Hacker Newsnew | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

At the (alarmingly high) risk of being completely misunderstood, I for one think the whole "sexism in technology" is an issue that isn't worth sparing time to think about.

Some people are jerks. That's true of all contexts of life. Jerks should be shunned not because they are sexist, but because they are jerks. If a guy who's a jerk starts a company, he'll probably hire other guy-jerks, miss out on having some balance on his team, and have a crappy company no one wants to work with. If a non-jerk guy starts a company, he'll probably make efforts to create an environment that's as respectful and balanced as he is, and not hire jerks. Respect is important - I wouldn't hire someone who's consistently disrespectful, no matter their gender.

I'd argue that the reason why there's a whole "women in technology" drama going on at all is because a lot of people (quite independent of them being male or female) in the tech scene are jerks. (this is also why this is an even bigger problem online, because as we all know, a large proportion of people follow the GIFT theory online and act like complete assholes, making statements that would get them ejected out of any social situation)

Why are there so many jerks in technology? We could spend forever discussing that, but probably for the same reason that any successful industry attracts jerks, male or female.

The problem isn't worth worrying about in a generic sense. I look at this as a "intelligent, civilised person vs jerk" problem, not a "male vs female" problem. That problem is as old as the world, and as someone who (I hope) is not a jerk, I don't deal with it using generalities, but targeting specific jerks if they can't be coached into being civilised.

In other words, if you identify someone who's regularly being a jerk, deal with them. If you're in charge and you're creating an environment where people are being jerks, look in the mirror.

Otherwise, don't waste time thinking about this "issue".

Edit: Worth adding that this doesn't mean it isn't worth thinking about the issue of sexism in general - that is something where we still have to make a lot of progress, especially in some parts of the world - but that's not specific to technology at all.




> I for one think the whole "sexism in technology" is an issue that isn't worth sparing time to think about.

A rigorous, peer reviewed study [1] demonstrated the existence of sexism in orchestra auditions: more women were selected with curtains, so that the reviewers could hear but not see the performers.

This is sexism by any definition, presumably perpetrated mostly or entirely accidentally, and not by "jerks".

Is the existence of this study compatible with your thesis?

[1]: http://public.econ.duke.edu/~hf14/teaching/povertydisc/readi...

-----


That was 15+ years ago. 40 years ago, if we go by shows like Mad Men, the whole world (West included) was definitely extremely sexist by today's standards. We're in 2013 today, things have, thankfully, moved forward a bit.

I think if you look at the world today, there are still definitely some issues with institutional sexism, but I do not think they are any more salient in technology than anywhere else. If anything, I'd say tech (at least in the UK) has a pro-female bias, because there are fewer women in the hiring pool, and so if you don't make a deliberate effort to keep your team balanced you'll end up with a sausage fest. In the case of GrantTree, that meant making a deliberate effort to advertise in places which are not predominantly male, and to tweak the wording of our job ads to make it clear that women are very welcome to apply.

Last but not least...

This is sexism by any definition, presumably perpetrated mostly or entirely accidentally, and not by "jerks".

You can be a jerk unconsciously. Surely, most people are - I don't think anyone actively wants to be a jerk. If you look inside your mind and you spot a belief, especially one that you've acted on, that "women can't be as good as men at X", where X is any kind of activity practiced by a large number of men and women, then there's a bit of a jerk in you.

There are differences between men and women, and some things men are naturally better at on average (for example, world-class competitive sports where the amount of testosterone in your blood simply makes a big difference in your ultimate performance), but no job I've ever seen advertised touches on anything quite so extreme. Even oil rig workers don't need to be world-class weight-lifting champions.

Everyone has some aspects of their mind that are "jerk-like". What makes someone not a jerk in the long term is the constant re-evaluation of otherwise accepted beliefs (usually handed down by their parents) in the face of new evidence.

Again, however, that's not at all specific to technology...

-----


+1: I wish everyone who spoke up in disagreement with me did so in such a manner! This is why I read HN.

I think you're right that things have gotten much better. I'm in academic math, and I hear horror stories from 40 years ago. Women tell me that sexism is still a problem, but a substantially less severe one. And also, as you mention with regards to GrantTree, I know of several efforts in math to deliberately reach out to women, which seem to be paying dividends.

40 years from today, I hope all of us will agree that these discussions are no longer necessary.

-----


> if we go by shows like Mad Men

Then it's probably good for you to realize that Mad Men purposefully uses the construct of a fictional past to create a neutral stage for the exploration of contemporary issues with sexuality and power dynamics in modern culture.

-----


Are you saying the representation of sexism in the 70s is inaccurate? (I'm asking honestly, I don't know the answer)

-----


You can still find offices today that closely resemble that of Mad Men and in the 60s you could also have found offices that are as respectful of equality as today's average office.

Why they chose this stage, and why it became such a success, is because it's capable of touching this nerve in modern culture by having a story line that is just extreme enough to be able to say "thank God we're not like that anymore" but still recognizable enough to think "that's a bit like X from the office."

-----


The implication is the smug "oh, aren't we better" (as in the blackface routine) but also "I don't think we've really changed enough". Even if people focus more on the former.

-----


>You can be a jerk unconsciously...

