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.

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