Women have never had it so good. Society is going through a global social revolution, characterised by the rise and dominance of the professional: one who possesses expertise and education and is able to assume their rightful place in a classless meritocracy.

A novel attribute of this post industrial society is the ability of women to assume public roles with status as professionals and managers.

In historic times, in the feudal and industrial ages, women were denied access to the controlling elites, as most of the land and capital was owned by men, and the laws of property saw that it remained that way.

In this age, through access to university, increasingly women are acquiring the necessary qualifications, and going on to take their share of occupations with standing in the community.

Then what is going wrong in computing? The 'pipeline' debates highlight the chronic problem of the small proportion of women taking degree courses in computing, which leads to poor representation in technical computing jobs and an insignificant number of women in decision-making positions and formulating technical policy. This inequality in power leads, for one thing, to bias in the development of tools.

For instance, to what social group did those who decided on the form of the universal interface between humans and computers: the 'desktop metaphor' GUI, belong?

One implication is an inherent shutting out of those to whom the interface is not intuitively obvious. Who designed the controlling software for my video recorder, apparently readily accessible only to young males of above average intelligence?

Through being in positions of authority, men control the production of the ethical codes of practice by companies and by professional bodies: codes which set the benchmark for the computing industry.

Their numeric domination of the upper echelons of organisations means that they decide who sits on ethical committees. 

Again men's interpretation of ethical issues feeds through into policy, decision making and legislation. However, the established ethical standpoint tends to ignore responsibilities towards the social group and the notion of care, historically the province of women, in favour of the rights of the individual.

Further, the predominant attitude of liberalism makes matters worse. Those of you reading this will be concerned to correct the gender imbalance you acknowledge exists in the computer industry, thereby removing a niggling blemish on the inexorable and otherwise admirable progress of technology.

Unfortunately, that attitude is ignoring why the gender problem occurs and, indeed, its deep-seated nature. You are congratulating yourselves for attempting to ameliorate the symptom without diagnosing and understanding the nature of the disease.

Technology, for all its apparent objectivity, has never been gender neutral. Historically, the typical industrial engineer or technician was male, and work offered the opportunity to bond with other males.

Technology allows men to control, especially raw materials and nature; men find dirt acceptable and are attracted by an element of risk. Technology has thus been integrated into the concept of masculinity to the exclusion of women, who have been associated with the domestic arena.

Hence, messages are conveyed in the media, and through the design of implements and processes, that women are not welcome, and indeed, most women don't want to come in. This is borne out by the attitude of young girls to technological subjects in school, despite the best efforts of well-meaning educators.

The beginnings of a solution lie in a serious examination of structures in the IT industry and in higher education, so that more women are leading and are in decision-making roles.

Men need to be more aware of sexist perceptions, such as unconsciously belittling women's contributions in meetings, creating male enclaves in committees and research groups and the confrontational culture, disliked by women, which often is the norm in industry.

By Jenny Davies, Vice Chair of the Ethics Expert Panel