More Women in Technology, More Men in Social Work

The discussion about the role of women working in the technology sector – with a specific emphasis on what’s happening in Silicon Valley – has been in the spotlight for some months now. But only a couple of weeks ago the conversation spiralled out of control when a memo about this topic, written by an employee at Google, was given international coverage by the media. The company fired the author of the memo, who subsequently took to the microphone in various interviews to give his side of the story, threats of legal action followed, and what is left now is the cacophony of millions of views mostly expressed in 140 characters or less.

The controversy around the so-called “Google memo” is now way too toxic to be touched and one would be advised to stay away from it. So let me bring to this remote corner of internet an alternative view about gender diversity and work.

During my time in Uganda I have noticed that most of the ex-pats are women, many of them working in initiatives of social impact. This observation was quite obvious the other night when I went to a bar and noticed that among the 40 or so “mzungus” (the term used to refer to foreigners) only 5 were men. I brought this point to my friend’s attention, herself an American involved in social work in Kampala for the last year, and she pointed out that many of the foreigners in town work in NGOs, where women tend to be the majority.

Could this be true? Are there more women involved in social work than men? I haven’t done my homework yet on what the gender distribution is in this sector (what I have is just an anecdote) but still I think that it fits my perception that men don’t tend to take these roles. I am sure there must be variations in the various streams of work with social impact, and there must be a few in which men represent the majority, however I would be surprised if that holds true across all of them.

Which brings me to the point of the title of this entry. Just as I believe that we need more women working in technology, I believe we need more men working in social initiatives.

A more balanced distribution brings benefits to both the minority group and the overall sector, however I believe that in the two pairs of technology/women and social work/men the emphases are slightly different. In the case of women in technology the argument is fundamentally one of empowering women by allowing them to have a fair representation in what is probably the most dynamic and crucial industry of our times.

On the other hand, I feel the case for more men in social work is about shaking up the sector and perhaps even our own conceptions of what matters in life. But this is a point on which I need to reflect further.

(Written on 12 August 2017)

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