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An open Letter to Women in Tech (johnwilker.com)
14 points by mikecane on May 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments



One of the things I think he's overlooking:

Frequently the reason that people don't go the extra mile of giving talks or otherwise sharing their thoughts and experiences is that they think that they're not good enough or worth less than other people. Sometimes this results in someone with a really great idea or a unique voice staying quiet.

In an industry dominated by men, women have been discouraged from participating or speaking up. It takes time and effort to reverse that damage. I'm glad that he took the time to invite women specifically, but I think his anger at the result is misplaced when it could be more effectively directed at a system that holds decades of inequality in place.


fuck. same can be said of geeks who don't speak up. there is no one advocating for them. if the stage is open, and you don't take the fucking chance to get in, don't complain.


Two interesting aspects of your argument here. One, you've quietly dismissed any possible sexism. And two, after accurately pointing out a problem, your solution is basically, "well fuck them, then." Nice.

I've been involved in selecting conference speakers, and we went out of our way to find geeks who aren't used to speaking up. Quiet people often have the most interesting things to say.


Having "too few" women give talks isn't a problem. It's just a symptom of the fact that the community is unwelcoming toward women. That's what we're really trying to fix.


Why do you assume that the community is unwelcoming toward women? Isn't it just equally plausible that women just don't really want to be in technology-oriented fields? Maybe they just much rather prefer other areas. I know, the thought that men and women are actually different is deeply troubling to those who think that the only differentiator beween the sexes are a couple of sex organs.


I'm not just making assumptions. e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3731441 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3894404 and https://plus.google.com/106119964731604142156/posts/DkFAzuwm... and a lot of other stories.

I do believe that's the only difference, actually. Girls are not encouraged to enter tech nearly as often as boys are. Also they have fewer women as role models in tech. So it's not surprising that they don't enter the field as often.


having 10 anecdotes is not data. and opinion is not data. you do understand that much right. if i were to give you anecdotes, probably i can pull off a hundred of those right of the internet (probably there's a subreddit for that too), arguing the exact opposite.

of all the people saying how they are so pro-evidence are falling back to these one off anecdotes, just upsets me. no you didnot provide evidence, you showed a case.

if a gender has to be given a easier option to be included just because of their gender, what kind of stupid equality is that.


I don't think I said, or linked to anyone saying, that women should get an easier option than men. My links were intended to show the overall feeling that people in tech have, but if you want hard data, here you go: http://narrowthegapp.com/aat39.txt Here is a description of the environment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1965472 and a non-comprehensive list of infamous events http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents . Obviously these incidents do not involve every member of the hacking community; the point is that they form a pattern of harassment that makes an atmosphere that is not welcoming toward women.


1) about the wage gap. i agree that there is a wage difference, but that's not the point we are discussing. we are discussing if people are openly welcoming women or not. so, are people welcoming women to participate more than men? if women are still less in number, is still ok to blame one or two idiots who ruin it. if you are a white male who doesn't drink, would you stop going to conference where you find a non-white female who made ruckus while drunk? how many men would stop?

2) wage gap is hugely debated because all it takes is how much you get paid, rather than any other condition (hours, vacations planned/unplanned, etc). i don't have full details, and would not agree with that. even then it's not full data.

3) also i give in to women being harassed, the point is how much is being exagerrated. some women just complain about people putting fuck in the presentation slides (case in point: dhh's slides from some years ago). we should avoid alcohol then where people get offended by people drinking alcohol at conferences.

4) about the timeline. a) do you think games which involve men getting shot at doesn't invite men to play games, did it stigmatize them from getting into games? i know that rape game is offensive, but like every women is looking at that game and goes, fuck this computers shit, i won't every be a programmer. b) how many times have you heard idiot, stupid, at conference and people got offended at a conference and never came back to the conf again? (in reference to bitch being used in multiple incident, pornstar in slides etc). c) there are some trolls who harass women/women confs. do you know much zed shaw gets trolled? i don't see him complaining about how uninviting the community is and blaming them for not getting things done (also, he would not agree with any point I make, but that's not the point of this reply) d) there is a difference between getting offended by something and anything.

let me tell you a story: there was a famous author who wrote a book once, and at the book signing, one group of women came to talk to him, and told him that they were happy that they didn't find a single offensive word in the book. he said he was happy they know what they were looking for.

also, i agree some women are being harassed, but blaming solely these incidents as the reason for lack of women is misrepresentative and just making women objects to whom people have to provide support to get them in, rather than making them people who want to get in.

no matter what my point is: if you (men or women) want to get something, and can't do it, don't blame it on other people for that not happening.


