Why Do Men Still Dominate the Technology Sector?

by Lindsay Munro

Why are there so many more men than women working in technology? This is a question with no definitive answer, yet there seems to be no lack of speculating.

While men may have a physical advantage in many industries in which they represent the majority, that just isn’t the case in technology. Theories around intellectual advantages also haven’t held up, which points to socially constructed obstacles and deterrents being the cause.

Cassie McDaniel, a graphic designer at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, recently led an initiative to launch a website dedicated to profiling 50 female leaders in technology called Women&&Tech. With the help of a group of volunteers (half of which are men), McDaniel is on a mission to make tech culture better for women.

“It is perhaps less about the male to female ratio and more about creating a fair space for people in all minorities,” said McDaniel. “More compassion and empathy for other people’s perspectives is key to making the tech space better for everyone.”

Motivated by cases of discrimination and sexism in tech, McDaniel came up with Women&&Tech in an effort to see real change. Through these interviews, she hopes to gain a better understanding of the challenges women face throughout their career on the way up the ladder in the technology industry.

“I wanted to dig deep into topics around women in tech, to understand them better, and to try to make a difference in a new way,” said McDaniel. “There are few outlets for women to tell their stories and we want to help fix that.”

While McDaniel acknowledges that there are many excellent women in tech organizations in Toronto and beyond, she felt that Women&&Tech would bring something new to the table.

“It’s too easy to brush these gender issues aside because they are told in a script font or swathed in pink or they are simply highlighting the same story we’ve heard 100 times,” she explained. “We want to make sure we tell personal, inspiring stories in a way that is thoughtfully designed.”

Women&&Tech has had an open call for nominations for some time now, getting the message out via Twitter, word of mouth, email and through groups like Girl Geeks Toronto, Women in Tech Toronto and Ladies Learning Code.  The women chosen to be featured on the site are a combination of high-profile and emerging professionals working in technology. Each of the interviewees falls into four main categories - developers, designers, entrepreneurs and other (academics, marketers and multi-disciplinary).

“It always helps young women to have role models to look up to be able to envision what’s possible for their future,” posited McDaniel. “We need more women willing to step into the limelight to be those role models.”

Not all the stories being told by the women interviewed are that of sexism and discrimination. “We've spoken to some women who have faced challenges in their careers because they are a woman, others who feel they haven't faced any particular burdens whatsoever because of their gender,” she said. “It’s important to be honest about that.”

One of the most important parts of the process, from nomination to publication, is exploring the stories being told and sharing the journey with others.

What gave McDaniel the extra push to get started on Women&&Tech was FITC’s annual initiative which provides complimentary conference tickets to female digital creators who demonstrate their creativity.  McDaniel did up the design for a basic app that was intended for a directory of females in tech. “I released those designs under Creative Commons licensing hoping someone else would take the project and run with it,” she explained. “Several groups of people were interested, so I connected them and we are now Women && Tech.”

The group decided not to build an app straight away and instead interview 50 women to better understand the problem they could solve using technology. In the future, McDaniel hopes to compile all of the stories and contacts from Women&&Tech to create an app that connects women with conference and event organizers, mentors, journalists and each other.

So is it a lack of role models, opportunities and general interest or gender-based stereotypes which run deep? Again, it’s a complex issue with no definitive solution.

“One of the things I think we can change that contributes to this is how we speak about women, what we applaud them for, what young women see us applauding them for, and what we encourage women to pursue in their careers,” affirmed McDaniel. “I think there definitely needs to be a shift in how we recognize the achievements of women. Something as simple as replacing ‘You look great’ with ‘You do great work.’”

So when will the conversation about where all the women in tech are end? Marissa Mayer climbed the ranks of Google and then became CEO at Yahoo and it was regarded as a remarkable feat for a woman; the conversation around women in tech will likely end when Mayer’s story isn’t so remarkable on account of her gender.

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Lindsay Munro

Lindsay Munro

Lindsay has an undying interest in emerging technologies and a talkative nature which fuels her passion for social networking platforms. Always willing to try out a platform once, Lindsay spends a lot of time researching and experimenting with the next big thing online. At work, Lindsay is a digital communications strategist for Kanetix, a web-based company that provides comparative insurance,... more

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