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Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men. (techcrunch.com)
121 points by MediaSquirrel on Aug 29, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments

I'm always slightly puzzled as to why this is an issue. Surely the goal is to have lots of innovative and successful startups, and the gender of who is founding them is irrelevant.

There aren't, as far as I can tell, any real barriers to women starting a tech company; being able to code, having a lot of mental resilience and having some starting capital is not something that's only possible if you're male.

" Surely the goal is to have lots of innovative and successful startups, and the gender of who is founding them is irrelevant."

Yes and no. Just as Paul Graham often says that there could be more startups than there are, and that would be a good thing, I suspect there can be a lot more female-founded startups, and that would also be a good thing. The goal is to have more successful startups, and from the numbers, it looks like there's many women who might otherwise have created a successful company, but don't start one because of lack of awareness/society pressures/etc.

In other words, just like pg tries to get more people to try entrepreneurship with his essays, by raising awareness and showing it is possible, more concentrated efforts to raise awareness are needed for groups who are also likely to succeed, but who are harder to get to.

It's a touchy political issue. Some people, for ideological reasons, would prefer gender equality everywhere possible. Some people suspect that women are different from men in how they use software, and that women are better equipped to serve female customers.[1] And some people think the low numbers of women in startups, or in the tech industry, indicates some fundamental discrimination or injustice against women.

[1] Think about the 50's and 60's--there were tons of companies almost entirely run by men who produced lots of products used almost exclusively by women. You have to wonder how well they really understood their customers.

Its funny how you never hear about anyone arguing for gender equality when it comes to death row or homelessness or psych wards or menial physical labor.

women are better equipped to serve female customers

While it would be difficult to A/B test, I rather suspect that the Y chromosome is not depressing my conversion rates.

We are going to need more identical-twins-separated-at-birth for this study, too.

For a moment there I thought you were going to make a completely different joke because of the quote you picked.

It must be my dirty mind at work.

You have to wonder how well they really understood their customers

A quote comes to mind: "You are not your target market". This is as true of women selling to women as it is for men selling to women.

Those companies in the 50's and 60's you refer to probably did perfectly well for themselves as long as they were listening to (and learning from) their customers.

I'm always slightly puzzled as to why this is an issue.

Young, single guys don't like having all of their coworkers also be guys? (Especially if they work crazy hours and are a bit light on social skills.)

Having more women in the field would make it more socially acceptable?

A bigger industry is better? (What about the industries we'd be stealing the women from?)

More competition is better? (Even when you're the one being competed against?)

Maybe having more women is a sign that the industry has become socially acceptable, or that we've learned better social skills, or something?

Maybe "women" here is really a stand-in for some larger group that wants our perceived salaries without our perceived social sacrifices?

i.e., I suspect it's not really about the women at all...

IMO, Its considered an issue because 1. Women have succesfully entered lots of other previously male-dominated fields (Doctors, Lawyers, Business execs, etc). 2. Tech is considered a "sexy" field to be in.

To expand, Women are still a minority in a lot of areas of work where physical differences are mostly unimportant-E.g. truck driving, skilled construction workers (carpenters/electricians), etc. Other engineering fields (eg EE) are similarly male-dominated, but being an EE or whatever isnt "sexy" in the way tech is, so it doesnt get as much attention. By "sexy" I mean the software industry has lots of high-paying jobs, growth, job security (if you are good at what you do), and, most importantly, publicity. Facebook essentially didnt exist 6 years ago, now they have 500m users every tiny change they make is "big" news. If you can create your own company (which , relative to other industries, is incredibly easy to do), you get lots more money and publicity. This makes it a popular target for the "Why arent there more women in industry x" discussion.

Do you really believe that the general perception of programming/IT is "sexy"?

There is an easy test for what fields women find as having social status. Look at the cover of Harlequinn romance novels.

I conclude that doctors, bankers, marketing executives, writers, poets, dukes, slaveholding Southerners, vampires, werewolves, and Catholic priests are all seen as more desirable than engineers are.

Dukes are appealing to women? Conclusion: YCombinator should start handing out titles of nobility upon acceptance to the program. Problem solved!

"And over here is Duke Smith, Lord of Databases, who rules over over data warehouse, and whose rippling pecs shine like the morning dew..." uh, sorry, got off track there.

You were probably joking. But just in case somebody from another country is reading this (and missed the reference):

I am female, and have never read a Harlequinn romance novel. None of my female friends have read them, either. None of my older female relatives have read them either. (I'm not saying some people aren't reading them. Just that they're like daytime soap operas: Cheap enough to make, and popular enough to survive, but not necessarily relevant.)

Must be something wrong with my friends and me. Lately many of us have been crushing out on guys who work at coffee shops.

But my point is this: There is such a thing as sub-culture. This means not everybody likes the same stuff. To put it in start-up terms: it's the long tail... of attraction.

This is 2010, people. :D


I am male, and I am not into porn. That doesn't mean it doesn't accurately reflect the desires of males, on average.

Material like that will cater to it's audience. Then the only question is, who is it's audience and do they represent a significant portion of the greater whole we are trying to study.

For sure. That's why I made my "long tail" reference. (I'm geek first, female second. :D)

The Long Tail taught us that the single most popular thing still has less people into it than not into it.

Thankfully for (male) software engineers, not all women enjoy Harlequinn romance novels. :)

You're making the mistake of conflating "I wanna fuck that" with "I wanna be that." For the rest of the argument, I defer to thesethings.

I agree, my little theory about why women don't want to work in IT or study CompSci is that they don't want to hang around with the nerdy types.

Medicine and Law has more prestige.

"Medicine and Law has more prestige."

And, thanks to economic protectionism, a largely guaranteed source of white collar income. Programming is much riskier.

Even if you disregard who you work with, what else do medicine and law have that compsci doesn't?

* your family & friends will be able to grasp what you do

* on average, in those fields you can have a much greater positive impact on other people than you can employed developer

* your field is insulated by the need for education - you don't have to worry about 16-year-olds who think working 20 hour days is fun

* codes of professionalism (whether or not they're slavishly followed)

* regulatory boards that can and do eject bad apples

* very hard to outsource to India or other destination du jour

* law firms and medical practices don't go boom and bust as often as tech firms do

I'm a female developer and I honestly don't care... but then again, I've made myself impossible to compete with. I'd also gnaw off my own leg before working in a corporate tech environment.

Let's face it -- the movie that sums up the life of a corporate developer best is _Office Space_. The IT Crowd doesn't make it much more appealing.

Meanwhile, lawyers and doctors and biotech and all sorts of other fields where there are more women -- they get the awesome shows and movies.

Your reasons might explain why women enter medicine and law rather than CS. Except for the first reason, they don't explain why women enter advertising and sales but not CS.

Further, everything you just said applies equally well to any sort of professional engineer (i.e., the kind where you get certified) or to actuaries. Those fields exhibit a lack of women similar to CS.

>Let's face it -- the movie that sums up the life of a corporate developer best is _Office Space_. The IT Crowd doesn't make it much more appealing. >Meanwhile, lawyers and doctors and biotech and all sorts of other fields where there are more women -- they get the awesome shows and movies.

That's it! We need the IT port of House!

your family & friends will be able to grasp what you do

After listening to a med student and a pharmacy student discuss what they've been doing while on rotations, I'm not entirely certain this is true.

Anytime a group that thinks they are a minority notices somebody else is making a lot of money doing something, they decide they naturally deserve a piece of that pie too.

Whether or not there are barriers is irrelevant to whether or not they will clamor for their 'fair share'.

I don't know the answer, but I have to agree that it has nothing to do with silicon valley, venture capitalists, or really the tech industry at all.

My introductory freshmen computer science course had about 100 people of which maybe 10 were female (this is at a school that has more women overall than men). You simply can't recover from a gender disparity like that. Also, remember, this is a course that you decide on taking essentially before even getting to college. The kids enrolling in this course hadn't even been exposed to all the things that people usually blame the gender disparity on.

