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Gender Imbalance, Not Bias

I’ve been trying to avoid the discussion of gender and technology. Really trying. As with most delicate topics, there’s a lot of strong opinions, which typically means it’s better to walk away.

It’s not that I didn’t have an opinion on the topic, it’s just that I wasn’t sure how to put my thoughts into words, as I’m sure was the case with many others.

Earlier today, Richard Barton, the iconic founder of Zillow, Expedia, Glassdoor and Trover, came to the SEOmoz offices for a fireside chat, where the topic of gender came up. Specifically, the question of whether he thought a gender bias existed in technology was asked, and his answer echoed exactly what I had been trying to put into words for so long. Simply, he said this:

There’s a gender imbalance, not a gender bias.

Imbalance and bias. The two may sound similar, but in fact they’re quite different. Paraphrasing, an imbalance is a lack of proportion between two things. Bias on the other hand, is an inclination towards a perspective at the expense of alternatives.

When you look at the words in context of the gender discussion, it elegantly describes where we stand. As a society, we want equality. We want a level playing field. We all want more women in technology, regardless of gender.

Competition breeds quality. It’s what’s best for technology.

The problem, however, is that historically those interested in technology have skewed in favor of men. That’s not to say that there’s not any women that shared those interests, it just means that there were less of them. Fewer in comparison. The result is an imbalance today.

Looking around, groups are popping up that are dedicated to female programmers and technologists. Computer science departments are becoming more evenly distributed between genders. Women are taking powerful positions. The transition is happening, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Therein lies the point. We’ve been mistaking the issue of imbalance as an issue of bias.

There will always be an ignorant asshole that insinuates bias or prejudice, but it’s the way of the world. That’s not independent of technology. It’s those few ignorant assholes that have tarnished the true thoughts of the technology industry, leaving an imaginary gap between the opinions of many and the irrational thoughts of few.

A bias doesn’t exist, an imbalance does – but not for much longer.

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