Technology's Gender Bias -- A Subconscious Shot in the Foot?

10/06/2014 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2014

Most people don't even realize how gender biased technology is. When we look at the state of today's technology, we have assumptions about male "geek" programmers like in the TV show The Big Bang Theory or the classic movie Revenge of The Nerds. But few people actually know that early in the days of computer development, it was women -- not men -- who pioneered the use of an electro-mechanical machine to perform calculations and computations. Is technology's gender bias a subconscious shot in the foot?

A recent story on NPR noted that the percentage of women in technology-related jobs like programming and mathematics is at 17 percent, down from as much as 40 percent in the past, when women were innovating the computer as a viable device. If we consider the typical 50/50 split of women to men in most societies, it means that as much as 23 percent of women are not being leveraged in technology jobs. These women, who have every bit as much knowledge and innovation as their male counterparts, are relegated to teaching jobs, or becoming "assistants" to those counterparts. Personally, I know way too many assistants who are intelligent enough to do greater tasks than scheduling flights or picking up laundry.

But even when we look at tech devices like smartphones and the like, the "reach" toward female versions of these products is a halfhearted effort at best. The only female features that can be found in tech devices are the color pink, and the occasional flowery screen saver or background image. Really, that's what technologists consider catering to women? To me, it's the equivalent of catering to Asians with desktop backgrounds featuring bowls of rice, or to Latinos with screen savers featuring tacos and burritos. Downright insulting.

In the tech sector, there is a built in "guys' world" theme that is meant to provide the male techy with a safe world, void of females who would potentially turn their male-dominated work into frilly, girly products ripe with puppies and lavender. Nerds, after all, are scared of women and the potential that they present to the male-biased tech industry, and so it is "for the sake of technology" that somehow males must be at the head of the class. If this also means that males teach young women to become secretaries and artists instead of programmers or engineers, then what we see today is the result of that effort.

It is sad to know that so many women out there are capable of so much more than they are taught or lead to believe. Technology is for everyone, and the digital divide is not limited to the rich and poor -- it it also part of the gender bias that we see in every society. But with technology, this bias does a dis-service to everyone.

Technology loses when gender bias is allowed to define who innovates and who doesn't... and when that happens, we all are left with less...