"I don't know the answer, but I have to agree that it has nothing to do with silicon valley, venture capitalists,"

Yes. The "system" really does seem to try.

"or really the tech industry at all."

....aaaaand, No. You've just grossly over-generalized.

The tech industry is clearly unappealing to women. Maybe that's because women like to have a sense of the humanity of their work. Maybe it's because it's a terrible choice of long-term career. Maybe it's Barbie's fault. But just because you can't identify the reason, doesn't mean that the phenomenon doesn't exist.

Instead of observing that your freshman courses were hideously gender-unbalanced and then stopping the intellectual pursuit, you have to dig deeper. It's a hard problem, but even hard problems have an explanation. I can come up with one consistent pattern without even trying: most women don't like working with anti-social losers. And like it or not, our industry is filled with 'em.

Personally, I had about the same number of women in my CS101 course (back in the mid-90s) as you did, but the difference is, I saw them treated like shit -- usually by guys who didn't have a clue that the way they behaved was boorish and offensive. Those guys also liked to believe that the gender inequality in CS was "just the way things are". Nonsense.

More recently (just a couple of years ago), I had a female friend who became really interested in CS, and enrolled in the 101 courses at a top program. Because of the way the courses were structured, she was a brand-new programmer, competing with guys who had been writing code since they were knee-high. Doesn't matter -- she still kicked their asses; she was one of the top students in the class. But she ultimately dropped out of the program because she felt unwelcome, and felt that the barriers she had to overcome were too high. Every day, I was treated to a new story of how some dude ignored her opinions, stared at her chest, or belittled her in front of her peers. It was infuriating.

To this day -- from classroom to coffeehouse -- I see programmers who treat women like another species. Just today, I watched a guy write code, while taking a break every two minutes to check out a nearby girl's "attributes". It isn't cute, it isn't endearing, and you can damn well bet that this kind of stuff plays a role in why women decide that they don't want to work with us -- even before they get to school. And it's our fault.

> I saw them treated like shit -- usually by guys who didn't have a clue that the way they behaved was boorish and offensive.

I agree that this problem does exist, but I don't think this is the only factor. In my experience, the programming profession does have its basement-dwelling neckbeards, but there's an even larger number of progressive, enlightened males who are egalitarian by default.

I know that some women believe that the instant they leave the room, we break out the pork rinds and start watching porn videos, but really, most male programmers I know are pretty mild-mannered.

Compare our profession with the legal profession. This is a group where older lawyers have vast power over younger colleagues, that's traditionally had a very macho and elitist attitude. And right now law school admissions are almost at parity. 52.7% male. [1]

So either the behaviour of male programmers is really, really bad compared even to lawyers, or, there's something else intrinsic about the job that is differentially unappealing to women.

[1] http://www.abanet.org/abanet/media/release/news_release.cfm?...

What I don't understand is why was ahoyhere's comment killed?

She made a pretty important point about "progressive, enlightened males who are egalitarian by default"; people are not always who they appear to be. Anyone will tell you to look at what they do vs. what they say. What you need to understand is that there is a fine line between genuine behavior and "fake" behavior. It is only when you are at the receiving end do you notice. This is a very important point to make. True, no one wants the sexist tag, but are they actually creating a level playing field?

I don't know the answer to the question, but someday I hope that I will figure it out.

Anyway, here is her comment;

>>>I can tell you from experience that lots of those "progressive, enlightened males" are a different type of boor. Being treated "special" - in a "nice" way - is almost as unbearable as being mistreated.

I recall a certain world-famous engineer who actually argued with me about the experience of "women in tech." Fact: I'm a woman, he was a man, and there weren't even any female devs at his very famous employer and neither were his close family or friends female devs.

He was "progressive, enlightened" -- on the surface. I've heard lots of people call him "nice." But he was actually insulting and condescending to me, trying to play a More Feminist Than Thou game in order to shore up his ego. I'm sure that people like that are everywhere, and that certainly didn't turn me off tech. But it's irritating to think that you'd probably consider him a poster boy for "the good guys."<<<

Hm, I'm sorry that the comment was killed. Perhaps she didn't want to get sucked into a debate that she feels is perennially useless.

It's hard to answer the charge of being told what I would probably think.

> What I don't understand is why was ahoyhere's comment killed?

People can delete their own comments or maybe a moderator did. Either way it's the height of stupidty to repost something that was deleted by either the OP or a moderator. Besides, anyone with showdead turned on in their settings can see deleted comments.

"I know that some women believe that the instant they leave the room, we break out the pork rinds and start watching porn videos, but really, most male programmers I know are pretty mild-mannered."

That's an straw man. You're drawing a cartoon caricature of gender discrimination, then inferring that because we don't live in that particular cartoon, the problems that I mentioned don't really exist. But again, my friend didn't leave CS because the guys were watching porn in class and pinching asses -- she left because the more subtle behaviors of hundreds of poorly socialized nerds add up to a tremendously unappealing whole. She's a tough woman; she could have handled one jerk who was outrageously sexist. But it's much harder to work with 500 guys, 99% of whom know don't know how to treat women like people.

It's tremendously easy for a guy in CS to look around his circle of colleagues, shrug, and pretend that because he can't see an immediate problem, the problem is irrelevant. But since most men in our industry are completely unaware of inappropriate behavior, self-reporting is hardly a reliable measure.

(Also, not for nothing: it's telling that the one woman to respond to this thread had her (perfectly reasonable) comment flagged.)

Maybe my comment was unclear due to the hyperbole. I am agreeing with you, in that one possible reason is that CS really is that bad.

But I also don't agree with your hyperbole, that 99% of CS students are subtly sexist or otherwise actively against women's participation. Maybe I am living in a bubble or something, but my experience is that CS people are actually somewhat less sexist than most of society, and I can think of other university departments (business or law) that have far worse behavior by men.

I think the geek tribe fails horribly when it comes to other things. Perhaps these are what is more important. Understanding the emotional context of communication is one. Simple grooming and attention to social norms is another. Lastly CS students are usually quite timid in one way or another, and prolong adolescent pursuits and attitudes essentially perpetually.

I am not a straight female, and I can't claim to know what they are thinking. But I think, from their behavior, that they are repelled from CS in part because in many respects it's a low status job for low status, somewhat troglodytic men.

We are not talking about startup school here -- I mean the vast majority of CS grads, who are destined to grind out buggy Java libraries in a caffeinated haze for the rest of their days, wearing increasingly threadbare vendor t-shirts that cover less and less of their belly. Unlike law or commerce, which might be even more sexist, but at least they're around people that have the tact to hide this, and the men can communicate emotionally, respect social norms, and generally have higher status.

This might be very politically incorrect to state, but in my experience, women will be incensed and mortified at sexist behaviour by low-status males, but will rationalize it when it comes from equal or higher-status males (maybe I deserved it, maybe it's just a joke and I should forget it, etc. etc.) I mean, otherwise, why would there have been a need for a feminist movement, if not to overcome that tendency? So I'm suggesting that the sexism in CS is similar to other fields, but that women notice it more, because most geeks are incapable of projecting that power aura. And furthermore, because the field seems so low status, women have far less incentive to ignore the sexism.

Men do exactly the same thing when faced with power imbalances, if you think about it. People laugh with their boss even if he's a domineering asshole, but they wouldn't tolerate that from someone they deemed a peer or underling.

I don't want to reduce women to simple breeding machines looking for alpha males -- the evolutionary psychology approach. Furthermore, the fact that there is any sexism at all in any field is deplorable, and we shouldn't look to other fields to set our own norms.

But I'm just trying to describe what I see... in part because I feel that way too. There are many times when I look around the people I see at conferences or whatnot and feel a certain creeping horror. And wonder, out of the infinite things I could be doing with my life, why I am talking with this guy with a monotone voice and a severe dandruff problem about CSS bugs in IE6. How much worse could it be for a straight female?

