February 16th, 2011
08:24 AM GMT
Barcelona (CNN) – The queue for the toilets says it all. Twenty men patiently stand in line as I saunter past into the ladies’ loo – which is mercifully queue free.
It’s almost unheard of – except here in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, which definitely feels like a man’s world.
“I wish there were more women here,” says Robin Wauters, a tech journalist from Belgium. “If there are any women, they’re in marketing and PR. The cause of the divide is because there are not many women engineers, developers and managers.”
“It’s a closed circle driven for years by men,” says sales manager Daniel Barbieri from Colombia. “Women are ashamed to be in a closed and aggressive environment.”
His colleague Maureen Orozco says: “It’s intimidating – you have to be very tough.”
Most people I speak to say the male mastery of this industry is all down to education – starting from very early on.
“It’s the way that the genders are educated to think,” says Alice Macklin, a conference producer from the UK. “Girls play with dolls and build a society. Boys play with guns and trucks and toolkits."
Whether you put it down to different biology or different expectations – the result is the same: Fewer girls go into engineering. And engineering graduates are building this industry.
Mike Dauber is the vice president of a U.S.-based venture capital firm which specializes in investing in tech. He is also the proud dad of a six-year-old daughter. “I want her to have exposure to math and science,” says Dauber.
“Engineering is a very math-driven profession – and for one reason or another women don’t get as much into math. My wife works for a hardware company and she is the one woman senior director out of a hundred,” Dauber says. “This industry is losing a lot of potential because it is dominated by men.”
Some I talked to are worried that the only women working on some stands at MWC are dancing girls. “They were wearing highly revealing dresses,” says Svetlana Meshkova, a sales executive. “The company did not have anything on the stand – just their brand and four girls. I got upset.”
“It’s a bit of an error of judgment,” says Alice Macklin. “I think it will put people off approaching their stand. It’s not a sexist industry.”
Not everyone agrees. Karly Li is from Hong Kong and distributes mobile phones and IT products. She said some people at MWC assume she’s more in a more junior role than she actually is.
“All the bosses are men,” Li says. “I still think there is discrimination against women.”
Most people I speak to are optimistic that more women will join the industry in time. “It’s a very young industry so it’s easy for women to get into,” says Alice Macklin.
Others predicted it would take 20 years or more before things change. Many at MWC are keen to see it happen – exhibitor Patrick De Lareberdiere said: “I would say it’s always good to have more women. It will take some time."
Daniel Barbieri adds: “I would prefer to see 100 women for every man.”