Do you think women are stupid? They can't figure out what they like or don't like?
No. There must be some explanation for why there is a "leaky pipeline" for women. A certain percentage of women enter, say, CS majors in college. A smaller percentage graduate with CS degrees, and the attrition is higher for women than for men. A certain percentage of women with CS degrees get jobs in the tech industry. *Of the recent graduates with CS degrees*, a lower percentage of women get jobs than men. Of the people who enter the tech industry, a lower percentage of women than men stay for 10 year. A lower percentage of women than men get promoted. A lower percentage of women than men start their own tech companies. And so on.
There are a number of possibilities here. One is that women are just bad at tech, or inferior to men or something. This seems unlikely because women perform well in other professions such as law and medicine, and there is a huge amount of scientific evidence saying there are no differences in IQ, etc., between the genders. Plus, that argument was used for a couple of thousand years to keep women from competing with men in the workplace so it has a lot of baggage, and people are justifiably hostile to the suggestion. So let's call that settled -- no one here is arguing in favor of that proposition (unless Lawrence Summers
is posting as AC).
Another possibility is that women are subject to systemic bias that makes it hard for them to succeed in certain careers. This was the conclusion of the MIT Gender Equity Project. This is uncomfortable for many people to contemplate. You, for example, do not seem like you possess overtly misogynist views and you probably do not see those views in your male colleagues. If men are not opposed to women in IT, then what could be the problem? Well, read the MIT study. A combination of unconscious factors can indeed add up to institutional bias.
There is also a third possibility that we ought to keep in mind. That is the possibility that efforts to get more women into IT are doing more harm than good by coaxing women into a career they're not really committed to, and then find they don't like and easily drop out of. I do not believe this is the case because the MIT study and similar studies adequately explain the phenomena we see. However, it should not be unthinkable to consider that we may be trying too hard to get women into IT, and the question of how to get them into the field is somewhat independent of how to help them succeed once they get there.
Or that without preferential treatment they will go elsewhere?
It's an empirical fact that women leave IT at a higher rate than men, and the causes for their departure are well documented: the incompatibility of an IT career with primary child-rearing responsibilities is a major cause, as is lack of advancement and opportunity. So without some change in workplace conditions, or "preferential treatment" as you put it, women demonstrably do leave IT and go elsewhere at a higher rate than men.
I would add that efforts to address the attrition of women from IT do not have to be "preferential" to women in the sense that men can't benefit from them. A single father faces a lot of the same challenges as a single mother, for example. Men can benefit from mentoring and career coaching, which is one way to help everyone (including women) learn how to achieve high job satisfaction and high productivity.