I think that it's very difficult to 'look inside your head' and specifically call out individual beliefs you might have. Someone who thinks it's OK to use languate that objectifies women, or thinks its OK to call a woman a 'girl' instead of a woman (do you know any men who are called 'boy' by a co-worker?) doesn't think its OK necessarily because they believe women are lower than men on a power scale. They probably think it's okay to say that stuff because of the culture they were brought up in - the vast majority of people they know never told them that it was unacceptable.

If I make a joke about how some co-worker of ours might have gotten to her position through a sexual favor, and you don't take offense, that tells me that it's OK to make that kind of joke. If you don't show that it's unacceptable to use that kind of language, it makes it implicit that it's acceptable to use that kind of language.

This means that plenty of people can be jerks without knowing it and without being able to reflect and realize that they were being jerks without a societal change. If all of a sudden, everyone you knew told you it was unacceptable to use that kind of language, it would be unacceptable. You wouldn't use it any more. The next person you saw use that language would be a jerk, and if nobody told him that it was unacceptable, they would be 'a jerk without knowing it'.

In the same way, when you live for years in a society where it's OK to make jokes about, say, how black people are 'built' for physical labor, and nobody tells you that saying that kind of a thing is unacceptable, it becomes implicitly acceptable. This can happen even when there aren't institutional forces at play.

If one or two people out of ten tell you that it's unacceptable to use objectifying language about women, you'll probably still think it's acceptable, but that those one or two people are just really weird, or extreme, or something. Then THEY'RE the jerks, for 'not being able to take a joke', or something.

It's only when six, seven, eight out of ten of those people tell you that it's unacceptable that you'll start to actually think that it is unacceptable. We form our definitions of what is and is not acceptable every day through our language and behavior on an individual level.

Language like this perpetuates cultural power structures in our society that we label sexism as racism.

So, I think that 'being a jerk unconsciously' is a reflection of the society, not the individual. Sure, there are plenty of people who just don't get the message, or really ARE 'unconscious jerks'(bigots), but the majority of the people that may fall under that category are just following perceived societal norms.

We're not at the point where much of the hurtful, sexist language is unacceptable, but we're getting there, so we'll see people from all ends of the spectrum - people who 'get it' and actively call people out on sexist language, people who just use acceptable language themselves and don't see the societal perspective, people who believe that it's culturally acceptable to use that kind of language, and people who know that it's culturally unacceptable, but are actually bigots.

-----


> Some people are jerks. That's true of all contexts of life. Jerks should be shunned not because they are sexist, but because they are jerks.

There are two responses to this.

The first one is that some people do not think they are jerks. They do not feel like jerks. Now they're in a situation where they don't hire a woman. They don't say "I'm a jerk, and that's why she didn't get the job". They say things like "culture fit"[1] or "skills" or any number of reasons. But would that same woman have got the job if she was male? This person will say "Of course not. Her sex had nothing to do with it". But cognitive biases are very strong, and they are deep and hard to fight against.

The other one is a bit glib, but: That's great, until you're the one who will not get employed because there are many jerks in charge of hiring; or you're the one getting beaten up by jerks because you're gay; or having crosses burnt on your lawn by jerks because you're black; or getting a high-school principal talking to your prospective college and having your scholarship funding pulled because you spoke out about a religious speaker attending a public school assembly.

-----


Thanks Dan, I always enjoy your posts in these threads. Your second paragraph is exactly why this is a big deal and why I always grit my teeth when someone says women don't work in tech because they aren't interested in tech, just as some of the commenters on that article do.

My problem with this blog entry -- besides the fact that posts like these garner all sorts of self-pats-on-the-back from men who already outnumber women exponentially, thus making those dealing with these issues feel even smaller than they already do -- is that no one is asking for special treatment. They are just asking for the situations in your post to be out of the picture. I don't know where these phantom extremist tech feminists are that are going around telling people that we need to separate to coexist that people keep complaining about. What I know is that many women seek solace in private mailing lists and women-only coding clubs is because they've experienced enough frustration that they need an outlet to scream and a place to make sure that they're not being irrational or interpreting a situation wrong.

The author may be comfortable in her own skin, and she may be able to shake off any ill-will towards her, but not wanting to be treated like an idiot at your job is hardly gender-specific. Men are just as likely to be in that position, but their validation-over-time happens more quickly. They are able to bounce back. They are seen as confident and worthy when they ask for their raises and promotions, as opposed to how women are seen in the same situation.

At the end of the day, I think posts like these are just as destructive as ones like Shanley's (https://medium.com/women-and-work/405b2d12d213). Both speak to two sides of the same coin, but unfortunately they take the attitude that their experiences are the only experiences, and thus, here is a guilt-tripping one-size-fits-all solution.

A great post on the issue of trying to deal with not talking about gender inequality while dealing with gender inequality is by comedian Sara Schaefer, titled "Taco at the sausage party": https://medium.com/gender-justice-feminism/66fa6d700af2

Even if you attempt to ignore everything going on around you, it doesn't change what people are saying and doing about you. At some point, you crack, no matter how much you have been trying to avoid doing so. The attitude shift needs to happen across the board.

-----


My problem with this blog entry -- besides the fact that posts like these garner all sorts of self-pats-on-the-back from men who already outnumber women exponentially, thus making those dealing with these issues feel even smaller than they already do -- is that no one is asking for special treatment.

