Gender, technology, and the future of us

I came across a recent Business Week article concerning the ratio of men to women in technology industry. Although the disparity of gender success is prevalent in most industries, the technology industry is often touted as a meritocracy, where skills and knowledge matter more than politics or favoritism.

The article cites a study (“2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors”) by Catalyst, a national woman’s advocacy organization. And the findings are rather damning: women only occupy 9.3% of corporate board seats in tech firms (versus 12.4% in non-tech firms) and only 11% of corporate officer positions (versus 15.7% in other industries).

The report does show some progress: both totals are increases from the last survey period. And from 1995 to 2003, the number of CEOs in the tech sector has risen from two to six. But these increases are small, and smaller than the increases in other industries.

And lest we relate the slowness of this growth to sexism or blatant discrimination, consider that according to VentureOne, a venture capital tracker, the small business startup market is experiencing similar trends.

The most likely rationale for these trends is the imposition of indirect controls on the corporate culture. It’s not so much that men in the technology sector set out to bar women from competing for jobs, but rather that the demands on the employee at such jobs cause the disparity.

However, I didn’t write this to get into corporate gender politics (I’ll save that for a future post). What interests me is what this finding infers about what the tech industry is doing to ALL its employees.

In my experience, women appear to be much more in tune to when their lives are getting out of balance than men are. I don’t like reinforcing gender stereotypes (particularly since I usually get the short of the gendered stick when I do), but the women I am close friends with are often much better judges of where the personal and the professional boundaries of life should not conflict.

What I was thinking about when I wrote this post was how the cited articles and studies seem to suggest that technology as an industry seems to be pulling us further and further from nature. If the “kids vs. career” is the most simplistic dynamic behind the gender divide, what does it say about the future of our children if the technology sector is a model of business innovation (as is so often stated)?

Or if women, who again seem to me to be better in tune with their physical and emotional health, are struggling to achieve success in the industry of tomorrow, doesn’t that suggest the industry of tomorrow is likely to have some drastically negative effects on the society of tomorrow?

My research has suggested that technological advances have increasingly led us to take nature for granted. We acknowledge our attempts to insulate ourselves from the effects of nature (that is, after all, one of the core components of the justification for technology), but I think we rarely examine the effect this insulation has on us as individuals and as a society.

Maybe women ARE the smarter sex, and they simply know when to call it quits and listen to nature?