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Background reading on ‘Women in Tech’

Hi everyone,

Please find below a collection of links to documents, blog posts and media coverage of (not necessarily SAP-related) the ‘Women in Tech’ wit  topic. This collection came about when I was preparing my talk on the same subject for SAP Inside Track Frankfurt, aka sitfra , held on Mar 21st, 2015.

Normally when doing a presentation I would just share the slides of course. In this case however I’ve taken some liberties by including all kinds of images, photos, etc without checking for proper attribution and legal rights/issues. So instead of sharing the slides I’ve decided to share my sources 🙂 .

The headings will give away the structure of the presentation.


“Horror” stories

Some stats

What is SAP doing in this area?

Here I’ve (among others) reused a few slides of Anka Wittenberg which she used at the Breakfast Forum at SAPTechEd && d-code Berlin, Nov 2014. This event was the inspiration for the talk I did in Frankfurt.

Happy reading! (And apologies for the link farm…)

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  • Wow, Fred, this is comprehensive.  Thank you for sharing.  Also thanks to Tobias Trapp for posting screenshots while you presented yesterday.

    This is an interesting topic, because in my last three jobs (and most current one) the top developers are all women!  So I really wonder where things go awry with these numbers.

    Growing up, it didn't occur to me that I couldn't do or try technology; my best influences were my oldest brother and my father.  My father would not accept any excuses I gave him when I came home crying in the 8th grade saying "I can't do Algebra" - his not accepting this from me knocked some sense in me.  It really gave me the confidence I was missing.

    I keep wondering what we can do to pay it forward more. 

    • I think maths is taught completely wrong at school, especially Algebra. I hated it and I was really bad and my marks got even worse when I was forced to practice. Fortunately years later I was taught about geometry and that changed my view completely and from that moment on I got so excited that I taught myself even higher calculus at university level to calculate properties of some basic geometric manifolds and from that moment maths at school was no challenge any more. But I think many people have good mathematical skills but most of what is taught at school is annoying and told in an annoying way.

      Perhaps the discussion about gender and gender specific prejudices sheds a new light on our school system and school curricula and I hope both boys and girls will benefit from it. I think there are many ways to shows that maths matters and that there are cool applications.



      • Totally agree with you Tobias. For me, what opened my eyes and an was an important driver to make me study math was not the secondary school curriculum, but the puzzles from a local Dutch magazine called Pythagoras. Also the International Mathematical Olympiad and its local preliminary contests were really fun (I never made it to the real thing btw).

        So it can be a lot of fun, for girls and boys alike.

      • I think maths is taught completely wrong at school, especially Algebra. I hated it and I was really bad and my marks got even worse when I was forced to practice.

        Hmm, I would say, that has a lot to do with how well your teacher can teach it (as with pretty much any subject).
        I loved math at school. And physics. And German. And English. And history. And... a lot more. The only two subjects I really didn't like were French and Latein, both because of the teachers. Because they either weren't really nice or good at teaching.

        I majored in Physics and English, so I wouldn't say I was held back in school or pushed in a certain direction, just because I was a girl.

        And maybe I should add, that almost all of my teachers of the sciences subjects (math, physics, chemistry) were women. 🙂 And when I did my IT degree, the teacher that taught us C and C++ was kind of a human compiler. AND a woman. ^^

        And I was very lucky in never having to put up with such negative feedback as so many other women have to in our field. I've heard about it and I experienced small amounts of it, but mostly from external contractors (and my former boss looooved to set them straight with a smile). Maybe it's not such a big topic in Germany or maybe I really was just lucky to get into teams that are inclusive and don't care, what gender you are or how old (agism goes against young people, too), but that you love to learn and do your job the best way you can.

        I read through a lot of the sources you presented here, Fred, and I would have loved to see your presentation at the SIT (maybe it's time I finally get to one). I think this is an important topic and another thing the industry (or ALL industries) has to work on, if we truely want to step into the future.

        "Just be good people to one another." - Erica Joy

        I really like this. So simple, yet so many people fail at it. :/

        The Barbie story is just wow (both positive, because of the awesome presentation by Pamela Ribon of what went on when they read it and negative, because of the content of the story itself). I already read it some time ago, maybe even trough some link from SCN or... no, I think it was on FAIL blog (it's a fail indeed).

    • Yes, according to the literature lack of confidence seems to hit girls/women more often than boys/men. Which is unfortunate, as most of the time it's based on flawed self perception.

      Thanks for sharing. And good of you to make it into this field! We're all better off because of it 🙂 .

