I discovered the real reason why women stay away from information technology as a career: computer retailing. It creates the first impression — a bad one.
There’s no direct way for a young woman of 15 or 16 to realize that programming, debugging and dealing with ever-changing and irrational clients’ specifications is as fun as stapling your upper lip to a moving car. A 16-year-old won’t know this until she actually obtains that critical first ghastly job. But, she can easily see which men are keen on computers by simply going to any hard-core computer store and attempting to buy something.
I’m not talking about the shiny brand name stores. I’m talking about the real computer stores that don’t sell music DVDs — places where the price is better if you speak the language(s) and have already done research on the Web. To be certain you are in the right store, the retail space should be characterized by a huge number of cardboard boxes strewn about with evidence of a true disinterest in vacuuming.
If you can actually identify someone who works at the store, you will easily observe other deterrents to female presence. Staff members are normally male, confused and seem to be unclear on the purpose of a hairbrush. Nor did they learn that golf shirts with the company logo should be either fully tucked into the pants or cover the belt completely, not a 50-50 arrangement.
And if you think these guys are bad, wait until you meet the customers. The young men who seem to hover around stores are somehow obsessed with the technology itself — almost drooling over a box with the latest model of something-or-other. And the customers dress worse than the storekeepers: I like to call it ‘haute scruff.’
On the occasion that inspired this column, I wasn’t much better looking, but I have the advantage of being an old guy. Expectations are lower. This might explain why they attempted (and utterly failed) to convince me that a DVD burner I had just bought needed a firmware update. My BS filter caught that one pretty fast. The more pedestrian (and accurate) answer was that they sold me the wrong blank DVDs (DVD-R vs. DVD+R).
Being over 40, I am now classified as a dirty old man when faced with the under-30 female crowd. But my stage in life gives me the need and the experience to give away a couple of secrets about men. Despite what women who read ComputerWorld Canada may think, men don’t talk to each other in the men’s room. “Hi how are you?” uttered in a lavatory is a thesis.
Levels of flirtation are the other secret. When an attractive female enters a room, there are four levels of acceptable communication. (anything else is generally considered harassment):
1. Nothing — distracted by a television set being on
2. Eyes and smile flirt — 😉
3. Verbal flirt — “Wow, that’s a great outfit.”
4. Verbal flirt with intent to touch — “Wow, that’s a great outfit, can I buy you a drink?”
Most men do this to prove that they are hetero and to hedge their bets that their girlfriend or spouse is going to leave them. (Men’s conscious minds tend to ignore the cardboard boxes in the hallway that hold all her stuff and have a shipping address for another city. The subconscious does notice.)
Therefore you can see that, with all the electronics around them, men don’t even notice the stray female that enters the computer store. It’s like having six TVs on all at once, each featuring hockey or soccer finals.
So, when a woman walks into a computer store, she feels ignored by a bunch of distracted scruffy-looking boys who don’t even seem to have enough energy to go to a Level-2 flirtation, which is only one step above nothing.
And don’t think that just because you almost never see any girls in these stores, it means that they don’t know about them. They know — bad news travels fast.
Robert Ford is a consultant in Vancouver who promises to dress better when shopping. He can be reached at Robert@quokkasystems.com.