This is actually why I didn't go into engineering myself (I got a degree in an arts subject and only returned to programming much later). So, maybe I'm projecting, but that's how I feel about it.

shrug... you've named a bunch of things that have to do with the tech industry. The whole point I was trying to make is that women are deciding to stay away from engineering before being exposed to any of that.

A 17 year old who decides she's not going to take cs101 hasn't been treated poorly by awkward coworkers for years. she hasn't had trouble getting hired because of gender bias. She hasn't been disparaged in front of her tech peers.

And yet she still decides to not go into CS. I still maintain that whatever brought about that decision (maybe gender roles from an early age or being put off by awkward teenage nerds... whatever) really has nothing to do with the tech industry. Today's tech industry is a result of that bias not the cause of it.

"The whole point I was trying to make is that women are deciding to stay away from engineering before being exposed to any of that."

Yeah, I know. I see what you're saying, and I agree that the roots of the problem start young -- but I contend that even little girls are sophisticated enough to know that a particular subject is dominated by the least-social 5% of their peers. I'm sure there are tons of other factors, too.

That said, when I have so many real-life examples of girls who enter the field later in life, then get treated badly and leave, I know that it makes a difference. When only 10% of your incoming classes are women, it doesn't take much bad behavior to ensure that the number of women in the industry never grows.

It is not that surprising though. When you are part of a 50-50 group or a group where you are part of the majority, then you can hide in that group. If you are part of a 1-10 group, then you really won't be able to hide in the group.

Or in other words, it is a bad feedback loop that ends up perpetuating status quo.

It's a bit facile to limit "the tech industry" in this way, observing that girls acquire their anti-tech biases while in school and therefore letting "the tech industry" off the hook. Your hypothetical 17-year-old may not have had problems with "awkward coworkers" or "getting hired", but you can bet that she's been influenced by the culture surrounding technology, as have her male peers, at least some of whom have almost certainly belittled her technical skills as a result. And she very likely has been "disparaged in front of her tech peers".

You neglect the way that boys are given toys and video games that facilitate their interests in technical and scientific fields. You neglect the clear precedence and majority of boys who are studying CS. You neglect the clear lack of female role models in the industry. All of these things are strikes against making the hypothetical 17 year old choose this field. These factors alone make the playing field not level, let alone the numerous other social factors that a young girl encounters.

why women decide that they don't want to work with us -- even before they get to school. And it's our fault.

It's not fair for women to make that generalization of all men involved in technology. I think you're probably right that plays a major role but I certainly won't take any responsibility for it. It's not my fault someone who doesn't even know me might decide they don't want to work with me just because I might fit a stereotype.

My point is that if you see bad behavior and do nothing to stop it, you're complicit. We could all do more.

I never once saw women "treated like shit" in any of my computer science classes in college. All I observed was that guys had a mild bias towards being more helpful and cooperative with girls.

"more helpful and cooperative" looks a lot like creepy and patronizing from the otherside.

Maybe it's because it's a terrible choice of long-term career.

Do you mean a terrible choice for everyone, or just women?

And if your CS program is even halfway as "progressive" as mine, all 10 of those females will be given scholarships and aggressively targeted for retention far above and beyond the male students.

You think? I thought the typical blame was placed on high school stereotypes; as you point out, by college most women want nothing to do with engineering or computer science. (Hence FIRST, among other efforts.)

Another explanation I've heard is that women are smart enough to see that the expected value of going into medicine or law is substantially higher. Given the social status and economics are better, why wouldn't they enter those fields instead?

There seem to be differences even earlier than high-school stereotypes or economics become a consideration, though--- my after-school Logo class for elementary-aged students was mostly boys too. Due to girls just not being interested? Due to parents pushing their male v. female children in different directions? Something else? Whatever the reason(s), it's pretty early overall, I think; all the techies I knew in high school began becoming techies quite a bit before high school.

Similar setup at my school, albeit smaller. A single female goes through the CS major every year or two at most, compared to 30-50 males, and fewer still graduate with a CS major. We have a 2:1 ratio in favor of women, and it used to be higher, and still had a similar amount in the major.

The editorialized title here ("Dear Women in Tech: Put Up or Shut Up") fails to convey the sentiment in the article (titled "Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men. Or At Least Stop Blaming Me.")

The article isn't really aimed at women in tech so much as people who complain about women in tech, and especially women who are not in tech but complain that there aren't enough women doing what they themselves aren't doing either.

The problem is that women in general do not feel comfortable in the male dominated ecosystem of tech startups. Could men be doing more to change that perception, I think so. So whenever somebody complains about the problem men like Mike Arrigton should not lash out but instead they should just list all the things they do to encourage more female participation. Then the people that complain about the problem can actually point at the proactive steps people are taking to address the problem and tell them these things are working and those things are not. It's silly to tell women to put up or shut up because it's a lot like telling somebody if you don't like the country then leave.

The problem is that women in general do not feel comfortable in the male dominated ecosystem of tech startups.

You can replace "tech startups" with "med schools" or "law firms" or "MBA programs" or "factories" or "the military" or "science fiction fandom", but women have entered all of those male dominated ecosystems and are still there in far greater numbers than the tech industry. There has to be another factor.

Yep I just got back from a 7-hour or so long wargaming session. Historically I'd say the participation has been about 99% male. There was actually 1 female there today, but the other 10+ people were males. This is extremely common. And I've never heard any participant in this hobby complain about it or point out oppression/repression/supression/conspiracy. The simple fact is that if more females wanted to play wargames, and got out there and played them, there would be more females playing, and thus they would not be able to say they feel dissuaded by the gender ratio.

Arrington's point was: maybe this is the natural gender ratio (or very close to it, plus/minus some small percentage, however you could possibly deduce that), and the women in these cases just have to suck it up and deal. Just like a man would have to suck it up and deal if he wanted to work at a Great Clips or as a cosmetics salesman in a department store.

Life is not evenly homogenous in every aspect, and there isn't anything inherently insidious about that. It just is. Heck I wish there was 1 Earth-like planet in every star system we've probed so far -- there isn't -- therefore perhaps we're discriminating against them. :)

There was a very eye opening post on metafilter recently when Blizzard suggested all World of Warcraft players should be forced to use their real name.

A woman pointed out this was bad for the women (and girls) who play and listed off a shocking litany of the BS that any obviously female player needed to deal with.

Maybe the gender ratio in your game would have been better if this thing was more widely acknowledged and therefore dealt with.

edit for link: http://www.metafilter.com/93492/But-my-name-really-is-Deathb...

The whole thread is eye-opening, regarding female experiences in such arenas.

> maybe this is the natural gender ratio

Why nobody complains all mothers are female?

The military? I'd have to disagree with you on that one. The other ones I'm not sure about but I agree that women have entered those industries and it is because those industries started being proactive about recruiting women much earlier than the tech industry. Most things that are male dominated are simply because of historical accidents and nothing else. As soon as women are given the chance they tend to step up and outperform the men. Education is one example I can think of but I am sure there are many other instances.

Various results on Google say the US military is 10-20% female, which is low but, I suspect, still above the tech industry.

I'm not sure what you meant about "as soon as women are given the chance they outperform the men". Really? I wouldn't be surprised if women in male-dominated fields tend to perform well above average--they'd likely have to in order to stay in a male-dominated field--but you seemed to imply that, given equal opportunity, women would still outperform men in nearly every field.

Although I disagree with greenlblue I'm pretty dismayed that (s)he has -4 votes. We shouldn't downvote people for stating their opinion, we should downvote people that don't contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

The essence of greenlblue's post was that it would be better to list how we could help women rather than lashing out at them which could further alienate them. Which contributes the the conversation.

Men probably would not feel comfortable working in female-dominated industries like hair salons, professional child day care, cosmetic sales or modern dance classes. But nobody cares about those cases for some reason.

Agreed, for the most part. Although when it comes to child day care, there is another factor. Any job dealing with children puts a man at serious risk to any accusation of predatory behavior, and he'll have great difficulty defending himself. Not really worth the risk, even if you like children.

