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An Open Letter to Jessica Livingston About YC's Female Founders Conference (jenniferaldoretta.com)
239 points by jaldoretta on Feb 22, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 175 comments



Not quite what I was expecting with a post that begins with "An Open Letter to...". I've been trained to expect any such letters would be someone's way to make their grievances about some entity public.

Now I need to go reflect on why I feel disappointed it was so positive. Haha, only serious.


I had to reread it like 3 times to make sure I wasn't just missing the "call out" part of the letter. I think I am happy about it, though!


I like it. It's a nice change of pace. Not that there's anything wrong with negative open letters, but as you said, that seems to make up a majority of them.


Only a majority of the ones that (1) make the news and (2) are explicitly called "open letters". There are actually tons of public missives on the internet full of positivity.


I had to reread the first part of it to make sure I was reading it with the right voice/tone


I agree! I'm all about airing of grievances, but it's also good to see validation that previous such airings of grievances have led to advancement.


I watched most of the FFC. Like Marc Andreesen has said, software is eating the world. YC is getting such critical mass now that entrepreneurs and idealists/pragmatists with world-affecting ideas are now applying for YC. Not necessarily because they'd heard of YC - but because someone they know who cares about them had heard about YC.

YC, in my opinion, is getting to a point where it can help incubate world-changing ideas that don't necessarily sell technology to consumers directly but use technology to enable more efficiency or connection or empathy (or all of the above).

Of all the presentations, Grace's was the best. I loved Grace Garey of Watsi's stories.

About how every Tuesday night, about eight or ten of the world-wide team of Watsi, in every timezone (day, afternoon, morning) would always get together for a Google Hangout to talk about Watsi.

About how she was at a busy bar in NYC with her friends and they were in the waning hours of an online contest to win $10k for Watsi. They were falling behind, and Grace had the gutsy idea to ask the bouncer to make everyone who came into the bar have to vote for Watsi on the contest site on their smartphone. They ended up winning by the scarcest of margins (1%) and the bouncer gonged a bell and the entire bar celebrated. Like Brian and Joe of Airbnb creating their own cereal, it was a gutsy move to make it to the next critical step (raising enough funds for some of the Watsi team to go full-time and all-in). And a little different.

Congratulations to the YC team on making a ripple in the pond!


Watsi = inspiring. Thanks for this jolt. I needed it to kick me in the ass when whining about funding.


YC is still stuck in a world of ideas based on controlling others through the creation of debt and claiming lifetime ownership of others' work. That they are stuck there is not entirely unsurprising, nor is it unsurprising that there is a forming gender-class that is trying to emulate the functioning of that world. To me, continuing to carry out these decade[century, millennium?]-long ideas is not very world-changing. It may be progressive enhancement, but that has slowly been happening for awhile.

The anecdote that you shared about the bar in NYC smacks of this old-world thinking:

>the gutsy idea to ask the bouncer to make everyone who came into the bar have to vote for

I'm still not quite sure if this is slavery or just tribal exculsivism. I don't know, maybe it's both?


> YC is still stuck in a world of ideas based on controlling others through the creation of debt and claiming lifetime ownership of others' work.

I don't understand this sentiment AT ALL. There is no debt involved, so I don't see any control exerted through those means. And sure, they buy non-controlling ownership of others' work, but that ownership is sold freely. Not to mention the other consideration that lands on the selling side in these transactions. I don't think the sellers are making out nearly as badly as you seem to be implying.


>There is no debt involved

Can you provide an executed contract to confirm?

YC appears to have moved away from convertible notes (ie. debt) [1], but if you read closely it appears that PG said the reason was to avoid debt term limits and interest rate limits....so it's an even more extreme version of debt, just not 'debt' according to CA regulations.

[1] http://blog.ycombinator.com/announcing-the-safe-a-replacemen...


YC itself didn't do convertible notes — other investors did. YC's investment as far back as 2011 was an equity mechanism (which I think was similar to the new Safe).

Other seed stage investors used convertible notes. These technically "debt", but only as a mechanism to keep from having to go through valuation exercises on <3 person companies that had plenty of other things to worry about.

Debt term limits and interest rate limits were bad for companies. It was not possible to have debt with, say, a 50 year term and a 0.1% interest rate. Instead, the debts had 5 year terms and non-negligible interest rates.


The term and interest rate limits were on the LOW side. i.e. being forced to renegotiate after 2 years if you haven't raised money yet (which happened to a lot of people, and the investors never had a problem with it), and charging a 0% rate (which is below the applicable federal rate and thus potentially viewed as a gift) is not the issue. It's not that YC/notes were trying to charge usurious rates or whatever.


