Dr Nicholas Wakefield, Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

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It is a social issue, not a biological one

I wouldn’t agree with what the Google engineer said. I am from a country where women are extremely emancipated and we consider both genders to be completely equal. It is true that the tech industry is male-dominated but that has historical or social reasons, rather than biological. I have been working in the field for over 20 years and we have more and more women as part of the leadership circles, specifically in cyber security. Of course, there is still a heavy tilt towards men, but I see that changing a lot. Some of the most prominent companies in cyber security have female CEOs and if you look at the overall thought leadership in the industry, you will find both men and women.

There is this one conference that I have been going to every year for the past 10 years. It is organised in San Francisco, US, and it is the biggest cybersecurity conference in the world. I have noticed every single year there are more and more women participating and there are also more and more female speakers. From that perspective, it is a very old-fashioned way of thinking about men and women to say that one is better to the other in any area. It is also not the nicest way to think of people, to be honest.

But unfortunately, it is the same way when you go to a car mechanic – you won’t find a lot of female mechanics, not because they don’t have the capabilities but it is a just a male-dominated industry.

I think this is largely a social issue – any woman or girl who has the idea that she has to move into the tech field, they are more than welcome.

From Mr Nicolai Solling

Chief technology officer of a Dubai-based cyber security company

Counterpoint

Women are still paid less for the same work

My stand on this debate is very simple: I am a mathematician and in mathematics one counter example proves the theory wrong. I count myself as being that counter example.

I am part of the international standards organisation for IT security. The vice chair of the organisation is also a woman, and she has been in the industry for years. She outstrips most of the people there in knowledge. In the olden times, yes, IT was more of a male-dominated area but I see a lot of women taking it up now, particularly here in the UAE. There are a lot of Emirati women who actually do study these fields and work very successfully.

As for the engineer’s claim that women are better with people and men are better with things, one thing I know is that there is such and such of every gender. There are some men who are extremely good with people and there are some women who are extremly bad with people. You can never really generalise that with people because, well … human beings are different. I’m often confronted with “women don’t have a sense of direction”. I don’t want to sound big-headed, but I do. There will always be counter examples, which is why a statement in that generality just doesn’t make sense.

I am from Germany and there are still issues there. For example, women are paid less for the same work. This of course is horrible – same work should be paid for equally – it doesn’t matter who carries it out, it is a fundamental principle.

But there are many examples of the biases women face at work. When I was doing my PhD many years ago, the professor that supervised me had some guests over. I was the only woman in the room and the first thing he said was, “Angelika could you please make some coffee.”

I do hope such bias is not present today, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it still is.

From Dr Angelika Eksteen

Chief strategic officer at a cyber security company

Science

Genetically, the X-X chromosome is stronger

The X chromosome contains a lot more genes than Y chromosome, so if a boy, for example, inherits an X-linked gene defective from his mother, and his gene is responsible for neuro development he might have mental retardation.

So, the X-related genes are responsible for brain development. With women, because they have two X chromosomes, even if they are the carrier for a disease they might not express it. So, it would be fair to conclude that the two X chromosomes are stronger than the XY chromosome, genetically speaking.

As for the bigger debate on women not being biologically capable of succeeding in technology, I think women are more intelligent and mature, and they cope with chronic stress a lot more easily. Men, on the other hand, can deal with acute stress better. What that means is that between the two, women are more likely to be patient, which is why women usually take up the responsibility of caring for children.

Also, from my personal experience, I have noticed that men are better at risk-taking and decision making.

But that does not mean that anyone can claim that women are not biologically designed to succeed in fields of technology. I don’t know of any biological studies that would indicate this.

From Dr Azza Attia

Clinical geneticist working in Dubai

Factors

Imbalance in the men to women ratio depends on many factors

When referring to physical differences there are two main areas that are relevant. Firstly, body shape and size means that, on average, males and females are more likely to perform better on different tasks. However, these are statistical averages and do not take into account individual variation. Also, males and females might, anthropologically speaking, be built for different functions or tasks but these do not necessarily translate into modern careers or occupations.

But do male and female brains function differently? Here the separation of physical (biological) and societal differences is not so clear cut. Studies vary on whether there are any real gender differences in structure and function of the brain but there is evidence to support the notion that there are. However, the brain is adaptive and has what is known as plasticity, which means it changes in response to the environment. Skills and aptitude are also heavily influenced by societal norms, we become good at what we are encouraged to do. Hidden figures (2017) is a fantastic example of how societal expectations and beliefs can influence hiring policy and can be so completely wrong.

There have been shifts over the last few decades as equality of opportunity has increased and societal attitudes have changed.

There is statistical evidence to suggest males and females approach some tasks in different ways, though I would refer back to my earlier arguments about statistical averages versus individual differences, and the point about the influence of societal expectations on gender roles in the development of skill set. With regards to conflict management styles women are more likely to use ‘compromise style’ with males more likely endorse a ‘forcing style’, however numerous factors influence these styles and whether they are accepted such as whether the wider society or culture is individualist or collectivist, the culture and expectations of the profession, the culture of the individual company. Individuals will bring different approaches and at different times. Successful organisations will have people who can deploy a mix of approaches depending on need and utilise them adaptively.

A note on gender based acceptable behaviour: Males and females in similar roles displaying similar behaviour will often be discussed in wider society very differently. Females deploying traits that are considered as predominantly male will be viewed very negatively compared to males displaying the same behaviours.

From Dr Nicholas Wakefield

Chartered clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in Dubai

Gulf News asked: Why are there fewer women in the field of technology?

• Gender bias 47%

• Biologically, they are not inclined towards such fields 53%

— Compiled by Huda Tabrez/Community Web Editor