We Need More Women (IT) Architectural Thinkers (Duh)!

Yes I know, a statement of the blindingly obvious. People of have been bleating on about this for years but nothing much seems to change. My recent and current experiences of teaching IT architecture for a number of different clients rarely has more than 10% of the classes being made up of women (and its usually 0%!). Even more depressingly, from what I’ve seen of university IT courses, there seems to be a similarly small number of female students entering into careers in IT. So why does it matter that 50% of the worlds population only have such a poor showing in this profession?

In his book Change by Design Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO relates the following apocryphal story. Whilst working on a kid’s product for Nike IDEO gathered a group of kids at their Palo Alto design studio to brainstorm ideas. The boys and girls (who were eight to ten year olds) were split into separate groups in different rooms, given some instructions and left to get on with it for an hour. When the results were analysed it was found that the girls had come up with more than two hundred ideas whereas the boys had struggled to come up with fifty. The reason for this? The boys were eager to get their ideas out there and were barely conscious of of the ideas of their fellow brainstormers. The girls on the other hand “conducted a spirited but nonetheless serial conversation in which each idea related to the one that had come before and became a springboard to the one that came next”. According to Tim one of the key rules of brainstorming is to “build on the ideas of others” and it would seem girls have an innate ability to do this whereas boys, possibly due to their more competitive tendencies, want to force the ideas to be the ones that “win”.

Although this story relates to a group of eight to ten year olds my own anecdotal evidence indicates it is equally applicable to all age groups. When observing how team members interact on case studies that we run as part of our architecture classes there is inevitably better and more informed discussion and end results when the teams are mixed (even when females are in the minority) than when they are made up of all males.

My hope is that we are entering a new age of enlightenment when it comes to how we put together project teams that are made up of true versatilists rather than traditional teams of “hard-core” IT techie types. Versatilists by definition have good skills across a range of disciplines whether it be in the arts, humanities or sciences. It is, I believe, only in bringing together both this range of disciplines together with mixed genders that we can hope to address some of life’s harder problems. Problems that not only require new ideas but solutions that build on the ideas of others rather than re-inventing everything from scratch in the usual brute force, testosterone charged way we typically seem to approach problem solving in IT.

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3 thoughts on “We Need More Women (IT) Architectural Thinkers (Duh)!

  1. Hi Peter,

    You hope that “we are entering a new age of enlightenment when it comes to how we put together project teams that are made up of true versatilists rather than traditional teams of “hard-core” IT techie types”. Is there any evidence to back that, or are we doing anything (as an IT community) to help make it happen? Our teams are perhaps becoming more multi-cultural (through globalisation / off-shoring), although if anything the skill-sets could be getting narrower with outsourcing leading to people focussed more on the technology and the bottom line.

    These short-term 'market forces' tend to lead to IT looking at the next quarter's results or the next round of cost cutting, rather than growing versatile people who are really focussed on the longer term view, being in the shoes of the customer or the wider community and understanding how to solve problems to transform their experience.

  2. Kris, Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right. A blind focus on quarterly results will not lead to growing people with a wide-range of versatile skills. I can only offer anecdotal evidence in support of my “hope” which is that when I see teams made up of a wide range of skills this generally leads to better and more viable solutions. These do not have to be long-lived teams but can be ones that are bought together for a short period of time (even a one hour brainstorming meeting) to focus on solving a particular problem.

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