A few months back, I was chatting with a couple guys at work when inevitably--it was the World Cup season--the topic moved to football, or soccer, as it's called in some countries.
Swimming or squash is more my cup of tea but not wanting to be rude, I tried to contribute to the conversation and give my two cents worth--yes, I do know how the offside rule works. But the guys and I disagreed on how a certain match had turned out, and when we were trying to argue our points, they scoffed and dismissed me, saying: "Argh, what would you know, you're a woman."
They then completely ignored my protests, disregarded my presence and carried on the conversation as if I was invisible and no longer part of their privileged tête-à-tête.
I was peeved about their dismissive nature, but I was more bothered over how this attitude toward women would play out when they had to take directions from a female colleague. Do they secretly harbor such misgivings about female co-workers or women in authority?
Many today would argue that the days of burning bras are way over, and that women are no longer perceived to be the less significant sex. But, the fact is that women--whether they want to admit it or not--are still treated differently from their male counterparts.
Former Hewlett-Packard Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina was one of the most influential representatives of women in IT--that is, before she was ousted in 2005, bringing an unceremonious end to her six-year tenure at HP.
In her new book Tough Choices, Fiorina was exceptionally candid in describing her experiences running a major IT organization as a woman--something which she had avoided doing when she was HP's CEO.
"The reality is, as I talk about in my book, that business is not yet gender-blind," Fiorina explained, during an interview with ZDNet Asia's sister site News.com. "I think everyone should have an opportunity to play by the same rules. I don't believe that women should be given special treatment or an easier ride. I do believe they should be given the same treatment and judged by the same standards."
She reiterated, however, that "we still do not yet have a color-blind or a gender-blind world, and certainly, it's not yet the case in business".
Fiorina went on to say in another interview that the facts remain that a woman's experiences are still different, and that women are "talked about differently than men". "That's just factual," she said. "We shouldn't run away from it, it's simply true."
She theorized that this difference in treatment is because society has yet to have "enough practice" in dealing with people "who are different" in positions of responsibility, authority. "I find it so interesting that people are so offended when I say that when it's so clearly true," she noted.
I've been ticked off a couple of times before for proclaiming that women today are still treated on different terms as their male counterparts.
Do articles written by female journalists have fewer errors because they're more meticulous, and are male journalists better at meeting deadlines because they don't agonize over every word?
I'm sure there are men who are catty and women who refuse to ask for directions even when they're lost, just as there are women who are overly emotional and men who have egos the size of an elephant.
I don't necessarily believe that being treated differently, mean that women are treated less equally.
But, I do believe that as long as we can be characterized and pigeonholed into different classifications--be it 'female or male', 'fat or thin', 'black or white', 'Asian or non-Asian', 'married or single'--we can expect to be treated differently.
So, are women in IT a novelty in today's industry? I think the focus should be on how women can better embrace their gender and roles as IT leaders and members of the IT community, until the day arrives when their gender is no longer a classification.