• 02.23.11

How Come There Aren’t More Women in Technology?

Try a little hormones, brain anatomy, and mirror neurons and voila… viva la difference!

And why do women for the most part not start wars?


Several explanations to both of these questions come to mind that are based
on hormones, brain anatomy, and mirror neurons.

Oxytocin is the hormone that is both released by emotionally
bonding to another person and then increasing that bonding. It goes way up in women during child
birth and during nursing afterwards.
Interestingly oxytocin levels are about the same in women and men, but
estrogen in women causes the oxytocin to exert more of an effect in women. Emotionally bonding to others is
antithetical to staying focused on a goal to the exclusion of all human
emotional connection.

Years ago I
heard of an experiment where boys and girls were playing volleyball (before
both started playing club volleyball).
In the games that boys played, they stuck to the rules; whereas in the
game that girls played, they would bend the rules to add another player on the
court rather than leave her excluded. Men bond with other men in service of a
goal, but they don’t often bond just for the sake of closeness itself. To excel in technology and for that matter, be a
“rocket scientist,” staying focused on the goal, the strategy and tactics to
get there are critical.

A second explanation for why there are so few women in
technology is because in their brain anatomy, women have a thicker corpus
than men. The corpus
callosum is the fiber network that connects the left and right
hemispheres. The thicker it is,
the more that the emotional right brain and logical left brain communicate and
mitigate purely emotional or purely logically directed behavior that one
engages in. This may explain why
men can either become coldly logical or become violently emotional around sports and around making war, because
when they are coming from either their logical or emotional brain they are
coming purely from either. This
might also explain why women don’t wage war, because when logic directs one
towards a “zero sum” game, war can sometimes seem like the only alternative
when the emotional bull inside men see “red.”

A final explanation may be due to the area of the brain referred to as the mirror neuron
region. Mirror neurons are called
that because they are activated when you watch someone do something, which is
why you yawn after seeing someone else yawn. They are also hypothesized to play a key role in
imitation (having been first discovered in macaque monkeys and called, “monkey
see, monkey do” neurons), learning and empathy. Evidence has also demonstrated that
there may be a relationship between deficient or defective mirror neuron
functioning in people with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism (since they seem to
both have trouble tuning in to visual cues and empathy). This may also explain why so many people, loosely and
cavalierly refer to techies as having Aspergers’ (as Bill Gates is thought to
have). It may be possible that the
mirror neuron function in the empathy department is more highly functional in
women than men (see: Mirror Neuron Receptor Deficit).

The takeaway from this not to get into an “either or” “right
or wrong” debate about men versus women in technology, but to utilize the
differences in a complimentary way that will together help them both make the
world better.

Read about The Most Influential Women in Technology and our expert views on Women in Tech

About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit.