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Why does Hackbright only accept women into the program? (lizthedeveloper.com)
30 points by mikeevans on Sept 11, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments

They don't allow men in because they're sexist. There is not some special exemption for some classes of people, there are no pigs that are more equal than others.

They feel the sexism is acceptable given the circumstances. In a world where college enrollment for women is significantly higher than enrollment for men I don't agree, and I think many others don't agree either.

This kind of comment that just plain ignores the fact that women's representation in tech is abysmal is rather tiresome. It's discriminatory, it's not sexist.

Clearly a draft should be imposed to force under-represented demographics into careers they chose not to have.

Or for true equality we should all just be assigned our roles!

Or, barring that, groups of people should try to help under-represented demographics into careers from which they have been excluded.

Sounds radical, I know.

Men stopped telling women what they can and can't be when they grow up decades ago.

Do you know whose role was to stay at home, keep her man happy, dinner cooked, and the house spotless? Grandmothers. Is there anyone in tech who expects that from a woman?

> Men stopped telling women what they can and can't be when they grow up decades ago.

It's not that simple. As a society, we exert a lot of pressure on individuals in order to force them into stereotypes, categories that are socially approved. The pressure to conform is still especially intense on women and there are many social mechanisms through which this pressure is exerted. I also get the feeling that pressure has increased in recent decades as we're moving back to a more conservative society.

"Men" may thankfully have stopped telling women what they can be, but women are still heavily influenced by our society's collective expectations. For example, female nerds are even more strongly seen as negative than their male counter parts. Both sexes have developed a defensive subtype to combat this with some success: the sporty and extroverted brogrammer in the men camp, and the 9-5 no-nonsense "programming is not my hobby" female software developer.

So I think it's fair to say that statistically we're telling both men and women exactly what they can and can't be when they grow up - and I believe men still have an easier time opting out of that.

Really? Just this week I heard a story of boys in a programming class telling the one girl to "make me a sandwich".

Programs like this one are just saying "put down the damn sandwich fixings and go kick ass". Being opposed to them, at this point, seems incomprehensible to me.

You focus on the girl being bullied as if her gender was why she got picked on - maybe you're right and the guy's a sexist asshole. Or maybe he's just an asshole and the girl was interchangeable with anyone else he might pick on because he's an asshole.

You're assuming the underrepresentation is due to benign preferences rather than an active hostility.

That's correct - we don't want the typical tech career or job either.

Uh, perhaps the above commenter "ignores" said disproportionality because it's so beyond platitudinal that it doesn't bear repeating but rather is taken as a given starting point for any discussion on the matter.

They don't allow men in because they're sexist

You probably really think that's a really compelling argument, don't you?

A compelling argument for what? I think they have the right to be sexist. I just think it's crazy to try and brand it as something else. Just be honest.

The evidence of their behavior suggests it's not branding or dishonesty: they genuinely believe a mission to increase representation of the underrepresented gender does not constitute sexism. Given that, are any reasons for them to hold such a meaning of sexism, other than being "crazy"?

Men are a majority in tech with many benefits. Women are a minority in tech with many obstacles. They're just trying to help these women overcome this disparity. Why discourage that?

He didn't try to discourage them. He accurately labelled the behavior as sexist.

In a post-donglegate world where we must be forced to examine the sexual connotations of everything we do and say it shouldn't surprise that hackers callously analyze the entire situation.

Yes. It's sexist. Just like affirmative action is racist[1]. People tend to think that using sexism/racism this way counterbalances the other side of it, forcefully, for a time, until it's not necessary.

I'm not disagreeing with those kinds of practices or speaking ill of those who support them. But they are what they are, technically speaking. (The best kind of speaking).

[1] I find it amusing that the wikipedia article on affirmative action helpfully reminds us that the practice is known as "positive discrimination" in the UK. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action

The systems in which we're living are still suffering from the effects of centuries of sexism. Reciprocal sexism is only used to counterbalance these effects.

Still it makes sense calling duck a duck.

"Then there's this freshmen drop-off, where all but about 80% of women end up changing their major, usually to something involving design or business."

In other words, 20% of women end up changing their major. I'm guessing it was worded this way to trick those that skim read into thinking that 80% of women change their major.

It's a dumb stat even if they just said 20% change, without knowing how many men (or students overall, since men + women = total) also change major after the first year.

But the "1/3 as many women go into the program" is a meaningful stat. The most meaningful stat is "how good are the graduates", and from what I've seen, the graduates of Hackbright have been quite good.

Your mistake is to try and apply things like logic and rules of evidence; we're in feminist-land, where those rules don't apply, and where if you don't accept statistics about one gender as evidence something is gendered you're an anti-woman troll trying to distract from the real issuea affecting women.

