“That Tech Girl Talk session? Seems pretty hot,” wrote Gene Marks in his article “The 56 Things You’ll Likely Overhear at Philly Tech Week” on this website. While the author was clearly attempting to satirize the event, this part missed the mark.
With that one line he brought to light what is wrong with so many technology events and conferences around the world. First, the statement is clearly from a man’s point-of-view, as if they are the only people attending Tech Week events. Worse, it marginalizes the involvement of women, not only with Philly Tech Week but also within the technology community, by reducing it to a visual spectacle.
For four generations, women have been cut, prodded, and dissuaded from the technology picture. The first computer programmers on the ENIAC — women who lived and worked right here in Philadelphia — were simply cropped out of the Army’s publicity shots. In the 1980s, the percentage of women studying computers in college began its decades-long decline. We can’t forget the first Danica Patrick ad for GoDaddy in 2010, though I wish I could. “Hot” was the word many used to describe it, not coincidentally.
There is an economic reality to this conversation that is far too important to overlook: The number of job openings versus the number of qualified tech workers is widening. The Department of Labor forecasts that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million new information technology job openings in the United States. Our universities are expected to produce only enough qualified graduates for 29 percent of these job openings, leaving 71 percent unfilled. At the same time, a recent study showed that women are leaving technology companies at twice the rate of men. Some of the reasons cited were corporate culture, work/life balance, and lack of advancement. There are not enough men to fill open jobs, particularly here in Philadelphia, but the current environment doesn’t invite women to fill them either.
Not all technology departments, workplaces or events are welcoming but the organizers of Philly Tech Week and the Philly Women in Tech Summit on April 12th are trying to change that with a Code of Conduct and other efforts. In a recent interview (also on this website), Technically Philly’s Chris Wink said, “… Philadelphia genuinely is a community that's among the leaders nationally about inclusivity.” But that message was lost in Mr. Marks’ article. It’s not a stretch to think women readers could perceive it is just another tech guys conference where women are there to be “hot.”
The only way to maximize the value of the untapped resource that is women in tech is to change the culture not just in the workplace, but also in society. For more than a decade, I’ve been working in technology and studying this problem up close, which is how I came to realize there is no one silver bullet to this issue. The solution involves many steps and many people pitching in — beginning with this response.
Women must stand up for ourselves when we see, hear, or read something that reinforces the attitude that we are not equal members in the technology community. I invite Mr. Marks to join us by changing #31 on his list to “There’s a whole day dedicated to women in tech? Awesome!”