A thousand times yes. It's an argument which warrants skepticism if for no other reason than the fact that it lets men off the hook.

And I too grind my teeth because I suspect there's the implicit dynamic of, "here's a woman who disagrees, therefore you don't speak for all women, therefore we can round file talk about inclusion and feminism." It enables even more reflexive contrarianism.

Fundamentally, even coming from a woman, these arguments boil down to "have you tried not having feelings?" Or perhaps more accurately: "I don't have a problem; have you tried being me?" It's not in the least bit actionable.

And apropos of your third para: in general if the premise of your argument is that you have to adopt the arguer's attitude, background, and/or worldview wholesale, discarding your own, it's a failed argument. It's part of the antipattern wherein women are expected to adopt male attitudes and behavioral patterns in order to get by. (Which is itself yet another way in which men can declaim responsibility.)

Anyway, I thank you and Dan for the high quality conversation here. I'd avoided looking at this comment thread for obvious reasons, and I was pleasantly surprised.

-----


Thank you for your informative links!

> I always grit my teeth

Yes. Really I should avoid links like this. I grind grind grind my teeth every time.

-----


> Jerks should be shunned

Now, I might not understand what specifically you mean by "jerk", but I assume you mean "someone who says things that might hurt other people's feelings", i.e. "someone who is not always politically correct (PC)". Personally, I don't have a problem with such people. I don't care what people say, or how they say it; if it's the truth, bring it on, if it's a joke, I won't laugh if I don't understand it, but I prefer a (work) environment where people are free to speak their minds, however controversial and "inappropriate" their thoughts might be, to an environment where everyone is supposed to be PC all the time. In general, I prefer to judge people by what they do (I should improve in this area) not by what they say. For example, I would prefer spending time with a well-meaning jerk, that with a gentleman murderer.

Or maybe it's just that I'm a jerk and as such don't mind other jerks. It's true that I'm totally annoyed when people don't tell me something that they think might hurt me (but most likely wouldn't). I consider all feedback as potentially constructive and try to improve based on it.

-----


> "someone who is not always politically correct (PC)"

Definitely not my definition of a jerk. I have no problem with people being rude, crude, etc. In fact, if you were to sit in our office, you'd find that the amount of lewd jokes going around is alarming! The next thing you'd notice is that most of those jokes are originating from my cofounder/fiancée, and one of her (female) friends who's also employed by us. The guys are actually much more PC than the girls... you might say we have a sexist environment - guys are being abused here!

The only thing I find worrying/alarming is that we are already this depraved in an open-plan office where anyone can hear us. I shudder to think of the depths we'll be plumbing once we get our own, private office :-)

So, Jerk != un-PC. A jerk is someone who is disrespectful to other people by their meaning, not their words. You can be a jerk without swearing, and you can swear and make lewd jokes without being a jerk.

-----


Important point to make. We should not throw out the amusement baby with the sexism bathwater.

-----


I agree. However, unfortunately this is exactly what I see happening usually (c.f. the recent Ariana scandal).

-----


PC is such a useless term anymore, since it's shorthand for people feeling put upon because they can't say what they want anymore; there's an implicit or explicit value judgment.

Jerk, to me, refers to a _pattern_ of asshole behavior. If you routinely and knowingly say things that hurt people's feelings, you're a jerk and you should be shunned. If you insist on using hurtful language because you feel like it's PC not to do it, that satisfies the definition of a jerk.

I'm not saying you are a jerk, but sometimes jerks like to frame their disregard for other people's feelings as a matter of "honesty" rather than "consideration" or "basic human decency."

-----


That's not being a jerk. By definition a jerk can't be 'well-meaning'. I would classify 'Jerk' behavior as behavior that is totally inappropriate for a given context/situation. For example, a man speaking to a woman in a professional context (workplace, tech conference) and making lewd comments about her appearance.

-----


I think there are two problems: sexism and an imbalance of males and females in technology. They're not the same, though they're linked in some ways.

Sexism is hard to address effectively, and attempting to confront it can sometimes make things worse. Proceed with caution.

What is easier to address (but still difficult) is recruiting more women -- this can also make it easy to identify sexism, because if more women are present, sexism can be harder to hide.

Although I disagree that ignoring an imbalance will make it go away, there is another reason why trying to have more women on your team is important: if 50% of the people consuming software are women, it's quite possible that a team of 90% men is missing out on opportunities. Though Pinterest is a good recent example that most men simply don't appreciate to the same degree as women, there may be some hidden market opportunities that are shrouded by the current gender ratios in technology.

-----


How do we know recruiting more women will be more effective? Are women intimidated by the fact that IT is male-dominated or simply genuinely not interested in the field?

One could look at statistics from App Store developers (are there any?). App stores by nature do not discriminate on gender so they provide an ideal controlled environment in contrast to corporations where there are politics etc. How many women app developers are there?

My guess is it's not a cultural thing, women may be less interested in tech and that's completely fine and nothing to feel uneasy about. This view might not be de rigueur, but it seems to me that rationality is better than political correctness.

-----


> simply genuinely not interested in the field?

In the year 2013 this question is so lazy, or ignorant, it is effectively biggotry. Or perhaps trolling. And that's a shame because you're not a bigot or a troll, you're just asking a question. Unfortunately this question has been asked for many years. (Women just don't want to have the vote. Politics is too complicated for them. etc.)

