Women in tech and the false battle of positive discrimination

It seems that nowadays you can’t scroll down your Facebook page without bumping into a “tech for women” themed event. And it’s not just events, it’s competitions, seminars, scholarships and all sorts of activities. Now I get the whole feminine tech movement if you’d call it that. I am all for it in countries like the US, where it makes perfect sense, but I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with it in my country of Tunisia where most engineers and university researchers are women.

Importing problems

I think it’s a misguided attempt to clone a problem that isn’t ours into our system. I don’t have my hands on official statistics, but evidently, women are present in spades, both in tech universities and tech companies. In my short career, I worked in multiple companies ranging from small agencies to a large multinational and it’s the same thing everywhere: There’s a staggering difference between the number of men and women, and it’s not the men that are coming on top.

So what is it exactly that we’re fighting here? To call things by their names, this is a well known western culture problem. The US, in particular, is suffering to get more women in STEM programs. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), women comprise 48 per- cent of the U.S. workforce but just 24 percent of STEM workers. That’s a number that justifies the whole movement. But in Tunisia, It’s a completely different story, and I’ll tell you why.

More jobs in tech

Technology is known as the field that has the most job opportunities and everyone, women included, knows that. That’s why female high school graduates are likely to choose a path in technology for the sole reason that it’s more likely to get them a job. It’s just a smart investment -if you encourage that type of smart. Whether they like it or not, that’s a whole different conversation, a conversation in which I argue that men also don’t choose this field any more willingly that women, mostly that is.

So why all the hype if the problem isn’t real? let me swing two reasons by you: because funding exists and because it’s just good business.

An abundance of funding

It’s no secret that almost all these programs are funded by American, German, or some kind of western institutions. I’m not one bit a conspiracy theorist. I think they are genuinely attempting to have a crack at the problem. I’m just arguing that they don’t seem to recognize that this problem doesn’t exist in Tunisia, or is misrepresented at best.

It’s just good business

For anybody that ever worked for any type of association, we know that funding is one of the biggest challenges. So for someone that wants to carve out a name for themselves in NGOs, making an initiative in this space is a great move because the money is there for the taking.

On the other hand, the organizations that fund these programs are also doing good business by associating themselves with such a noble and progressive cause that they can export worldwide for good karma and publicity.

The positive discrimination take

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means something like this: We have more men in tech, so let’s now focus on women more until they can catch up. It’s discrimination, but it’s for a reason. It’s a widely implemented economical measure in countries that suffer from centralized economies. In those cases, regions that suffered from marginalization for decades, get a budget bump at the expense of luckier regions, not as an apology or a payoff, but because we recognize that those regions have unexplored potential that deserves to be nourished, not to forget giving justice to those people that have been underserved. Sounds legit right? It is. But that’s not the case.

It’s a step in the wrong direction

Do you know what I call a woman in tech? I call her an engineer, a technician, a professor, a researcher, a scientist. There is no such thing as a woman techmaker (sorry Google). I think that making the difference between genders in the most gender agnostic profession that can ever exist, is not only uncalled for, but even hurting women on a psychological level. The idea that they’re different, that they need handholding and someone to help them along the way. That’s so not true.

The greatest software developers have all been real geeks making cool things in their rooms without anybody helping. Seducing women with scholarships and grants and women exclusive events where everyone gets a participation trophy is really missing the point. People ought to have space where they can make their decisions themselves. Now, you can argue that a man is more likely to thrive on their own because they do have a computer in their room and they were encouraged to use it from the get-go. That’s an old idea and we really need to let it go because it’s not true anymore and it hasn’t been for a decade.

Malicious use

Women’s problem is the fact that they have long been underserved, used and manipulated by a man's world. I think that this is one other attempt to do the same thing, but perhaps unconsciously. When reputations built on being a person involved in teaching technology to girls starts getting you points and social status, you have to start asking questions as to why so many of these initiatives are suddenly popping up.

Moreover, it has been firmly established that women tend to be the best employees in general because of their lesser willingness to negotiate salaries, the fact that they tend to work harder and more consistently. You can only then start to question the reason why we want more women in tech: Is it because we believe in the benefits of a gender diverse workplace or because we’re looking for more manageable, more compliant workers that are not as likely to be promoted to managerial positions. Now that’s an issue that deserves more attention in my opinion

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