John Klossner

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Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and women in technology

Lucy-beard  I was recently attending my son's Cub Scout pack meeting. It was near Halloween, and this meant the children, and some of the adults, had an extra opportunity to wear costumes, which most took advantage of. (I had my traditional "oops - it's almost Halloween?" costume on.) There were the usual suspects and -- based on a very unscientific sample of 50 Cub Scouts in southern Maine -- the economy hasn't affected Halloween costume sales this year.

One boy stood out from the rest of the Batmen, ninjas and Star Wars characters. He dressed as a Girl Scout, complete with wig, headband and makeup (I give him high marks on concept and execution). The thing that caught my eye, however, was everyone else's reaction to him and his costume. While most people responded to the costumed persons in their immediate vicinity, everyone made a beeline to the Girl Scout, and most made some sort of smart-alecky comment, which almost always included the term "sweetheart." When this boy had to get up to accept an award the room reacted as one, with a combination of gasp/laughter/shriek. He couldn't have gotten more of a reaction if he had been dressed as a member of the Taliban with a sign espousing universal health care for all gay illegal immigrants.

I wonder if a similar event could've taken place at the local Girl Scouts' Halloween meeting. If one of the girls had dressed up as a Cub Scout, would she have received the same response?

Maybe, but she might have gotten as big a response if she had dressed up as an information technology worker or, better yet, an IT manager.

FCW recently ran a story covering a book about women in the technology field, highlighting the women in the federal IT community. This was accompanied by an editor's column mentioning the book and the editor's own experiences in the federal IT world. As he puts it, "To be frank, that’s [women in positions of power] not what one expects to encounter in the modern tech world." Lest this be taken out of context, the column went on to consider how government was ahead of the private sector in terms of women in IT and leadership positions, and the factors behind this difference. But, to paraphrase an old saying, isn't progress truly made when people are in positions they were never in before and nobody notices?

There are many reports and studies on how and why there are fewer girls in school math and science classes, and how this translates to the workplace: fewer women in technology jobs and leadership positions. There are numerous reports on the salary differences between men and women. (For fun, Google "pay differences between men and women." Pick one of the entries that has a comments section. I think many of the comments were written by people in attendance at my Cub Scout Halloween event.) And there are numerous anecdotal accounts of female employees having more difficult experiences with promotions.

And a roomful of adults still hoots when they see a 10-year-old Milton Berle. Does the FCW editor quoted above still want to refer to this as the "modern" world?

Note: I came up with two cartoons for this issue. I drew the first one with the idea of illustrating the double standard for women in IT -- having a tougher path -- but, in getting feedback, it seemed that it was too subtle. (That's cartoon speak for "nobody got it except me.") The second one worked a little better.


Posted by John Klossner on Nov 12, 2009 at 12:18 PM


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