circle of friends, but I was also involved in very outgoing activities with large groups (drill team and choir) despite the fact that I would have told you that I was painfully shy. (Shocking, I know, but true!) I did grow up in unusual circumstances – with both parents in IT and in the heart of the space industry in Houston, so all my friends were the children of engineers, astronauts, and programmers. We certainly had the jock crowd at my school, but the geek crowd was pretty substantial, too! 🙂 We had plenty of girls on the math team. That was back in slide rule days. How far we’ve come!

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