Which is actual, demonstrable discrimination, so even more reason people might make a fuss.

Amusing anecdote about the social dynamics in that situation:

When I was in high school, the options for phys ed class were Weight Lifting and Aerobics. While the entry wasn't restricted by gender, all of the guys took Weight Lifting and most of the girls took Aerobics.

Except for my friend. He took aerobics. I guess, initially, because I was in it. Ultimately, when his friends questioned him about it, he just said, "Meh. It's me and 25 girls. :)"

And nobody bothered him about it after that.

70% of the technical degree holders living under the Iranian patriarchal theology... are women.

That's problematic to me. That suggests to /me/ that the gender disparity in Silicon Valley has very little to do with genetics. In fact, the role of genetics in intelligence is too heavily disputed to be considered anyhow - the tech field being a supposed /meritocracy/, and genetics having little to do with personal /merit/, it instead suggests to me that the problem is how our culture is defining "ideal merit" to our women.

The reason why tech conferences can't find enough women speakers is because there aren't enough girls encouraged /socially/ to enter the tech field. And by "girls," I don't mean to use disparaging language, but indicate that the problem is rooted all the way in how they're taught and influenced, be it in schools or amongst friends and family.

When mathematics, science and computer programming are considered culturally gender-neutral, that's when female representation in the tech industry will be less of an issue. Until then, we remain unable to tap a good half of our population's intellectual resources.

That's a bit of a problem.

I've discussed this phenomenon with my Iranian ex-girlfriend. She believes it is caused by two Iran-specific factors and can't really be repeated in the US.

A) Iran has forced labor (in the military) for men from age 18-20. Students are sometimes exempted, but the government makes it difficult for men to become students to prevent "abuse" of this exemption. Further, many men go straight to work after their term of forced labor is up - connections/skills they developed in the military serve a similar purpose to college.

(Israel has a similar phenomenon - due to forced military labor, college is not as strict a requirement. But this does not affect gender balance since Israel has forced labor for women as well.)

B) The country is ruled by, as you note, patriarchal theocrats. Religion is a path to power/money - this creates a brain drain among intelligent men.

     70% of the technical degree holders living under the Iranian patriarchal theology
Highly unlikely, their must be some difference in definition of "Technical", are they including Biology, Nursing even Teaching under "Technical"?

Even in India, Women in engineering have similar proportion as USA.


In 2000, Iranian women accounted for 56% of students enrolled in the natural sciences. No matter how you cut that, /that's not nursing and teaching/.

And isn't it a bit of a sign of discrimination to merely assume off-hand that another culture's definition of "science and engineering" isn't as "rigorous" as ours, even if we seem to be gearing up for a clash with them? Instead of pooh-poohing their efforts, it seems more appropriate to be astonished by their capabilities in as hostile a cultural paradigm as they live in.

     And isn't it a bit of a sign of discrimination to merely assume off-hand that another culture's definition of "science and engineering" isn't as "rigorous" as ours, even if we seem to be gearing up for a clash with them? Instead of pooh-poohing their efforts, it seems more appropriate to be astonished by their capabilities in as hostile a cultural paradigm as they live in.
First it was "Technical", which is a confusing term. Second 56% in "natural sciences" is on par with USA. Nat. Sci. include Bio,Chem. Men in developing countries prefer Engineering.

Finally as someone who grew up in India, I am familiar with eastern cultures/ educational systems, and can assure you 70% in "Technical [Science and Engineering]" is near impossible, unless significant men are enrolled in some technical military program and are not counted.

My two little nieces had a birthday this week and for their birthday I gave them each a cool LEGO set, and, some rubber balls, play masks, a game and some windup toy robots. A few days later they came over to visit, and you know what they brought out to play with? Again? Dolls. And they wanted to bake cupcakes. No LEGO or robots or games in sight. Funny that!

Well little girls do love dolls, but just for the record as a parent of two girls they do love LEGO as well. Mine are pretty young but the oldest loves playing with duplo. The big difference to the little boys I know is the games they play with the LEGO. They make pet stores and horse stables and involve their dolls (the smaller ones) in it all.

Perhaps the next generation who grow up with very female friendly computer games and software (like facebook) will have the motivation to learn to program like boys have in the past. While boys might tend to enjoy things like programming for its own sake - I see a lot of reasons for girls to want to be involved in programming in the future.

Yeah. Common saying amongst my friends, mostly techies.

"The plural of 'anecdote' isn't 'data.'"

To counter that, though, I would say that your presents to your nieces, while a great idea and well-encouraged, palls in the face of parental and social pressure. Their friends are playing with dolls. Playing with legos by yourself can be fun, but not quite as fun as playing with their friends.

There's evidence that toy preferences of girls and boys are in part hardwired (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18452921). It's analogous to career choices. It's what we all know intuitively, but political correctness pressures us to invent alternate explanations. Even esr succumbed: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2118#more-2118.

I agree that anecdotal evidence is worthless.

However, there have been a number of studies on this and they've found that toy preference is pretty innate. And even present in other primates.

See this paper: http://www.scribd.com/full/36579212?access_key=key-1ztjrngs9...

Tonight one niece was playing dolls by herself. The other was baking by herself. shrug Actually data is comprised of anecdotes and anecdotes are data, in my judgment. Life and actual experiences in the real world are data. Reality is data.

If your point is, well, this is just two little girls, you're right, that alone would not allow one to extrapolate to all little girls everywhere. However, I know for a fact that large companies and institutions have already done lots of experiments with kids (especially companies that have a vested interest in figuring out exactly what kids want, in order to maximize their profit) and my understanding is that the studies show that yes, girls mostly prefer to play with girlish things and boys with boyish things. This was the result of Science with a capital S. Now, do all boys hate dolls and all girls hate robots and dump trucks and guns? Of course not. But in the majority of cases that's how the cookie crumbled in the real world.

Also the whole "pink vs blue" thing you see in stores in the kid sections? Do you think that's some conspiracy or cultural artifact? From what I've heard, it's isn't. They've done experiments. Girls in general, world-wide, really do tend to prefer pink and boys prefer blue. In the general case, when dealing with large enough numbers, etc.

The actual colours are irrelevant, they were reversed a hundred years ago, it's the association that's important though.

Small children have a phase where they want things to be they way they "should" be. If it's a girl, she will like girly things because All Girls Like Girly Things because That's That Way It Is.

It takes until puberty when children start wanting individuality instead, sometimes with hilarious results in the opposite direction instead.

Studies show that it's incredibly hard to fight these tendencies, the onyl thing you can do is try to make tech more girly, by having female role models and to promote them.

/None/ of that is indicative of a genetic role. There is no indicator /anywhere/ in there that there is some genetic factor that makes pink stand out more vividly to girls than blue.

(edit: in fact, as anecdote - girls supposedly have more tastebuds, yet professional cooking is heavily male dominated. Though women cooks can put up with just as much if not more than men. Physical traits have no bearing on this particular cultural quirk.)

Conversely, all of that /can/ be explained as cultural artifacts, amplified by years of exposure, an encroaching western monoculture, and a feedback loop of expectations. When you stick "pink" and "blue" in front of a kid and ask them what seems more girly to them, you're already presenting a pre-existing baggage of cultural conditions, be it through subconscious impulses, or because the kid's been around long enough to know what his or her peers prefer.

Let's not lose sight that scientific experiments have to be interpreted, yeah? The process of science isn't nearly so clean that we can reliably say that any one experiment isn't tainted by subjective bias. Half of the fights over any one theory in any field at all is because of it.

I'm not sure how much of that is the result of "Western monoculture". Girls throughout the world reliably prefer dolls to robots.

That's interesting because the difference between dolls and robots is one of the skin/themes placed on humanoid shapes (albeit, robots can take on other shapes and still be robots). In the common case, they both have the same, painted on non-interactive expression. Robotic dolls and doll robots -- what exactly is the choice here.

