Where Have All the Women Gone?

Sometime around 1980 LAUSD opened it’s first computer magnet. My mother ran the computer lab. She didn’t have much in the way of a budget for networking but she did have kids. Mom and my brother spent weekends “making the phone talk to the computer” and ultimately networked with an elementary school in Russia where they video conferenced.

To give this all context AOL launched in 1983.

We know there’s a dearth of women in programming, engineering, math and other sciences and academics often try to explain why. Sandberg asks us all to Lean In, I’m not convinced that explains much. Marissa Meyer is a C level fashionista who declines maternity leave and is alternately seen as a heroine or nemesis by feminists. Neither woman is particularly relevant to my life as a freelancer so I find myself distant from those conversations.

I do work in tech and most often I work with and for men. I love when I’m hired by a woman because there’s a particular joy for me in knowing that women are reaching managerial levels and have budgets to include me. I am then saddened that I find it odd that women are at these levels. I love all that WITI (Women in Technology International) has to offer. I am disheartened that we need women’s groups.

This morning I went to a meeting at Alexander’s school. They’re creating a new technology curriculum and have formed a parent committee to advise. I showed up to a room full of men and was shocked. We’re talking about a K-8 school. At it’s most advanced an elementary tech curriculum will include creating a basic website using some HTML and full use of the Office Suite. Middle school is different. By middle school the kids should be exploring and finding ways to break and repair both their computers and it’s software, but I often find myself alone in believing those are good uses of time and resources.

In a school where upwards of 90% of the communication is handled via a website or email I find it curious that women aren’t interested in how technology will be implemented. Are we naturally end users? Is the gala just more interesting? I’m also the room parent at this school and have been for a number of years. I’ve never seen a father be a room parent yet we cannot call ourselves “Room Mom”.

Sometimes I feel like there are wars to be waged around girls and STEM. Booth Babes are disappearing from conferences (thank goodness) and women are rising in the ranks (not en masse but they are rising).

There is no such thing as a job without technology. I don’t care if you’re a doctor, ditch digger, interior designer or a stay at home parent. Technology has invaded our lives for better and for worse. I’m wondering what it is about the XX’s that makes us believe we aren’t interested and I’m deeply concerned that someone will tell my daughter she shouldn’t be.


Comments 5

  1. Jessica,

    You raise some good questions. I would recommend reading a little about Maria Klawe, and what has been going on at Harvey Mudd College (relatively close to your own backyard), especially some of her thoughts about the imposter syndrome (and how “It’s just normal for males to overestimate their success and for women to worry that they don’t deserve to be where they are.”) :




  2. I wonder if this “no girls in tech” mentality starts at a really young age. The only tech gadgets I’ve seen marketed directly for girls 3years and up at your favorite retailer are cell phone accessories for dolls, or ipad-like devices with apps where one can dress up paper dolls in new outfits. I’m no toy expert, but I am an observant shopper. If someone would like to prove me wrong, I’m all ears (and eyes).

    Remember Fujitsu’s laptop marketed for women? It featured apps for scrapbooking, recipes, and horoscopes – plus it came in pink, white, and something I feel like was called Luxury Brown. Three colors plus sparkles on the power button, ya’ll! It’s been a while so I’m fuzzy on the details here, but Fujitsu was all (paraphrasing, of course) “Hold the iron, ladies! Look at this lady laptop we made for you, by YOU, because we hired lady tech engineers. Women in STEM 4Life!” I remember wondering what man gave these women orders to make a lady laptop and then was all no, no, no, we don’t want it to be like the laptops men use – put some sparkles on it and make it easy for women to use without chipping their manicures.

    Like you said, technology is in every job. Sheryl Sandberg’s message/advice, and Marissa Mayer’s decisions to raise her child are publicly scrutinized because they are leaders and they are women. But instead of us saying “yes, that’s one way to do it”, we’re saying “you’re not doing it right”. A personal leadership philosophy is made up of the pieces and parts that are right for each person – no one woman or man should be held to task for making a mold.

    I don’t worry that there won’t be women in tech, because there always will be (see ENIAC, the first general computer and read about six of its first programmers – women), and like you point out we’re taking steps and making progress. Though I will cede that the journey is not far from over. What I worry about is someone telling my daughter HOW she should be in tech and what she should like. How she should balance a career and family (if she chooses) according to what looks good to the rest of us. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a pink anything, and there’s nothing wrong with leaning in or taking a short maternity leave and building a nursery off the side of your C-suite office if that works for you. It is wrong to assume girls and women alike want technology that makes our perceived interests easily accessible through recipe boxes and photo albums managed in the cloud.

    So thank you for writing this and for stepping in to the new program around tech curriculum at your son’s school, because you can change archaic mindsets. And I want to give thanks to your mom for putting in work on the weekends in the name of innovation and tech.

  3. 4zYR Last years I would be down on money and debits were eating me from everywhere!! that was Right Until i decided to make money on the Internet! I went to surveymoneymaker period net, and started doing surveys for money, and really, i have been greatly more able to pay my bills!! i’m glad, that I did this! – dL7

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