Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sorry, Men Are Not Technology Wizards

As long as there was an ability to do anything, there has been a debate about which gender is better at it. Humans love nothing better than a simple explanation, and nothing is much simpler than an age old gendered competition.

The latest iteration of this drama is possibly the "women in tech" debate, in which everyone is gathering to explain the gender disparity in the workforce.

One vocal person in this debate is a one Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos is undeniably an interesting character - when not opining about women in tech, he finds the time to use stereotypes of cishet men to troll the insecurities of cishet women by writing of a coming "sexodus", a John Galt like departure of men caused by distasteful feminism and attractive sexbots.

Milo definitely has interesting ideas about women and feminism - but it is wrong to denounce him for being intentionally provocative. Such silencing criticism would undeniably be the evil "tone trolling", a crime worse than being a prankster.

Sexodus aside, Milo wrote an article in July titled: "14 Facts the 'Women in tech' Movement Doesn't Want You To Know".

The article contains many truths, but there are a few points that sound much like many other criticisms of 'women in tech' that needs further exploration.

Specifically the points -
"Most Women Aren’t Interested In Tech, And They Never Will Be" (#2)
"Women’s Brains Aren’t As Well Suited To Programming As Men’s" (#3)
Diehard latest generation feminists will dismiss these points as "biological determinism" and "gender essentialism". At the same time, critics will cite studies that show men may in fact occupy a larger "range" of intellectual abilities - it is said that the population of men contains more geniuses, but also more dunces.

Science says the population of men is likely to contain more Albert Einsteins. Or that is what we are led to believe. Furthermore, in a more lazy manner, it is said that data shows men and boys prefer more science and tech related activities.

It could all be true - men could be a bit more clever and want to tinker more. But to what extent does this create the employment disparity we see in tech fields?

Implied in "women aren't interested in tech" messaging is the idea that men generally are. Men are just following their dreams and their abilities. Dominance in engineering and the tech industry was inevitable. Once sold on this idea, it can be applied to any field that appears to be clever or nerdy - advanced maths, astrophysics, etc.

It's a quaint explanation, and from a certain perspective does explain disparity. If we understand "tech" as just another field for clever people with particular tastes, it all works out.

However if we understand "tech" as a potentially bottomless pit of money, the reasoning is plainly and obviously bullshit. And to a great many men, tech is precisely this.

The reality of "Silicon Valley" and the tech industry is often not of simple preferences and science fairs. Venture capitalists are not in the game because they think transistors can change the world. Our planet's  gadget gods are not in the game to find out how a watch works. They're in the game to make money, not to make particularly good timepieces. (As recent history demonstrates)

One becomes the alpha male of tech not by being a creative, but rather being a creative capitalist. This is obviously true among the CEOs and startup founders in the "tech" industry, but this is quite a small sample of the entire population within tech. More surprising is that there may be legions of henchmen that do not have the tinkering attitude or intellectual aptitude that is the force we're led to believe motivates men into tech.

Believe it or not, the Apple's "Genius Bar" does not employ very many literal geniuses. Higher up the food chain, the workforce does not become more inspired. There are the gadget makers that does not care to SnapChat, the videogame programmers that do not care to participate in all-night deathmatches, and the consultant that does not actually think their calling is applying software updates.

Watch the most common job in the United States change from the late 1970s until today. A few positions stand out as dominated by women ("Secretary", "Teacher"), the rest we can safely assume as mostly male ("Software Developer", "Truck Driver", "Computer Analyst", "Farmer").

Let's compare one popular industry to another - software development to truck driving. Some have said the gender disparity in truck driving is worse than that of the tech industry. We can devise similar arguments for trucking - all the women that want to drive trucks are driving trucks, men are more interested in driving trucks, men are more physically capable of driving trucks, etc.

Whatever rationale is invented for truck driving being only 5% to 6% women, hinting that men just want to drive trucks that much more may be "true" in some sense but also an oddly hilarious explanation. For it's difficult to imagine that a great number of men would choose to drive a truck all day every day as if it tickled their fancy.

Men have made something of themselves in trucking for the same reasons they've made something of themselves in the tech sector - it's in-demand work that represents the most money they can make in alignment with their skills and abilities. A number of aptitude tests can devise that men are predisposed to do well in particular component, a number of anecdotes may be shared about what each gender did during childhood, but it rather crudely erases the simple cash transaction that is occurring.

Many more things are explained when men are thought to be money gathering automatons rather than beings of superior intellect driven out of a feeling of whimsy. Consider that for whatever reason, nature or nurture, men may overweight the importance of salary in their sense of self. Therefore an industry - whether clever or not - stands to be visited by masculinity so long as it pays the bills.

Back to tech, what then explains tech having somewhere around a 3 to 1 (or up to 5 to 1, depending what you read) ratio of men to women? It's a combination - a mixture of competence, curiosity and self-interest. But these factors are interrelated, as the question creates a chicken/egg problem. For several decades now, it's been obvious that tech is printing money. This goes far to create a lot of stories of "childhood curiosity" that are nice to retell during an interview.

Many "tech" fields of study, like computer science and engineering, have just as much in common with MBA programs as they do advanced math degrees. MBA programs also have a gender balance issue that tends the same way, with just over 60% of all degrees earned by men.

The vast majority of men in the tech industry are not would-be chess grandmasters or clones of Stephen Hawking. They're refugees from the implosion of other sectors, the demise of which came about through free trade and technology itself. They're men that would have been working at a factory. They're men that would have been selling insurance. They're men that would be just as happy working for a bank or an oil company, but did not bet on these industries finding room for them.

Are men uniquely clever or simply spent the last few decades successfully playing "show me the money"? Could it be true that women failed to follow the gold rush as effectively? There are many theories as to why this could be the case that do not need to be rehashed here.

Why are more men in tech? Some innate features may account for some disparity, a large factor must be that men just want to be involved more for purely social reasons. Men latch on to the tech industry not because they're smarter or more "passionate" about the field, but because they want to cash in and are more acutely aware of what wealth means to them.

Or when the day comes, they hope to simply have enough money to afford that sexbot.

1 comment:

  1. You'd have more credibility had you noticed that e.g. in open source software, a field that is mostly driven by self-motivated people of above average technical insight and drive, the gender ratio is so skewed the feminists don't even want to investigate it.