What’s Old is New Again: Digital Glass Ceiling

When you think of gizmos, gadgets and Microsoft Windows, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a white male geek. It’s a common stereotype that a white male geek or some male technologically-savvy Asian will have far superior knowledge and involvement in technological fields than others. However, that may not be the case, as studies by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press show that women actually outnumber men when it comes to use of the Internet.

That doesn’t stop technological fields, however, in social media and computer sciences from following a very strict gender line in deciding who knows more about technology. Unfortunately for women, the majority of tech fields still view male poindexters as a much superior brand of expert than women. In fact, according to an article for Fast Company, women only make up as much as 20 percent of panelists at major tech conferences and even fewer are asked to be keynote speakers. To put it bluntly, women are not as highly visible in tech fields as men.

That is not to say, however, that women are fundamentally incapable of becoming leaders in this industry. There is no real evidence to suggest this. So if women are just as capable as men, why are they hitting what many are calling a digital glass ceiling in the technological fields?

The first thing to realize is that while women may be just as capable of succeeding in technological fields, they may not have the right tools to overtake men. Fast Company’s expert blogger Allyson Kapin suggested that because the Pew studies show that women outnumber men on the Internet, there are arguably just as many women with expertise in the technological and computer science fields. This is a false assumption. The reason women aren’t being selected as major panelists at tech conferences is because there simply aren’t enough women with expertise.

According to the National Science Foundation, only 22 percent of declared computer science majors are women. If there continues to be such a small proportion of women taking on computer majors, then women will not make a significant impact in technological and computer science fields. Representation at the most basic level needs to change if women are going to have any chance of being esteemed as experts in technology.

But what about the women who are in the computer field, especially social marketing? Social marketing needs substantially less expertise than other tech fields. Essentially what the field consists of is advertising on the Internet. So what is keeping these women from hitting the digital ceiling?

Are men to blame? No, that is too easy of a scapegoat. While men do further the stereotypes of women on the Internet to an extent, and do mercilessly dominate the computer fields, women should not use men as the whipping boy in this situation. Kapin suggested in her blog post that women themselves are to blame for their lack of influence in the technological field, despite outnumbering men on the Internet. Here, she is absolutely correct.

The idea doesn’t necessarily suggest that women brought their current situation upon themselves but rather that they are the ones who are doing nothing to fix it. It is necessary for women to do a number of things to break this digital glass ceiling.

The first is to get interested in computers and technology. Women cannot continue to graduate such a small part of their population as computer majors if they want any chance of influencing technological fields. How can women expect to be viewed as experts in a field where they have no expertise?

The second major thing women need to do is make themselves visible in the tech fields. Women need to promote themselves aggressively to overcome the boundary between themselves and men. This means getting their name out to the public by posting articles, continuous blogging, showcasing their critical analysis and industry predictions —basically whatever it takes to be regarded as an expert in the tech fields.

Finally, women are going to have to toughen themselves up for rejection. Breaking this boundary is not going to be easy by any means. Women need to understand that just because they get rejected or because things aren’t changing immediately, it does not mean breaking the digital ceiling is impossible; all that is needed is hard work and a little bit of optimism. Who knows, maybe women will someday outnumber men in the technological field as well.

Neil Thakor is a first-year political science major. He can be reached at nthakore@uci.edu.