There have been waves of interest in women as participants and influencers in the tech industry, especially as panelists and speakers at conferences. The arguments run the gamut, some arguing that there simply aren’t as many women in tech as there are men, some claiming that conference coordinators should aim to have an equal amount of male and female speakers and panelists.
I’m wondering why this is even a debate. First, let us consider a few facts.
-Girls represented just 17 percent of Advanced Placement computer science (CS) exam-takers in 2008; that’s the lowest female representation of any AP exam.
-In 2008 women earned only 18 percent of all CS degrees. Back in 1985, women earned 37 percent of CS degrees.
-Women hold more than half of all professional occupations in the U.S. but fewer than 24 percent of all computing-related occupations.
-Only 16 percent of Fortune 500 technology companies have women corporate officers.
-A study on U.S. technology patenting reveals that patents created by mixed-gender teams are the most highly cited (an indicator of their innovation and usefulness); yet women were involved in only 9 percent of U.S. tech patents.
Obviously, there are fewer women in the tech industry than there are men. By the numbers, it seems that about 1/5th of the tech industry is female, the other 4/5’s being male. Thus, it’s true: the pool of female talent to pull from is significantly lower than the men’s techy talent pool. If speakers and panelists are the top in the field (let’s just say they’re the top 5th percentile of the industry), it’s reasonable to think that just about 1/5th of that group will be women.
Long story short, it’s slim pickin’s as far as qualified female speakers and panelists are concerned. However, that’s not to say that the female tech base isn’t an incredibly qualified group of women.
My personal thought is that the people who speak should be chosen based on their merits. Cast gender aside and pick the person who is best for the job. Of course I believe you can go half and half, getting the top women and men, without compromising quality. However, I really wish we were beyond this point, expecting that people will make the exception and cut someone else of quality out of the picture just to “level the playing field.”
If we were really to level the playing field, skill, experience and understanding would override any gender biases.
What are your thoughts?