Ladies, throughout our history, we have fought for equal treatment by our government and the laws of our country. We have made monumental strides for Women’s Rights from Seneca Falls in 1848 to Philadelphia in 2016. We are poised to make history once again with our first female Presidential Nominee and there are more serious conversations about the wage gap than ever before.
Women are dominating fields once open only to men; Doctors, Lawyers, and Architects. We can drive, vote, and fight in our military’s combat missions. There are women who are firefighters, cops and truck drivers. And for the first time this season (2016), the NFL will have it’s first female coach after the debut of the first female referee last season.
Yet, with all this progress, there is still one arena where women still lag hopelessly behind men; technology. While 57% of occupations in the workforce are held by women, that figure drops to 25% when it comes to computing occupations. Only 12% of software developers are women compared to the overwhelming 92% that belong to men. Even the world’s most valuable Technology company, Apple, severely lacks in feminine influence in their senior leadership. Of the 19 people that make up Apple’s senior leadership team only three of them are women. It should be noted that those 3 women hold titles in Human Resources, Environment & Social Initiatives, and Retail. All of the titles relating to Apple’s hardware, software and user experiences belong to men. (The one exception to this “Men Only” rule in the tech field is Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer. Though she’s constantly belittled and criticized by her peers and our media.)
So, it should come as no surprise that most women feel disconnected from their technology. Our society has made technology an integral part of our lives while simultaneously alienating women from it. It’s a fascinating and ultimately, depressing study of our times.
The challenge then, is how do we fix this unique problem? Through education and training. With the right information and mindset, women will be able to challenge technology companies to respect us and our demographic. We will not be ignored, Tim.
Let me paint you a clearer picture… We’ve already established that it’s men who build these devices we’re addicted to, right? Hardware and software design are dominated by men. Then, it stands to reason that these devices are designed to think like men do. The idea of men and women’s brains work differently isn’t new. In fact, there is mountains of data to support the idea. Countless, books, talk shows, and infomercials promising to help one sex understand the mind of the other. Gals, these devices have been programmed to not communicate with us. I’ll give you an example: You are making a batch of peanut butter cookies for a bake sale and realize you don’t have enough peanut butter to finish the recipe. There’s one batch already in the oven so you can’t leave to go to the store, so you ask someone to go for you. If you ask a man, he’ll say, “Ok.”and will return promptly with the first jar of peanut butter he came across. It’ll probably be some generic, no name brand that was on sale and featured at the top of the aisle. Mission accomplished, right? Not necessarily. He brought you crunchy peanut butter and you wanted smooth. Well, you didn’t specify that when you asked him. Now, if you ask a woman to run the same errand, she’ll say, “What kind? Smooth or crunchy? Lower sodium or regular? All natural, sweetened with honey?” And so on until she knows exactly what brand, flavor, and texture you prefer before she even gets to the car. Computers, smart phones and tablets have been programmed to think just like men do. You have to be very specific when giving them a command. If you tell a computer to save a file, but not where to save it, good luck trying to find that document when you need it. As far as the computer knows, it did just as you told it and since you didn’t specify where that document needed to go, it put wherever it wanted.
Here’s another example: when I was working for Apple, I was once fortunate enough to be a part of a conference call with a group of software engineers for the Mac Operating System. (I can’t say if I was the only female on the call but, if there were other women present, they didn’t speak up.) We were tasked by the moderator of the call to speak about the features of the OS our customers were finding useful and what features were lacking. I listened as several of my male peers made suggestions that were either completely ridiculous ( Star Trek GIF’s for email) or just not possible at the time (voice recognition). When asked if any women on the call had suggestions, I spoke up and mentioned that several of my customers found Mac’s Address Book lacking. They asked me to explain and I told them that the user cannot print return address labels, nor could you create formal labels when you wanted to. I also told him I was confident there were no women on the Address Book development team. There was silence on the other end of the phone for a few seconds, then some laughter and then he asked me to explain. I told him I had quite a few women ask me about both of these features. Why couldn’t they print out return address labels to put on their Xmas Cards every year? Why couldn’t they tell the address book to print out 40 of the 350 contacts using the formal “Mr. & Mrs.” heading on labels meant for wedding invitations? And why did I have to find 3rd party solutions for these customers when Mac’s were supposed to be so intuitive? Now, I knew why those features didn’t exist; the programming architecture was too simplistic. If I wanted to print out 120 labels of my name and address for return labels, I’d have to have 120 contact cards with my name and address housed in my address book. I told them emphatically that no woman would design a tool to only work some of the time. The response I got from the moderator though, was one I will never forget. He said, “It never occurred to us that those were features were needed.” He then confirmed that I was right, there were no women on that team. A situation that would be corrected soon.
So Ladies, my mission is clearer than it’s ever been. I was put here to teach women to think differently when it comes to technology. And maybe we’ll teach the tech giants there is value in thinking like a woman… Fingers crossed.