The gender pay gap is a complete myth and noting but propaganda. In fact, accounted for hours, women actually earn slightly more than men. Seriously, if any employer can get a woman to do the same job as a man then why on earth does anyone even bother to hire men in the first place?


The gender pay gap varies widely, but it's pretty clear from the data I gave you. Programmers make similar amounts of money, but sysadmins make quite a bit less. This isn't data from what's-her-name that had a political agenda, or the survey from the 80's that everyone quotes as if it's recent and accurate. This is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://narrowthegapp.com/aat39.txt


i think the point factorial is making is: this doesn't account the hours, and input one puts in, but it's just straight out how much for same position (not same job).

but i paraphrase


Hmm... Couldn't it just be that men are discouraged (!) from entering basically any field other than science/technology these days? Just have a look at the gender distribution in most majors. Why is nobody making a fuss about creating more "education opportunities" for men in medicine, journalism, communications, education, or just about college in general?


No. There is a shortage of software engineers right now. And geeks might be cooler than they used to be but that doesn't mean that everyone is a geek.


Huh? How does this relate to anything either you or I have written in this thread? Now all of a sudden we have to get more women into tech because there is a "shortage right now". Why not motivate more men who may be more interested in tech to begin with?

By the way, the alleged shortage is addressed by H1-B visas. They have the welcome side effect of driving down prices of domestic developers, and if this doesn't help, the corporations just collude a tiny little bit and make anti-poaching agreements.


OK I think I don't know what you're talking about. :) You wondered if men are being pushed into tech instead of other things. But this is clearly not happening because there is a shortage. So men might be more welcome in tech than women, but clearly neither men nor women are being pushed into tech. We know this because there are not enough men (or women) in tech. If they had been pushed, there would not be a shortage. Clearly both men and women should be pushed more :)


Logic is completely absent from your argument. Imagine you are a your typical US high school graduate, and the message you've gotten for years was that women are better at anything, that they are more likely to finish school, get a degree etc. pp. Somehow, you think you want to fight the odds, and have a look around, wondering what you might study. You find that many departments at university lack rigor and due to your preference for logical thinking you go into science/engineering because you find them more welcoming than, say, male-bashing on an institutional level like in Gender Studies and humanities.

The claim that there is a shortage has nothing to do with the fact that tech is more welcoming to men. It's two completely separate issues. Or do you think that just hiring a bunch of unqualified women (or men) will be what solves the problem? There is a lack of skills, not bodies, and it takes some hard work to acquire those skills. Because there are not enough skilled people around, and because tech is booming, there is now a shortage. (I doubt that it's as bad as you think it is. Just look at the Dice board for plenty of disgruntled IT people.)

Maybe we should encourage more men to actually consider college. What about that? Sure, it doesn't gel well with your feminist agenda.

Lastly, do you actually work in tech or are you merely on a PR trip? Sockpuppets are quite common these days and I wouldn't be surprised if some "think tank" had sent a couple of drones to pollute the otherwise intelligent discussion on HN.


Sure I work in tech. (Check my HN karma or history.) And almost everyone I work with is male.

Your first paragraph is pretty vitriolic. Actually I chose to go to a liberal arts college with a strong focus on the humanities, because I knew it would get me a more serious education as well as better connections in business. I didn't feel like I was fighting the odds, I was getting a massive leg up on my career.

There were a lot more women than men around because the nursing program was the best in the area. I think only 4 people graduated with me from the CS department, it was very small. The entire CS faculty was women, but even so there was only one girl student in the entire CS program (not counting the beginning classes which most people didn't pass). This was mainly because the boys in the classes had started studying computers much earlier, so the girls thought they must somehow be less smart when really they just didn't have the same head start. That's also discussed here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3836440

The claim that there is a shortage has nothing to do with the fact that tech is more welcoming to men. It's two completely separate issues. I know. You brought it up when you said that men were being encouraged to go into tech, to the point that they were almost being pushed away from other fields. Demographically speaking (looking at the whole population) no one - neither men nor women - is encouraged to get into tech. Therefore there is a shortage of skilled workers.


I'd say that the statistics speak for themselves. If you (sp332) say that women are discouraged from entering tech, it's just as valid to claim that men are discouraged from entering basically any other field. Besides, I get the uncanny impression that you have some political agenda, as evinced by your lack of facts and reasoning in your arguments, and substituting it by mere claims and rhetoric.


Me? You asked, Isn't it just equally plausible that women just don't really want to be in technology-oriented fields? And I said, yes, but that's not the whole story. Also, I don't believe there's a biological imperative to enter tech. Of the two of us I'm the only one who's presented any evidence.


Why would one assume that?

