Women in Technology Part One: "I bet she wished she never asked"

Not so long ago on a chilly but crisp winter's walk with a friend, she asked me "if you could live in any era, which would you go to and why?"

I thought long and hard. As a child of the 1980s, and now, an adult with a passion for post modernism and a yearning for the roaring 20s, there were plenty of eras for me to explore.

Imagine, if you will, the neon coloured electrical neurons in my brain sparking into action, actively sending a trillion signals at once, conjuring up enormous amounts of imagination in my mind… that was me exploring places I'd only ever read about, and trying to remember memories that I wasn't sure were even my own.

With the seeming delights of every era, comes the darker underbelly of it. I'm no historian or politician, but in the fleeting moments of the pressure on deciding my era to time travel to, my journey was stuttered with 'buts', mostly centred around what it was like to live, work and be taken seriously as a women in days gone by.

The 1920s were the consumption of style. Full of glamour and home to a new wave of artistic and literary genius that we still marvel today. 

Maybe I'd travel there.

But then again, yes women were given the right to vote, but the separate spheres of men and women remained a cultural attitude in the hearts and minds of many, meaning that active women in politics in 1929 still had very little power. With only 23% of the workforce being women, I think the gender divide would have annoyed me, so, no the 20s are out.

How about life in the 50s?

It was the dawn of the generous and fast paced pop art era, sensationalised visual communication and the breakthrough of fashion icons and leading ladies Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn.  A strong woman took the helm of the British monarchy and as Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England she accepted perhaps the biggest career of them all. But then again, this required a bit more thought. The abstract expressionism was all too often a reflection of the trauma and anguish of the devastating World War II. I then started to think about the perfect house wives and their neat and tidy homes. I started to think about the painted faces of the women sandwiched between the war time sacrifices of the 1940s and the colourful abundance of the ‘swinging sixties’. Women in the 50s were facing their future but one that was already so constrained.

Women in the 50s were facing their future but one that was already so constrained.

The vote passing of 1928 was pretty much where the equality line was drawn. Working women were paid much less than men, and the 1944 Education Act, which was supposed to give everyone ‘parity of esteem’, didn’t really work out and teachers had narrow expectations for girls, seeing their destiny lie in the marital home with the husband and children. You could forget further and higher education, as only 1.2% of women went to university in the 1950s. Work would only ever have been the stop gap between leaving school and walking down the aisle, it certainly wasn't a career.  As a degree educated and career minded individual, this wouldn’t do either. Even if I did have a penchant for American style drive-in movie theatres.

So where would I go?

Perhaps I should just go back to where life began for me, in the 1980s. As a child, I didn’t really appreciate what was going on around me, and as an adult looking back on this colourful, flammable era, I practically (and naively) roll my eyes. Of course, I was there, but only now do I realise what a dramatic shift women experienced in terms of employability. What's more, for the first time in my era scanning process, I realised, women seemed to be migrating into sectors of the work force traditionally occu­pied by men. In 1985 women's share of professional jobs increased to 49% and their share of "management" jobs nearly doubled growing from 20 to 36%.

In 1985 women's share of professional jobs increased to 49% and their share of "management" jobs nearly doubled growing from 20 to 36%.

The New York Times Magazine reported in 1984 that from 1960 to 1983 the percentage of lawyers who were women had risen from 2% to 15% and the percentage of jobs in banking and financial management held by women had risen from 9 to 39%. Whilst seemingly still 'not good enough' by today's equality stakes, this was a huge shift change in culture and one that has lead us to where we are today. That said, I just don’t think I could be the career woman I choose to be whilst having to manoeuvre sideways to get through a doorway, and I'm not sure I want to contribute to the amount of compressed gases in the sheer volume hairspray consumed by the 80s that were notorious for their contribution to global warming.

It's a tough one.

But that's when it hit me. History serves us well, but why should I look back? The question was "if you could live in any era, which would you go to and why?". It hadn't occurred to me at first that I could use this mystical ideal to make a quantum leap into an era of unknown. From the 1920s, 1950s, 1980s to today, we're seeing huge progression not only in the closure of the gender divide, but advancements in medicine, science and of course technology. I would like to pop back to the 1920s and show them a smart phone… and I also often wonder if we'll 'LOL' at the smart phone in 50 years' time. 

For me, whatever era is coming it should be powered by choice, freedom and equality, not greed, punishment and control.  How men and women play a part in that will be down to individuals. Providing those individuals are afforded fairness and are prepared to take up more space in the world, there's no reason anyone can't achieve anything, and as a woman working in the technology space in the 21st century, this fills me with cheery optimism. 

So which era did I choose to live in? I chose the right here, right now…

Look out for Part Two where I share my experience of a local Women in Technology event.

Click for your free copy of The Women in Technology Edit

Related posts

More insights