Sometimes I’m asked about women’s equal representation in the software industry. And someone might also ask me — what other than ethics justifies spending precious resources on making a company or a community include more women?
When I think about getting more women involved in the production of software, I think about:
- What’s the ethical thing to do
- What’s the fallout when we don’t do the ethical thing
It’s true that companies with more women in leadership make more money, and women make 80% of the consumer goods purchasing decisions in the US. But these metrics are just data we’ve collected about an unfortunate social experiment that’s resulted in a male-dominated software industry.
Ethics are about what is right and what we believe our society should aspire to. Ethics are not conclusions we draw from flawed social experiments.
Software is critical to the future of the world — from how we communicate, to how we make financial decisions, to how we elect leaders. There’s no question women should be part of our future.
So, it makes sense that…
Women should be involved equally in the means of producing software. They should be leaders, makers and decision makers in companies, board rooms and open source software communities.
Looking at the numbers, we’re not doing well when it comes to involving women in producing software. But software is important.
People who understand and create software have power.
So, let’s talk for a minute about what it’s like in a world of software production that doesn’t include women.
For me personally, my life is less rich for the lack of women. I work a lot of hours, and most of my work does not involve women on a day-to-day basis. So, I am deprived of colleagues who are women. I wish there were more. I grieve when friends leave my industry, and I feel obligated to represent women when I am just trying to do my job like any other person in the software industry.
For the software industry, we fail to meet the needs of women in the software we write and the online communities we build. Siri finds escort services, but can’t find women’s health clinics. An article about Anemia in Wikipedia stated recently that anemia is normal for women who menstruate. An editor read the articles that were cited, and updated the page to reflect what the research actually states — which is that women are not normally iron deficient or anemic, and if you are you should go to the doctor because it’s not normal and probably caused by internal bleeding!
For society, we fail to include women’s voices in decision making about what software we should create. Women are grossly underrepresented. So, largely, they do not benefit from IPOs, make decisions about marketing products or set development priorities in open source projects.
The failure is overwhelming to consider, honestly. It’s embarrassing, humiliating and humbling. Fortunately, there are many people who feel the same way working in software.
My experience has been that my community is largely comprised of people who would really like our industry to do better. And not just in an abstract sense, but be better than the rest of society in our pursuit of freedom and equality. And that gives me hope that we’ll figure it out in my lifetime.