A new audience for tech's gender debate

Facebook engineers Erin Summers and Zainab Ghadiyali created ‘Wogrammer’, a portmandu of ‘woman’ and ‘programmer’ to publicise women in technical roles. The movement, described by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to ‘break stereotypes by highlighting women's technical accomplishments, not just their gender’, could be seen as an anticrisis to tackle male-dominated Silicon Valley. Media attention towards technical women has grown with the introduction of startup culture but still remains largely unaddressed outside of the space. This year’s UCAS applications saw 85% of computer science/engineering places awarded to male students, suggesting many female students see technical courses the reserve of male classmates. DJ Alice Levine’s BBC series ‘Girls Can Code’ presented five young women from different backgrounds but united in their limited experience with technology. The programme emphasised that it remains common for technical roles to be perceived the domain of men. One participant expressed concern that a lack of intelligence would prevent her from exploring a career in tech and unfortunately, the majority of the group were of the same opinion. As a digital marketer working on the periphery of tech, I have a strong awareness of systems and programming languages. When you are surrounded by technical colleagues it is easy to forget that writing code is still not considered the norm outside of the sphere. A substantial amount of my male friends are developers but I do not have a single female friend within the role. I fear the women in the BBC programme are speaking for the masses, with many believing technical positions are harder than they actually are to break into. The ‘women in tech’ movement has been successful in highlighting female role models within the tech space. It is now widely acknowledged (and celebrated) that women are present in the technical teams of some of the world’s most influential companies; however, the majority of messages do not filtrate outside of the industry. This barrier does little to erode socio-gender stereotypes and resistance to traditionally male roles. Programming is quickly becoming a must-have for the next generation and we will see an increase in technical equality as a result of coding in schools and initiatives such as Barclays’ Code Playground. Technical skills are being promoted to both sexes at a young age, enabling all students to view a career in tech as obtainable. As equality within the tech space is further publicised, the gap between the sexes will begin to close naturally.

Whilst awareness of equality is paramount, the ‘Wogrammer’ movement appears to offer a gendered solution for a gender issue. I think we are at the point where women within the tech space are largely accepted and respected. If the industry is not there already, we are incredibly close to acknowledging that technical people can take the form of women or men. We should be amplifying the message of gender equality to the external world instead of analysing the ratio of the sexes to individuals already within the space. We should be encouraging talented individuals to further push technological development, regardless of gender. The ratio of men versus women should be irrelevant if both sexes are given the same visibility to the educational and vocational opportunities within the industry. When we are educating the sexes equally and hiring for talent, that is when we have solved the gender issue. Consciously employing women programmers in attempt to ‘balance the figures’ is as much a prejudice as rejecting a developer on gender.

‘Wogrammer’ is just one of many a tech portmandu populating vocabulary in recent months. According to Google, a ‘brogrammer’ is a seemingly frat-like developer who thrives on jagerbombs and banter. Reference to the term often alludes to the ‘brogrammer’ as a sexist, beer ponging jock who occasionally partakes in a midweek hackathon. Highlighting the importance of sex with prefix ‘bro’ or ‘wo’, projects the importance of gender within the industry. The ‘wogrammer’ programme has great intentions and the creators have a real point with what they are looking to highlight but I personally believe it would have been more effective as a gender-inclusive movement. Zainab Ghadiyali was quoted in a Huffington Post article asking: ‘Would anyone mention a male CEO's family or hobbies in an article about his company?’ Whilst I understand the point Ghadiyali is making, lifestyle articles are a highly effective way to showcase technical careers. As readers, we also have to think about the context of an article, the publication it is featured within and what the audience is looking for.

It would be short sighted to overlook the presence of lifestyle pieces in men’s magazines, often within the same style as those targeted towards a female demographic. Vogue magazine’s December 2014 article ‘How Pintrest engineer Tracey Chou is breaking the Silicon Valley ceiling’ explored the shortfall of female engineers within a lifestyle piece. For the magazine’s readership, the inclusion of technology was well suited. If Chou had’ve been interviewed for Tech Insider, I would have expected a different tone and slant on the story but she was being interviewed for Vogue, one of the world’s most respected fashion and lifestyle publications. The article had a focus on Chou’s profession as an engineer for social platform Pintrest but unsurprisingly had reference to fashion and lifestyle. Vogue’s demographic is well-educated women and the majority will be familiar with the idea of a software developer but without extensive knowledge on the subject. We need to remember that people buy publications like Vogue because they are looking for lifestyle entertainment. Vogue magazine is a fantastic publication to be spreading the inclusion of both sexes within the tech industry. Unfortunately, we seem to be caught up in a cycle where professional women are having to act androgynous to be respected. Why are we facilitating a society with such dated and sexist expectations? If both sexes are celebrated for skill (regardless of preference for feminine/ androgynous hobbies or appearance) we will have a talented workforce and inclusive society.

To facilitate an inclusive society we need to encourage individuals  pursuing both ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ lifestyles. Whilst gender-neutral existence is rightly accepted, we should not be ostracizing individuals enjoying ‘gender-traditional’ activities. We should not be condemning a successful woman for being interested in fashion or beauty any more than we would a man. As an individual I am a female interested in all things digital, I have a great interest in programming and am always learning how to further develop the areas I know. I am also a fashion girl; I grew up reading glossy magazines and streaming videos of fashion week. I am an oxymoron of gender preferences. Vogue magazine was right to include Chou’s hobbies within their segment in the same style as any other career featured. Chou is an embodiment of a professional women who can achieve highly, a message we should certainly be amplifying to the masses.

It seems an increasing number of women are condemning others for their choice of lifestyle and unfortunately, it is often far harder for women to fight against their own gender. Only when we embrace an inclusive attitude will everyone be credited on skill and the gender divide close. It would be a shame if in a race for equality, we began condemning those whose hobbies aligned with traditional gender expectations. Women in tech have already raised awareness towards the promotion of equality within the industry, the next step is amplify enough to inform the masses.