This post is originally published on Changemakers and is cross-posted with permission.
At a conference promoting women in technology last year, Eventbrite co-founder Julia Hartz noted that her board included three male members, a testament to the success of women engineers and managers. When I followed her remarks by introducing Harvey Mudd College president, Maria Klawe, I elicited some laughs by commenting that I had the dubious honor of being the only male on the she++ executive team.
Situations and reactions such as these raise some important questions: Why am I helping organize a conference promoting women in technology? More broadly, what role do men play in this transition, and how should we react to the increasing number of women engineers?
In a way, being a college student has increased my awareness of this issue. Even at Stanford, perhaps the most interdisciplinary university in the world, we joke about the fuzzy-techie divide; that is, the lack of interaction between the humanities and engineering.
If we look deeper, we notice that part of that divide is driven by demographics. Girls tend to major in psychology, human biology, and related fields. Guys, on the other hand, dominate science and engineering. These are individual decisions, not the result of a calculated plan.
This segregation, however, is a self-reinforcing process. Engineering lab groups and computer clusters share a largely male culture. Vice versa for female environments.
This makes it increasingly difficult to feel comfortable in the other’s area. More importantly, such unintentional segregation reduces the variety of opinions and perspectives when tackling important problems in medicine, online privacy, and energy.
At its heart, the issue is not about being male or female. It’s about contributing our diverse backgrounds to solving some of the most monumental challenges we face.
So I feel that it is important to encourage women to explore engineering, and to provide support where we can. The rise of women engineers, I believe, is a benefit to society as a whole.
And how should we look at engineering as a career? It seems that we are constantly being bombarded with articles highlighting the economic incentives to pursue technological majors.
This feels like a fundamentally wrong attitude. Although we cannot disregard our finances, we should pursue higher education because we hold a deep interest in solving problems.
Engineering, in particular, is a way to help society, it’s not just a career path. Truly innovative ideas lie at the intersection of engineering and social issues. This is what she++ does.
And there is no doubt about it: When women are offered the chance to succeed, society as a whole comes out a winner. Recognizing the growing importance of technology and digital media, Intel and Changemakers have partnered for the She Will Innovate competition to make sure that women are not left behind.
Tech innovation creates a tremendous opportunity to bridge the gender and technology divide, especially in the realm of high education. Besides, isn’t it more fun to have some gender balance?
Darren Hau is she++ Director of Speakers. He says: “Women provide invaluable skills and attitudes that complement those of men. As an aspiring engineer interested in social change, I believe that greater representation will lead to more thoughtful and balanced discussion on a range of technical and social issues. We have the potential to be more innovative, more collaborative, and create a more positive impact on the world”.