Occam's razor would point to someone not being a perfect statistical writer or good editor, here, rather than pushing a a secret agenda. It's pretty clear that Hackbright's agenda is their overt one -- to increase the number of women in tech. They don't really need to hide that; I think the majority of people support their mission.

Some people use the phrase "all but" when they don't mean it. It's like when people use "literally" to mean "figuratively". The real unfortunate part of this is now we don't know which way they meant it.

> Some people use the phrase "all but" when they don't mean it.

Actually, the problem is that some people use the phrase "all but" in its well established idiomatic sense which is conventionally used to modify a non-quantitative description (where it means "almost" -- e.g., "He all but went bankrupt) when it is modifying a quantitative description, where it has a very different meaning -- from the individual words -- as "all except".

Note that the former definition (but not the latter, which is just a fairly direct combination of "all" and "but") is in most good dictionaries, and has examples in print stretching back to the 16th century, so its hardly reasonable to say that people saying it don't mean "all but". Its very much a long-established part of the language.

Its confusing and should be avoided in quantitative contexts because of the way it conflicts with the normal use of the individual words, but likewise "all but" in the sense of "all except" should be avoided in preference to, e.g., "all except" in the same circumstances, because of the danger of confusion with the idiomatic sense of "all but".

The two meanings you present are the same meaning. It could roughly be "all except" in either case.

    > (where it means "almost" -- e.g., "He all but went bankrupt)
This makes sense with the individual words. On the scale of loosing money, he did everything up to, but not including, going bankrupt. He did everything except going bankrupt; which is almost going bankrupt.

I see your point that because in a non-quantitative description, it effectively means "almost", people might confusedly use it to mean "almost" in quantitative descriptions, without thinking about what it means.

    > Actually, the problem is ...
So, I cede that that is a problem, but I don't agree with the "actually." There are people who don't realize that it means "almost", and might say "He all but went bankrupt" to mean that he really went bankrupt.

> "[...] where all but about 80% of women end up changing their major [...]"

> In other words, 20% of women end up changing their major.

Or very nearly 80% [1]. Its generally just better to avoid "all but" in quantitative contexts; in qualitative contexts its clear, but in quantitative ones its clear-as-mud.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/all%20but

Ah, very interesting. I never even thought about it that way. So maybe the author wasn't trying to be misleading, but just chose their words poorly.

I've never thought of "all but" to mean "very nearly". I've always thought of "all but" to mean "everything except". So in (probably) all the cases where "very nearly" works, so does "everything except". Unfortunately, the reverse is not true. I too thought her "all but about 80% switch" meant "everyone except about 80% switch" or in other words "about 20% switch". I thought it was weird to word it that way.

Best actual numbers I could find: 40% of the intro class (CS106A) were female, and up to 20% of the graduating class. (http://sheplusplus.stanford.edu/sheStatistics.pdf). I can't find the percentage of women among those who declare the CS major. From elsewhere, there are about 600 students in the intro course, 220 people declare the major, and 80 graduate. So 240 women in CS106A and 16 graduate. To argue that less than 80% of women drop out after declaring, we have to assume that 80 or fewer women declared a CS major, which means they made up approximately 1/3 of the declaring students, which sounds plausible to me.

The corresponding stats for male majors would be 140 declare the major and 64 graduate, so they lose 55% of declared students. Also pretty high, but the difference is large enough to be worth looking at.

disclaimer: these numbers are from the internet, definitely not dealing with the same cohort at each step, and may be quite wrong. If anyone has better ones, do share.

Totally fucked up that wording, sorry 'bout that. Edited, fixed. Also, numbers and research : http://lizthedeveloper.com/pedagogy-and-why-we-only-accept-w...

Am I the only one here that thinks that she can let whoever she wants into her school if she wants?

While a true discussion of morality is more nuanced, I think you really only have to have the discrimination discussion there are NO other sources or ways to achieve whatever it is that is that is being offered...

Men have options, so it's fine? idealistically it doesn't sound great, but in real life, dudes don't have a problem finding a place to code/learn about coding that will accept them pretty much wholeheartedly (as in it's not even an issue that they're there), women do not. So this lady built a place for women to do these things. The place she built is not the last bastion, there are other similar options (maybe even better options), NBD.

I have no problem with people trying to boost the female numbers in tech. I pray for the day there is a 50/50 split of equally talented men and women in tech so we don't have to keep having this tired old discussion over and over and over. For the love of [insert deity of choice]... hire more women! But I think I would respect her position a bit more if she just said, "It is my school and I'll only let women in if I want to... so talk to the hand [or whatever is a good replacement for suck it since that doesn't seem appropriate here]." But instead she is trying to play some higher moral thing that completely falls down when you realize it is still sexist and discriminatory (just not illegal).

