Women in Hi-Tech
by Shelly Butcher

When speaking with those who are uninitiated in the world of hi-tech, I have heard a number of myths regarding women and the industry:

I have heard statements such as these from men and women alike, feminists and non-feminists, and rarely from hi-tech employees. They are both openly expressed and implied.

These myths have in common a stereotyped view of women, and consequently, of their place in the job market in general and in the hi-tech field in particular. Take a look at the above statements, you can probably deduce the assumptions on which they’re based:

While the above may be true of some individuals, both men and women, it is not necessarily true of most women. Men and women are more or less equal in the eyes of the law. Employers who pay female employees less than male employees for equal work and equal ability, may be prosecuted.

Yet according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, women with 16 or more years of education earned 78% of the salaries earned by their male counterparts in 1998.[1] Despite anti-discriminatory legislation, women are paid less, and often, promoted less than men. Why?

People still believe the myths. In 1996, 52% of boys and 41% of girls studied in technological tracks in Hebrew-speaking Israeli high schools.[2] Children are still getting the implied message that technology is for boys. Changing these attitudes involves efforts from both parents and schools. A US government study of female, minority, and disabled representation in science, engineering, and technology recommends specially funding programs in primary and secondary schools, as well as universities to encourage more of these under-represented populations to enter hi-tech fields.[3] As encouraging as this sounds, schools are often behind the times, and special programs often get mired in bureaucracy and lack of funding, eventually servicing only a small number of students. While the educational system catches up, parents should start making technology accessible to their children, male and female alike.

But what of women already in the job market? There are already a number of anti-discrimination laws in place, including legislation outlawing sexual harassment and dismissal as a result of pregnancy. True, a better job can be done of enforcing these laws. However, it is impossible to legislate people’s attitudes, a bigot is still a bigot, whether or not discrimination laws are enforced. On the other hand, the enforcement of discrimination laws can become exaggerated, essentially policing the workplace and creating an environment where frivolous lawsuits are commonplace.

In short, women must not rely on outside assistance to make their way in the hi-tech work force. Women must be proactive. They must educate themselves in demanding equal salaries for equal work. They must find companies with work philosophies that suit their needs in terms of balancing family and career.[4] They must overcome incidences of discrimination by proving the bigots wrong.

To do this, women must change the way they view themselves. They must perceive themselves as technologically able. Part of the reason that women are viewed as technologically ignorant is that they view themselves as such. A woman who believes she is a competent professional acts like a competent professional, and consequently, looks like one in the eyes of others.

Women who view themselves as technologically apt can better deal with the prejudice they may sometimes face. For every pointy-haired boss[5] who hires only male software developers, there is an equal or greater number of intelligent managers who hire competent professionals, regardless of gender.

Gender equality in the hi-tech field requires willpower, a positive self-image as a hi-tech professional, and the refusal to accept the self-righteous role of victim in the “battle of the sexes”. Women must discard the stereotypes they accept about themselves, replacing them with self-confidence and competence.

About the Author
Shelly Butcher is a technical writer who works in the hi-tech industry. Shelly is not a feminist.

  1. Klein, Zeev. “Average Income for Men - NIS 7,088; for Women - Only NIS 4,352”. Globes - Israel's Business Arena. March 7, 2000.
  2. Sappir, Shoshana London. “Progress in the Status of Women in Israel Since the 1995 Beijing Conference: A Feminist Perspective Submitted to the Beijing +5 Conference”. New York. June, 2000.
  3. “Land of Plenty: Diversity as America’s Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering and Technology” Summary of the report of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development. July 2000. www.nsf.gov/od/cawmset.
  4. I know several women in hi-tech, some of whom occupy managerial or executive positions, who are extremely dedicated to both their families and their careers. They arrive at work at 7:00, and leave sometime between 3 and 5pm, allowing them to put in a full day’s work and spend time with their families. Laptop computers allow these women further flexibility in terms of their work schedule. If they decide to stay home to care for a sick child, they can still get some work done if they choose.
  5. The pointy-haired boss is a character from the Dilbert comic strip, which ironically details the workplace adventures of an engineer and his co-workers. The pointy-haired boss character is notoriously bigoted and stupid. Dilbert tends to be a popular character among hi-tech professionals (see http://www.dilbert.com/).