Why Women Shouldn’t Code

Women shouldn’t code.

Or at least we should not be teaching every little girl to code in the hope of attracting more women to the technology business that way. Of course if a woman is actually interested in code, she should be encouraged. But our current initiative to try to teach girls to code is misguided.

Yes, this goes against the diversity goals, because everyone knows that tech companies don’t have enough women on their boards, in their management, or on their staffs. But that isn’t necessarily cured by teaching more women to code. It’s cured by hiring more women and promoting them from other parts of the organization. The person who codes is not often the person who rises to CEO.

  1. First of all, coding itself is a narrow function in which you write instructions to tell a computer what to do. People are fond of saying code is the next language, and that’s all fine, but there’s a difference between language and syntax. Coding is syntax. It is finely detailed work in a binary world, and it requires both attention to detail. When you write a line of code, you have to close the parentheses and make sure you put in the semi-colon or the code won’t run. It requires enormous concentration, and it is exacting. It’s often done in a dark room with no interruptions. But the most important people in the company don’t write the code, they tell the coders what to write. Coders don’t make the big decisions.
  2. Women don’t seem to want to code. They don’t choose it as a career, despite all the job openings and the high pay. In general, women are more intuitive and more perceptive. There’s mountains of research about that. They’re also more nurturing. That’s hard-coded into them for the preservation of the race. I’ve got grandchildren of both sexes and I have about sixteen data points from which I draw this conclusion. But PET scans of the brain have led scientists to similar conclusions. The girls are not drawn to the same pursuits the boys are, no matter how hard you try to bring them up with gender equality.
Scientists working at Johns Hopkins University, recently reporting in the “Cerebral Cortex” scholarly journal (1), have discovered that there is a brain region in the cortex, called inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) which is significantly larger in men than in women. This area is bilateral and is located just above the level of the ears (parietal cortex).
Furthermore, the left side IPL is larger in men than the right side. In women, this asymmetry is reversed, although the difference between left and right sides is not so large as in men, noted the JHU researchers. This is the same area which was shown to be larger in the brain of Albert Einstein, as well as in other physicists and mathematicians. So, it seems that IPL’s size correlates highly with mental mathematical abilities. Morphological brain differences in intellectual skills were suspected to exist by neurologists since the times of phrenology (although this was proved to be a wrong approach), in the 19th century. The end of the 20th century has witnessed the first scientific proofs for that.

3. There will be plenty of coders in the future. We happen to be in a period in which software rules, or as somebody once said, “software is eating the world.” But we’re fighting the last war here; we will eventually do the same thing with coders that we did with every other occupation where we identified a shortage: create a glut. We’ve done it with doctors, physical therapists, nail technicians, and lawyers. And then who will make the robots?

4. The difference between good and bad code is like the difference between grammar and writing. Writing requires much more than just a knowledge of grammar and syntax. It also requires organization, imagination, creativity and experience. The analogue to writing in software development, IMHO, isn’t coding per se, it is system architecture and user interface.

So here’s what I propose. Stop trying to coerce women to code. Instead, hire them for the talents they have that tech companies sorely need: marketing, leadership, human capital attraction, and negotiating skills. And then don’t sideline them by calling those “staff” instead of “line” functions. Instead, recognize that a product does not make a company, and that even in a company whose product is software, many other skills are required at which women have always excelled.

In other words, stop forcing women into the male mold and accept them for who they are.

—with gratitude to Tishin Donkersley and the AZTechWriters