“Girls study tech and media, but they don’t become tech journalists. Where do the girls go?”
I’ve heard variations of this question hundreds of times. This time it was at a Girl Geek Dinner, where we discussed the lack of female journalists who specialize in technology. The question came from Beathe Due, dean of computer science at the University of Østfold, a school that actually offers a bachelor program in digital media production. There are plenty of girls at this program, and other tech-related educations around Norway – and the world. And girls outnumber guys at journalism school and in social media.
So why don’t more of these girls become tech journalists? Where do they go?
Well, I went into PR. For a lot of reasons, but one of them was that Burson-Marsteller sought me out as someone who knew both tech and writing, and then offered me a steady job.
Given the choice between taking temp job after temp job, and accepting steady employment, I chose the safest option – and I think many of the potential tech journalist girls start their careers in a similar way.
In all our efforts to recruit women into science and technology – enforcing quotas, getting little girls excited about math projects, introducing teens to good role models, networks like Girl Geek Dinners – we shouldn’t forget the importance of working conditions. In a lot of cases, it won’t be the technology that holds girls back, but the working culture dominated by geeky men, or the career prospects.
The past few months have been particularly bad for Norwegian newspapers, with many of the major news groups reporting that they will have to cut budgets and let journalists go. This is part of an on-going trend (which I blogged about five years ago), and it shows in students’ choices: journalism schools have gotten easier to get into, and students are thinking of dropping out to find a career path with less doom and gloom.
But if you are fluent in both geek speak and tabloid headlines, there are plenty of jobs out there outside of journalism, and plenty of companies actively recruiting women. Why fight for a short-term temp job in a newspaper that’s losing money, when there are better options?
Of course this affects guys too. But I think that on an overall, statistical level, more girls will be choosing stability over adventure at an earlier part of their career. Not because our personalities are more risk-averse, but because many of us will reach a point where we have to ask ourselves “Can I combine this career with kids?” in our twenties, rather than our thirties.
So it’s not just that female journalists aren’t choosing technology, but that girl geeks have little incentive to choose journalism.
That’s my theory. I’m reading Unlocking the Clubhouse by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher, a book that explores the reasons women and girls do not end up in computer science. One of Margolis and Fisher’s observations that caught my eye early on, is the cultural idea that “science is a calling, something that a scientist wants to do, needs to do above all else and at all costs”. This idea is certainly part of the culture of writers and journalists as well. But that means these fields will attract the single-minded people who can devote all their time to their calling. That requires determination and discipline of course, but also a lot of practical help from the rest of the world – especially if your calling can’t offer a permanent contract. To recruit a more diverse group of technology journalists – including women – newsrooms need to be able to present technology journalist as a career you can stay in for longer than six months at a time.
Photo credit: Debs (ò‿ó)♪ via photopincc
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If Girl Geek Dinners sounds interesting to you, see if there are events or other ways to get involved with this network in your area. If your area is Oslo, here’s the local network website – and you can join our Twitter discussions with #GGDO