Women in University IT

In this interview with Jason Pontin for the MIT Technology Review, Shanley Kane claims that tech companies celebrate the hacker and programmer in a way that undervalues other roles that are nonetheless crucial to industry success. She is critical of the ‘lean in’ approach to corporate feminism, as supporting the status quo by promoting exceptionalism rather than significant structural change. She also observes a dependence upon alcohol, noting that it contributes to a lack of work-life balance, and is a strong contributing factor in the perpetuation of sexual violence against women.

At the meeting of the Women in IT Constituent Group at EDUCAUSE this year, it was apparent that the kinds of systematic inequality experienced by women in IT in general are present in higher education as well. What was striking at this meeting was the extent to which group members have largely internalized the ‘lean in’ ideology. A hot topic of discussion was the extent to which the wording used in IT job descriptions systematically discouraged female and other minority applicants. Bafflingly, the overwhelming response to the suggestion that job descriptions be crafted with a view to inclusivity (if for no other reason than to ensure the highest quality pool of applications) was to say that descriptions were fine just they way they were, and that it was rather up to women to overcome their insecurities, work hard, and win positions on the strength of their merit alone. But what is increasingly coming to light is the fact that the IT sector is not a meritocracy, or at least that the conceptions of merit that are mobilized by the industry are profoundly limited.

Among the university’s reasons for being is to function as a place of cultural critique for the sake of social transformation. It is unacceptable for university IT departments and academic departments serving as ‘industry pipelines’ to turn a blind eye to systematic inequalities, particularly since such inequalities stand in sharp opposition to their own interests (both socially and competitively).