Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Gender Diversity in the Architecture Field

Being passionate about gender diversity, I have always been concerned about the under-representation of women in the software architecture field. Over the years, I have endeavored to motivate and inspire my female colleagues to take up leadership roles in the technology stream; but in vain.

I have often introspected on the reasons why women don’t take or don’t make it to senior leadership roles in the enterprise architecture domain. Popular opinions range between the polarized extremes of “lack of interest” to “lack of competence” or both. I strongly beg to differ on the false assumption that women lack the logical skills to make good architects. In my career, I have seen brilliant women intellectuals with very strong programming and design skills. Women also tend to have better “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence) than men in general and this tremendously helps in areas such as decision-making, stakeholder communication and collaboration, conflict management, etc. So the “lack of competence” excuse is only for lame male chauvinists.

 I have mixed opinions on the “lack of interest” argument. Today we have compelling scientific evidence that proves that there are fundamental differences in the way the brains of men and women are hardwired. If you are not convinced on this, please peruse the books of John Gray (http://www.marsvenus.com). Many of his books were an eye-opener for me :). Considering these gender differences, in the way our brains are structured, can we make a generalized statement that most women are not passionate enough about cutting edge technology or software architecture? For e.g. when you get a new blue-ray player, or media server or any electronic gadget at home, who is the one to fiddle with it till all the functions are known? - the husband or wife? the son or daughter? Who watches family soap operas and who watches hi-tech action movies? Are men is general more interested in technology than women? Or is it because of lack of opportunities and gender bias? I don't have a clear answer, but I know for sure that mother nature has hardwired our brains differently. Family responsibilities and children upbringing is another challenge that must be forcing many women to make a choice on what's most important to them?

Maybe it’s time to change our preconceived notions about leadership and not equate it with aggressiveness and other ‘alpha-male’ characteristics? Lack of role models also proves to be detrimental in motivating women to pursue a technical career path in the architecture field. But this is a “chicken-n-egg” problem and an initial momentum is required to correct this.

Today’s world needs software architects with versatile skills and not just hard-core technical skills. We need architects who are better at brainstorming and collaboration, who can build on the ideas of others rather than aggressively push one’s own idea. In the Agile world, collaboration and communication is a key skill and women have a natural advantage in these areas.

What should be done to encourage more women to take up careers in software architecture and design field? What proactive steps can be taken to bridge this diversity gap? Your thoughts are welcome.