Simply being a woman in technology doesn’t automatically make you qualified or interested in presenting about women in technology. It’s not some sort of ZOMG Uterus! club, and the assumption that it’s the only thing I’d be useful at talking about is a problem for me, regardless of how well-intentioned you are in wanting to bring this topic to the forefront at your conferences.
If you want women to feel less like outsiders in technology, try having a few of them speak at your conferences about gasp* technology.*
Those are excellent points to make. I happen to have a Certificate in GIS and I run a few websites and know a little html and css but I am kind of not really a "woman in tech." My forte is more social (I have had classes on things like Social Psychology and Negotiation and Conflict Management, etc) and I like writing about social things, including women's issues. Some of my writing on such topics has been discussed a little on HN. But, yes, she is absolutely right that being female and in tech does not, by itself, make "women in tech" her forte and she is also absolutely right that a much stronger position for promoting diversity is to hire her to talk about the thing she is an expert in, in spite of, gasp, her having female genitals.
I am glad to see this here. It fits nicely with some of my ideas and past comments, I think.
I wonder what would happen if we all collectively decided to act like the revolution of diversity in tech has already happened?
Wouldn't behaving as if we are living in a world where there is no underrepresented group in tech be better? Where it is no surprise that a woman be interviewed and hired for a position? That a little girl building robots and taking apart electronics is just kind of the way things go? That encouraging all children to excel in tech is the norm? Where it is a little strange that a women be asked to speak about a social issue at a tech conference?
It seems that calling attention to bad actors all of the time is kind of like calling attention to school shooters -- suddenly, to the younger more impressionable generation, there is a new alternative to their behavior that they were previously unaware of.
Empirical evidence shows that this is not the case. If you look at the dynamics of gender representation in law and medicine, two professions where female representation has gone from 5-10% to 50% over the last 50 years, you can see it behaves like a beam in plastic deformation. You move them to one point through discrimination, and it stays there when the force is removed. You move it to another point through affirmative action, and it stays there when the force is removed.
So what is the solution to that problem? less discrimination against men? affirmative action?
There is an important wrinkle, which is that law and medical programs tend to admit students based on objective measures, and employers in those fields hire based on grades and test scores. Women tend to do better than men in terms of grades, and perform competitively with men in the relevant range of logical/mathematical tests. E.g. even in the 98-99th percentile range of the SAT Math, the representation is 40% women. Tech employers, however, hire based on measures that have a large social component. If you give a big bump to those who were programming computers as a teenager or fit well with the "culture" of your company (staffed mostly by 20-something men), then it becomes much harder to find "qualified" women.
This is true of most graduate and professional programs. I had a friend in college whose undergraduate degree was in Rhetoric and Communication, who then went into a Physics Ph.D. program.
> If you want to be a CS major, however, you need to commit freshman year.
Whether that's true or not depends on the school, and its not necessarily generally particularly true of CS, though it may be more true of CS at particular institutions. OTOH, unlike law or medicine, where a particular professional degree is essentially mandatory , technology has no particular degree requirement (while a CS degree is helpful, particularly for the best jobs, its not a legal requirement to enter the field and plenty of people in the field don't have a CS degree.)
Anyhow, I'm not sure any of that is relevant -- why is the requirement for a particular degree, or a requirement to commit early for a degree, a barrier for women entering the field? Are you arguing that women are inherently less likely to commit early?
 in some states, its still possible to meet the requirements to practice law through what amounts to a private apprenticeship rather than professional degree.
When discussing women in tech, people bring up how the candidate pool mirrors the pipeline. See the recent discussion on Google. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7813310
Are you arguing that women are inherently less likely to commit early?
Guys are more likely to start coding in high school or earlier, so they're the ones starting freshman year. For example, the number of women who take the AP CS test is ~18%, which is close to the % of CS degree grads who are women.
If you want to graduate in 4 years, you have to start your CS program freshman year. You can switch later, but you're going to have to pay for more semesters, or work harder and cram in more units. And yes, you can start coding after 22, but it's an uphill battle.
"Getting an undergraduate degree other than CS" isn't the same thing as "start programming after graduating".
Discussions are how you transmit ideas about proactive behaviors, you can't separate them.
> I think we've all heard the discussion and decided diversity is a Very Good Thing. What I am arguing for is just getting on with it.
Diversity isn't an action you can get on with, its a goal you pursue through actions.