Yes, it's discriminatory and apparently identifying through gender-exclusive club memberships is the state of play for most people. But I think we reached this point where almost any initiative that tries to even the numbers in our profession is worth exploring.

Personally, I'd rather have us working on eroding the stereotypes, the arbitrary lines of separation, and the behaviors that got us to this point - I'm just not sure anymore that is even an option. Maybe building another, exclusive and discriminatory counter-club is the right move. Extended into the future, if programs like this turn out successful it basically amounts to opening up a whole parallel career support network for women, potentially a complete replica of what we have as the "good old boys club" for men right now, including the harassment and the peer pressure to stomp on everyone who doesn't belong.

Gender segregation is something a lot of people seem to be becoming fond of (again). There was a moment in history where briefly it looked like we might break out of these shackles, but it seems that moment has passed and is quickly being forgotten. I believe if this trend continues, it will be one of the biggest failures of Western civilization.

The depressing thing is I can see how initiatives like this might be needed right now as a lesser evil compared to the alternative (which is having no women in CS at all).

If they accept only women, I have no problem with that. The can make up whatever rules they want, and the people here who are huffing and puffing about that should go and make their own club with their own rules and write about them in their own blog posts.

What I'm curious about is their stance of only accepting the top 5% of applicants.

She says that there aren't a lot of women in tech because they don't have a lot of friends, and that most women don't know about what programs are available to women in tech. To combat that, they go ahead and reject 95% of women who _did_ find out about their program.

Sucks for you, lower 95%.

And then she talks about how that's promoting the idea that women are as good at CS as men, but wouldn't the top 5% of GENDER_A in _anything_ wipe the floor with the average GENDER_B in that same thing? How is that promoting the idea that men and women are equal?

This all seems really strange to me and damaging to the brand (I've never heard of it before). What's the goal of this post, to help or to harm Hackbright?

MIT actively recruits the top 1% of SAT scorers. For a few years, they decided that to bump up their "diversity" numbers, they would pursue the top 10% of African-American students. Sure enough, they got a lot more African-American students! But there was a new problem: they flunked out at a much higher rate. MIT had unintentionally set them up to fail by putting 90th-percentile students in classes with 99th-percentile students.


Looking at the HEA numbers from 2003-2006, the difference in graduation rates between whites and black students at MIT ranged from 22pts in 2003 to 10 pts in 2006.


On the other hand, here in the UK our elite universities Oxford and Cambridge have an unofficial policy of holding applicants from elite schools to a higher standard than ones in impoverished areas.

Why? Because there are a bunch of expensive (and almost entirely white) private and state schools that are very good at teaching their students to do well in exams and interviews and the other factors Oxbridge use to assess candidates. What they're not so good at is teaching them the underlying skills and aptitudes required to succeed there, and those are rather hard to measure directly. So by biasing their application process based on the background of the applicants, they'll hopefully get a less biased selection of the actual top students.

Isn't a large part of the problem with oxford/cambridge that there just are not enough applicants from state schools.

I think that implies that most of the problem is not in the application process but rather the alienating effect the elitism of such institutions has. I really think that in their case a selection bias is not the solution.

Hey - it's me, @lizTheDeveloper.

We only take the top 5% because we only have space for the top 5%. We're not a huge organization that can just spin up 20 new dynos and laterally scale. We scale horizontally, which is frustrating for everyone, including us. The rest of them we try to direct to resources that DO scale, like http://teamtreehouse.com/ and learnpythonthehardway.com/book

But yeah, we'd love to help the other 95%. Got any thoughts?

Because it's the cause of the day. It signals appropriate sensitivity, politics, and gets attention.

Actually, there is no reason not to only accept women. I mean, apart from choosing best possible candidates but that's apparently not the primary concern.

And, really, who cares? Start worrying if she succeeds.

> I don't want to be cynical, but boy oh boy is it hard not to observe that at the very moment in our history when we have the most women in the Senate, Congress is perceived to be pathetic, bickering, easily manipulated and powerless, and I'll risk the blowback and say that those are all stereotypes of women. Easy, HuffPo, I know it's not causal, I am saying the reverse: that if some field keeps the trappings of power but loses actual power, women enter it in droves and men abandon it like the Roanoke Colony. Again we must ask the question: if power seeking men aren't running for Senate, where did they go? Meanwhile all the lobbyists and Wall Street bankers are men, isn't that odd? "Women aren't as corrupt or money hungry." Yes, that's been my experience with women as well.


