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Why aren’t there more women in the digital business world?

November 6th, 2014

As I write these words on November 6 2014 [there’s a classic intro for you], the Web Summit in Dublin is about to hear a talk about the topic of the scarcity of women at such gatherings, and in the world of digital technology in general.

Coincidentally, I’m watching a webinar from the US, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, on open data and ‘the next big thing’. There’s a lot of talk about open data and emerging platforms, and the first panel featured four men and one woman.

In the second session, a woman did give the presentation, but, to the relief of the stereotype-seekers, she was dressed in shapeless jeans, shirt and jumper and messed up hair. Just like a male geek (the term will not give offence, I hope, for it is so short and handy).

I’ve been to so many conferences and hackathons, so many meetings on digital issues of interest, such as open data, and yes, females are in the minority. At a BBC-sponsored hackathon in Dublin earlier this year I handcounted the crowd of around 120, and put it at about eight to one. But why the hand-wringing? Why oh why aren’t there more women in this field?

I’ll tell you why.

By and large, the digital professional of today is a builder or engineer. And are those career paths crowded with women? No. There’s periodically an outburst of discussion and wailing about why these fields aren’t more attractive to women – which, in the case of the more physical construction jobs, is rather silly, as it’s like asking why women don’t play against men at Wimbledon. In some situations, biology is destiny.

The inconvenient truth about this whole, buoyant, borderless area is that it is going to appeal more to the areas of the brain defined as traditionally male – building, making gadgets, competing. My area of study, in cyberpsychology, was how people used and remembered material on the Web. A woosssy humanist view: not impressed, were all the keen cutting edge young digital technologists such as abound in Dublin at the RDS today. Fair enough – what I learnt was that my interests in the use and possibilities of the internet did not fit comfortably into either the monetizing or app-etizing aspects of the brave new world. For minds like mine, which could be either male or female, the interest of digital is how it changes society, politics, power and personal relationships.

But first you have to build those platforms. And like so many women, that type of work does not engage me.

But don’t just believe me, on my observations, reading and gut experience. Here’s a nice piece, with stats, from James Dempsey of Newstalk.