With my son, we have a lot of animal themed toys that come out of the box without an associated gender. This hasn't kept us from adopting gender specific names for them though (Mr. Monkey, Sophie, Boss Hog, Leeroy Jenkins, Charlotte).

I actually remember reading, recently, that the color division is cultural. Point in fact is that around 1900 and earlier, if color had any meaning at all, it was reversed. Pink, being close to red, was manly. Blue, being close to violet, was womanly.

That the roles are globally reversed now could very well be indicative of a newish cultural shift that has nothing to do with nature, genes or suchlike.

If that is true, that is so interesting. Can you remember where you read this?

While trying to find the article I stumbled across Straight dope (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2831/was-pink-origi...), that claims that this idea might well be wrong. I does however, I think, speak out against the idea that pink-girly and blue-boyly is something known to be inherent.

Although I guess the thing I read earlier might well be wong, I'm still not that convinced that colors are that gender based by default.

I am not sure how you can generalize from that.

What is the attitude of their parents towards playing with masks etc? What is the attitude of their peers? The environment that you operate in introduces all sort of variables.

I can't speak to your 70% Iran science degree holder figure but I do want to make the point that we can't make generalizations about gender participation in "tech" when tech is a generic heterogenous basket of different activities. It jumbles together all/most of the the sciences (for example, would bio be tech but social science not be tech?), engineering and programming, for example. Still speaking in rough terms, but at a little higher degree of fidelity, I'd say female interest/talent/ambition in science fields is much higher than in programming, which in turn is higher than in traditional engineering (EE, mech eng, etc.) -- and even within engineering the percentages vary by specific field. So if you told me of one particular country or region or whatever where say 70% of bio science degree holders were women, that wouldn't sound too extra-ordinary to me. If you said 70% of electrical or mechanical engineers, that's different.

Btw, do you think society also has a problem (speaking USA) that the vast majority of cosmetics salespeople are women? Do you think there's some horrible educational/cultural/societal conspiracy or flaw going on that has caused there to be so few men in that field? And how about child day care? How about the small percentage of women that are garbage truck pickup workers? Auto mechanics? Hunters? Weightlifting?

I think that today in the USA we're about as close to "culturally gender neutral" in mathematics, science and programming as we're ever going to get without some sort of significant genetic engineering or neurological/cyborg modification. Small changes? Sure, of course. Big changes? I highly doubt it without hacking on our DNA or hormones.

Note that the use of gender-specific industries is a bit of a sham when you can't demonstrate that the tech industry /itself/ has any overt gender-specific targeting, outside of the occasional attempt at tech fashion. In fact, it isn't too hard to imagine a culture where cosmetology /is/ male-predominant - just switch the zeitgeist around so that peacock behavior is seen as sexually beneficial.

I'm afraid your underlying logic is full of holes. At the very least, it's unimaginative, and fails to at least ask "actually, /why/ is this so?" As for the 70%, Wiki's "Science in Iran" lists it as specifically degrees in science and engineering. While Wiki is, at times, unremarkable in its factuality, this specific assertion is actually backed by citation.

Furthermore, biology being /also/ male-dominant in the US, your point doesn't hold well. What makes biology more female-oriented than chemistry or physics anyhow? What basis are you making such a claim?

What makes dancing so much more female-oriented than male? What makes playing dress up? What makes gossiping on the phone? What makes playing with dolls and toy babies? Make-up? Shoes? The beauty of this line is that one doesn't need to come up with any "line of reasoning" or "logical argument" if it just comes down to biological/hormonal/neurological differences between males and females.

Why do so many women have vaginas and so few have penises? Cultural conspiracy? Or is there perhaps some other force or mechanism involved? I know which I think it is. :P

Tango is male-dominated, mostly because of its internal culture. Dressing-up is, again, cultural pressure and can conceivably be changed with altered values. Plus, guys dress up to - only, when they do, they get called a fag and suffer detrimental social effects. Guys gossip all the time - Hacker News is /full/ of gossip, if you haven't noticed. Genitalia has nothing to do with technical merit. Or, rather, as my point has been this entire time, it /shouldn't/. Most of our cerebral functions are a good long ways away from it - that is, unless you really do think with the smaller head. Trying to say that there doesn't need to be explanations for these only demonstrates the limits of your own range of exposure. In fact, there has been plenty of discussion, academic and otherwise, as to the roles and functions of cultural norms. It's call anthropology.

The traditional definition of gossip I use is two people talking about a third person behind their back, particularly if it's a neighbor in their community. And particularly if this "spreads" throughout the neighborhood, from person to person, talking about third parties. That was gossip as I understand it. My mother, for example, engages in gossip. And some of her women friends as well. It may give them pleasure to do it, so they do. The males in my life to this date? Probably 99% have not liked to gossip. Now, merely talking about news, about world events, about events in the industry, talking about new techniques or technologies, or asking for advice about business -- these things are not gossip. If my friend Tom said, "Mike, did you hear about Bob? He did such-and-such with his wife. And then Steve did this and Dave did that but Mary didn't know that Tom did that so Steve said but -- oh but don't let anybody know I told you this, okay?" <--- Bingo. Gossip.

Tango's a good example -- yes there is obviously more male participation in that, especially at the professional level. But there has to be, IIRC, because the tradition is to have a male-female pair doing it. That old saying, "Takes two to tango!" I was talking more about among amateurs, among students, minors, etc. And other forms of dance. And in suburbs and rural areas, etc. From what I can tell in my life experience so far those subsectors of dance all mostly involve women. (Can't believe I need to even point this out. I can't even imagine a point anytime growing up where I ever saw a guy say, "Hey guys, let's go dancing tonight! giggle" whereas I had lots of exposure to incidents where women wanted to dance, or take dance classes, etc. That's what I'm talking about.) Also when I talked about males and dance I assumed straight males. A high percentage of males in professional dance seem to be gay -- just listen to them talk or walk sometime. And it's clear from studies that they have biological or neurological differences in their brain and hormones -- a point which further lends credence to the notion that men and women are different due to biological/structural/hormonal differences, and that this is probably a large factor involved in explaining statistical differences in interests, behavior and talents. Change a man's brain/body to make it more female and guess what both his body and his behavior become more feminine. And vice versa. Transsexual adjustment procedures depend on this fact. It's science, not wishful thinking.

This is my last post in this thread. Talking about gender in society on the Internet is right up there with religion and politics. Rarely leads anywhere. :)

I think rather than looking at the overall numbers, what you really need to identify is if there are any women out there that do want to get into the industry but are being held back by something.

If in fact every woman that wants to run a startup or be employed as a programmer ect doesn't have different barriers to males then I don't think there is really an issue here.

I think many female dominated fields just genuinely don't interest the majority of males so that fact that they are female dominated isn't a big deal. The important thing is that both sexes get the opportunity to participate, whether they choose to take up the option is another matter.

The more excuses any given demographic has available to it, the worse it will fare.

What excuse exactly are you talking about? That most tech startups are run by men? That's not really an excuse but a fact and I think people are right to demand more participation of women in the tech world in general.

The general idea that there are a bunch of old men sitting around in smoke-filled rooms saying to each other, "Hey, I have an idea! Let's intentionally discriminate against women in our hiring and salary setting practices. Why? Because fuck 'em, that's why!"

This is the United States of America in 2010. It's not ancient Egypt. It's not feudal England. It's not even the U.S. in 1950. You can do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be. Nobody is stopping you but yourself. Might your climb to the top be steeper than mine? Sure. But realize that nobody who's ever made it to the top of their mountain complained about how steep it was. They just climbed. If you want to be the best, whatever that means to you, you have to go Jackie Robinson that shit. No matter what the douchebags throw at you along the way, you have to just smile back and hit home runs.

Now you are just knocking down a straw man argument of your own making. Nobody said anything about conspiracy theories of the kind you are putting forth or pretended that this was feudal England or ancient Egypt. Many women feel that tech is male dominated and that it would be nice if there were more women in tech. Seeing as how so much of our modern day living depends on technology I think it is an excellent idea to have more participation from the female half of the world population in the tech industry. Once again, what excuses of what demographic are you talking about?

