The dust has had some time to settle now on last week’s Nadellagate, and it’s left me thinking that the tech industry, and IT in particular, has a deeper issue of lack of a diversity of thought of which gender bias is just a symptom.
I’m not one who particularly believes in diversity for diversity’s sake. I do, however, think that certain industries suffer from a lack of variation in their memepool that means that they have a tendency to make the same mistakes again and again.
In the world of IT I’d see this as best typified in a distinction drawn from the world of Myers Briggs – Tech is an industry dominated by Thinkers over Feelers. Now first off, let’s not get sidelined into debate about the validity of the Myers Briggs assessment – I’m just using the T-F continuum as a way to illustrate my point. Thinkers make decisions based on what they think is important, Feelers on what they feel is important.
Now that nice logical approach might sound like a sensible thing to have when you’re dealing with computers. And for much of the production process (particularly the bit which involves translating the world around us into code) it’s almost essential. The problem (and one that I see increasing) is that that logical part is a less and less important part of the complexities of delivering technology, particularly within organisations. It all tends to go wrong if you use logic to determine the absolute behaviours of people, or if the logical part gets caught up in a bubble unrelated to the outside world.
As a rough rule of thumb, the place where IT project that fail go wrong is the bit where technology hits people. The bit where Thinkers need to be balanced by Feelers.
IT today (and much of the traditional tech industry) feels constrained by the legacy of big engineering of the past. That culture lends itself to self-replication and an institutionalised set of bias that, quite frankly, put a lot of people off. Whilst observing measurable phenomenon such as gender splits in the workforce might be good indicators about where those biases lie, there is a real risk from making those balances the goal for action. That would be akin to trying to the raise the numbers of black officers in an institutionally racist police service.
I think greater diversity of thinking within the tech industry is vital – not on principles of equality, but on principles of getting a better job done. Computing is so far beyond the realms of backroom engineering yet its culture seems to have moved little to recognise that shift.