> App stores by nature do not discriminate on gender so they provide an ideal controlled environment in contrast to corporations where there are politics etc. How many women app developers are there?

The problem starts in schools where girls drop out of math and other technology classes. This is not related to ability.

-----


> In the year 2013 this question is so lazy, or ignorant, it is effectively biggotry. Or perhaps trolling.

No it's not. It's a valid question that must be asked and answered and can't be ignored just because people get tired of hearing it.

The far bigger plague is the way honest, legitimate questions get met with shaming and ridicule instead of knowledge-enhancing answers.

Also: ignorant is almost never a valid accusation to make against someone asking a question. Asking a question by definition means that one is admitting some amount of ignorance. Calling it out is exceptionally rude and counter to the spirit of honest debate.

-----


> It's a valid question that must be asked and answered and can't be ignored just because people get tired of hearing it.

It is a valid question. It has been asked, and answered, many many times, with research, with opinion and philosophy, with politics.

Concern trolling is "just asking questions" - there comes a point where we need to say that these questions have been answered thoroughly, and that there's little left to be said about them, and that people who want the answer should really do the minimal amount of work needed to get very many answers.

This is not a question plagued by the LMGTFY problem, where people are told to use a search engine, but they only find other people asking the question and being told to use a search engine.

-----


This is not a question plagued by the LMGTFY problem, where people are told to use a search engine, but they only find other people asking the question and being told to use a search engine.

What it is, is a question burdened with too many assumptions to be answered easily. The next time you see it, try identifying some of those assumptions and challenging them, rather than getting all pissed off. You might be pleased with the results.

For example:

"Is interest in the field important, anyway? Would lack of interest actually explain the lack of participation? It doesn't have to, it's possible to pursue a career despite not having much interest, especially initially."

"Intimidation-by-men vs. lack-of-interest is a false dichotomy. It doesn't have to be one or the other, it could be both or neither."

-----


Maybe you could point to studies that answer my valid, but yet ignorant and bigoted question of whether it's a genuine gender difference of preferences or sexism. "Opinion and philosophy and politics" barely counts as evidence in my book.

Relevant documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ2xrnyH2wQ

-----


The far bigger plague is the way honest, legitimate questions get met with shaming and ridicule instead of knowledge-enhancing answers.

Take these honest, legitimate, and perhaps well-intentioned questions. Take every man who is skeptical of this whenever a woman brings up her experiences. Take arbitrary levels of skepticism as well as standards of proof, since we're talking about varying individuals.

Multiply all that, and try to imagine answering that nearly every time the topic comes up.

It's a rhetorical DDoS, effectively. And people get sick as shit of it, given (among other things) the difficulty in determining who's even operating in good faith.

In general people get frustrated that the questioners expect the questioned to take sole or primary responsibility for educating every single skeptic. You might feel like you, personally, are being shamed, but to be honest, this rounds down to a subset of male behavior, in aggregate.

For me, the solution is to give women in particular the benefit of the doubt when it comes to things like this. It makes these discussions a hell of a lot more fruitful, and I've learned a hell of a lot since.

-----


Rhetorical DDoS goes both ways. In fact it even goes more ways than both if you consider the amount of straw-manning that goes on amongst propagandists.

Frustration may be true but is merely an excuse for individual's behavior. It doesn't make the position valid or the rhetoric any less destructive to discussion. Your dog might chew a hole in your couch. You might say it's because he has separation anxiety. Which is true but there's still a hole in the couch.

For me, the solution is to give women in particular the benefit of the doubt when it comes to things like this. It makes these discussions a hell of a lot more fruitful, and I've learned a hell of a lot since.

The solution to what? The benefit of the doubt when? Which discussions? Where has there been denial of experience?

How about giving the benefit of doubt to any party who presents their view reasonably? return0 was not attempting to shut down discussion. He was not attempting to invalidate or shout down any particular lines of reasoning. He was not attacking anyone. He considered shantanubala's point but remained unconvinced and sought further argument.

-----


I still want to see the statistics. I don't understand the vote analogy, it's nothing like that, women were free to choose jobs long before IT became the hottest sector, and certainly today's women do not need to be taken by hand and dragged to a job (if anything, that's a proof of sexism). Also i don't speak about ability, but about interest. Just because we have fetishized technology it doesn't mean everyone must go there. For comparison: http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-medicine

-----


What would the statistics tell you?

How do you quantify interest?

Decisions are easier to quantify, but still can be difficult to measure.

What influences the decisions?

-----


> The problem starts in schools where girls drop out of math and other technology classes. This is not related to ability.

If it is not related to ability[0], then it certainly must be related to interest?

[0] You could probably argue that IQ standard deviation is higher in men than in woman, which could result in a slight difference in ability in the most taxing fields, but that shouldn’t be a problem in school.

-----


It is related to interest, but not to genuine interest.

I'd argue that the biggest driver which keeps women out of tech is other, non-tech, women. I see my female employees bullied by client female employees simply because they're "geeks" (and I come down on the clients like a tonne of bricks in said circumstance, regardless of gender). I've seen girls and women who've had an astounding technical competence and interest be talked out of it by their mothers, peers, and others, as "you'll never find a nice man if you're working in a basement with a bunch of disgusting nerds".

