Women and tech and hours

A brief thought on this article: it repeatedly mentions hours worked as a problem for women in the tech industry. Long hours are difficult for people with families, and the structure of our society gives women less flexibility to favor work over family life. There’s something that bothers me, though.

The tech industry is fairly well known for flexible hours and working situations. I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a place where it wasn’t common for people to work from home or have adjusted schedules. Meetings can be had remotely. Communication is over email, not time-sensitive phone calls. Two men I work with today have adjusted schedules on a week-to-week basis to accommodate their families. And I work at a start-up, which the article calls out as more hostile to women.

As I understand it, women in tech tend to be more represented in corporate and government jobs. In that case, I’m assuming a combination of predictable/shorter hours and family leave policies make things easier. But there’s still one thing that bothers me.

Why are women so heavily represented in the service industry? Service jobs frequently have irregular hours and suddenly-imposed overtime. They’re particularly common in jobs which have very little room for flexibility in hours: reception, child care, and such. Women who work in these fields often have families and children. Nursing is another female-dominated field with infamous hours and minimal room for adjustment. Obviously, hours by themselves can’t be the only issue.

I’ll hazard a few theories here. These are neither exhaustive nor exclusive. Forgive me for the hypothetical phrasing — I prefer to leave it to women to make definitive statements about their own lives.

First, there’s a class component. Working-class families have had to tolerate full-time dual-earner (or single-earner unmarried) households for a long time. Service jobs are working-class occupations. Tech jobs are generally middle-class, and there’s a stronger societal pressure in the middle class for women to back off from work to spend time with their children. Working-class women simply do not have the choice to switch to less demanding careers.

Second, male-dominated industries like tech are probably more hostile to women adjusting their work life for their home life. Company policies might be less explicit about permitted family leave. Other employees may not be taking such leave and serving as an example that it’s socially and professionally accepted. Supervisors may simply be less tolerant of women taking time off, and may implicitly or explicitly associate it with their gender. This all ties somewhat into my third point.

Third, excessive hours might just be the last straw for a job where women are treated as if they don’t belong. Women not only drop out of software engineering careers at a higher rate, but they enter it at a much lower rate. After years and years of educational and professional environments where women are excluded and treated as rare mutants and sex objects, the issue of hours may seem at long last like a tolerable justification for getting out of the line of fire.