“Millie ji aap wordpress rehne deejiye, aap creative keejiye”, said the men in my office (male CTO, male coder, male app designer). It took me a while to even comprehend the level of bias we women were up against. Even as a CEO, I was seen as fit for girly creative jobs while I was being asked to leave the seemingly core ‘tech’ work to the men. So here I was, someone who had assembled her own PCs, upgraded the RAMs, ‘pulsed’ audiovisuals in the 90s before we moved to the ‘non-linear’, yet here I was, pretty much told to not worry my pretty little head over technology tasks.
Did I mention that I was the co-founder of the social media arm of a digital agency? And yet, why was a simple template website such a daunting task?
Had I become conditioned to think that tech is not my thing, or was I, as a gender, not wired to tech? Why is there, a dearth of women CTOs, a glass ceiling in the tech C-suite. The only real biological wiring I found, is this study on gender differences that showed that in children between age 3 months to 13 years, girls were better at ‘effortful control’ while boys were better at high-intensity pleasure tasks (think, gaming). If, beyond this, there is no gender difference in tech-relevant traits, then how come we see more men in tech-jobs?
A possible answer to why more men than women tend to choose tech careers could lie in their interest levels itself. Research shows a sex disparity in occupational interests; that is, males are more interested in ‘things’ while females are interested in ‘people’. This disparity in interest may be the real reason for the gendered occupational choices and for the gender disparity in careers, especially in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields.
There is a mental image we hold of a techie and that needs to be changed. Firstly, this makes women assume that this job is going to be boring. Secondly, some of them fear that they may not be successful at STEM field careers. Thirdly, and finally, they might end up seeing such fields as ones of individual intense things to do, as opposed to jobs that are about managing and making a difference, jobs that entail people-interaction.
Also notice, how young girls play with dolls, seeking a more caring / nurturing career interest that entails human interaction, while young boys play with video games and lego which entail less teamwork and more high-intensity individual effort. This kind of conditions their minds, they also see different sex parents doing different roles and rationalise it by saying that mummy does this and daddy does that; they pick up those stereotypes too.
So what is the solution? How do we prevent these disparities from arising in the first place? Firstly, start early – help little girls develop an interest in math and music. How about putting your little girl in a robotics class? Show them that being an astronaut or an engineer is as interesting or amazing, as say, being an artist. Secondly, challenge their creativity and their problem-solving ability in high school and college too. Let them know how tech has a big impact on their lives and careers, what is the economic potential of an engineering or a technology career. Let females know about STEM career options. According to a study Penn Schoen and Berland, of the teenagers who considered becoming engineers, 74% did so only after they were told about economic benefits of being one and the difference it could make to the world. Thirdly, once women are employed in tech jobs encourage diversity to give them an equal chance to become the CTO. And lastly, encourage that they take mentorship from someone; preferably a woman J for it takes a woman to understand what another woman goes through. It’s time to let girls know about becoming engineers and coders!
Millie Khanna turns businesses around through compelling storytelling. She is the founder of a 360-degree marketing and advertising agency called The Talespinners. Recipient of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 women scholarship and the Cherie Blair Foundation mentorship, Millie’s 19-year-experience in emerging markets has been across 35mm film, TV, radio, web, social media and UX. She is an international speaker on digital communication & champions women entrepreneurship.