Girls drop out of maths and tech classes not because they lose interest, but because their peers ostracise them if they do not do so. I remember the two girls who started A-level Physics at the same time as me at my school both dropped out in the first term, as they ended up shunned by their peers who were all studying drama, art, and english lit.

The issue is cultural and generational. It's not going to change, with any amount of inward hiring bias or positive discrimination within the industry, until womens' own opinion of themselves, and their place, and their abilities, tallies with the reality - which is to say, gender be damned.

-----


There's also guys. I'm a student, so a common question at a party would be 'What do you study?'. The correct answer 'Physics' normally gets this reaction: 'Oh, I dropped that as soon as I could, cool that you can do this.' and then they turn around and talk to someone else. The only ones not doing this are other physicists, mathematicians and maybe IT people (consistently men and women, but it's worse for men). My female physicist friends report the same behavior.

Right now I just mostly lie about my subject at social gatherings, because I'm so fed up with this.

-----


I studied physics. Best subject of all, imho! XKCD got it wrong in http://xkcd.com/435/ - Maths is just a tool invented by physicists to solve Physics problems! :-)

I'm sure those people at the parties you go to will be regretting their dislike of Physics when you have a brilliant career as whatever the hell you want to do and they are working at Starbucks.

-----


guys may have the same problem too: http://imgdex.com/23aa

-----


From personal experience, it appears that this reaction occurs to all physicists, regardless of gender. Maybe men care less about this than women and are hence less easily disinterested in the field?

-----


Next time someone asks you what you study, wait a beat then ask them (with humor) if they sing in the shower.

It's not your fault they just asked you a boring question.

-----


Yeah, I hear that, and get the same - you can see the shutters come down the moment you say you did your degree in physics, or that you run an IT company. These days I tell people in random social situations I studied golf course management and run a marketing company. Goes down far better. If they're talking to me five minutes later, I reveal.

That said, I think this is far more of a factor for women as they tend to be far more sensitive to social pressure than men. Why this is is another topic entirely, but in short: culture.

-----


I get your point. I (half kidding) wish my mother had told me "you'll never find a nice woman if you're working in a basement with a bunch of disgusting nerds".

I am proud to be an engineer. But sometimes we fail to cultivate an image that other intelligent people would like to be part of.

-----


That's because engineers don't construct this image, and cultural preconceptions nowadays don't come from reality but get constructed in TV studios.

-----


"But sometimes we fail to cultivate an image that other intelligent people would like to be part of."

The trick here is to channel your interests into interesting hobbies. They should be foremost for you and your own development, but hobbies and related passion makes for much more interesting conversation.

-----


And how do you plan on recruiting more women if the percentage of male students enrolling in STEM classes is still far above 50% (with a few exceptions, notably biology/chemistry)?

Of course, you could hire all women graduating from such classes, but if you did that while continuing to hire only the top n% of males, you’d create an environment were women are, on average, less capable than men, which doesn’t sound all that great to me, either.

-----


Most companies have roles other than just development...

Even development teams have roles other than just developers. In large companies, there are testers, managers, business analysts, etc...

-----


But by implementing a company-wide balance, you hardly gain anything in particular teams. Even worse, if you let the ‘actual’ development teams be all-male and the women to take care of the rest (management, secretaries, people drawing up trivial PowerPoint presentations to impress equally trivial people), you might well reinforce stereotypes.

-----


If you development/technical roles are all male, then your supporting (manager/etc) roles must be mostly female if you end up with company-wide gender balance. This form of semi-gender-balance is not uncommon; many supporting roles (HR,etc) tend to skew female. As a female developer, I find the technology differential between the genders to be at least as awkward as having a strong but more uniform gender skew across the company would be.

Without any individual behaving incorrectly in any way, it feels awkward to be the only technical female in a company. Having a non-zero number of other women present is better than none, but it's completely different from having a non-zero number of equally technical women. When the information flow of technical information is always male-to-female, it just makes me feel uncomfortable, even though no one is doing anything wrong.

-----


How would you solve this problem if you were in charge? (assuming you're not already in charge)

(genuinely curious, I have no idea how I'd try to solve it in a large company context)

-----


I'm definitely not in charge; I've only just graduated from college, so the sum total of my work experience is two internships. The companies I worked at did both ask for advice/feedback on how they could recruit more women; they both view their lack of gender diversity as a problem. (neither had any full-time female developers; only one had female dev interns other than me)

I don't think I had anything useful to tell them at the time, and I'm still don't have especially clear ideas on how to solve the problem. Both companies are full of very nice, very smart people. They weren't doing anything wrong that I could see. It seems to me that the problem might be advertising.

They might be (unintentionally) advertising in male-dominated spaces (online or otherwise). This might be somewhat counteracted by the fact that both companies support/advertise-at specifically for-tech-women events (sponsoring a Girl Geek dinner; attending the Grace Hopper conference job fair).

Another possible factor is that both companies are known for having challenging interviews. (like a lot of well respected tech companies) It's possible that some potential female applicants talk themselves out of applying; I've seen (male) friends come pretty close to talking themselves out of applying because they felt they wouldn't get the job.

This is also something of a circular problem. The lack of female developers makes them less appealing places to work for potential new female hires; the imbalance signals that there might be problems at the company and the situation is a problem in itself. The company might also be less likely to hear about female-focused events to advertise at.

