Some time ago now, when I was a teenager, I was told a shaggy dog story. For those who haven’t heard of shaggy dog stories, they are purposefully longwinded tales that play upon the preconceptions of the audience. The audience listens with certain expectations which in the end are either not met or met in some entirely unexpected manner challenging the audience to check how they think.
I won’t take up this space and your time telling a full length shaggy dog story but I will recount the gist of the story to highlight the preconception that I’m afraid I was guilty of as a teenager and still sometimes fall into the trap of now.
A girl is lying in a hospital bed having had a serious accident. So serious, in fact, she has to remain in hospital for a good while. She is visited by many people: Her friends, the doctor, the nurses, her father, her teachers, her brother and her sister, each of them bringing her get better soon gifts and asking after her well-being.
When the tale comes to a close the narrator says: Didn’t this girl receive a lot of visits? Then asks: How many times did her mother visit, can you tell me?
You stop. And think. And decide to say: Well it’s a bit tricky counting up all of the mother’s visits because there were so many visits altogether, too many to keep track of the mother’s. But then you think, actually I don’t think the mother visited at all. Yes, that’s right. The poor girl didn’t get one visit from her mother. How could that be?
But she did, you see, because the girl’s mother was the doctor and you just didn’t even consider the doctor could be a woman at all.
This male/female association of roles is an issue we suffer from in IT, something this article goes part way to explaining:
The author – herself a woman who works in IT – makes the good point that when most people think IT engineer they think male IT fanatic and that from early school days onwards girls need to be introduced to an image of IT that is as appealing to them as that attached to the languages and humanities, subjects girls tend to choose.
She also gives a piece of advice to women considering a career in IT, which is this: Look beyond the image and see the opportunities that await you. It’s a call to unpack your own preconceptions as much as everyone else’s and to play a role in defining for yourself another image of people in IT.
I’m all for it.