If you read that link you posted you'll see "what the investor buys is not debt, but something more like a warrant. So there is no need to fix a term or decide on an interest rate"

Warrants just give the investor the right to purchase equity at a given price some time. They are not debt.


I did read the link, which is why I posted it. If you read it, you'll see that PG is essentially just renaming debt to get around CA regulations.

No matter what it's called: loan, debt, warrant, convertible note, SAFE, it's an instrument that attaches to future earnings.


> I'm still not quite sure if this is slavery or just tribal exculsivism. I don't know, maybe it's both?

The fuck? It's a nice anecdote about winning some money for what is ostensibly a charity!


To be fair, I didn't hear the original anecdote. I'm only going off of the words in the post I responded to, but making people take an action to better your financial position is slavery.

From the description, the people being coerced could presumably choose not to take the action, but would then be denied entry to the bar. That is explicit tribalism and creates a situation where you either join along with the groupthink or you get cast back on to the streets.

Edit: If you can't refute or contribute, down-vote.


> making people take an action to better your financial position is slavery.

"What is Watsi?

Watsi is a global crowdfunding platform that enables anyone to donate as little as $5 to directly fund life-changing healthcare for people in need. Watsi is a registered U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (EIN: 45-3236734)."

https://watsi.org/faq

If these were the actions of a CEO for a for profit business your statements might make more sense, except that's not the case at all. Nobody is getting rich off Watsi and there goals are commendable.

Not to say there aren't probably other examples that would make your point, but seriously this doesn't seem like a good one to pick.


I'm not sure what US Codes or Officer status has to do with my assessment. A CEO is not entitled, by position, to any business profits. They are strictly reserved for stock-owners. Those points are irrelevant to mine.

I just took a look Watsi's Transparency Report. It's commendable that they seem to be going much further than many other organizations do in opening up their financial information. However, while I found lots of patient details, I was unable to find a breakout of salaries and other payments to employees, officers, or other, only an aggregate monthly salary line item of ~66k. If their about page is accurate and there are currently 6 employees, that's about $132k/year/person. Not Jamie Dimon salaries, but still more than double US median household earnings.

Edit: Also, I'm not ragging on Watsi. I'm not familiar with them other than what I just shared above. My beef is with the behavior in the anecdote (which may or may not be accurate to what actually happened at that NYC bar) that was shared, but more importantly with the culture that people seem to be trying to emulate.


Asking people to do something before allowing them into your bar is not slavery. You don't need me to tell you that saying it is diminishes the great injustice that slavery is and was.

My reading of it wasn't even that the bouncer insisted they do it. More that he or she suggested it as they were entering. This is marketing, not servitude.


It's not slavery of course, but it is a troubling approach to marketing. If I'm going to a bar on my own account (rather than to participate in some prearranged party) then I don't want to be hustled by some total stranger into supporting something I've never heard of as a condition of entry.

I know I'm out of the mainstream on this, but as a European one of the most difficult things about living in the Us is the lack of regard for personal space. Before I knew the appropriate code words I went through a stage of fending off signature-gatherers with clipboard petitions by pretending not to speak English. If you asked me to vote for something on my smartphone as a condition of entry to a bar then my first response would be to find some other place to have a drink.


> my first response would be to find some other place to have a drink

Which is why the comparison to slavery is indeed overblown.

That said, I'm totally with you on this. At best, it's soliciting ballot stuffing.


Well, we can look at what was said (in the third-party retelling):

>Grace had the gutsy idea to ask the bouncer to make everyone who came into the bar have to vote for Watsi on the contest site on their smartphone

I agree that it might not be quite slavery (it would depend on exactly what happened), which is why I included tribal exclusivism, which it most certainly was (at least according to the above portrayal).

Edit: Anonymous down-voters are out, in-force, tonight!


The female founders conference is probably one of the best days of the year. I saw so many friends, women I know on the Internet, and I cried tears of joy three times during the speeches. It's hard to be what you can't see. Jessica and Kat have done an AMAZING job of putting female founders in front of us so we can look and say, hey you know, Kathryn Minshew did YC, I CAN DO IT TO.

Even though our startup didn't make it into the last YC batch, we're applying again. We love the community, we love the yc philosophy and approach to building products and we want to inspire other women just like us to apply.

Thank you for writing this letter and sharing what we all think, yesterday was incredible.


I nearly didn't read because so often Open Letters are public complaints, usually passive aggressive in nature and almost always divisive.

So Jennifer. Thank you. Thank you for restoring my faith in open letters. Or rather making me think hard before I pass judgement on something I've not even read.

Saunters off, with tail firmly between legs.


