Dangers of Dismissing Women Out of Hand

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how on earth some IT vendors have made it as far as they have. They can be so dumb you just want to slap them.

Take Mod-Tap, a U.S.-based structured cabling supplier that has its Asia headquarters in Hong Kong. We received a press release from these folks announcing that the company had developed what it calls Residential Cabling Systems, or RCS, a communications cabling infrastructure for the household. Of course that feat shouldn’t have surprised us, because Mod-Tap “is renowned for providing innovative multimedia solutions for communication cabling,” or so we’re told.

What RCS does, Mod-Tap explains, is provide a centralized network management system to distribute telephone, data, and video signals around the home — so that, for example, you could watch a video in any room in the house without having to move the VCR. “Mod-Tap RCS brings the home forward 30 years, by providing access to all information and entertainment services to every room in the house,” the release proclaims.

Now, are you ready for this? This is the example Mod-Tap gives to illustrate the concept:

“Most households will have a VCR in the living room. If you would like to watch a video in your room, normally you would need to unplug the VCR, carry it to your room and then connect it again. This seems to be a cumbersome exercise in this modern world. Particularly, when housewives would like to do the same when their husbands are at work, they often find it difficult to manage and could only wait until their husbands come home to solve the problem.”

Is that priceless or what? Can you even begin to conceive that a company that professes to be so innovative could in reality be so hopelessly out of touch? And they’re talking about bringing the home forward by 30 years? Sounds to me like they’re trying to push us all back by about 30 years.

It is almost incomprehensible that any company, especially a company in the IT space, could allow this embarrassing nonsense to be released to the public. Portraying women as delicate flowers waiting at home until their husbands return from work to pat their petals and rescue them from their helplessness would be humorous were it not so utterly offensive.

This condescending attitude on the part of a vendor is all the more perplexing when you consider what the vendor stands to lose. Anyone in an IT company who allows women to be painted with such a ridiculous, outmoded brush might do well to ponder the fact that research sponsored last year by IBM Corp. and conducted by the U.S. National Foundation for Women Business Owners found that women-owned businesses generate revenues of US$2.3 trillion annually in the U.S. alone, and account for one-quarter of overall business in the economy worldwide.

Moreover, the research showed that out of a group of women business owners surveyed at two international conferences, 79 per cent expressed concern that they weren’t getting adequate access to information about new technologies that could help expand their businesses. And in each country surveyed, over two-thirds of the women entrepreneurs said that learning about new technology was “very important” or “extremely important.” One wonders how they might receive information on new technology as presented by Mod-Tap.

It might also be prudent for anyone in the IT business who shares the view depicted in the Mod-Tap press release to consider that it’s not only women business owners, but women in general, who are driving some of the most advanced developments in IT. International Data Corp. is forecasting that this year there will be more women than men using the Internet. And Zona Research Inc. says that in 1998, although men outspent women on the Internet, the increase over the previous year in on-line spending among women was more dramatic, rising 308 per cent, compared to a 145 per cent increase among men.

If that trend is indicative of the growing influence that women yield in the field of information technology — and I suspect it is — perhaps our Mod-Tap friends might want to take it into account before issuing that next press release.