Why we need more women in technology

female speech
Image: R.L.Trask and B. Mayblin (2000), Introducing Linguistics, Cambridge: Icon Books ©

Few months ago I sat in an interview panel for recruiting a system administrator at work. We interviewed two male candidates who applied for the job. Although they seem to have excellent technical skills they completely lacked soft skills. My colleagues and I tried to gear the interview towards a normal conversation but instead we were constantly faced with monologues featuring obscure tech acronyms and fancy technologies that were not even relevant for the job. I left the room in despair and at the end we decided not to hire any of them and to start the recruitment process from scratch. I remember asking my colleague: “Next time can we please shortlist at least one women?” Unfortunately we haven’t seen any female candidate so far…

I experienced first hand what the British linguist Jennifer Coates pinpoints as the difference between male and female speech. According to her studies, all-male conversations are like this:

male speech
Image: R.L.Trask and B. Mayblin (2000), Introducing Linguistics, Cambridge: Icon Books ©

Men tend to slip into monologues when talking to each other. Women tend to talk differently. All-female conversations look more like this:

female speech
Image: R.L.Trask and B. Mayblin (2000), Introducing Linguistics, Cambridge: Icon Books ©

Now think of software development. Think for example of an open source project on GitHub. Or building a complex software tool that needs to communicate with both legacy and new systems. Does it sound more like a male or female conversation?

Building software is by definition a co-operative enterprise. Software systems are so complex nowadays that need teams of software engineers with difference skills in order to be built. More importantly, these highly skilled engineers need to talk to each other. If tech teams are completely made of men, discussions will tend to slip into monologues: a single software engineer will take the lead and other voices may get ignored or unheard. Conversely, if tech teams are gender mixed, communication will improve and as a result the software will be better.

References:
Jennifer Coates (1986). Women, Men and Language: A Sociolinguistic Account of Gender Differences in Language. London: Longman.

I got inspired by a great blog post written by the Docker developer Jérôme Petazzoni.

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