If you're not hearing the Glass Ceiling/Patriarchy Excuse every time you see a story involving gender and employment, you're living under a rock.

Many women feel that tech is male dominated and that it would be nice if there were more women in tech.

Tell me WHY it's male-dominated. Tell me what barrier is keeping women out. Give me a cause.

I am not living under a rock I just prefer to keep the discussion away from conspiracy theories and petty overused arguments about how "the man" is keeping everyone down because there is no merit in such arguments and it doesn't address or advance anything.

Honestly, why? What does bringing X demographic into industry Y accomplish?

"The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal."

Perhaps different people, have different interests?

Are you seriously asking how having the views of different demographics represented actually helps? In any domain where ideas count having different views with different perspectives often enriches the discipline and leads to more breakthroughs and beneficial products for the rest of us. I point you to the civil rights movement and the fight to have more people included in the political process if you want an actual example of how having a demographic X in an industry Y can enrich the lives of everyone and make the world a better place and perhaps those different interests of those different people should contribute to the things that have such a large impact on our lives.

I would argue that the idea that people differ on conveniently observable traits is flawed.

Artificially injecting a demographic into an area in which they are underrepresented doesn't guarantee you anything. You can't assume that because of a person's race, gender or background that they think in a particularly different and/or novel way. Superficial differences should not result in mandatory quotas to be filled.

Part of my problem with this line of thinking is that there is this implicit idea that being in "tech" (whatever that means) is A Good Thing. Being a programmer is NO better and NO worse than being a carpenter, or a interior decorator or the President. But yet, when was the last time someone wrote an article about how there were not enough female garbage collectors?

It's not about artificially injecting people anywhere. I guess I am not being very clear. It is important to have balanced representation in any field that is considered valuable to society and it's even more important to have balanced representation in a field that has high overall impact on peoples' daily lives. Technology is such a field and I don't understand why everyone is being so defensive about the subject of including more women in technology.

It is important to have balanced representation in any field that is considered valuable to society and it's even more important to have balanced representation in a field that has high overall impact on peoples' daily lives.

Civil Engineering should have balanced representation from across the IQ scale. Medicine should have balanced representation from scientists and various major religions.

Technology is such a field and I don't understand why everyone is being so defensive about the subject of including more women in technology.

Besides "balanced representation" being a crock, how do you "include" someone who from all appearances doesn't want to be included?

I give up. Good luck holding onto those attitudes and please make sure whatever you do is as inaccessible to everyone else as possible because what is the point of being accessible and open to outsiders when those outsiders are not interested? Everyone in this thread is just talking past each other and it's pretty obvious almost everyone is a nativist of some sort so good luck guys and I sincerely mean that. I hope all your workdays are full of clones similar to yourself.

Like FlemishBeeCycle said, perhaps different people have different interests.

I believe the number of men and women who want equal treatment under the law is more even than the numbers of men and women who are attracted to (or tolerant of) the realities of working in tech. Therefore I do not think it is fair to compare this disparity to the civil rights or suffrage movements.

Perhaps evolutionary biology has something to say about why there aren't more women techies, entrepreneurs, prisoners, or homeless. If you missed it a few days ago, here is the link again: http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm Even if you don't agree with it, I think it is safe to say it is an idea worth considering and seems pertinent to this debate.

> people are right to demand more participation of women in the tech world in general

What if the women don't listen to my demands?

This is just Michael Arrington defending TechCrunch against one person's assumption that they're not aware of the issue. There's nothing really relevant to the issue itself here, aside from the obvious point that the reason why there are "too few" women in tech is because there aren't enough women who want to be in tech.

Arrington disagrees that the criticism has any merit; at worst he's letting himself be trolled. I guess he feels something needs to be said, and I respect that.

Which is fine, of course. He's more than justified in defending himself. This article just isn't interesting from a "too few women in tech" angle, and you can't really generalize from what's going on here. It's fine that he wrote it, I just don't see that it warrants much attention from HN.

I think the Valley greatly overestimates how much inside baseball like conference speaking slots impacts startup formation or decade-prior turning points like taking AP English instead of AP CS because English is the easy A and your GPA gets you into a better college.

> there are women... who complain about how there are too few women in tech, and then there are women who just go out and start companies

Never heard it put quite that way before, but very well said.

How about the idea of role models? There simply isn't many female role models that motivate young women to go into tech.

Being involved with young athletes in high school - I know 18 year old boys who aspire to be the next Michael Jordan or next Michael Phelps. I know 18 year old girls who aspire to be the next Cathy Freeman.

Outside of sports there are also many industries where potential female AND male role models are rife.

Film, dance, journalism just to name a few. Even the 'normal' fields which have been thrown around - doctors, lawyers, business, teaching etc. Many young people are may aspire to be like that 'aunty who is a lawyer' or that 'family friend who is a doctor' etc.

But tech? .... Because the industry is so skewed towards males and because of that there is no... female version of steve jobs, or bill gates, mark zuckerberg to aspire to.

Just a thought.. what do you guys reckon?

Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer. Of the first six programmers for the ENAIC, all were women.

Of course, that isn't quite as well known as it could be, and recent role models are more important than historical ones, but still.

Another problem is that, by and large, the only tech people who the average person can name are those who have hit it big, generally by starting and running a famous company (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are not well known because of their programming, but because of their companies).

I understand that sexism might cause companies to not employ women in management/technical positions. But how can this affect whether they create their own successful startups?

This is a really complex question, and I doubt that anyone will ever have the answer to this. As, there are so many variables at play over here that most of the times we can't see them let alone comprehend them. Most people over here have a pretty unary point of view i.e. they don't even realize the subtle signals they get everyday about socially acceptable behavior. Even though, I don't want to be unique in this regard, but unfortunately I am and there are a few things that I would like to share.

First of all, the 5 year old me knew that I couldn't act "feminine" (what was feminine for the 5 year old me is laughable at best). Why? I just knew at that age that I couldn't do that. The adults around me simply wouldn't approve. In fact, they would be disgusted if I did. I knew that I couldn't play with my cousins' dolls because it was wrong for me to do that. I knew that I couldn't talk about the fact that I liked making stuff in the kitchen to other kids because it was wrong for me to do that. In fact, I stopped doing it after a while and I constantly had to suppress behavior to fit into that mold.

Take a look at any kid at an early age and see what happens if that child picks up a "masculine" or "feminine" toy. Most adults simply don't engage, or they engage too aggressively. For a child these subtle things matter a lot and they start dictating the pattern which still exists till later life.

You won't believe how suffocating it is to be an outlier in this regard, a freak for all intents and purposes. I have to constantly pretend to be someone else and it is amazing how subtle those cues which operate are. I can't talk the way I want to. I can't gesture in the same way. I can't walk "that way". I can't eat "that way". I can't move "that way". I can't relate to others "that way". I can't pick up topics "that way". This list goes on and on and on.

The truth is that who we are is hammered into shape by our experiences to a large extent. Unless, we consciously embark on exploring ourselves and examining our motives for everything.

So, yes it's true that on average male and female brains are different (it's a bell curve), but to what extent do those "differences" shape future behavior? To what extent is a person's behavior determined by what's between their legs? Or in their blood?

These are questions that we simply don't have an answer too. It's not like we will never have it, but it's just that right now we don't.

So, in the mean time maybe we shouldn't write articles going either way and, perhaps, focus on creating things instead. An even bigger perhaps is that we might want to try respecting people for who they are. Not who we want them to be. Just saying.

If you want to know how predisposition can affect the outcome, please read this article and you will understand what we are discussing here:

"Princeton Economist Finds that Auditioning Behind Screens Helps Women Win Orchestra Positions"


Quoted directly from the article: "The switch to blind auditions can explain between 30 percent and 55 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and between 25 percent and 46 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras from 1970 to 1996," the economists write. The study notes that the surge of women in symphony orchestras has occurred despite the fact that the number of positions is highly fixed and turnover is slow.

