Physical Work Creep: Why Men Might Get More Opportunities in IT

I recently took the Linux Foundation “Inclusive Speaker Training”. In brief, it argues that the IT sector favors men due to unconscious bias. This got me thinking: Is it possible that unconscious bias is due to certain IT jobs benefiting (or having benefited in the past) from physical strength?

For better or worse, our species features sexual dimorphism: Women are on average physically less strong than men, although intellectually at least as capable. I found that many IT jobs still benefit from physical strength:

  • When working as a network engineer, it was beneficial to be able to lift a 60kg router1 – albeit with a co-worker – to install it in the rack. Of course, whoever physically installed the router was also given priority to play with it and hands-on learn about its new features.

  • When working in start-ups, we often had to carry and mount our own furniture2. Physical strength could reduce the number of person-hours required to complete the task.

  • Few decades ago, computer screens were crazy heavy, even for men. As a student, we often had to carry such screens ourselves. This blessed us with access to more screen estate, better colors and/or higher resolutions.

I conjecture that each instance of physical work creep gives men more opportunities. For example, a better screen a decade ago could give male graphics designer a small heads-up. Even if men do not intellectually benefit from physical work creep, it might still reinforce the stereotype: “This male candidate feels more suitable for X”.

Fortunately, if my conjecture is true, the solution is “easy”: Fight physical work creep, by making devices, installations, furniture, etc. more physically inclusive.

Could physical work creep cause unconscious bias? Have any scholars studied this issue? Are there more / better examples of physical work creep in IT jobs?

Just to make sure, I don’t try to argue that physical work creep is the one-and-only problem, that requires the one-and-only solution. Rather, I argue that this phenomenon might be a significant contributor to gender inequality and that has not been given sufficient attention.

Afterthought

I conjecture that this issue is not restricted to IT. Non-fly-by-wire airliners, e.g., B737, require force to command the stick, which may be designed to the strength of men. I would be curious to see if the proportion of female pilots on Airbus A320 is larger than on B737. Although my evidence is anecdotal, two films I saw for encouraging more female pilots, one from EasyJet and one from Emirates, both feature female pilots with Airbus fly-by-wire airliners.


  1. See, for example, a fully-equipped Cisco 7606. ↩︎

  2. Although Ikea has made significant progress with reducing the needs of physical strength, at the time of this writing, the popular BEKANT Skrivbord sitt/stÃ¥ 160x80 requires carrying 3 packages of around 16kg each. ↩︎