Building Networks of Equal Opportunities

Getting more women into the IoT workforce requires a level playing field, not an easier one.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

A rebranding would be great, as long as it emphasizes that women are as competent in the skills needed for tech work as their male counterparts.

Here's why I feel this way: In early February, researchers from Cal Poly and North Carolina State University issued the results of a study (not yet peer-reviewed) involving GitHub, a repository and sort of online workshop for open-source software, where members propose revisions to open-source code in order to improve or fix it. The researchers found that when women made contributions to GitHub, but did so using a profile name and image that obscured their gender, the GitHub community accepted their contributions more often then they accepted those from men. (The researchers ascertained these programmers' genders by researching the e-mail address tied to their avatars and linking them to other online profiles, such as those in Google+, that identified their genders.) When female coders used names and profile pictures on GitHub that revealed their gender, their contributions were less often accepted than men's contributions. You can read the paper here.

And in late February, the D.C.-based advocacy group Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released the findings of a survey it conducted with more than 900 U.S. residents who have won prestigious awards for their creations or have applied for international patents likely to have significant economic impact. The study found that among the U.S.-born innovators, minorities and women make up only a small percentage. In fact, it found, women represent just 11.7 percent of U.S. innovators—a smaller percentage than the female share of undergraduate degree recipients in STEM fields or STEM Ph.D. students, or working scientists and engineers.

The findings of the GitHub study suggest that gender bias exists in the open-source software-development community. In a report based on a 2014 survey of programmers in another online community, researchers described "a relatively 'unhealthy' community where women disengage sooner, although their activity levels are comparable to men's." These are two examples of a larger canon of research that draws links between gender and academic or workplace success in the sciences, suggesting that women may have higher hurdles to clear than men. Perhaps if women could hide their genders, they'd be more willing to invest the decades of toil and defeat it takes to be an innovator. But I've got a better idea: even the playing field and remove the gender bias that tells women, whether spoken or inferred, that they're not as capable as their male counterparts. Then, I think then we'll see a real change in the definition of a geek.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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