In my post, "The American Dream Need Not Be Realized in America," last week, I suggested that unemployed and underemployed U.S. IT pros should look at opportunities overseas in their pursuit of a rewarding IT career. I received a lot of interesting reader feedback to that post, but the most insightful comment came from a reader who addressed the gender issue.
"Don, I'd like to see how you would feel if you were a woman engineer," the reader wrote. "In almost all other countries, it's a lot worse for women, especially the working mother."
While it might not necessarily be the case that the situation is a "lot" worse for women in "almost all" other countries, it's certainly the case that there are plenty of countries where women face far worse discrimination than they do here. My sense, based on having covered the global IT industry for many years, is that in Europe, women fare no worse than they do here, and that some European countries are, in fact, more progressive with respect to supporting women in the workplace. But elsewhere, especially in the Middle East, women often have a much steeper hill to climb than they do in the United States.
In November, International Science Grid This Week carried an interview with Claire Devereux of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. Devereux had visited Lebanon in September as part of an exchange program to promote women in IT, and her observations were sobering:
Both the UK and Lebanon face similar issues in making IT an attractive career for girls. We learned a huge amount about the additional barriers for women in Lebanon. Entering the workforce is difficult to start. Remaining in a career after marriage is even harder because culturally it is still expected that a married woman's primary role is to take care of the home, look after her husband and then produce his children.
While we met a lot of people who had "made it," they were exceptions, really, rather than the rule. We learned of many problems, such as nepotism often being the only way up the career ladder. One lady told us how her friend was paid off by her employer as soon as she married. It was considered cheaper in the long run and less hassle than having to think about women disappearing to have babies.
The reader's point was clearly an essential one to raise, and I should have raised it in my post. The attitudes toward women in many countries undoubtedly hamper opportunities for American women to seek employment overseas, and that's shameful. The idea of expanding one's job-seeking horizons beyond U.S. shores is nothing more than a tool in the toolbox. No doubt, due to widespread, culturally underwritten discrimination, that tool is likely to be wielded more successfully by a man than by a woman.