Not enough girl geeks – and it’s getting worse

A few months ago, this blog asked: do you have to be a guy to be a geek? The question has been raised again several times in the past week.

Maija Palmer, writing in the FT, explores possible reasons why fewer women are pursuing careers in technology than a decade ago. “Women accounted for just 18 per cent of UK technology professionals in 2010, down from 22 per cent in 2001,” she notes.

Writing for Edge magazine recently, Clint Hocking, creative director at LucasArts, the gaming company founded by film director George Lucas, makes a plea for more women to enter the games development industry – in particular to provide “balance”.

“Game development studios and their teams are largely staffed in the same way that Viking longships were crewed. Consequently, the culture is overflowing with beer and pent-up aggression, and a very significant portion of our overall cultural output is fart jokes. I think we can do better,” he writes.

Audrey MacLean, serial technology entrepreneur and angel investor, agrees. In an interview with Adriana Gardella, a blogger for The New York Times, she says:
“Computing has an image crisis. A boy geek subculture has grown up around gaming that involves violence. It’s not something little girls aspire to.”

After a career in video-game marketing, Sharon Wood decided to found Stone Creek Entertainment in the US last year – a company devoted to developing games by and for women. “No one could give me a reason why not to do it, but no one had done it,” she says.

Referring to recent research by Flurry, a company that tracks 26m unique users of social games (played as a form of social interaction), Wood points out that 53 per cent of social gamers using mobile devices are women. Her company this week launched Karizmac Luminous, a new iPhone and iPad app that is based on personality quizzes. “We can resonate with women and take the social gaming experience to a new level,” she says.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook and the subject of an extensive profile by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker magazine this week, has her own take on why even the small numbers of women who do embark on tech careers fall by the wayside. Talking of her experience at Google, where she was vice-president of online global sales and operations, she says that “the men were getting ahead. The men were banging down the door for new assignments, promotions, the next thing to do, the next thing that stretches them. And the women – not all, most – you talked them into it.”

MacLean argues there is a big difference between the old-world economies and the new. “In China, India and to some degree Russia, bright women are seeking technological educations,” she says. “In emerging economies, the whole country has identified technology as the way out, the train to get on … But in the US, we feel we’ve already made it. There are too many other options for women.”

Ensuring we improve the numbers of women making it to the top of prominent companies such as Facebook, Google or Apple is important for a number of reasons. First, it ensures those enterprises reflect the diversity of their markets. Second, it helps prevent a ghettoisation of the workplace with jobs for boys and jobs for girls. Third, it brings the best brains from both genders into the fast-moving sciences where innovation is changing the world.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.