Sue Black is one of the UK’s best known campaigners for more women in technology, and she says it’s time for men to stand up and be counted when it comes to women at work.
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Things have moved on from 20 years ago – more men now understand the rationale behind the women in technology debate. They get that we’re not saying all IT staff should be women (that would be just as unpalatable as the seas of masculine suits that currently greet us at most conferences), but that mixed teams are a better idea for everyone: they’re more fun, and the number of ideas (or solutions to problems) floating about increases as diversity does.
Sue said, “Now is the time to make it about all of us, rather than just about women. Twenty years ago there weren’t enough men on board but now there are. We really need men talking about it. It’s a problem for all of us.
“In the past people would assume I wanted there to be only women in technology and no men. That’s wrong – I want a balance. I wouldn’t want to work in an all-female environment, the same as I don’t want to work in an all male one. You want different people, not everyone having a similar mindset.”
More men speaking up might help boost the current glacial pace of change on women at work. A report from the Women and Work Commission said the proportion of women in science, engineering and technology is not expected to reach 50% this century, with current levels at 18.5%. It’s not just up to women to change things – it’s up to men, who, for the most part, are the ones in positions powerful enough to change workplace cultures and implement new policies. It’s difficult for some men to realise why so many male dominated teams pose a problem for women, and how covert sexism continues to affect them. It would help to have both male and female voices explaining things if the opportunity arises, because it makes it much harder to brush it aside or pretend it’s just women complaining about nothing.
Until men are fully on board with the need for more equality in technology workplaces things won’t change. It remains to be seen if those men who already understand the argument, and recognise the problem, will actually start talking about it on public platforms. This is an issue that affects everyone – it’s not a niche problem that affects only women. Men may not feel the effects of a monochrome culture quite so directly, but they do lose out. Hopefully a few more will start to agree that it’s no longer just down to women to keep bashing on about this.