Here's why the tech industry doesn't need more female software engineers

Dominico Zapata/ Stuff

Claudia Hill, owner of web software design business Room9, talks about women in IT and the opportunities available to them.

OPINION: I feel quite strongly that people should stop trying to get women into coding and software engineering.

I am a woman who has been immersed in the tech sector for almost two decades.

I have gone from a software engineer to running my own software development company.

I am also a working mother of three kids.

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However, I have to agree with much of the sentiment in a memo from a Google executive which hit the headlines this week, and incited outrage in the US and around the world.

"For women, there are many opportunities in ICT, but is software engineering the right path for them?" asks Claudia Hill.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

"For women, there are many opportunities in ICT, but is software engineering the right path for them?" asks Claudia Hill.

Titled Google's Ideological Echo Chamber, it argued that women are under-represented in the tech industry not because they face discrimination in the workplace, but because of inherent psychological differences between the genders.

In many ways, I agree.

As a woman in tech I am not taking this stance lightly, but I believe the enormous effort put into recruiting females into software engineering is a waste of time.

In my opinion it feels very much like 'box checking' and on the whole, it's a fundamentally flawed approach. It also assumes the following: that women want to be software engineers. Here is an inconvenient truth: a lot of them actually don't! How about instead we focus on roles that women are better at – nurturing talent, managing people and communication – that includes senior management and leadership roles in the tech sector.

I do not believe that women are, in general, discriminated against in the tech industry in New Zealand.

I believe the opposite is the case. Everyone I know working in tech would love to add more female software engineers to their team. From school to the job market, the doors are wide open and welcoming for any woman software engineer, and yet we have few takers.

We need to change our tune and encourage females to play to their strengths, says Hill.
Claudia Hill

We need to change our tune and encourage females to play to their strengths, says Hill.

We have to ask ourselves, why? Of course, I've seen females who are outstanding software engineers, who outshine many of the men around them. But in my experience, they are very much in the minority. It might not be politically correct, but I believe there is some truth to gender differences and how that manifests into the workplace and more specifically in the Information and Communications technology (ICT) sector.

In 2012 a major study, The Distance between Mars and Venus: Measuring Global Sex Differences in Personality, was published in the journal Public Library of Science. It surveyed 10,000 people on characteristics of males and females, and the results showed that there are significant differences between the genders. 

The study showed that the largest differences between the sexes were in regards to sensitivity, warmth and apprehension (which were higher in women) and emotional stability, dominance, rule consciousness and vigilance (which were higher in men).

Based on the findings of this study and my 17-year long experience in the industry I believe women are generally not as suited for software engineering roles as men are, but their inherent gender-based attributes mean they may be more suited to leadership roles in ICT – and these are skills we need in the industry.

I feel strongly that trying to figure out our strengths and working towards a career path which builds on them will lead to an enjoyable and fruitful work life, for both genders. Most of us within the tech sector will acknowledge it is an industry notorious for being nerdy and stiff, and where communication and people-management is often a struggle.

With millennials entering the workforce now, we need people in tech who can create a warm, welcoming culture of collaboration, foster personal growth and closely-knit teams. Women are inherently good at this. Information and communications technology is a major sector in New Zealand, with about 75,000 people employed in ICT roles (and growing!).

ICT contributed more than $30 million to the country's GDP in 2014.

The top three highest-paying jobs advertised on Trade Me in 2017 were tech related and all with a median salary of over $100,000.

For women, there are many opportunities in ICT, but is software engineering the right path for them?

Could showing women a pathway to those highly paid leadership roles in tech – which are less about the engineering and more about people, culture and communication – be the thing that will put them on-par (or beyond) with men with regards to pay and job satisfaction?

I hope that people do not misunderstand my comments or find them hurtful or dispiriting.

I am a big believer that there is a great place for females in tech and I hope to see more females entering the industry, but we need to change our tune and encourage females to play to their strengths. Some women will make great software engineers, and we should encourage these individuals to grow their careers in this space.

But at the same time, I believe we should accept that males and females are, on average, different, and may excel at different roles in the sector.

Claudia Hill is the managing director and owner of Room9, a Hamilton based web software design, development and maintenance company. She is also a foundation board member of CultivateIT, a Waikato Cluster dedicated to furthering the region's burgeoning tech industry. 

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 - Stuff

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