Not really contributing to the arguments...

But rumor has it, Etsy have female (Python) programmers and they make boring online shopping experience fun with their creative UI.

See: http://www.etsy.com/color.php or http://www.etsy.com/time_machine.php or http://www.etsy.com/geolocator.php

Imho, female input is valuable when it comes to software design especially UX.

In absolute terms, women constitute the largest segment of the market. That alone should be sufficient reason to have more women participating in or founding start-ups. It stands to reason that their intuitive insights, understanding and vision, due to their affinity with women at large, will lead to products and services which serve that market segment --and perhaps humanity in general-- better.

I'm totally with Arrington on this one.

The next time I see somebody complain about too few women in software I want to see them complain about too few men working in hair salons, too few men working in child day care centers, too few women working the trash pickup trucks, too few men in corporate HR, too few women in Tactial Special Ops teams. But I'll never see that because I think secretly deep down they know, gee, people are different, genders are different, and there's something about gender that just has this shaping force on our interests and talents. And that there's nothing wrong with that. Really, it will be okay. Just relax. Carry on.

Instead let us all please focus on real problems and challenges like hunger, disease, WMD proliferation, climate change, pollution, education cost & disparity, etc.

"too few women in Tactial Special Ops teams"

There's intermittent controversy over having women in combat. Countries that have tried it, incidentally, find that it's a liability because men tend to go apeshit protective when female soldiers get hurt.

"But I'll never see that because I think secretly deep down they know, gee, people are different, genders are different, and there's something about gender that just has this shaping force on our interests and talents."

If so, it may be helpful if more women were involved in software, because if women are different from men that probably extends to how they use software, and it would be good if software was better for women.

To the latter point, I have a female physicist friend who hates the "diversity of viewpoints" argument for women in the sciences, the idea that she has some kind of "feminine" take on the equations that confers special treatment.

For sciences, I would agree. Science and mathematics are a foreign mindset for everybody, man and woman alike; if any human wishes to pursue them they must bend to it and not vice versa.

For software I'd be less certain. It is well-known that being your own customer can be a powerful thing. It is not inconceivable that on average men and women may approach computing tasks somewhat differently, different goals, different metaphors, different preferred cognitive frameworks. And while I wouldn't necessarily expect them to be night and day different, as Apple shows getting those last tiny details nailed down can make a huge difference in how a product feels. If men even slightly prefer one thing and women slightly prefer another, an interface tuned for one or another slight difference could manifest as a huge impact on the pleasure of using the software.

Unfortunately, we are reduced to hypothesizing here because I am not aware of any amount of study on the topic. All I can say is that it is certainly conceivable and not necessarily unfair.

I would also suspect that if such differences exist they are likely to be as I said above more in the cognitive domain than in the more stereotypical appearance domain. I don't know per se that women will necessarily respond to a more rounded or pink or whatever stereotypical visual thing you might initially come up with, I suspect it'll be something more like men prefer more spatial organization, say for MP3s, whereas women may prefer more word-based and tagging organization, just to give one example. (And as you can see from that example there's going to be substantial overlap no matter what.) I'm not claiming this difference would even hold true, I offer it merely as an example of a cognitive preference.

I am in the same situation as I'm a studying mathematician, but I think she neglects to acknowledge the (extreme) politics of the scientific fields that necessitates a diversity of viewpoints. I know far more people who have issues with that.

I find myself highly amused trying to imagine what great insight the 'female perspective' might bring to physics (or pure math)

Please cite your sources. Many countries have females serving in combat roles.

The same arguments they used 50 years ago to keep woman out of frontline police work are still being used to keep woman out of combat.

I'm interested in the apeshit protective bit. Have you got something to read on it?

> find that it's a liability because men tend to go apeshit protective when female soldiers get hurt.

Solution: all female battalions.

Rush Limbaugh made this suggestion in one of his books. (Albeit with a 1 week on, 3 weeks off rotation)

So you're saying the idea is nothing but the deranged rantings of a sociopath? That's an ad hominem logical fallacy, and doesn't refute the actual value of the concept.

I do believe you are reading far too much into my comment. It was merely a stated fact.[1] Given the way Rush Limbaugh is viewed I thought would be mildly amusing to make a slightly off-topic reference.

1. You can search for "amazon" on this page: http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/16/magazine/the-rush-hours.ht...

Wouldn't that just move the problem up the ladder? Commanders less likely to move the female battalions into harm's way?

If you are suggesting that we could stop war by making all the soldiers female and all the commanders male I'm all for it.

Of course the other side needs to have the same bright idea too :) Reminds me of a quote:

"I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they'd never expect it"

It would be an instant PR victory for the country with the women though in that case, win or lose they'd win. The rest of the world would go after the 'heartless brutes that killed those poor women'.

Yes, that's an effective tactic--win support by setting up hundreds of your women to be slaughtered by your enemies. You don't even have to arm them or equip them to fight, just put them in buses and park them around any legitimate military targets. In fact, it would work even better if you used children?

Needless to say, this idea has been thought of before, and people tend to look poorly on those who employ it.

Funny, see, if we really had this gender equality nobody would think twice of it, after all the women are equally capable at combat right?

But we've never seen 'setting up hundreds of your men to be slaughtered by your enemies' as a ridiculous strategy.

They're both ridiculous strategies, and yet we routinely deploy the one and are horrified at the other.

The 'children' bit is just a strawman, as are the 'buses' to use them as human shields. We're talking about prejudice here, and why just changing sex seems to have an effect over and beyond the competence angle.

It's just ingrained primitive instinct; and quite simple psychology really. The social "cost" of a Mans death is much much lower than a Womans.

Loss of 80% of the male population could be recovered fairly quickly, but loss of 80% of the females would be devastating for generations.

I wouldn't count too much on what people secretly "know" deep down but are unable to reason about. These things are usually stereotypes or religion, both of which have questionable qualities when it comes to analyzing causality.

You don't believe that gender bears any kind of fundamental impact on emotional and intellectual development? I think that the things mentioned in this thread are proof enough. There is no reason why there wouldn't be more women in tech except that women (generally speaking, of course) don't find tech that desirable, just as men don't find working in a daycare center very desirable.

In the whirlwind of 20th century liberation movements, people seem to forget that there really _are_ fundamental differences between certain types of people. Not differences like "women are only good at cleaning and men only think about sex", but differences like "women are generally more often disposed to child-rearing and men are generally more often disposed to computer programming".

I don't see what good there is in ignoring these differences. Yes, some people took it too far and decided women shouldn't vote and blacks and whites couldn't intermingle, but that doesn't mean we go to the other extreme and plug our ears and refuse to believe that any one type of person is predisposed to a behavior, belief, or emotional status.

Gender and sex are different things for once. I think many people who are against the usual "men and women are different" idea think that that most differences are a consequence of the culture more than genetic predisposition. Pushed to the extreme, the idea that men and women are the same is indeed ridiculous - but I think the idea that men are more often disposed to computer programming as ridiculous myself. To give some (anecdotical) evidence: I have been to open source conferences in the US, Europe and India. In both US and Europe, the proportion is mostly young men (+ older men for people in academia), as you would expect. In India, I would say a good third were women, up to 60 year old women.

Certainly, there is little data to back the natural difference up AFAIK, and again correlation is not causation. For example, how much is due to the fact that women willing to have a child need to have them in a period which is generally considered crucial for your job ? For law and medical related jobs, the mandatory length for studies is much longer than for tech - is this a factor ? I can think of many other reasons to explain the current situation which has nothing to do with "how our brain are different" and other platitudes. It may be true, but it is so close to the usual cliches that people will legitimately consider them as such unless you have strong evidence to argue it.

You have to take into account that these perceived fundamental differences are increasingly challenged in studies today, and it's becoming increasingly accepted that most of these differences are social.

