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Lessons for the software industy from women in OR

Frances Sneddon  /   Oct 24, 2013

I recently joined WORMS (women in OR).  The group is dedicated to promoting the great work women do in OR.  It’s actually the first time I’ve joined a “women in anything” group, but recently I’ve been getting more and more frustrated by the lack of women in software development. So I guess I joined for a different purpose than most women do.

One of the most inspiring things about OR is how many women ARE in OR and how well known they are. I fully accept that there is still work to be done but when I moved from OR into software it was a complete shock.

Where are all the girls?

Often I will turn up to a software event and more times than not I am the only woman in the room. I can count on my fingers the number of resumes I’ve received from female developers, and this in particular makes me very sad.  It’s a divide that doesn’t make any sense.  It’s why recently I’ve been getting more and more involved with groups like STEM ambassadors to try and get to the root cause; school kids, girls.

So I joined WORMS to understand why OR gets this more right. What can the software world learn from OR?

The community meeting was not what I expected and WORMS has converted me.  It turns out that “women of” events are not the “poor me” moan fests I feared they would be – a fear that’s made me avoid these types of events my whole career! The emphasis was that “women suck at promoting themselves, they also suck at putting themselves forward” and “how can we help them, how can we showcase the great work they’re doing?”.

Would all role models please stand up

Lesson 1 for software: we need more role models. I sat in a room full of switched on, dedicated, super smart women, I was inspired. And these women want to help.

Lesson 2: women in software need to get out and show our faces and offer support to others and we need to connect with one another to help make that happen.

Women are from Venus, Men from Mars

Lesson 3: in general, women don’t promote ourselves, we wait to be asked, men do not. That’s not a dig at either sex, women are from Venus, men are from Mars, we recognize it at home now we need to start recognizing it at work. WORMS recognized this a long time ago and have many initiatives to push women to put themselves forward.

I was also shocked, there were men there! Turns out many of the groups biggest advocates are men. Men who recognize our psychological differences and support us in over coming those.

Lesson 4: women in software need the men in software to help. Not as a minority looking for sympathy and not just for the sake of  promoting any and all women without consideration for quality, but when they see an outstanding woman making big changes in software – tell people about them, they’re unlikely to do it for themselves. Help us help ourselves.

photoThe future, will my daughter recognize her options?
This post wouldn’t be honest without confessing I have a 3 year old daughter. Her obsession with everything pink concerns me daily, her obsession with super heroes gives me hope. Will she be girly or geeky, or perhaps like mum girly-geeky? She will make me proud whichever route she chooses.

It is watching her and trying to guess the choices she will make in the future, and why, that has made me pay attention to this issue.  She lives in a world of opportunities, she has choices. But will she recognize all of those choices especially the new ones that worlds like software can offer?

More info:

Check out these groups for people already trying to make a difference
Girls who Code
– STEM Ambassadors (UK)

About the author

Frances Sneddon

Frances Sneddon

As Chief Technology Officer for SIMUL8, I am responsible for the strategy and direction of our products, it's also my passion. I love software and every part of what goes into creating an amazing end user experience from the initial connection with our website, to how you interact with the software itself.