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Technology versus Sexism

Michael K. Campbell explains why he's tired of hearing about sexism in the IT industry

I'm saying this deliberately to be shocking: I'm tired of hearing about sexism in technology. Let me explain why before you write me off as some sort of bigot.

SQL Server and Women

One reason I get tired of hearing about creating a favorable environment for women in technology is because my biggest technical hero for over a decade is female. As a young and budding Microsoft SQL Server professional, I found Kalen Delaney's book Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2000 (Microsoft Press, 2001). It wasn't just an amazing technical book, which provided me with detailed insights about how SQL Server worked; it also served as a powerful example of how awesome someone could become in their knowledge of complex technical matters. As such, Delaney not only inspired me with her technical knowledge, but also with the prowess and ease in which she was able to communicate her knowledge. Her book inspired me to someday be as cool as she was.

Over a decade later, I've sadly given up hope of ever being as cool as Delaney. But as I look around at the SQL Server community, I can't help but notice that there are lots of female DBAs and SQL Server professionals. In fact, some of the brightest minds in SQL Server are women, without a doubt. I see this situation not only in terms of authors, presenters, and folks on Twitter, but also on the ground and in the trenches with many of the clients that I work with.

That said, I'm not female—so I don't know what it's like to be a female in a predominantly male environment. I don't doubt that sexism exists in the IT world, either in terms of stereotypes that limit opportunities or blatant objectification and dehumanization of women. But based on my limited experiences, it seems to me that some aspects of the IT community are very open and engaging to women.

So, although I'm not oblivious to the fact that women are disproportionately underrepresented in the IT industry today, my limited perspective doesn't let me believe that gender could be construed as a liability within the IT spheres in which I work.

Women in the World at Large

So why am I tired of hearing about sexism in IT? Simply because I think sexism in IT is the wrong focus. To me, focusing on sexism in technology is a bit like trying to treat cancer with painkillers—it's too much like treating the symptom instead of the root cause of the problem. Case in point, Figure 1 shows a tweet that recently made the rounds in the Twittersphere, and which made me cranky.

Figure 1: Sexism in technology tweet from Shanley Kane
Figure 1: Sexism in technology tweet from Shanley Kane 

Yes, I clicked the link. And yes, the video in question was blatantly sexist and totally reduced women to mere sex objects, which ignited a firestorm of appropriate outrage to the point that the video has now been pulled. But why did this tweet make me cranky?

This tweet made me cranky because I wonder why there's such an emphasis on speaking out about sexism in technology when the problem is so much worse and much more rampant in society at large. In other words, why is this kind of blatant objectification of women and sexism OK in every other facet of Western society (especially when it comes to advertising and entertainment), yet it's magically unacceptable in technology?

As a father with young girls, my wife and I have made a very conscious decision to limit the amount of television, advertising, and media exposure that my daughters (and son) receive so that they can understand the notion that female worth and value doesn't stem from external and outward beauty alone. But as long as society continues to subscribe to the idea that women's value comes from their physical beauty and overly hyped sexuality, then I'm convinced that the IT industry will continue to suffer from problems that are associated with sexism.

And that's why I'm a bit tired of a continued focus on the role of women in technology—not because I don't think it's important, but because I don't think the scope of the discussion is wide enough or focused on the root problem. Maybe part of me feels this way because my girls haven't expressed much of a desire to work with technology like I do. This in turn means that I really wish that the focus and righteous anger that's brewing within the IT community would spill out onto all other facets of our modern world.

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