  • Unfortunately, it's not just the technical parts of our industry; look at the Ellen Pao story.

    This touches me personally, as I have a daughter, Rachel, who is bombastic, opinionated, liable to speak her mind at inappropriate moments... All traits that people who know me would recognise instantly. They're traits that have served me well, helped me make a successful life for me and my family, but I fear that they are exactly those traits that will see her labeled as a trouble maker or as having a " polarizing personality ".

    I feel a bit shamed that it took Rachel's presence in my life to realise that this sort of rank stupidity was so prevalent. The only reason I can think of is that it just seems so ludicrious to ignore the contributions and abilities of 50% of the population based purely on their gender, that I couldn't see that supposedly intelligent rational people would think that way.


    • /
    • Martin English wrote:

      ... The only reason I can think of is that it just seems so ludicrious to ignore the contributions and abilities of 50% of the population based purely on their gender, that I couldn't see that supposedly intelligent rational people would think that way.


      Yes, it does seem unlikely, but that's what prejudice and group think (social pressure?) can do apparently. And let me add that I'm not clean either. But at least we're now aware of it, and so we can fight it.

      I sincerely hope your daughter will be able to speak up whenever and wherever she wants to, without repercussions. Unlike for instance Shanley Kane and Brianna Wu who also speak up, and as a consequence can't even live a normal life anymore.

      There's still so much to be done...

      Btw, thanks for the Emmy Noether heads up. Love it!

    • Although it is a problem, from my perspective it is not as serious as some people make it, at least in my country. My team is at least half women, my boss is a woman, and we are tech focused department.

      As far as programming goes it's cultural, but also from the women's side. In the last projects I always try to get women to program a bit, and statistically they don't show as much interest as men. My personal experience of course.

      I wouldn't be so quick to use specific examples like Ellen Pao. I've followed the trial, and it's far from clear that there was a gender issue at work there. I don't want to live in a world where by default men are evil, there needs to be clear proof of gender bias.

      • You're right, it varies from country to country. Most of the numbers and links above pertain to the US.

        As far as the Ellen Pao vs Kleiner Perkins case is concerned: in general it's very hard to proof gender bias in my opinion, and we'll have to wait and see how the trial and the formal decision by the judge/jury (?) pans out.

        It's a public secret however that in Silicon Valley, in start up companies as well as in the investment firms that fund them, there's a toxic culture and gender bias at work. So whatever the formal outcome of this case, I applaud Ellen for taking it to trial at all (most women wouldn't have dared to do that) and personally(!) I do hope she wins the case.

        • I applaud Ellen for taking it to trial at all (most women wouldn't have dared to do that) and personally(!) I do hope she wins the case.

          I hope she wins IF she suffered from gender bias. This is a touchy subject but I've seen many people in online forums assume she is right because she is a woman, and that's a very, very dangerous road to follow.

          During the trial I've seen her complain about male collegues talking about porn, or for making male only parties. So what? At least where I work, women do girls-only dinners all the time, should I feel excluded and sue my employeer for gender bias?

          Gender discrimination is a very serious topic, but it needs to be proven like any other accusation, it needs to be proven that she wasn't promoted because she was a woman (which is a very high hurdle), and I see too many people believing the woman just because she is a woman.

          Lowering the burden of proof and believing someone due to their gender is in itself a form of gender bias.

          • I do agree with leaving verdict to the jury but, as Fred, I also applaud her for taking this to trial. Too many women just never speak up about this. Because, you know, then you're quickly labeled with many unpleasant words.

            Joao, if something does make you uncomfortable I believe you should speak up too. Personally, I feel it's wrong to arrange for any "one gender only" events at work.

          • I don't feel wronged about it, the girls want to go out, the guys go out to another bar, no problem since it's an occasional thing and doesn't have any relevance for appraisals. 

            Having the freedom to make these sort of thing improves the workplace, instead of having a workplace dominated by a politically correctness manual where we are constantly questioning what we can or cannot say, and I am pretty happy where I work.

            The parenting issue is a general issue of the country, not my particular company. It's a sort of thing that wasn't an issue in the past because there was no equality, but now that even in tech we have a 50/50 ratio they start showing up. What makes me uncomfortable is that, although I understand a greater focus on women's rights, men shouldn't be shamed into silence just because they are the supposed privileged group. Right now in a lot of "progressive" forums, you complain and are labeled as a MRA nutcase. To me this is dangerous, because it doesn't lead to equality, rather to a men vs women situation.