Discussion is a pretty big part of moving from a goal to something actionable.
Of course, discussion can be poorly focussed (e.g., not addressing how to take action when the goal is already accepted), which is a problem, but its not a problem with discussion vs. something other than discussion, its a problem with having the wrong discussion.
I would challenge you to scrape together enough people who "heard the discussion and decided diversity is a Very Good Thing" who would also put their money where their mouth is.
> What I am arguing for is just getting on with it.
Then stop discussing and commit to some proactive behavior. You express a nice sentiment, but you're still all words.
That's what I'm saying: it is like being pulled into meeting after meeting where the same thing is said over and over -- while you have already implemented the action items and you're wondering what good will come from Yet Another Meeting where the only things expressed are ones you've long since agreed to and committed yourself to acting on.
Really? Link the bill, please. I'd be happy to signal boost it.
> That's what I'm saying: it is like being pulled into meeting after meeting where the same thing is said over and over -- while you have already implemented the action items and you're wondering what good will come from Yet Another Meeting where the only things expressed are ones you've long since agreed to and committed yourself to acting on.
I don't think you understand what "proactive" means. What you're talking about is like getting into your wheelchair everyday and expecting your legs to fix themselves as a result.
> while you have already implemented the action items
This is the vaguest part of your analogy. What were the action items? If you wanted to improve system performance, and your action item was splitting the engineering department into two groups, how does implementing that help meet the goal?
The "meetings" and discussion happen because people disagree on what the action items should be. You feel you know better than everyone else, and that's a pretty common sentiment. A company has the luxury of splitting apart or shutting down when people can't agree on a strategy to proceed; a society does not, because that generally involves the usual suspects justifying war.
Now, it turns out that society is large enough that it has millions of departments, and some of these departments have picked action items to go on. Some of these items worked; some of them were poorly implemented; some of them were well-executed and still failed. The discussion continues because people have drawn different conclusions from these events.
Of course, who invited you to the meeting? Why are you here, if you're getting no value from it?
Diversify hiring and promotion. Done.
Expect the same professional output from all employees. Done.
Encourage different groups early in their lives to pursue tech. Done.
Don't be an jerk/treat people with due respect. Done.
Call out people for acting like jerks or not treating people with respect. Done.
(Here 'Done' means it has been my policy and will continue to be my policy not that it is finished, just to be clear).
I don't think any of these things are controversial. I look around my office and I see people from all walks of life doing their jobs, meeting their goals, progressing in their careers, and treating each other well so something must be going right. It's not complicated.
If you have suggestions for more action items, I'm all ears. I am even more interested in knowing what other people have tried and what worked and what didn't. I am not saying there is no more room for improvement, there is always room for improvement, but it seems like a backward step to be stuck on the 'identify the problem' phase.
I think the impedance mismatch between us is that you are advocating a top down approach through legislation and I am advocating a bottom up approach.
They are. Especially the first one, which is just a slightly lower-level affirmative action, and a lot of people will use the second one as a justification for discriminatory treatment. The convenience of surrounding yourself with people who are not assholes doesn't magically make all the assholes in the world disappear.
There are people who complain that things like Girls Who Code is discriminatory against men.  There are people who complain that the demand for respect is censorship against their right to self-expression.
> I am even more interested in knowing what other people have tried and what worked and what didn't.
Then stop asking people to stop discussing solutions.
> but it seems like a backward step to be stuck on the 'identify the problem' phase.
Except that a lot of people don't even recognize that a problem exists. Seriously, the "Maven is my girlfriend" slide hit the social media only a week ago.
> I think the impedance mismatch between us is that you are advocating a top down approach through legislation and I am advocating a bottom up approach.
I'm actually not advocating anything. I'm arguing against your "everyone please stop discussing the topic" policy, because it's harmful.
I expressed a willingness to vote on a bill because you expressed an interest in using that method. I mean, really. You can't tell me the action items aren't controversial when you're disagreeing with what you think my proposed action item is right now.
No, but just like no one can replenish the all of the lost trees by themselves, no one can uproot all of the assholes of the world either. What I can do it plant a few trees on my property, encourage others to do the same until, collectively, a difference is made. If people find it harder to be assholes there will 'magically' be fewer assholes.
>Then stop asking people to stop discussing solutions.
That's the thing, they are not discussing solutions, they are just pointing out that there is a problem. It is a signal to noise issue at this point.
>Except that a lot of people don't even recognize that a problem exists.
