Some articles claim it's because women aren't as technically-savvy or as interested in technology as men. Nonsense. Some articles say that women are too smart to go into a field where all the jobs are moving to India. Nonsense. Women are smart (and practical about supporting their families), but all the jobs aren't moving to India. This is especially true for network engineering. Someone has to be back here in the US to make sure the pointy-haired managers and marketing dweebs can communicate with the software sweat shops in India. Just kidding!
There's lots of work to be done and we need the women. It's crazy to tap into only 50% of the population. We face enormous challenges with digital video, virtual reality, neural prosthetics, bioinformatics, IPv4 running out addresses, BGP scalability, network security, online privacy, medical records management, energy grid modernization, and getting the inter-galactic Internet up and running.
Most of the scholarly papers, NY Times articles, etc., don't talk about the elephant in the room: the computer field hosts many men who discriminate against women. In addition, many men in the field communicate in bizarre Mars-like ways that are confusing to those of us from Venus. The field has many nice men too, of course, and many highly intelligent, hard-working and ethical men who have social skills and good grooming techniques, but it can't be denied that there's much room for improvement in the male nerd population.
I would like to give some advice to men in the computer field, especially those who say they would like to see more women in the field:
- Please bathe every day. Yes, every day. :-)
- Doing laundry can be fun. Do it early and often. Bring entertainment so it's not so boring. iPhones are good for this.
- It's OK to say "I don't know" when you don't know something.
- Don't puff yourself up into a big balloon. A lot of us women simply can't help ourselves -- we will prick the balloon and it won't be pretty.
- Don't hire your male cronies when more qualified women have inquired about the job.
- It's not OK to say, "The department would hire a woman if they could find a qualified one with nice boobs." (A colleague told me that, though he used a different word than boobs. This was in 2008, by the way. I'm not talking about the 70s here.)
- It's OK to occasionally compliment a woman on her clothes. It's not OK to comment on her clothes, hair, or earrings every single day.
- Please give us eye contact when talking to us.
- An occasional glance at the boobs is probably normal. I admit that, especially when I'm nervous, I occasionally glance below the belt. Staring is not OK, however.
- It's illegal and unethical to hire your auto mechanic buddy because you "want to give him a chance" when a qualified female engineer is vying for the work.
- It's not OK to say that women will never get ahead because too many decisions are made in the men's room. A colleague told me that. He'd be surprised at all the decisions that are made in the women's room, including the one where the women engineers decided that he's an idiot.
- Try to listen to what we say and then comment based on what you heard.
- Don't spend the entire time we're talking figuring out how you're going to refute what we said. Once in a while we actually say something right and useful.
- Please comment your code.
- We aren't competing for your job (usually). Give us a break. There's enough work to go around.
- If we ask a question, it means we are interested in having a technical discussion. Please don't reply with patronizing attempts to "help the little lady understand."
- Equal employment opportunity -- it's the law.
- Don't ask women who are in the computer field why there aren't more women. We can't explain someone else's point of view. Ask the women who aren't going into the field.
- Recruit those women who aren't going into computer fields. A lot of very smart women go into biology, chemistry, medicine, library science, criminology, and the law. Recruit them!
- It's not OK to say, "She got the job because she has sex appeal." (A colleague told me that in reference to a recent female hire who had a 4.0 grade-point average from one of the best colleges in the world, with a major in physics and a minor in computer science. He, by the way, never finished college.)
- Give credit where credit is due. You'll do a lot of your own work and it will be good. You don't need to make it look like your female colleague's work is yours.
- Please don't wear cologne. Deodorant, on the other hand, is a good thing.
- And finally, please work out at the gym. We like to look at buff guys fixing our computers. Just kidding!