She mentions her field of STEM (mechanical engineering) has a particularly low percentage of women among its members, and cites another site. On that site, there is this interesting list:

   39% of chemists and material scientists are women;
   27.9% of environmental scientists and geoscientists are women;
   15.6% of chemical engineers are women;
   12.1% of civil engineers are women;
   8.3% of electrical and electronics engineers are women;
   17.2% of industrial engineers are women; and
   7.2% of mechanical engineers are women.
Does anyone have an explanation as to why chemists and material scientists have such a relatively high percentage of women?

The two highest are science, as opposed to engineering, so it could be that science in general is more women friendly than engineering, but even if we just look at the engineering disciplines on that list, there still is a big difference among them. Why would chemical engineering be much more women friendly than mechanical engineering?


I'm a woman. I was inducted into Mu Alpha Theta in the 11th grade, a college level math honor society. I didn't take any math my senior year in high school because I would have had to go to school an hour earlier to take the class they made available to the three people who qualified for it (the other two students did opt to go in early -- but I have serious health problems that had not yet been identified). So I got to college and was told I could either retake trig or enroll in calculus. I did not want to retake trig and I enrolled in calculus. Having had no math the year before, I ended up dropping out of calculus. I still feel scarred by the experience.

Years later, when I was going back to college and trying to choose a major, I knew I wanted to do something with the built environment. I went through university catalogs and looked at what different majors entailed. I took "civil engineering" off the list pretty early in the process because of the requirement to take multiple calculus classes.

Women often do not have great math backgrounds. They may do fine in math up through middle school, but often start falling behind in math in high school. It is not clear if this is because of social factors or innate lack of ability. But it is a known phenomenon. So I would wonder if the ones where women are very seriously underrepresented are the ones with the most significant math requirements. If that doesn't check out, I don't know what I would look at next. But that is the first thought that comes to mind for me.


You may find this interesting: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/24/perceptions-of-required...

(I haven't read it yet though, only one of the linked articles in the third paragraph.)


Based on two recommendations, I went and read the slatestarcodex article. I too enjoyed it greatly, though I had a methodological quibble or two.

The main reason I'm commenting is because I want to note that the entire point of the article you linked is to debunk the articles in the third paragraph (none of which I have read).


I know. Initially, I wanted to link the article I've read, however, Google referred me to this slatestarcodex article, so I figured I would directly link to a discussion about it.


I read it and I second the recommendation. It's a very good post.


Women make up about 50% of undergrad chemistry degrees. On the other hand, they make less than 20% of physics/math degrees (engineering funnels). I don't have any real idea why women are so low in math and physics, but I suspect you'd have to look back much further in time.


I studied math in Slovenia. There were about as many female as there were male students. In financial mathematics (and e.g. pharmacy, IIRC), there were more women than men. On the other hand, in computing and physics there were more men than women.

I am very inclined to think this is mainly a matter of preference. On the other hand, maybe the situation in the US is completely different, and Slovenia is just so much more equal when it comes to sex (e.g. the unadjusted gender wage gap is only 2.5% for Slovenia).


Chemistry is often seen as a "softer" science out of the others on the list with supposedly more work/life balance. That was how it was explained to me as a woman when I declared that I was going to study electrical engineering in college. A lot of people tried to steer me towards chemical engineering but I was horrible at chemistry and my interests were more aligned with electrical engineering so I stuck with it.


I agree that (early) science is friendlier to women than (early) engineering. Another factor might be that, if all else is equal, pick the major that already has some women, so you have some peers.


Maybe it's due to Marie Curie, arguably the most renown female scientist? Eventhough she did Physics and Chemistry she's mostly portrayed as a chemist I think.


I think it might have to do with the careers that are attached to each major.


Maybe women on average just prefer some jobs more than others?

Really, I'm sure there are millions of factors that enter into to those stats -- about one for every woman because everyone woman is unique with her own goals and tastes -- but I think the occam's razor for this topic is that men and women on average have different preferences. Would we be hunting for a root cause in social pressure or discrimination if we found women were a much higher chunk of the audience for Twilight and men were a higher percent of Avengers viewers?

The bottom line, whatever the reason for discrepancies, is in your daily professional life to treat both sexes the equally.


There are few things in discourse I hate more than this sort of "just", the kind of ignorance-encouraging, status-quo-supporting "just" that tells people to stop thinking.

Given that we have a millennia-long history of gender discrimination and given that women got the vote less than a century ago, this "just" is ridiculous.

Look at this graph:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-wom...

I guess in 1970 women "just" didn't like medicine or law. (That's certainly what people said then.) And now, using your helpful explanatory framework, they "just" do! It's unexplainable! Things just happen without relation to other things. Who could possibly know anything?


