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Blue is for boys and pink is for girls: why is tech so masculine?

Whatever your views on innate gender differences, advances in modern neuroscience mean it is getting more and more difficult to argue that men and women have different brains.

This worldview lost fashion somewhere around the 1970s, partly due to strides in feminism, a need for women to enter the workplace in greater numbers and general increases in levels higher education.

Those damn hormones!

No one disputes that hormonal differences (hello, oestrogen and testosterone) influence our emotions and behaviour, but if we look at cognitive processing in isolation, women are just as capable of understanding technology as men.

Where we start to trip up is when I hear so many women saying (myself included, once): “Oh, I don’t understand technology,” or, “Technology scares me, I just get my boyfriend to do it.”

This attitude has to come from somewhere. There is nothing mysterious about technology, since humans made it, and humans certainly can understand it.

There will be echelons of knowledge that can only be reached by an elite few, but everyone is capable of coming to grips with the basics of technology.

We’re still stereotyping

I think one of the reasons that tech is such a masculine subject is because traditionally ‘feminine’ characteristics have been leeched out of the field.

We’re getting down to some very basic stereotypes here, but if you look at any tech website, product or magazine, blue, grey and black are the dominant colours. The designs are also pretty hard and stark – think of any financial building or men’s toiletry packaging.

I’m not saying that women only like pink and sparkly things, but the balance of gender within tech design and branding is far weighted towards colours and layouts aimed at men.

Take a look at this infographic depicting gender by colour, showing the preferences men and women show for different colours. 17% of women dislike grey, for example, compared with 5% of men.

Here is a screenshot from the infographic of two pie charts comparing average male and female favourite colours:

Male female colour differences chart

And now take a look at two popular tech websites – the first of which is arguably much more ‘mainstream’.

tech-radar-screenshot

techradar [more male-oriented – typical of tech websites in general]

gadgette-screenshot

Gadgette [Aimed exclusively at women – note the lack of cars, no references to porn, softer colour scheme, and more emotional tone]

It’s pretty clear that tech websites in general are designed with a predominantly male audience in mind – which is alienating to women by subtly suggesting that tech is a ‘masculine’ subject.

Chicken or the egg?

You may say that if men are mainly reading tech websites, then it makes sense for companies to use colour schemes that most appeal to them.

However, the design of products influences the creation of gender identity, which is distinct from a person’s sex (an attribute that is innate). This starts happening from when a child is born and is continually recreated throughout a person’s life (find out more about mass approval for recently launched game developer Barbie, making up for a previous Mattel debacle in 2014).

It’s really important that senior stakeholders try to think more about the importance of gender balance in tech before briefing their designers.

The language of technology

Equally, the language of tech is forbidding. I think that removing all of the emotion from tech has alienated many women, as this has traditionally been our realm of expertise (no comment on whether this is actually true).

Some research by Koppel and Argamon does show written language differences between men and women, with women using more pronouns and prepositions, and they prefer to focus on topics concerning processes, perceptions, and relationships.

But in tech, it’s all ‘hard drives’, ‘hacking’, ‘processing’, ‘growth accelerator’, ‘venture capital’ and ‘algorithms’.

Aside from the fact that obscure language is alienating in itself, the masculine nature of almost all tech terminology subtly discourages women from participating through repeated conditioning, by suggesting that this world is not for them.

‘Women-friendly’ fields?

I really love what sites like Gadgette and Skillcrush are doing by ‘disrupting’ (haha) the traditional designs and personalities of tech websites and infusing their brands with more gender balance. All the usual tech topics are still there, but are softened with gentle humour, inclusion of social topics, and an emotional subtext is included in the posts and products.

There are other websites like NOI Ladies and KnowledgeOwl which do an incredible job of turning traditional job titles and descriptions in to fun, charming mini-biographies that remind you successful people are still human (somewhere deep down!). It’s inclusive and encouraging, which more women arguably need in order to persuade them that tech is not just a boys’ club.

The fields of UX and design have better levels of diversity compared to other areas of tech, partly because they are seen as ‘softer’ and more ‘emotive’, with a stronger emphasis on the people element.

However, all areas of tech can benefit from a bit more gender balance, because at the end of the day it is still people who will be using the products and services.

A more rounded worldview

And I think this is really important for those who are interested in tech – men and women – who don’t want to have a one-dimensional worldview. I don’t want to pretend I don’t have feelings, just so I am allowed to participate in the world of tech (as if it even exists in isolation, anyway).

We create boundaries and labels for things so they are more easily digested in the wider social realm, and I understand that. But there comes a point when an idea or a concept matures enough that it can become deeper and more nuanced in the collective mindset, and there are many leading the way in this regard.

I hope that my blog in some way contributes to this important movement.

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About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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