Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Do You Prefer Men or Women?... Engineers, That Is.

We have been offshoring for about 2 years now with a small firm in Nepal. Recently someone referred a different offshore firm and suggested I should check them out as a backup option.

The contact happened to be someone based out of the San Francisco bay area, but he travelled frequently to India and eastern Europe, where he managed different offshore teams. The meeting started cordially, with the person describing different areas of technical prowess, fat communication lines where we can call a local phone number which rings an IP phone in Mumbai next to our offshore developers. He also had pictures showing the office -- very similar to the cube farms one would find in silicon valley.

Then he started asking me about our particular technology needs, what type of work we were trying to support with offshore help.. and then, out of the blue -- he asked me:

"Now, Sandeep... do you prefer men or women?"

What?? What kind of question is that, I thought. "Excuse me..?" I said.

"Well, do you prefer male engineers in your team, or women? We can assign team members however you like."

I tried to explain that it didn't matter. Not just because we have equal opportunities law here, but more from a fundamental belief that what's important is that we have productive software engineers, and we could care less about their gender or any other demographic traits.

Yet this person asked again -- implying I shouldn't get hung up on equal opportunity law, since apparently they don't in India, and if I had any deep-rooted prejudices against women software developers, this was my chance to make that clear, and he'd be more than happy to make that happen. He presented it almost a big differentiator that set his offshoring practice apart from others.

Needless to say, we didn't do any business with this person. However, it brings back the issues with gender prejudices in software engineering. Granted that the number of women in software field is very low compared to men, and on top of that we have stereotypes about women not being as good in math and sciences -- but, is it as bad where an offshore company can get away with asking for gender preference for your offshore team's makeup?

I hope not.

I'm not sure if my or anyone's chastising this person on gender equality would make any big of a difference. But if enough people say No, and say that gender doesn't matter, maybe he'll get the message.

Still, how many times do you get asked by a consulting firm -- "do you prefer men or women for your projects?" I can't help but scratch my head every time I think about it.

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uddhab said...

Interesting. The question reminded me my stay in India during studies. Basically it shouldn't matter male or female engineers in a team, but depends on person's perspective. In India and Nepal, it has seen that software engineers teams consist majority of male engineer and BPO teams consist of majority of women.
Recently I came across a software development company here in Nepal which has only female team in the company except founder and interesting fact about the company is that male engineers never get selected during interview. Not sure if this team is built as per client requirement or promote female engineers in software development.

Sandeep Giri said...

This weekend's San Francisco Chronicle reported a funny response along the same lines:

An African-American women recently commented that she was really torn about upcoming presidential elections -- as a woman, she'd like to vote for Hillary Clinton, and as an African American, she also likes Barak Obama very much -- so, she's torn.

The responder said -- well, I am torn too. As a male, I'd like to vote for Barak Obama, but as a white person, I also like Hillary Clinton very much -- so, I'm torn as well.

Unfortunately biases based on gender, race, etc. are not going to go away any time soon. To a great extent, I think it's a primal human trait. However, explicitly stating one's gender preference for a job position is more than just primal gender bias. That is discrimination -- and that, in any form, is unacceptable.

Ambika said...

Great blog I like it Giri bandhu...Keep it up

Offshore Software Development said...

very interesting blog!
(posted by: Tejinder, Offshore Software development company)

Business Credit Card Site said...

It doesn't matter, my mom is an engineer also my dad. They treated with the same level. The most important thing is the way you do your job correctly. Maybe, it depends also on some companies, but I haven't known any.

David said...

haha.. A great post. Left me thinking. But to be honest, all of us would agree that software development companies these days have a mix of male and female developers. Obviously the number of females are less about 30-40% of the males but this is simply because there are more number of male software engineers than female ones.