Women in Tech: The Male Perspective
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
A tech panel of all men, aimed at women. So how did that go?
If there’s one thing missing from the conversation about women in tech, it’s men. Wait, did we hear that right?
A crowd of 250 — nearly all women — filled the auditorium at 1871 on Wednesday night for "Women in Tech: The Male Perspective" to hear 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, Orbitz CTO Roger Liew, Harvey Nash CEO Bob Miano and Chicago Tech Academy High School executive director Matt Hancock.
“People were surprised that we would have an all-male panel at a women’s event,” said Leslie Vickrey, co-founder of event host ARA, a mentorship network for women in IT. She is also the founder and CEO of ClearEdge Marketing. “The men who we selected have a strong voice on the behalf of women and they’re trying to help them grow their careers.”
Since men usually make hiring decisions, Vickrey said, it’s important for women to understand them and consider them as mentors. In fact, men outnumber women in nearly all tech roles, regardless of level. Women hold just over one-quarter of American computer or math jobs, according to a 2013 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The panelists fielded questions from moderator Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c. stars, a non-profit that prepares inner city adults for careers in technology, and from the crowd. Kastrul says women are “good at setting the table for everybody else to sup.” She hoped the event would encourage them to claim their own seats.
Many attendees said they appreciated the opportunity for discourse on a frustrating and controversial subject, but the panel reflected efforts from men who are committed to supporting women in tech — that is, men who aren’t necessarily the problem.
The crowd offered mixed reactions. Guest speaker and City of Chicago chief innovation officer Brenna Berman, sitting in the audience later, noted several times that panelists were giving answers that didn’t fit the questions. That's not uncommon on panels, perhaps, but underlined the inherent issues of having men answer questions most relevant to women.
“It would've been helpful to have men and women address the question at the same time to see those differences,” Berman said. “I don’t know that they heard the questions the same way the women in the audience did.”
One example was a question on changing the way people praise men for being workaholics, while deriding women for the same.
Liew said Orbitz emphasizes results, not how much time goes into them, and encourages a 40-hour work week. “I think that is a great thing for us because it doesn’t force people to drop out,” Liew said.
Miano said he believes the women in his company work harder than men in terms of hours and effort. Hancock said hours don’t equal success and that quality is the most important factor. Tullman mentioned Wikiwork, the idea that work is no longer place or time restricted so that results are free of such constraints.
None got at the heart of the original question, which was about the way driven workers are perceived, depending on their gender.
Some audience members appreciated the disagreement that arose when Tullman suggested design roles would be better entry points for women than development. Kastrul fired back, “It sounds like you’re saying that the path for women in IT is a softer path.” Tullman said, no, it’s just that he believes “deep geeky stuff” is over.
Liew and Miano were quick to chime in, saying there’s not only demand for coding skills but that telling women to take “shortcuts” into the industry is dangerous advice.
As the panel wrapped up, Hancock said, “I’d like to encourage everybody to take the risk of showing up as who you are.”
That message resonated with Deb Krupinski, an executive director of business operations at WMS Gaming, who attended the event on behalf of a women’s networking group at her office. She believed the panel’s insights were valuable but that those speaking didn’t represent the average perspective.
“I would love to have...someone that was so different from their perspectives,” Krupinski said. “Someone who didn’t embrace the diversity of women or the uniqueness of women because I think that’s more, unfortunately, the norm.”
Like Berman, some believed a female presence would have accomplished even more.
“You want to see in the panel the contrast between the men’s interpretation and the women’s interpretation of the same thing,” said Jean-Marc Reynauld, a data scientist at Thoughtworks.