I don't claim to have a solution. I just wanted to back up that have enough women in general around does not really help with a lack of technical women.

-----


That’s what I meant with ‘even worse…’. Assuming a child would come along on bring-your-child-to-work day, would that child get the impression that women are equally capable of doing technical work as men or would it think that women ‘belong’ in HR?

-----


Yes, I was agreeing with you. Sorry if that was unclear.

-----


I'm lucky that all the key jobs at GrantTree (Client Management, Sales) are naturally not predominantly male or female.

Obviously that's not the case for every company. Ultimately, if 90% of developers in the country you're in are male, it's going to be pretty damn hard to keep any kind of balance in your development team. I think you just have to accept that, and continue to hire based on excellence rather than trying to bias towards gender (which is illegal anyway).

However, there are completely legal things you can do to try and tilt the balance in other functions, so that at least the company as a whole is balanced. For example, advertising on sites that aren't themselves predominantly male, and wording your job ads so that they make it clear that women are most welcome, helps to tilt the balance of applicants, which allows you to maintain the company balance while still hiring the best applicants.

I don't think you can solve macro-societal issues like gender balance among software developers in general just by tweaking your hiring process (though I'll be happy to be proven wrong), but that's not an issue of sexism, just an issue of reality.

I haven't yet considered how you'd solve that problem at huge scales, like if you were Microsoft - probably others might have more useful opinions on this. My points above are more relevant to smaller companies. I'm sure there's a number of people at Microsoft worrying full-time about this.

-----


Worth clarifying: I'm not saying you should ignore the issue of balance, I'm just saying you should ignore the issue of "sexism in technology".

Making efforts to hire a team with some male-female balance is just as worthwhile as making efforts to hire a team that's balanced long other criteria. No one wants to work for an all-male company, just as no one wants to work for an all-female company. There's not even really a need to look at the market opportunities side of things. Balance is just more comfortable for everyone.

If you're creating a company and planning you're hiring, and you're not a jerk, you probably are worried about keeping some kind of balance.

-----


Yup, I was agreeing with you -- I probably should've made it clearer.

I just wanted to point out that people sometimes confuse "sexism" and "imbalance" -- a poor gender ratio doesn't imply sexism, and a good ratio doesn't get rid of sexism.

-----


"[...] and a good ratio doesn't get rid of sexism"

I'm not so sure, I think diversity in general takes away a lot of lazy discriminatory behavior in the long run.

-----


I've read a ton of blogs and articles on the issue and the one consistent trend I've noticed is that it's a significantly more noticeable problem in the US by comparison to the UK.

I'm certainly not denying that sexism doesn't exist in the UK, it simply appears to be less of an issue here compared to our US friends.

-----


Perhaps that's to do with general trends in the country rather than anything to do with technology, then...

-----


Who blames technology? These are all entirely social factors at work.

-----


I think the problem is that, under sexism (and this generalizes to other -isms), males generally don't know they're being jerks. They're not being jerks by the standards of their culture, but the culture is sexist.

For example, I know brogrammers, the kind who use pornographic female imagery in their workplaces and talk slides. The guy who identifies most with brogrammer culture (and makes such slides) is otherwise an incredibly nice guy, everytime I've observed.

Take an extreme, like slaveowners. Does anyone think they were all stereotypical jerks (aside from their institutional role), or grew black mustaches to twirl?

Anyway, I'm in technology, and that's where I can make the most direct impact. So naturally, sexism in tech concerns me.

(And BTW, one insititutional problem on HN is that males outnumber females greatly. I keep that in mind when I see which female voices tend to get upvoted — and which don't. The ones which blame females' attitudes, rather than analyze sexist culture?)

-----


It is so refreshing to see something of a sociological perspective on this debate.

I think that her premise is sound, but her conclusion is wrong. Many women do feel uncomfortable in many of the situations she outlined. Feeling uncomfortable about your pregnancy _is_ about feeling uncomfortable about being a woman in your field or your office. And it might feel ridiculous, because feeling uncomfortable about your gender in a "post-feminist" workplace doesn't really make sense, does it?

Except a lot of women feel this way, and it cannot be directly attributed to them. It's poignant to say that women themselves are partly to blame, because peoples' lack of action can often perpetuate the culture that causes those feelings

However, the main culprit IS the society itself, not individual women. It's not a particular persons' fault for feeling a certain way, and it's certainly not an entire group's fault for sharing a feeling of discomfort.

When hundreds of thousands of women who work in tech feel the same way, that's not a sign that they all need to realize that their insecurity is 'imagined'. It's a sign that something about their environment is making them feel that way.

Feeling uncomfortable about being a woman in technology is a symptom of a male-oriented culture, not a cause. To say otherwise is to perpetuate the culture that makes women uncomfortable in the first place!

--

RE: comments about a woman using a sexual favor to get to her position:

Comments like this are not harmful because they affect a single employee (although they are disrespectful, disgusting, and rude). They are harmful because they use language and concepts that objectify and derogate women. When someone uses this language (or calls a full-grown woman a 'girl', or comments on a woman's physical attractiveness in a professional setting, etc), and is not reprimanded, it perpetuates a culture that trivializes and invalidates womens' professional accomplishments, praises and characterizes them for physical or sexual qualities rather than professional ones, and makes it that much more OK for someone to make a similar statement in the future.