As culture becomes more homogenous, the differences are becoming less evident. I'm don't think people are proposing an extreme "plugging ears" situation, but a "hey let's push them a little further and see what they can do" often with astounding success. I think this mostly depends if you view the impacts of women on the technical fields so far as positive or negative. I personally believe they have had a positive impact (look at my other posts) so I am more inclined to push women past their societal boundaries, hopefully not past their 'fundamental female' boundaries.

The issue I have with what you and mkramlich say is that you're jumping from an observation to a conclusion about causality. I'm just asking, what is the basis for your assumptions about causality?

You say that people took it too far in the past. Why was that? I think that they didn't just take it too far, they made a categorical and methodical mistake. They did not question the basis on which to make such assumptions. In that sense, you're making the same mistake today.

[Edit] And don't forget that we're talking about something - web startups and entrepreneurship - that takes an incredibly broad range of capabilities that have nothing to do with having babies. It's not like we're talking about interest and talent for breast feeding. And by the way, I totally agree with Arrington. He doesn't say anything about why we see what we see though.

It's not about differences or different people having different interests. Technology and technology companies are major drivers of societal change and it is important to have as many different groups involved in that process as possible. That is the larger philosophical issue here and I don't think anyone can disagree with that.

If you want a group to become more involved with a process, they need to be interested in it first.

Well women are obviously interested why else would we be having this discussion? It obviously comes up and the fact that it keeps coming up means there is underlying issue that is not being addressed. Nobody is saying it's an issue that is easy to address but both educators and women in tech keep bringing up the issue so the incumbents are not doing a good job addressing it. Plus, it is in everyone interests to have all kinds of people be technologically savvy whether they are male or female.

Except that a lot of the time this discussion isn't started by a female interested in entering the tech industry. I've seen a few posts by women in the industry railing against some sexist thing some other member did [1]. I've also seen a few articles by men saying the tech industry needs to be more open to women. And I've also seen articles by women who are not in the tech industry saying that the tech industry needs to get more women, even though they themselves aren't really trying to get into the industry.

So, we have really one set of women with some sort of interest in actually being in the tech industry, but they're mostly talking about someone doing something stupid, which can and does happen in every other industry. I don't think a limited number of misogynistic instances is really indicative of the state of the industry.

If someone can point out a recent article written by a woman who tried to enter the tech industry but couldn't because we're a sexist bunch, I'd love to read it. So far, though, I just haven't come across that.

[1]: The one that comes to mind is the talk given for some Rails function a year or so ago. I don't remember who gave the talk or what it was about. I just remember it caused a big stink.

Talk to the potential female CS majors and ask them why they changed their minds.

> Well women are obviously interested why else would we be having this discussion?

This isn't obvious. If you want to argue this point you need to offer evidence.

> It obviously comes up and the fact that it keeps coming up means there is underlying issue that is not being addressed.

Your conclusion that there is a cause not yet addressed doesn't follow. The recurrence of an argument can just as easily be attributed to arguers who can't admit they're wrong or don't understand their opponents, especially in this case when the arguers aren't female tech startup founders.

> Nobody is saying it's an issue that is easy to address but both educators and women in tech keep bringing up the issue so the incumbents are not doing a good job addressing it.

You didn't specify what the "issue" is. As ahlatimer pointed out, this claim needs support. And again, your conclusion doesn't follow, for the same reasons.

> Plus, it is in everyone interests to have all kinds of people be technologically savvy whether they are male or female.

A trivial statement. Ideally everyone would be savvy at everything. It seems like you're trying to argue that women are capable of something in this space that men are not, but I'm not sure what that is.

Look, it may be that you have valid points, but you're embarrassing yourself with the way you argue them. Read [1] if you don't understand why. You're a consistent DH3, which means you contradict without justifying, hence the downvotes. Anecdotal evidence, studies, careful reasoning (that doesn't use the word "obvious"), etc. would help everyone understand the merits of your point of view better than repetition.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

So how do we get them interested?


Exactly. And this was Arrington's point.

Technology and technology companies are major drivers of societal change and it is important to have as many different groups involved in that process as possible. That is the larger philosophical issue here and I don't think anyone can disagree with that.

Yay for stakeholder representation and death-by-committee.

Groups cannot be involved in doing things, only in preventing things. Individuals can do things, and it really doesn't matter what groups those individuals may be seen by others to be a part of. All that matters is whether they're willing to try something new and different, and whether everyone else feels like using whatever they build.

No structure, no "process" for groups to get involved in and veto, just people doing interesting things and other people choosing whether to use those things.

I do complain about not enough male nurses, where the gender difference is noticeable and is affecting the direction of the field or perceptions of the field itself.

Yes, there should be some room for "gender differences" which is not necessarily distinguishable anyway--however, there are actually compelling reasons for women and men to join fields that they are minorities in.

In this case, it is not that women merely choose not to go into technical fields out of pure disinterest. It is the social barriers and the lack of exposure women have had since childhood. This comic briefly explains: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1883

Women have the possibility of increasing the total popularity of the field and decreasing the social stigma behind technological fields. They increase the total size and productivity of the industry. They increase the diversity of perspectives in the field. They appeal better to and understand female clients. They could make technological fields more presentable and appealing.

This technological feminism helps women as well. There are increasing spaces for Computer Science-related jobs in the industry and there is not an equally strong work force rising to meet it. Making it more appealing and more acceptable for women to take these roles (there would have to be a disproportionate push towards women because of their given backgrounds) would give them a wider range of profitable options in life and would increase the accessibility of the technological culture to all women. I believe that the 'geek' culture surrounding the growth of technology is becoming a more important and significant part of mainstream culture, yet women are not participating in it as widely as men are. The implications for the culture and the women not participating it are not great.

I realize the group here is not as receptive to technological feminism, being primarily male and anti-feminist, so I will stop here. Please feel free to message me if you are interested.

I didn't really like that SMBC comic. Boys play with dolls too, we just call them action figures. There are an infinite amount of stories you can make out of Barbies or GI Joes or whatever. Furthermore, what about crayons? Paints? Again there are infinite possibilities and I don't think these toys are particularly gendered.

However, it is true that "building" type toys are generally marketed to boys only, and that's got to be a factor.

One interesting data point; lately they've been marketing a Barbie with a tiny camera (concealed as a pendant necklace) and LCD screen on the back. Apparently many boys think this is "creepy", but many girls instantly see the possibilities of making movies from Barbie's point of view.


There are economic reasons why many daycares will not hire men (e.g. fear of lawsuits).

"and there's something about gender that just has this shaping force on our interests and talents."

What would that "something" and that "force" be?

The nice thing about computers is that they don't discriminate.

A male and a female have equal opportunity to sit down at a computer, and get themselves to learning about it, write "Hello World", read books, study, learn new techniques, grow their programming knowledge, etc. But you know what? I bet the ratio between genders of the folks that actually sit down and do that, at home, wherever, is skewed toward male by a large percentage. Exact amount? Dunno. But I'm sure it skews male. All else is going to follow from that.

]> man vi

HAL: I'm sorry, Susan. I'm afraid I can't allow you to do that. You see, your gender is wrong and I'm going to have to oppress you. It's for the sake of the mission and I hope one day you understand.

Especially interesting in light of: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1634955

Real reason is ridiculously simple as most of the men don't care about if the color of their great hat matches with their nice boots, most of the women are not geek.

I certainly wouldn't blame Michael Arrington in particular, but this entire argument is precisely parallel in form to the one held up by casual racists in the US where they say, well, I haven't done anything to keep black people down, and I have nothing against black people (see also: "I have lots of black friends"), so don't look at me. The problem there is that white people (in the US) operate from a position of implicit privilege---not that we asked for it, but we are unable to reject it, either, not that it would serve any good to try.

The situation wrt women in technology is not quite the same, but it's not entirely different, either. As Arrington points out, techcrunch and YC and a lot of other groups go out of their way to try to recruit women, which is fantastic. But to then turn around and say, well, if you personally aren't out there founding a business, you have no right to complain... that's a pernicious idea and it certainly is not furthering any useful cause.

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