Aside from the millennia of oppression of women, you mean, keeping them out of every professional field? And aside from endemic gender stereotyping that pushes women strongly away from "hard" professions and toward "soft" ones? Oh, and aside from the dozens of conversations I've had with women in tech talking about how they've been mistreated?

Aside from all that, mainly because I'm really suspicious of unprovable arguments for a status quo that's very convenient for the speaker.


This is so tired. Plenty of others responded with arguments and data and yet somehow I doubt you'll change your ignorant mind. Upset that I made an unfounded conjecture about you based on insufficient data? Exactly.


I'm amazed anybody, male or female, would speak at an event where tickets cost $600 and they won't even pay for speakers' airfare & lodging.


Conferences are lower margin than you think, particularly in tech. They're normally thrown for the good of the community or as a loss leader for some other business/product. If you're lucky, there's a slim profit that can be reinvested into the next conference, or that allows you to pay yourself for the insane hours put into planning. In all, tech conferences are generally a labor of love.


This certainly does not apply to conferences that cost a cool four figures to attend and are geared towards the corporate market. Nobody can tell me that the organizers are not making money.


Oh definitely -- Legal, Medical, Real Estate, "Corporate Leadership" -- those guys are definitely out for the payday. They also usually are thrown by niche publication/magazine firms, so there's even more to be made.


I think that's pretty typical for a conference the speaker would have attended anyhow. I've certainly spoken at conferences like that and been quite happy about it.


This post prompted me to go check the people we accepted onto the UX stage of Agile 2012 - and we have a 50/50 male/female split. Merit based - sex wasn't a factor in picking speakers. Makes me rather proud of the community we've built up in that particular field over the years.

And community building is what changes things in my experience. People attend conferences to have fun and learn. Speaker or audience. Lose some of that in however small a way for some group and you start losing traction with that group.

I know people who don't attend particular events, or in a few cases conferences in general, because various attendees or organisers or sponsors acted like asshats. Word spreads and it affects future years attendance and submissions if the organisers aren't proactive about dealing with the situation.

Even worse it casts a general air of malaise over the whole field. Attend two different conferences in a row where you're made to feel uncomfortable in one way or another, and it makes you a little less likely to attend the third.... an so things spiral...

The door maybe open - but people's views are tainted by discovering what was actually behind some other supposedly open doors.


> we have a 50/50 male/female split. Merit based - sex wasn't a factor in picking speakers

In a field overpopulated by males at a rate of about 9:1, half of the most qualified speakers you picked were female? Statistically, that doesn't reflect well on the skill of men. I would have expected a merit-based selection process to produce candidates in the same sex ratio as the sampled population.

I had no idea a woman was four times as valuable as a man...


In a field overpopulated by males at a rate of about 9:1

Intriguing. Where did you get this statistic on folk qualified to speak on integrating UX and Agile? It's a fairly narrow field that I'm intimately familiar with and I've never come across a gender breakdown.

Oh wait... the Agile 2012 submission process is an open one... so I can just go look to see what sessions were submitted.

Of the 51 session proposals submitted to the UX stage there were 19 female and 40 male speakers (this adds up to more than 51 because some sessions had multiple speakers) - so judging by submissions that ratio is 2:1. If we only look at the primary speaker of each session we have a 8/5 split. So, statistically, the men don't come off too badly. Good for us boys.

If you're worried about a gender bias in the CFP then you can find an example at http://www.ixda.org/node/31640 - they were sent to many other places but were all pretty much variations on the same theme.

The session reviews and session submissions are public. Just register at http://submit2012.agilealliance.org/ and browse around. If you detected a bias that has caused us to reject an excellent submission please let me know. Wouldn't want that. We try an make the submission process better each year.

One way that the Agile 20XX conferences differ from many others is that we have a public review process. The review panel gives feedback on proposals - and submitters have a chance to clarify and improve their session proposals. I'm too lazy to go through the history of each session to see whether women were more likely to improve their sessions based on feedback. Can't say I noticed any difference at the time - but it's possible that may explain the difference.

[Edit: Hmmm... it might be a factor at that. More men submitted at the last minute when there wasn't enough time for submissions to be updated after the reviewers feedback - so they lost out on a couple of potential feedback loops.]

I had no idea a woman was four times as valuable as a man...

Or maybe it's just that we try quite hard not to say things like this.

[Edit: removed one unnecessarily harsh word]


Just a quick question: has there been any research indicating that more females want to be in tech? That females are unfairly (ie other than ability) excluded?

I realize this may seem a silly question, but so far all I have heard is what percentage of females are programmers, but by the same argument men are being prevented from getting a career in nursing.


This article has some information: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1643180


Nice victim blaming.


oh, fucking stop with the victimization complex.


Get off your blinders is all I can say.


first you open your eyes




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