I think those that recognize that there is problem far outweighs those that don't. Eliminating all of the detractors is never going to happen. I mean, there are still flat-earthers out there for crissakes.
Also, I don't think it is all that helpful to think of it as 'a' problem. It is a cluster of related issues and viewpoints. A person can recognize one issue or viewpoint as a problem that needs to be fixed while another does not for /that particular issue/ without invalidating vast areas of agreement between the two parties. There is a lot of room in this arch-issue. To try to get everyone to agree in totality is absurd, I hope you agree.
I think it is perfectly acceptable to mark some people as lost causes if their cluster of ideas are hopelessly disjoint from the overall consensus. And if we all agree to treat them as pariahs (and I think many of us have) then we can discount their contributions to the overall equation.
>I'm actually not advocating anything. I'm arguing against your "everyone please stop discussing the topic" policy, because it's harmful.
I think you mistake my position. It is not 'everyone please stop discussing the topic' it is 'If we are going to talk about something lets talk about solutions since the problem has been identified.'
A bit more subtle, I know, but the distinction is important.
>You can't tell me the action items aren't controversial when you're disagreeing with what you think my proposed action item is right now.
I am also not saying that /some/ action items are not controversial. If people were running around talking about the merits and effectiveness of various action items I'd be pleased as punch. I mean, one possible action item would be to require by law that people hire two women for every man until parity is achieved but I'd probably not get behind such a 'one size fits all' solution.
IOW, don't take a relatively small disagreement in one area of this vast topic and turn it into a giant chasm. We are not at a 'we agree completely or disagree utterly' level of granularity here but that is where a lot of people tend to want to take it.
>calling attention to bad actors all of the time is kind of like calling attention to school shooters
That talking about sexists makes sexists celebrities, and other people will want to become sexists so people will finally listen to them, too?
Through some historical circumstance, or due to the sensitive nature of the subjects, there is a lot of energy expended around these topics which is counterproductive and divisive. Calling out bad actions is good and necessary. Vilifying people, not so much. (In this, I am not accusing you, but making general observations.) The group dynamics of targeting and scapegoating are part of the unsavory range of human behavior manifested by sexism and racism, yet these can be manifest under the banner of fighting those sexism and racism.
Again, I'm not accusing you of this, but you seem to be asking about why many people don't want to engage. It's often this dynamic which makes many otherwise well meaning people wary and weary of talking about these issues.
Another way of putting it: What you're saying is that the industry should just start acting like a community of equals and get on with it. I entirely agree. We should also keep in mind that community is key here. This will work if there is some sense of community and will fail if there is only the facade of community with people paying lip service, playing parts, and wearing masks.
There is a reason why Nelson Mandela went for "Truth and Reconciliation." In this, a bottom-up approach may have fundamental advantages over a top-down one.
Pretty much this. (I wrote the article in question.)
I'm not even saying we shouldn't talk about women in tech. I have absolutely no problem with - and in fact encourage - discussions about ways to improve diversity at conferences, online, wherever we can.
It is like being pulled into meeting after meeting where the same problems are discussed -- and most of the discussion is about how such and such is a problem and a problem worth solving even after we've all decided 'Yes, this is a problem and yes, it is worth solving.'. Now is that point in the meeting where we discuss solutions. Beyond even that, it is time to hear about what people have done and how it has worked out for them to help other people and organizations along on their journey.
Perhaps. Aren't women capable of making their own choices, and not liking a field or career path?
The underlying assumption behind all this is: "women should be absolutely like men" or, "the natural state for both men are women are to think and behave absolutely alike". As if women are just men with vaginas, and vise versa.
In the real world, men and women have their own sensitivities. It's not like men and women are abstract thinking machines, and only raw calculations and logical arguments affect their decisions. There's a very real gender bases sensitivity.
(And that's part of what TG people also adopt -- they don't just changer their genitals, they also alter their character/behavior -- or they always had the tendency to have the genders they "trans-ed" into character).
And that not all due to "patriarchy" and "sexism". Even in nature, male and female can be seen to assume different roles and exhibit different behavior.
If anything, women are smarter for not getting into the crappy IT work hours, death marches and unhealthy physical activity (basically sitting all day staring at a screen).
We know the outcome, there are fewer woman in IT. However the problem is normally touted in 2 ways .... the first that woman are discriminated against .... and the second that woman need to be more active.