  • Wow, thanks for sharing, Fred! Coincidentally, I've been doing some reading on this myself (and now I have tons more! 🙂 ). This article is not just about IT but rather the whole STEM spectrum and I liked how it spoke openly about difficult decisions regarding caring for children or elderly that many women are facing, especially in the US.

    • To me equality is not about making opportunities for women to take time off work to take care of the children and elderly, to me thriving for equality is about fighting to change our cultural DNA to a situation where women's typical responsabilities (according to our cultural bias) are shared with men.

      Why is it a women's problem to leave the workforce for 1/2 years to take care of children? This should be a problem of both male and female parents, why is it focused as a women's issue? Don't I have the same right to care for my children without taking a hit in my career? It's a serious cultural problem for male parents, who are assumed to care less for their children.

      Apart from the biological constraint of child birth, equality should be about sharing equal responsibility for taking care of the children, not about making sure women (specifically) are not penalized for taking time from work.

      • Joao, I agree with you that there is a big cultural shift needed to overcome any inequality bias (not just "men vs. women"). And men should also be able to take a paternity leave. In the US it's a big problem in particular because legally there is no paid parental leave whatsoever. The best government gives us is 12 weeks of unpaid leave and even that law does not apply to small businesses.

        Childcare usually ends up being "women's problem" because, well, men don't give birth and don't breastfeed. Also men are usually paid more, so it's the mother who ends up making "career adjustments". For example, I actually had to find another job before having a child because my current one did not accommodate parenting. All young mothers we had left the job within a year (some to stay at home and some to work for companies with better environment).

        But taking a leave is just part of the problem. Another part is returning to work. It's not a secret that after a year of out of work in IT (for any reason) one could become unemployable. Certainly this affects men as well but in reality ends up affecting women disproportionately more.

        • Inequality seems much worse in the US. In Europe women have up to 6 months paid leave, which they can share with the men. For example, woman takes 4 month, man takes 2 months.

          The problem is that culturally this is not well accepted. It's a problem for the woman because 6 months is a lot of time, where 2-3 months would be more manageable if it was shared with the father of the child.

          And there are other cultural problems. For example my team is about half women, but we work a lot abroad and women end up having an informal preference in choosing not to go abroad because of the children. I end up with no choice, because I'm a guy. To me this is inequality, but as I am a white heterossexual male, it's apparently socially improper for me to complain about inequality.

          I prefer to the see the parenting issue as a problem for both genders, instead of people assuming it's the woman's "job", a way of thinking that promotes inequality.

          • We need to remember that gender discrimination is a civil rights violation. Is travel in your job description? Then your rights are not being violated. If you feel shorthanded then it's something you'd need to take up with the manager. It's possible that others who travel less also get less compensation. I worked myself once in a job that required 25% travel. It was in the job description but still I didn't like it and tried to avoid as much as possible. I was quite heavily penalized for it in different ways, but it was not a gender discrimination - the company was straightforward about the requirement and the job was open to anyone. I just shouldn't have been in that job and eventually I quit.

            I think you should ask your manager for a raise and point out how much travel you do and value you bring. Then you could buy a cake for the nice ladies in the office to thank them for the work they do raising our future generation that will pay for our retirement eventually. 🙂

          • Is travel in your job description? Then your rights are not being violated.

            If women are getting to choose whether or not to travel and men are being pushed into it,  then it's gender discrimination, regardless of my contract (assuming the women have the same contract as I have). Not that I would sue my company because that's just stupid, I would quit if I got really annoyed by it.

            Compensation is not the issue, I earn much more abroad (of course) but I would rather spend more time in my country and earn less. On average I spend 50% of the year abroad.

          • But have you actually tried to discuss your dissatisfaction with someone? Again, I still don't see how this is a civil rights violation, but if we don't raise our concerns it won't get any better. I'm sure the management values you as an employee and would prefer to keep you happy and employed there.

            Before we had kids I've also sometimes felt "discriminated" when others got to work from home when they had a school closing or a sick kid while I had to drag my butt to the office rain or shine. But now that I have a kid - well, compared to being stuck at home with a  toddler I'd rather be in the office. Or somewhere abroad. 🙂

          • If we call it gender discrimination instead of civil rights violation maybe it's better. I don't feel my "civil rights" violated, what I'm saying is that if members of gender A are excused from going abroad and  members of gender B aren't, that's the definition of discrimination.

            I don't feel violated, and it's not that a great deal, but that doesn't mean positive discrimination isn't happening.