This kind of culture is what makes women have second thoughts about showing their pregnancy. Not an individual delusion or dramatization.

--

Yes, feminism is about egalitarianism, but that simply means that it is a movement that works towards that goal. In a society that is already sexist and already uses language like I mentioned above, active forces are needed to change the culture in such a way that will move towards that egalitarianism.

Every day, when you don't call someone out on gendered or sexist language, you assist in perpetuating a stand-still culture that believes gender equality has already arrived. It hasn't. There's still a lot of work to do, and most of it has to do with our language and every day behaviors.

TL;DR: Feeling uncomfortable about being a woman in technology is a symptom of a male-oriented culture, not a cause, and the language we use every day defines that culture, so jokes about a woman using sexual favors to get a certain position are incredibly harmful to women as a whole.

EDIT: just realized this comment is pretty badly placed. However, I think a society-level discussion of these issues is badly needed, and the parent comment serves as an excellent segue.

-----


> Feeling uncomfortable about being a woman in technology is a symptom of a male-oriented culture, not a cause. To say otherwise is to perpetuate the culture that makes women uncomfortable in the first place!

I was following and agreeing with what you said until that point.

Any group being a minority to an other dominated majority will feel some uncomfortable. Anyone who has studied a course and been the sole guy with 30 female students will tell the same story. Female students in Sweden dominate all university subjects except engineering. Should we blame a female-oriented culture in universities on that, or look for other causes? What solutions to this problem should schools do, and what type of behavior changes should females do so male students are less intimidated to study subject manners which aren't engineering?

Trying to simplify gender inequality will only lead down the road of more inequality and problems. Instead of trying to state things as fact regarding which group/subgroup is to blame, or what comments is chasing women out of technology, maybe we should start by testing some of the hypothesis first?

Simple testable question: will a technology forum with no reported issues of sexist language have more female participants than the average? Will female teachnologists flock to such places as Stackoverflow and Wikipedia which has a very monitored and managed policy against any from of personal attacks. However, both also has below average of female participators, so the question is then why. Answer that, or find a testable test case with a control group and create data that shows the problem in the technology community. Only by that method can we go forward.

-----


Take an extreme, like slaveowners. Does anyone think they were all stereotypical jerks (aside from their institutional role), or grew black mustaches to twirl?

This is a good point. A friend of mine often talks about the "good slaver problem"--there are certain cultural habits that are so entrenched that we just don't see the problem. Some people do see the problem, and leave it behind and/or fight to fix it.

-----


> I keep that in mind when I see which female voices tend to get upvoted — and which don't. The ones which blame females' attitudes, rather than analyze sexist culture?

With 95% of the usernames here I have a hard time telling whether the writer is male or female, so how could this be the basis of an up-/downvote bias that is greater than the usual noise?

-----


I think he's talking about articles by women (such as this one) that blame individual women (such as this one).

-----


We can search hnsearch.com for "poll gender". Males consistently outnumber females more than 10X. We can predict some likely outcomes of such a voting/commenting system, which I think are borne out by evidence. (https://www.hnsearch.com/search#request/submissions&q=po...)

(Edit: and this linked article is clearly written by a self-identified female. Hope I understood your question correctly.)

-----


I think what he's saying is when you're upvoting/downvoting someone, you don't actually know whether they're male or female based solely on the username.

-----


Exactly (though my username might be the one exception to that…) – the post I replied to specifically said that apparently only female voices were getting up-/downvoted or that this was only a concern for female voices, so I am a little confused about it.

-----


I interpreted it as which kind of female voices got up-/downvoted: the ones that go along with general consensus or those that are critical of male privilege.

-----


People who try to accuse a society with generalized claims like "male privilege" get down voted because they are non-specific, non-discussable "facts", negative, and non-constructive in nature. Comments with those attributes are in direct contrast to a discussion board or for that matter, a scientific mind.

Comments that are specific, who's facts is discussable, are constructive in both identifying with facts what is wrong, and suggest solution in a scientific manner will be up voted.

It doesn't matter if its male or female voice doing this.

-----


As mtrimpe says, there's plenty of discussion that goes on here which does not have a scientific basis. It's a rigorous standard which is unrealistic to apply across the board.

And I'm sure it's just a coincidence that we as a male-dominated community get especially skeptical whenever feminism comes up.

-----


There many people here with skepticism on this board when argument based on anecdote is stated as facts. You might think that this is because of the male-dominated community, but I see the same skepticism when people bring up claim about security by obscurity, the speed of statics vs dynamic languages, flat vs non-flat design and so on. As long the arguments are demanded to be taken on faith, people here rejects them most days.

Why normally demand performance tests and security validation on claims regarding software, but I hear people argue that somehow we should not demand any proof for anything related to sexism? In what way is it unrealistic to demand that people test and confirm statements such as "irc comments are the major reason why women don't participate in software projects". I for one would like to see the average number of sexist comments on 100-2000 observed IRC channels over a set of months, and compare that to a control group of irc channels not related to software development. More or less?

Testing and verification is not unrealistic. Its is unrealistic to demand that we don't ask for it.

-----


I used the general term as just that, a general term to describe a class of voices. I wasn't referring to posts that used that exact generalized claim.