Hmm... Sometimes even I say "maybe women just prefer [...]", but actually mean exactly that, what you said: There are social trends and in this case there is a social trend specific to women wrongly being taught that they are not as good as men in STEM fields. So much in fact (here in Germany) that it's kind of unsettling, when they tell you "haha I'm just not good in math haha" and you can't even, because it's so effing wrong.

I believe many (young) people will tell you that women are "just" like that, but actually mean "they are just taught to think so", because in their male position there is no need to choose are careful wording. I'm also pretty sure that, while the society at large is fault for this herd thinking about this, the parents play the biggest role in where the daughter places herself in the world.


Could be, but a lot of people take that "just" as meaning "there are essential gender differences rooted in the very fabric of the universe, so there's no point in talking about it". So if I were trying to point at the social factors that shape general preferences, I'd look for a phrasing that can't be taken for a call, as here, to ignore those factors.


>Would we be hunting for a root cause in social pressure or discrimination if we found women were a much higher chunk of the audience for Twilight and men were a higher percent of Avengers viewers?

Why would you compare socio-economic inequalities to taste in media? That would be like comparing national budgets to a lemonade stand and asking why we don't put the same effort into managing a 12-year old's summer business.

These issues have entirely different scopes and priorities, and your comparison is invalid based on that alone.


Why do we test drugs on mice when it is their effect on humans that we actually care about (almost no one actually cares about lowering high blood pressure or addressing erectile dysfunction in mice)?

Answer: because understanding what happens in mice might give us some insight into similar mechanisms in humans, and it is easier to do many tests and experiments on mice.

Same goes for media tastes. Factors that lead to gender difference in media preferences might also lead to gender differences in employment (either by affecting what jobs women seek, or affecting how employers perceive candidates), and it might be easier to gather data on media preferences.


This is from the post I was responding to:

>Would we be hunting for a root cause in social pressure or discrimination if we found women were a much higher chunk of the audience for Twilight and men were a higher percent of Avengers viewers?

What is this question suggesting? Is it saying that media preferences and employment differences are similar in such a way that the fact that we do not investigate media preferences means we should not investigate employment differences?

What you are saying is different: that investigating one will give you information about the other. I don't really disagree with that. I disagree with the implication that employment differences are to be trivialized as 'matters of preference,' and thus not worth investigating.


> I disagree with the implication that employment differences are to be trivialized as 'matters of preference,'

I dont think that's trivializing the issue at all. Millions of people in the world with different preferences in all manner of things from movies to professions is hardly trivial. What's trivializing is thinking we can do some studies and find some kind of root cause of what is really an average of millions of personal choices.


I don't even know what you're talking about. People have preferences for a reason. It's not a static property of reality. So what if men don't like Twilight? We could easily rewrite Twilight if we wanted so that they do.

Women don't like STEM? Change STEM so that they do. What do preferences have to do with anything? We don't have to abide by them.

Preferences are not a problem, social inequalities are a problem.


> Preferences are not a problem, social inequalities are a problem.

Exactly. Preferences are not a problem. Social inequalities are a problem. However, neither of those are easily directly measurable. So we do indirect measurements on things like gender participation in a given career. When we measure unequal participation in a field, I think we are too quick to attribute it to social inequalities when perhaps it is more personal preference. That's the only point I'm trying to make... My movie preference analogy confused my point. Sorry about that.


EDIT: I have a clearer analogy for you. Imagine that we lived in a world where the US watched lots of action films and Spain watched lots of documentaries. Furthermore, imagine that there was a lot of money and power flowing into the documentary industry, and that the action film industry is relatively dry.

That's a proxy for socioeconomic inequality. Now what you are trying to argue is that Americans just might prefer action films. Ok... great. Americans prefer action films. But why?

So we go out there and we ask Americans how they feel about documentaries:

    "They are boring. We'd prefer not to watch them."
Hypothesis confirmed! So we ask them why the prefer action films:

    "Because they are in English. All the good documentaries are in Spanish."
Ding ding ding! Of course Americans prefer action films! They don't have access to good documentaries! Why would they prefer documentaries when they are all in Spanish?

---

So when you ask why women prefer not to work in STEM, you'll learn something about the cause of the social inequality. Saying it's a "matter of preference" tells you nothing. It just sounds like you're trying to invoke a naturalistic fallacy and stop investigating.

Maybe if you invested more in good English documentaries, they would be quite popular. Maybe the preference would disappear. So it doesn't matter if there's a preference. What matters is why there is a preference.


I think you have to challenge your perception professional preference has to be gender-balanced, or else there is something wrong going on.

Men and women are physiologically different. They have an intrinsically different hormonal and social development path. Their movie preference shows this well: you can't possibly think that even in an "ideal" society men and women would prefer exactly the same movies? Why would they prefer the same professions? Surely you've met some nurses and seen why it might be a popular occupation among women?

The "preference" model hints what part of gender unbalance would be present even in an ideal world, and the rest we should address. That's the point you're missing here.


>I think you have to challenge your perception professional preference has to be gender-balanced, or else there is something wrong going on.

Why? What are my goals? Why should I be assuming that women should not have the same opportunities as men with regard to professional preference?

>Men and women are physiologically different. They have an intrinsically different hormonal and social development path.

Obviously. But the culture of business doesn't have any innate hormonal path, so why should it conform to mens' hormones and not women's? Why can't we change the realities of STEM to create a balance?

What is it about STEM that makes it incapable of accommodating different brain chemistry?

>The "preference" model hints what part of gender unbalance would be present even in an ideal world

An ideal world would have gender inequality? Got it.

>Surely you've met some nurses and seen why it might be a popular occupation among women?

Are you serious right now? Explain this to me. Why do women prefer to be nurses? Tell me all about how nursing requires vaginas and estrogen.


> But the culture of business doesn't have any innate hormonal path, so why should it conform to mens' hormones and not women's? Why can't we change the realities of STEM to create a balance?

"Business" is far different from the realities of mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, etc -- which go from very specific courses in education to certain work environments.

For example, take children of age ~7. Boys love playing with cars; girls do like them a bit too, but it's pretty clear they prefer simulating social interactions, specially dolls talking. Should we address this imbalance too? That would be like making a toy which is a car with a doll strapped on it's back and forbidding all other toys -- we'll achieve equality, but won't it be artificial? Will boys and girls actually be happier with their toys?

I'm not claiming all unbalance in STEM comes from preference, I'm claiming some may come, and it's important to recognize that to effectively address the situation.


>"For example, take children of age ~7. Boys love playing with cars; girls do like them a bit too, but it's pretty clear they prefer simulating social interactions, specially dolls talking."

Bullshit. Do you have a source for this, or are you just unaware of how bigoted this is? It is not 1950. I am not going to agree that "girls like dolls and boys like trucks" without some reliable evidence. I'm sure if you marketed trucks to girls long enough and dolls to boys long enough, they would prefer the opposite just fine. Here's what you've been arguing:

    Left handed people prefer not to use scissors.

    Therefore, scissor manufacturers shouldn't bother to make left-handed scissors.

    This is in spite of the fact that, when asked *why* they 
    don't like scissors, they tell you "because they are 
    uncomfortable to use."
"Left handed people prefer not to use scissors because they are uncomfortable, therefore we should not make comfortable scissors for left handed people."

I'm sorry that I'm unwilling to jump on your circular logic bandwagon to defend your obvious bigotry.

PS> I'm still waiting for you to explain why women should be nurses and men should be doctors.


If you don't believe boys and girls have some fundamental differences in personality maybe you need to get away from your monitor and interact with a child.

You can find countless studies of gender distinction in just about every physiological/psychological aspect, just google it. (your point about handedness is very poor since humans have bilateral symmetry, unlike genders; although some asymmetric brain specialization actually seems to create some fundamental differences in the way left handed people think)

If you didn't get this after all this discussion I'm afraid you never will.

>PS. I didn't suggest women would prefer nursing to clinician work, but it's fairly obvious they would prefer nursing over truck driving.


>If you didn't get this after all this discussion I'm afraid you never will.

No, I won't. I don't see any reason why I would want to 'get' something that is wrong. I'm not a stupid person.

> it's fairly obvious they would prefer nursing over truck driving.

"Fairly obvious" is your standard of truth? Oh, how rational and modern you are!

My mother is a truck driver, you know.


Or maybe some companies in some industries took discrimination/diversity issues more serious at an earlier stage than others, leading to a disproportionate number of applicants in those fields. It's often misleading to assume everyone began at the same position on some imaginary starting line, and that present discontinuities are thus reflective of fundamental differences.


> Would we be hunting for a root cause in social pressure or discrimination if we found women were a much higher chunk of the audience for Twilight and men were a higher percent of Avengers viewers?

FYI, there is a root cause in social pressure for this.


Could the guys on this thread please stop it with the "pipeline" discussion?! Few women actually cite that to be an issue. It's distracting. Listen more, talk less.


Perhaps next there will be a forum for older-than-30 founders?


When computing went "social", I expected that women would play a much larger role. That didn't happen. The "social" companies are dominated by men.


Sorry ladies. It sounds like whining to me. Try Hispanic female in engineering during the 80s. I'm on my 2nd start-up in a competitive tech world. Each and every women at the FFC have had their struggles to get where they are today. So pull on your big girl pants and jump in - the water is fine - being a woman hasn't kept Tracy or Grace or Adora or Ruchi from being successful at what they do. That is the lesson that should be taken away from the day in San Fran. I went, I listen, I am inspired. Now I'm off my soap box and off to conquer my small part of the world. @vijilent


"I’ve lived my life in a 'man’s world', receiving a degree in mechanical engineering—which contains the lowest percentage of women compared to any other engineering field at just 7.2%—from an already male-dominated university."

Going on a tangent, I suspect areas like mechanical engineering and computer science are still "boy's clubs" due to one thing: social prestige. I feel that women are more attracted to high prestige areas like law, medicine, politics, or finance. Engineering in general is low prestige. It's akin to being a plumber or electrician plus extra educational requirements (high skill, high pay, low social status). Despite the maker movement, our culture at large still doesn't value science & engineering as much as other fields.

Popular mainstream shows like Big Bang Theory don't help. On a whole shows like this just serve to further old stereotypes of everyone in our fields as being socially inept, ugly, weirdos. Is it a surprise that most females don't want to join our ranks after seeing that?

Are there any quantitative measures on social status by occupation to validate (or invalidate) my guess?


Mechanical engineering graduate (and 2nd rate programmer) here. And I completely agree, this major is a sinkhole. Maybe 50 years ago when we were still building rockets, planes, and cars to stop the Soviets or what have you, ME was a great major (and maybe 40 years from now when fusion, Mars, and warp drive are all real it will be again). But today in an age of electronics and software, ME is an awful choice for anyone not passionate about cars, engines, or HVAC.

The ME departments in colleges have caught onto its fall from a popularity and prestige and are doing their best to retard the descent with classes like "Scientific Computing", "Microfabrication", "FEM", "Lagrangian Control", "biomechanics", "business in China", etc., that try to emulate the currently useful skills taught in other disciplines. The result is, of course, us students wind up actually majoring in "Engineering Undeclared" and it land us a hodgepodge sampler plate of introductory knowledge that never truly satisfies any market need. We are inferior to applied mathematicians when it comes to calculations, electrical engineers when it comes to modern machinery, computer scientists when it comes to AI and controls, industrial engineers when it comes to falsifying lab reports, doctors when it comes to biology, etc. And if we focused on traditionally ME fields like heat transfer and combustion? We'd have to Hunger Games ourselves for that one position at the local power plant in ten years when the current engineer retires.

So, unless she is passionate about cars and air conditioning, why should we be trying to encourage our daughters into a major that doesn't earn money like finance, have prestige like computers, enjoy purity like the sciences, help people like medicine / social science, pretty like art / design, satisfy her natural affinity for children and cute stuff like education, or even remain stable like law. In some ways, ME is the Titanic after it was hit the iceberg, it's a "boy's club" not because men are trying to keep women out (every department across the land is actually doing just the opposite), but because the captain and his crew are stubbornly going down with the ship while the women and children are on lifeboats so they can live another day.


That's an interesting point of view. I've had multiple people tell me they wish they could find a 'traditional mechanical engineer' that knew heat transfer, knew fluids, could build a gear train, and knew some kinematics. I think MEs that graduated 20-30 years ago are in high demand.

Extremely watered down versions of those courses are in my curriculum. Fluid mechanics is nearly all Bernoulli's Equation and Linear Momentum. Heat Transfer is 1D conduction, basic convection, and basic radiation. Machine Design, while heavily focused on gears, was extremely watered down. Kinematics, on the other hand, has been completely dropped from the curriculum! A lot of these courses have been made easier to allow students to spend time on 'lab projects' that consist of filling in the blanks of Arduino sketches. It's a sad state of affairs.

You are spot on by stating that undergraduate ME curriculums are 'Engineering Undeclared' in my experience. I think part of this is because the 'traditional' curriculum that my grandfather and father took is 'too challenging' by today's standards. I'm not half the engineer they were when they graduated from the same department.

I think this can be attributed to several things. When my father graduated, everyone took the FE with plans of becoming a PE. I know maybe 5 other people in my graduating class who plan on taking the FE. He took 3 years of math, I took one and a half. We can't really get into 2D conduction in heat transfer because no one has the math background to handle it! The 'Intermediate Heat Transfer' I'm taking in grad school is the equivalent of the 'Introduction to Heat Transfer' my grandfather took.


I've had multiple people tell me they wish they could find a 'traditional mechanical engineer' that knew heat transfer, knew fluids, could build a gear train, and knew some kinematics. I think MEs that graduated 20-30 years ago are in high demand.

In my view, a similar lament cuts across disciplines. I wish I could find an electrical engineer who understood low noise design. Most engineers forget most of their math and theory within a few years of graduating, and most design work is done by trial and error.


I would go further and say... unless she is passionate about CAD.