I think the author's approach is a great one, ignore the diatribe and get in there and do. If woman are being treated as second class then doing shows that it is a wrong opinion, if woman are less active then having them do is also solving the issue.
However if the issue is caused by factors such as a lack of interest in the industry by women, or the lack of study in the field by woman, then how are going to "fix" it, force women into tech ?
There are many industries where woman are a majority, should we "fix" these industries also ? Maybe all these tech savvy people who are focused on the tech industry can come up with some sort of algorithm to "fix" all of this issues.
Yes, the outcome would be great, but the hypothetical is not a solution. It merely assumes the solution has already been arrived at.
Plus, having more awesome women speakers talking about technology rather than their vaginas would help set a precedent that women are just as capable of talking about technology, and the fact that precedent needs to be set still is a big part of that problem too.
It's the fact that she keeps being asked to speak about owning a vagina in technology, rather than being a technologist who incidentally owns a vagina, that upsets her, and that's part of the problem, not part of the solution.
I will, however, point out that the author of the submission does advocate for people to talk about women in technology. She just doesn't feel qualified, nor is she interested, in doing it herself.
Calling attention to divisions may reinforce the behavior -- like telling children only what not to do.
By removing that reinforcement the behavior would be extinguished.
Of course that assumes we can trust everyone to do the right thing...not a great assumption, I'll admit.
Then again, I am not great at inter-personal psychology which is probably a big part of why I got into tech to begin with.
It would assume that, in general, people are going to do the right thing and those that don't will bear the brunt of society's punishment for that behavior if they show they are willing to violate the enlightened norm -- be it criminal prosecution or negative social consequences or all of the above. And that bad behavior will be drawn in that much more stark relief because everyone will be acting under the assumption that everyone else will do the right thing.
In retrospect, women in tech may well have been the original topic, but I never thought to ask, since I have never presented about women in tech before, so why would I be selected as a replacement if it was?
Snipe? Does that handle ring a bell for some people?
edit: removed cheap shot about motivation.
What's with the cheap shot about motivation?
Thanks, and thanks for the link.
I looked through the article to see what you were referring to with the remark about "arrogant chauvinist pigs," but there was nothing like that. Her issue is that, as a woman in tech, she's doesn't believe she is a default ambassador for women in tech. The apparent implication in your statement that, as a woman, she should be speaking about women instead of technology is the very mindset she's responding to.
is she an expert or have any equivalent experience to talk about say "African-Americans (or latino) in tech" or any other facet of diversity which she has no direct relation to? Is she an expert on diversity? If yes, than what makes her that?
That's sort of the point of the article. I am an expert on many things - women in tech isn't one of them (other than the fact that I have been one for a long time). But there mere fact that I'm female seemed to dictate to them that I would want to and would be qualified to speak about it.
multi-year experience with something frequently makes an expert or at least gives others a good reason to suspect so. Have you never stated how many years you do PHP/MySql/whatever in order to communicate your experience level?
no. It is, pretty much, the same thing as assuming that because you are a black person, you are an expert on black people - pretty reasonable assumption at least to some degree.
That's the same stereotyping assumption as the one I suggested. I've been a member of my race and gender my whole life (obviously!). I am expert on my experiences, and have opinions (some of which are pretty well grounded in other knowledge I have, from formal education and elsewhere, that is more general than my personal experience) on how my race and gender relate to those experiences.
But it would be grossly stereotyping my race or gender to assume that I was an expert on my race or gender generally to assume that I had general expertise on the experience of people of my race or gender (or even only those of my race or gender in my career field.)
In my book, that would be a great talk. The more extemporaneous, the better.
Maybe that's a little anti-social, but remember that in comedy, a joke that bombs can be entertaining all by itself. And if your worried about losing your nerve, when the moment arrives, and it's time to be beligerent, just do a couple of shots before you get on stage.
...on the other hand, if the talk gets a positive response, you'd probably have another problem on your hands: being asked to come back and give the same talk again. One way to curb that would be to pre-record your protest and just play the recording into the microphone.
Not to mention that if I pulled that stunt off, I probably wouldn't be invited to speak at many conferences anymore, because organizers aren't fans of loose cannons. But really, I didn't feel the need to be a dick about it. Their loss. I give a pretty good presentation. shrug
I disagree. This strikes me as exactly the kind of thing organizers should be thinking about.
Edit: One crass response deserves another.
No, it doesn't. Please don't do this.