As for scientific manner; there's a lot being discussed on HN that isn't scientific. Although related, hacking is broader than science.

-----


They're not being jerks by the standards of their culture, but the culture is sexist.

Is it that the culture is sexist, or that the culture is aggressive, elitist, loud, obnoxious, and expects people to "suck it up" and not get offended? Or both?

-----


"Is it that the culture is sexist, or that the culture is aggressive, elitist, loud, obnoxious, and expects people to "suck it up" and not get offended?"

Strong elements in "the culture" encourage both of these.

There isn't quite a monoculture, so using just "the culture" seems a bit off.

-----


There isn't quite a monoculture, so using just "the culture" seems a bit off

That's true.

That being said, I'm wondering if a boisterous workplace culture that may be grounded in stereotypically male "ways of being" (e.g. rude jokes, elitism, competitiveness, aggression, "in your face"-ness) can be considered sexist insofar as it discourages more stereotypically female "ways of being" (assuming no overt sexism in the form of legitimate discrimination, etc). Or if some women like that culture and thrive in it, is that considered inoculation against charges of sexism?

I don't really have an answer. I'm just trying to understand what is considered sexist and what is considered a natural consequences of differences between the sexes.

-----


The problem is the delineation between "rude" funny and "nasty".

I like the former, but I don't think many people are capable of sorting out the dark consciousness of what makes it so funny from the more South Park joke being at someone's expense. Since I'd rather avoid having to deal with the latter, I'm fine with sidestepping the former or setting up clear lines, even though it makes me "no fun" to plenty of techies of any gender.

"what is considered sexist"

Can probably be debated easier and somewhat more objectively* than "what is considered a natural consequences of differences between the sexes" , which is entirely conjecture and crappy evo-psych.

*It's plenty subjective, but what affects and bothers coworkers and friends is absolutely important.

-----


I don't see much of a difference there

-----


A company culture could be aggressive, obnoxious, elitist, etc, but still hire women and promote them into positions of responsibility and/or leadership.

-----


yes, you're right. I misread your comment.

-----


>one insititutional problem on HN is that males outnumber females greatly //

How do you know?

It certainly seems likely there's a large imbalance, but you know. You even claim to know the sex of specific commenters. Maybe you do, but why does the sex of the commenters matter, surely it's the substance of the comments that are important?

-----


You're right that it's not specific to technology at all. It's better to think of it as the subset of sexism which occurs in the technology industry.

Before downplaying the significance of this it's probably good to keep in mind though that if you're a straight, white, western male, there's a good chance you underestimate the effects of being on the 'losing side' of any one of those axes.

As for the article, I can imagine that being labeled this way can be annoying, but it's important to keep in mind that these events are there for the women that do have trouble with these issues and/or for when you do run into trouble.

What many people often forget is that while these issues you hear about may not be present in your life at the moment, it's fairly easy for some new arrivals in your company to change the atmosphere into something hostile and hurtful to you. Just imagine how it feels when the suits start taking over and amp that up an order of magnitude or two.

It's for those moments that having these groups is so important.

-----


You didn't finish your sentence. You mean if you're a straight , white, western, non-geek, that enjoys only conventional hobbies and interests and holds down a conventional job etc etc etc. I would argue that geeks and punks and other "minorities" often have a very up close and personal look at violent discrimination. I've been hospitalized personally and have friends that have been as well despite belonging to the straight white western male demographic. I think one of the reasons that the tech world tends to react so harshly to criticism is a large portion of it's members are outcasts that have finally found a home. When a disenfranchised people find a place they belong they will react violently against any perceived threat to it. Yes many other minorities have it far worse. Yes there is still a great deal of privileged in comparison to the rest of the world. However there's always a sliding scale.

-----


"I would argue that geeks and punks and other "minorities" often have a very up close and personal look at violent discrimination."

Being bullied doesn't mean that you can't also become the bully yourself. I'd be willing to believe that plenty of the internet/Reddit/anonymous commenter misogynists were treated poorly by others in their lives, and choose to reflect that in how they view women in general.

-----


I totally agree. Personally I try to use the fact that I was bullied as an opportunity to empathize and try to help others. We may not be able to choose our external circumstances but we can certainly work on how we react to them.

-----


It's both fascinating and horrifying how persons embody their attackers. It's their turn to be in charge, now! Good on you and everyone else who can have introspection towards their behaviors and avoid any further harm.

-----


No. I did finish my sentence. I excluded everything that is a choice.

Being discriminated based on something that you can't change about yourself is substantially different from when it's based on something you can choose not to.

P.S. I realize that orientation starts getting into gray territory, so let's exclude it for the sake of this argument.

P.P.S. Although tangential, the remainder of your comment actually explores an interesting theme..

-----


Choice is a gray area. For instance if you're of unimpressive physical stature, intelligent, and wear glasses you're automatically grouped into a certain category. You also have certain options open to you. Not to mention while you can choose what to do you cannot always choose what you are interested in.

-----


> I'd argue that the reason why there's a whole "women in technology" drama going on at all is because a lot of people (quite independent of them being male or female) in the tech scene are jerks.

More likely, it's that there are a lot of non-tech people wanting to cash in on the fact that "women in technology" is a popular political theme right now.

-----




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Y Combinator | Apply | Contact

Search: