There is an interesting article up at ComputerWorld discussing a research project recently published in Harvard Business Review on the high levels of attrition amongst women in technology and science fields. I have often found myself thinking about this topic, as I know a large number of women in technology, most of whom have been in their fields for quite some time. The article states that one of the factors leading to women leaving technology companies (or even the field altogether) is that machismo and misogynistic attitudes permeate these fields; I'd have to agree somewhat with that. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've been met with skepticism or outright derision when joining a project as a senior technical person, or seen the blatant expressions of surprise register on someone's face when I prove that I know not only what I'm doing, but how to do it extremely well. I'll admit that some of that skepticism may derive from my perceived age; I've been told countless times that I look much younger than I am, and once, when I told someone that I have been working with Notes, Domino, etc. for over 12 years, they replied, "did you start when you were a kid?" But since I've seen that same skepticism applied to other female colleagues, even those who are older or more well-known in their technical areas of expertise than I am, I feel that it may be due to some inherent gender bias still hovering around the technology field, the "girls can't do computers" line of thinking that seems so antiquated to many but still manages to persistently stick around.
Other reasons the authors of the study give for women leaving or being dissatisfied with careers in technology or science include isolation - being the only woman on a team or project or sometimes even in an entire department or floor - and lack of mentoring. I've also found these factors to exist, the former moreso than the latter (at least in my personal experience). However, they bother me less than gender bias does. I have often found myself to be the only woman in a group of colleagues, but I've never found it to be in any way inappropriate or isolating - perhaps I've just been lucky to have the groups of coworkers that I've been fortunate enough to work with. As for mentoring, I don't have a preference as to which gender a mentor is, as long as they can give me information and guidance that is appropriate to my career. I can see how those factors could affect women in science and technology careers, however.
Whatever the reason, it saddens me to see women leave technology and science, because many women do excel in those fields, and because I want to see my daughter's generation grow up seeing that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. (Which brings us back to the mentoring point - which could be a factor in women choosing not to even enter science or technology fields at all.) I hope that one day, we can all overcome our biases and have true equality for women in the workplace.
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