Women in Tech – beyond the biology explanation

Women in Tech – beyond the biology explanation

We’re not surprised to see so few female coders

“Early May 2013. We must be about a hundred, gathered in front of the Free headquarters, in Paris. Age: around 20. Few girls but I’m not surprised“.
Thus starts an article written by a young lady going for the try-outs of the Tech Coding School “42”.
There are few girls in Tech whether it be in France or elsewhere. And we’re not surprised. This seems normal.

The so-called biological explanation

Quite recently, a Google employee found countless reasons to explain this. He explained how women were not equipped to make it in the Tech world. How they were biologically formatted for subordinate roles. It must have taken him some time to make this look scientific and to write it nicely. The thing is, it’s all distinguished rubbish. Because, for a true scientific analysis one can’t just rely on partial informations. And he’s omitted a whole part of the story.
Let’s take a look at some more informations, taken from other scientific studies. They might shed a new light of the subject.

Gendered beliefs are set early on

In French schools, Math/Science teachers tend to give more talking time to boys than they do to girls. Even when the latter score better. This is not done on purpose, of course. When asked, they truly believe they give each student the same talking time. It’s called bias. A boy’s point of view in Math has more value than a girl’s.
One could even wonder at the school’s role in “formatting” gender discrepancies. A recent study in the US showed that at age 5, girls and boys view intelligence as evenly distributed. At age 6, when told a story about “an very intelligent person”, both girls and boys will assume that person is a male. When presented with a game made “for really smart people” and one “for those who work really hard”, the 6-year-old girls would go for the “hard work one”. When they were 5, they went for the “intelligent one”.

The invisible skill for Tech: talent.

Maybe it’s not just school. Parents are more likely to google “is my son gifted?” than “is my daughter gifted?“. Even though intelligence is evenly distributed, 2/3 of the members at Mensa (high IQ society) are men. Men assume they are gifted and go for the Mensa tests a lot more than women.
What are the initial skills required to make it in Tech? Primarily Science and Math. What prerequisites are associated with success in these subjects? Oddly enough, not hard work but innate talent. The “knack for it“, the mind for numbers. The French say “the Math bump”. When success at a subject is said to require talent, do you think girls will go for it when they already doubt their intelligence at age 6?

No talent, no Tech ?

It’s no wonder there are few girls in coding schools. Not that they are intellectually unprepared for it. But they are formatted, very early on, to doubt their abilities. When browsing through the “Women of the FrenchTech” articles that talk about family background, few say they went against their parent’s will. One comes from a family of female engineers, others had parents who never doubted their abilities. And they made it in Tech. Surprised?
What if we told girls the truth? No-one knows coding or mecanical engineering at birth. It’s not a God-given talent (although some may be better at this than others). Coding is downright hard work. There is no male gene for Tech. But girls, just the same as boys, need to be encouraged and have parents/teachers/employers/colleagues who believe in them. Just as they would of men.

Letting go of the “good woman” status

When a girl is quiet, soft-spoken and interested in dolls, she is a good girl. When a girl enjoys playing outside with a ball, is a natural leader, is interested in science, she is labeled a “tomboy”. Do you know what the translation of “tomboy” is in French? It’s “failed boy”. A boy who fails is a girl. A girl is de facto inferior. In order to make it to top positions in the Tech world, women must first accept to be tagged either as failing the good woman status or being a lesser man. Is it so surprising that they don’t rush to meet that standard?
Let us take all this into consideration when we talk about “Women in Tech”. It’s not biology. It’s early conditionning. And maybe, if we change both boys and girls gendered beliefs, we will be surprised. Surprised to see so many girls are in coding schools and thriving in Tech.