My background is in science, but I work in a department with engineers of all stripes. It seems like the mechanical engineers are stuck living inside the world of their CAD systems. It's a dreary world, dominated by at most two or three software vendors making giant, expensive, training-intensive tools.

I know other engineering disciplines use tools too, but I don't think they are dominated by their tools to the extent that ME is.


"We'd have to Hunger Games ourselves for that one position at the local power plant in ten years when the current engineer retires."

While at the same time some politician and businessman is making a speech that we have a desperate shortage of engineering talent and need to open the floodgates.


Well, when I looked around a bit I found this article <http://readwrite.com/2014/09/02/women-in-computer-science-wh... which links to this study: <http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/09/11/220748057/why-wome... which indicates that rather than being based on prestige, it appears that the disparity can be broken down based on more rewarding but lower paying, vs. more purely mercenary jobs.

I wouldn't call being a teacher more prestigious than being an engineer, nor a social worker, but there are still a lot of women who are more interested in going into those fields than into engineering disciplines.

Other studies also point to other reasons; in computer science especially, there's a very strong effect of computers being seen as boys toys, so men come into the major with more experience and more interest in the field just to begin with: <https://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/project/gendergap/www/papers/s...

The gender gap in engineering disciplines, as a complex social phenomenon, is likely to have many interrelated causes. Between lower encouragement of computers as girls toys at younger ages, the fact that there is still a bit of an expectation that men will be the primary breadwinner in the family and thus women can get these lower paying but more rewarding jobs, the fact that the large existing gender gap makes it less comfortable for women in the major, in the workplace, and so on, it's unlikely that there's going to be one single cause for it.

So, in summary, while from what I found it looks like it's not prestige but how rewarding the job is perceived to be that makes more of the difference, but that's not to say that your hypothesis is wrong, just that I found some evidence to support a different effect that at least appears to be stronger than the effect you describe.


I think everyone discussing any gender gap should really watch this Norwegian documentary:

Brainwashed: The Gender Equality Paradox https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiJVJ5QRRUE

The "social expectations" hypothesis fails to explain why countries with higher living standards have more polarized sectors. The idea that in a perfect world with no "social pressure" we would reach a parity between genders ignores just about all research done on the biological gender differences.


A hypothesis about why people end up in the jobs they do fails to account for whatever non-causative correlation someone can cook up? Astonishing! Why doesn't every country with a highly gender-segregated economy have a high standard of living?


Obviously because it is quite reasonable to assume that standards of living partially cause gender distribution by making daycare affordable, allowing more paid leave, etc., whereas gender polarization would not be expected to be a strong enough effect to pull an entire economy significantly in one direction or another.

Causal modeling is a very difficult thing when you cannot perform a controlled experiment. I would be interested in your take on how you would suggest that the authors attempt to confirm or disprove this hypothesis.


Right. Precisely. Gender polarization isn't a strong enough effect to pull significantly on an economy; sputr is trying to use a spurious correlation with little value in actually predicting whether a country will have a high or low standard of living as evidence that we've all had the wool pulled over our eyes.

Assuming you mean the authors of the documentary, I'll give you a new synopsis highlighting what it's really about: Strawman arguments abound as our intrepid documentarians drag us from interview to interview to assert that it seems people conform very closely to what our stereotypes tell us to expect of them. Obviously this must be the inevitable result of our biology! Our strawman assertion of what "equality" means is defeated! There's no way our stereotypes could be self-perpetuating! People definitely don't continue to believe in the same religions or speak the same languages or eat the same food or celebrate the same holidays just because their ancestors did! Propensity to speak English and believe in the Judeo-Christian God must also be biological destiny!

Per your last question, I have no meaningful suggestion for the authors of the video; they're going to have a miserable confirming or disproving anything as long as they insist on using logical fallacies to do so.


On the contrary, the difference in living standards explains it perfectly. If you're in a poor country, pragmatism forces you to drop your 'social expectations'. It's either earn enough to eat or hold on to your prejudices. In that environment, people lose their prejudices fast.


This hypothesis holds no water in any 3rd world country I can think of.


Sorry, but what planet are you from? Every day we're bombarded with stories and images from the developing world of men, women and children trying to make a living. Villagers migrate to cities seeking work. People work in factories and make a better wage than they could anywhere else without education. Women take micro-credit to start up little businesses like mobile phone call booths, or charging booths, and finance their childrens' education. (Women are seen as better clients for credit because they're less likely to spend the money on drinking and gambling.)

Look at the tech sectors in Europe and India and Asia--they don't have all these hang-ups and prejudices and misconceptions about how women's brains 'work differently' or what the biological differences might be or all that pseudo-scientific bull-crap. They just do the work.


You got some citations? Because in most of the countries you are talking about the poor who will do anything to survive aren't getting university degrees and sexist discrimination exists in abundance.

