Do women in technology need to just get on with it?

Two days ago Eileen Burbidge published a bit of a kick up the backside for women in technology on TechCrunch Europe. Her advice boils down to “stop making excuses and get on with it” – and her no-nonsense approach seems like the only logical one when you’re surrounded by bosses and investors who say they want more women to get involved.

The problem is that so few women are interested. They don’t want to get involved in technology or the digital economy – they’re choosing to enter other fields and not set up technical companies, and this is where the argument divides.

Eileen reports that just two of the 83 initial entrants for the recent GeeknRolla startup competition were led by women, and IT employers will always complain that so few applicants for jobs are female. Do we need to just stop being so timid? Or is this lack of interest because women are “naturally” less technical, naturally less interested and therefore just different, meaning it doesn’t really matter that they don’t choose IT? Or are there other factors at play?

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that I think it’s a bit more complex than “women just don’t want to do this.” Natasha Walter wrote a piece recently describing this approach as fatalistic. The idea goes: men and women are just different. There’s no point looking for solutions to the lack of female representation because you won’t find any. We’ve been through all this feminism stuff, women have choices now, and lots are *choosing* to stay at home and avoid the high pressure jobs, politics, the technology industry, science, the board-level positions. What else can we do? They’ve made their choices.

No doubt some natural gender differences exist, but in my opinion (which is extremely important) the similarities between the sexes are far greater, and it’s crucial to focus on these more. The fatalistic approach allows old stereotypes to go unchallenged (by the way, I’m female and I hate networking, do with that what you will), and it means we just accept things as they are without admitting that maybe they could be improved on. We don’t keep talking about it or discussing it, and anyone who does looks vaguely boring and stuck in 1978. In short, there’s no progress.

I agree that in some cases, women do need to just get on with it – they need to realise they’re good, and stop underselling themselves. I for one am definitely guilty of doing the meek and mild act, when really I should just be wearing a banner saying “I rule”. Or something. But to accept that it’s all women’s fault for not stepping up and being counted is a mistake. There are hundreds of other issues at play and not talking about them will halt progress and stop the slow but steady culture change that has got us to where we are today. So we should take Eileen’s advice and be hard on ourselves, make ourselves do stuff that’s scary and keep improving the CV, but we also need to keep aware of the social context we operate in and how we can keep pushing that forward.