You often hear that gender diversity is beneficial in different ways, but the claim is not always complemented by examples that support it. Since I keep an eye out for cases where the female perspective does make a difference the FT article What is it about girls and IT? caught my attention. It is mostly based on Emma McGrattan, senior vice-president of engineering at Ingres, an open source database company and it presents some claims that are more specific than the ones you usually find. Here is a section of the long article:
Take Ms McGrattan at Ingres: if shown pieces of code, she believes she could guess whether it was written by a man or a woman, and be right "at least 80 per cent of the time".
"In general, code written by women is more straightforward and more practical - it's clear what problem the functions are meant to solve and why. Male programmers are more likely to hide clever tricks behind complicated code and incorporate functions for the sake of it," she says.
These differences, she adds, can be complementary if blended correctly. "Where men and women work on technology projects together, you tend to get a far better, more balanced result," she says. This rule, she adds, applies to numerous projects and tasks that go on within the IT industry.
So is the industry missing out on a valuable "talent bank" of skills by failing to attract more women? Analysts at IT market research company Gartner think so. Last year, Gartner analyst Kathy Harris was lead author on a report that set out to explore the issue, drawing on extensive biological, psychological and behavioural research.
“Our review of the summary literature on gender studies revealed that a small subset of general characteristics of men versus women have been demonstrated so often that they have become de facto," she says.
Women, she found, tend to demonstrate better bilateral brain involvement in listening - in combining left-brain thinking (logic, analysis and a concern for accuracy) with right-brain thinking (aesthetics, feeling and creativity) simultaneously. This ability, she says, is highly prized by the IT sector in roles such as business analyst and team leader.
The article then goes on to describe some of the more well-known and obvious differences. It also presents some views on how this may improve the industry and where the field of IT would have been today if these differences had been acknowledged and embraced earlier. Read it – it is interesting.