I think this is a good idea. I also think women-only trade apprenticeship programs are a good idea, or (if they even exist) men-only school teacher programs.

They're all sexist, sure. But they aren't hurting anyone; they're just providing opportunities to under-represented demographics that weren't there before.

Equality benefits everyone in the long run. I support anything that promotes that.

| Stereotypes are not all bad; positive stereotypes are great.

| That mission is to bring equality to computer science

Please tell me I'm not the only one who sees through such transparent bullcrap?

Mind you, I'm not saying their results or their mission is invalid, merely that this attitude is hypocritical and unfair. You treat men different from women? By definition, you are sexist. Sorry, you can sugar coat it any way you want but you can't fix discrimination with more discrimination.

They treat women differently from men within the greater context of a society that treats women differently from men in the opposite manner.

To ignore the greater context is to miss the forest for the trees.

I'm afraid it is you who has missed the greater context. How exactly will you convince these women that they are truly equally skilled as male programmers? By shielding them from the presence of men altogether? By offering them special protections? Does this attitude fight back against stereotypes... or does it reinforce them? This moral quandary has a nice lateral solution: Lead by example. You can't fix all the assholes out there. If you fight them, you'll fall into the same trap. This isn't a real solution, it's a reflexive stop-gap solution. It's pigheaded and stubborn and it fails to solve the REAL problem at hand, that is, that we are missing out on half of our potential talent.

Hackbright has a demonstrable record of putting more women into tech.

They are part of the solution.

Once the representation starts to change, the calculus shifts so that the assholes become the outliers and they are the ones who start to experience pressure to change, rather than women experiencing pressure to drop out of the field due to harassment.

> They treat women differently from men within the greater context of a society that treats women differently from men in the opposite manner.

There's no real reason to assume that the two opposing forms of gender discrimination will cancel each other out rather than reinforcing each other though - especially given that traditional gender roles say women are inherently weaker/stupider/... than men and need special treatment and protection that men don't.

Well at least when they say ridiculously stupid things like "positive stereotypes are great" it makes it easy to realize they don't know what they're doing and are just using the "women in tech" meme to try and make a quick buck + shield themselves from all criticism.

I do totally write blog posts on the internet with comments open in order to shield myself from all criticism.

Here's an example of an awesome stereotype: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_%28printing%29

This is probably something that would rarely come up, if ever, but I'm curious as to how transgendered/female-identifying applicants would or wouldn't fit into the program. I didn't read the article thoroughly, but it only seemed to touch upon a hesitance to _only_ serve them.

Considering that the transgender community is similarly under-represented, I would expect them to welcome anyone female-identifying, regardless of chromosomes or sex organs.

Actually, based on everything I've seen, I think transgendered people are over-represented in programming.

I wonder if that is geography more than anything. If I were a trans kid in Middle America, my short list of places I would rather be would be San Francisco, LA, Portland, Austin, and Seattle, all kind of tech-friendly cities.

As Captain Redlegs says in The Outlaw Josey Wales, "Doin' right ain't got no end."

Clearly, there are too many men in software engineering.

Isn't that the flip side of this politically-correct coin?

Yeah, because there aren't any open jobs in the tech sector. We'll have to kick out some of the men in order to make room for the ladies.

Because in order to help one group of people, you have to hurt another group of them?

This kind of zero-sum-game thinking is shameful.

Coming from a country where the ratio is significantly more balanced than in north-america(about 40% are women), I appreciate any attempt to address the sex balance in the industry.

However, this might be more harm that help. One big problem is the gender centric culture of the industry, and these kind of initiatives are just trying to hide the sun with a finger. The culture problem would still be there and what will happen after the program ends? Are the alumni going to start women only companies? IMHO that is far away from the solution.

This is probably the most hilarious comments thread. But, thanks for reading!

I don't claim to know the full extent of the law, but how does accepting only female applicants not violated the protected class of gender?

As I understand it, private educational institutions are exempt from the 14th amendment - see Wellesley and other women's colleges, and all the single-sex prep schools. In one interesting case, a religious university lost its tax-exempt status for enforcing a no-interracial-dating policy (http://www.phschool.com/atschool/ss_web_codes/supreme_court_...) but nobody said that they couldn't discriminate and still be a university.

Men are grossly overrepresented in such dangerous jobs as fishing and logging, and yet feminists remain utterly unconcerned about this. Could it be that equality really isn't what they seek?

"You're very clever, young woman, very clever," said the old man. "But it's discrimination all the way down!"

I'm not sure what you're telling me.

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