There are technology-loving women all over the world who are having a hard time. They're either not entering the industry in the first place, or they're entering and then leaving. The difficulties they face range from blatant sexism and intimidation (less common, thankfully) to the more subtle discomfort that comes from being a minority in an industry that people believe is simply more suited to men than it is to women.
I've written plenty about the women and the girls. But today I want to write about the men, and how they can help to address this problem.
I'm a senior software engineer. I've been doing this job now for sixteen years. Most of the time when I'm at work, I'm not thinking about the gender of myself or my colleagues. I don't think "Ugh! It's a man!" every time I sit down next to one of them. I also don't think "Ooooh! A man!" I don't even think, "Hmmm, another one of those man-people."
And when I go to events for women in technology, what I find is a bunch of really cool women that share my interests, and that makes me happy. I don't find a room full of angry women shaking their fists and swapping grrrrs about all the nasty men in the world.
(Image provided courtesy of Maddox Events)
I was at one of these events a few weeks ago. I'm so used to being in a minority at work that I forget it's even a thing, until I find myself at a conference full of amazing clever women, and the surge of gratification I feel reminds me of all the ways I've felt insecure over the years.
But what about the men? A few people remarked on how few men there were at the Women of Silicon Roundabout event, and that's a tricky one. Because it's bloody brilliant to be somewhere where the balance is skewed in the opposite direction for a change. Even when you know that the women are as capable as the men, there's nothing like being surrounded by those women to prove that it's true. It's quite a buzz.
And here's the thing: There are tons of men out there, both inside and outside the industry, who get it. I work with them, I live with them, I know them. One of them (@Maherster) spoke at the Women of Silicon Roundabout event. He spoke about his three daughters, and how frustrated he is by the way science toys are always marketed at boys, and how determined he is to give his children a balanced upbringing which encourages them to embrace science and technology, and explore whatever the hell they like.
(Image provided courtesy of Stemettes)
But when men understand the way in which women can be discouraged from having confidence in their tech skills... they also understand how tech women can benefit from being surrounded by other tech women. Not only that, they understand how frustrating it is to be the recipient of mansplaining. They know that sometimes a confident man can, without even meaning to, discourage an insecure woman from taking the floor.
I've had colleagues say things to me like, "I didn't offer to get involved because I didn't want to take over - I thought it was important for the women to have a voice."
It's fantastic when men are as sensitive as this, but there's a danger that our biggest allies - the men who get it - are silencing themselves because they're worried about making things worse.
If we want more women in tech, as many people as possible need to play a part. Most of those people (in the industry) are men, and we haven't a cat in treacle's chance of succeeding unless they join the fight.
So, what can the men do?
They can ask whether they'd be welcome at the events. They can talk to their colleagues about how they can recruit more women, and how they can support girls in local schools. They can ask their female colleagues whether they'd like a sponsor or a mentor to give them active and targeted encouragement. They can challenge sexism where they see it. They can encourage the women in their workplaces to pursue a technical path. They can rail against assumptions that women would rather be promoted - or moved sideways - into non-technical roles. They can buy technological and scientific toys for all the girls they know.
My colleagues are just my colleagues. When I'm at work, I'm not thinking about my gender. I don't notice the fact that my colleagues and I don't share the same body parts. I notice what we have in common: Like, we can get so passionately excited about a piece of code that our colleagues have to bang on a partition to shut us up. Or like, we enjoy playing Exploding Kittens together at lunchtime.
They're my friends. I like them, and we treat each other well. I'm working to build a world where a lot more women get to work with men - and women - like these.
Clare Sudbery also blogs at A Woman in Technology, on Medium.