Susan Fowler and Uber

The sexual harassment investigation of Uber has been a major headline. It all started after Susan Fowler, a former Uber reliability engineer posted on her blog, detailing her one year of experience working for Uber. Fowler stated that she was harassed by inappropriate chat messages from a senior manager. When she took the case to the Human Resources (HR), she was informed that it was the first offence of the manager, and suggested that Fowler may receive a negative review because she has voiced her opinion. Yet, later on, Fowler found out that many women who worked for Uber received the same treatment. Fowler’s post received numerous support world-wide. This post has been named as the second biggest news since Ellen Pao (although controversial) took on Silicon Valley . This certainly has not made the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, in a comfortable position. However, the case may have revealed things much deeper than just Uber.

Boys’ club?

It turns out that sexism and inappropriate conducts towards women are not uncommon at Silicon Valley. The place for innovation and start-ups, has long been named as ‘boys’ club’, with only 11% of the executives and 20% of the software developers as women. Men also earn 61% more than women. Technology is a male dominant field .

Gender ratio of major technology companies:

Amazon: 37% female, 63% male

Twitter: 10% female, 90% male

Google: 18% female, 82% male

Apple: 20% female, 80% male

Facebook: 16% female, 84% male

LinkedIn: 18% female, 82% male

Microsoft: 16.7% female, 82.8% male

Yahoo: 16% female, 84% male

Think about it, it is rather laughable. Technology is so intertwined with our day-to-day life. Half of the technology users are female, yet majority of the technology products were created by men.

Women and technology

The massive gender gap has not always been this way. Back in the 80s, the number of women enrolled on computing science was 37%. Since then, the number has experienced a decrease, dropping to 18% in 2016. It has been suggested by Elizabeth Ames, that one of the factors was due to the fact that early computers were used for gaming, and the initial marketing campaign was targeted at men and boys only. So consequently, men used computer more than women, having a leg up for technology. This is certainly speaks some truth for the founder of DeepMind, Demis Hassabis. Besides being a child prodigy, having been a professional computer gamer has probably contributed his later success in designing artificial intelligence.

Then, here is the question, do girls not like playing games, or they were simply never given the chance? I feel it is more of the latter. I have tried my hands on League of Legends, and found myself quite enjoying the game. Yet, recent research showed that in fact, women enjoy gaming as much as men, that 52% of the gamers are female.

 

A look back into the history, many modern technologies we enjoy nowadays were in fact invented by women: –

  • Hedy Lamar, besides her being an actress on screen, was the inventor of a jam-proof radio guidance system used by the military in 1940s. The technology was a crucial element in shaping the modern Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth technology.

 

  • Ada Lovelace was the first person to recognise that a computing machine has the potential beyond simple calculation. She created the first algorithm, making her mother of computing programming.

“A new, a vast, and a powerful language is developed for the future use of analysis, in which to wield its truth so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purpose of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible’. –Ada Lovelace

  • Then there is the admiral Grace Hopper, who showed the first case of literal ‘debugging’, evidence of a moth stuck in a log. The word ‘debugging’ is now widely used in computational related topics. Of course, Admiral Hopper achieved more things than just taping a moth.

There are other numerous women in technology throughout the history. So why the shift in attitude and the gender stereotype?

Gender Stereotype

I have experienced gender stereotyping personally. Despite being very good at maths as a teenager, that I received 97% for GCSE exams, I was dissuaded from studying further mathematics at A-levels. I was simply informed that ‘girls do not need to study maths in such depth’. Again, at university, a male friend’s mother praised me for studying science, as ‘girls tend to be intellectually disadvantaged compared to boys, and it must have been very hard for me’. Of course, the statement is a misconception. These kind of comments are everywhere, often not out of maliciousness, or even consciousness. Women have often been dubbed as not good as handy jobs, poor drivers, and not tech-savvy. Because we hear these every day, eventually we get primed to think that women are naturally bad at technology.

So here is a problem, what is the solution?

I am just simply trying to present some facts here. I do not know the solution of this gender problem, as the problem is bigger than what I have outlined above. It probably rooted from historical, societal and cultural contexts. The single point I am trying to raise is that women can and should be involved in shaping technology as well as using it. We shaped the history of technology before, we should do it again now.

 

On a side note, I would like to state that technology is very important for lifestyle bloggers as well. Although we provide content, often on fashion, beauty, food, travel and others, technology is an integral part of how we deliver the content. Gone are the days we just write and post. So fellow bloggers, go out there and immerse yourself in the modern technology.

Since, I started blogging, it has served as a platform for me to understand more about information technology. I became much more aware of web development, cyber security, app development and software development.

 

Women and Technology
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