For example in many Islamic countries like Iran women do make up a significant portion of engineering graduates (sometimes even a majority) but few end up working as engineers due to sexism and cultural expectations.

I did some Googling and what I found didn't really support your argument.

https://hbr.org/2014/03/whats-holding-women-back-in-science-...


>Every day we're bombarded with stories and images from the developing world of men, women and children trying to make a living.

I bet you are. I've actually lived much of my life in countries you would consider 'poor'. There is plenty of prejudice to go around.

>Look at the tech sectors in Europe and India and Asia--they don't have all these hang-ups and prejudices and misconceptions about how women's brains 'work differently' or what the biological differences might be or all that pseudo-scientific bull-crap.

Sounds like you have a lot of the world left to see.


> I wouldn't call being a teacher more prestigious than being an engineer, nor a social worker

I would. There's a lot of respect for people that do these things, because they are seen as somewhat selfless (partly because the monetary compensation is so low, partly because the jobs are so essential). Aid workers share in this as well. Prestige is about respect, and there are paths to respect that don't include a lot of money or power.


Speaking as a Canadian, I'd say that teachers are almost universally reviled here. Students hate them because they're the human agents of the school system; and parents hate them because they 'obviously' don't pay enough attention to and try to understand their 'special snowflake' kids, which is why the kid got a C- instead of the A+ they deserve.

I can't see things being very different in the States.


Yeah I forgot about social expectations

http://www.npr.org/2014/11/22/365968465/after-backlash-compu...

Still I can't help but feel social prestige is still a stronger factor for females than males


Why can't you help feel but feel this?


If you read the npr article that lambda referred to (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/09/11/220748057/why-wome...), it still feels like women choose fields that are cooler and higher prestige as opposed to being higher salary and lower prestige. lambda just refers to this as "rewarding" vs "mercenary"

I'm also going further disagree with lambda. For society at large, I feel that teachers and social workers do have higher prestige than engineers. Of course I realize that all of my opinions are just assumptions without actual data backing it up. However I do know this: the gender discrimination in both the military and finance are either just as bad or much worse, yet more women flock to both as opposed to our industry.

This is an interesting article as well that helps show that gender discrimination is also pretty bad in other industries that attract more women: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/02/...


Sorry--you probably won't see this now (much like I didn't notice for a bit!), but you took the time to reply, so I figured I should, as well. I was (a bit tartly) hoping to get you to unpack why, in a very deep sense, you can't help but feel that way.

Does this have to do with how you perceive men and women? Does it have to do with how you perceive these various vocations? Is this feeling rooted in personal experience(s) and memories? Can you locate those in space and time?

It's important to challenge the ways we can't help but feel, because those are stumbling blocks when it comes to understanding what motivates other people--especially people who aren't like us. Our personal experience is always a fairly small slice of human life, and I'm concerned that you're projecting things you "can't help but feel" onto two of the largest populations.

I posted this elsewhere in the thread--I don't know if you saw it, but the Harris poll actually released some numbers not too long ago on the notion of prestige in various occupations: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/vault/Harris%20Poll%2085%20...

But still, even though it cuts against some of your assertions about what is and isn't prestigious--it's a poll. It's messy. Hidden within its aggregations are the differences between what parents (of both genders) think would be prestigious for their boys, and for their girls. It hides differences between what is seen as prestigious in different ethnic, religious and regional communities. The way you "can't help but feel", whether about the people picking these occupations or the occupations themselves, is located in the messy middle of your own experiences.

There are communities where the most prestigious thing a woman can do is be a stay-at-home mother. There are communities where any occupation that doesn't pay at least six figures is an embarrassment. There are communities where going into finance is like selling your soul. There are communities where you aren't a real man unless you get dirty for a living. There are communities where academics are exalted regardless of pay, and communities where they're disdained for class, religious and political reasons.

This is all to say: The NPR article doesn't feel that way at all to me. But the way I read it doesn't mean your perceptions of the relative prestige of occupations are "wrong". They're probably quite right, given your experiences. Be open to the likelihood that your experiences don't generalize to others. Be open to the likelihood that the decisions other people make are better understood through careful consideration of their experiences than your own.


> Does this have to do with how you perceive men and women?

In the past compared to boys, girls simply aren't exposed enough to anything technical for them to discover it before their minds can get potentially tainted by popular perception compared to other fields. Is this changing? Yes. I feel that this will be much less of a problem for our children given the advent of toys like Goldiblox and even Lego sets aimed for girls. However I feel that this doesn't change the present situation for adults.

> Does it have to do with how you perceive these various vocations?

Yes because I've lived outside of places like Silicon Valley, in metros with a more conventional and old mindset.

> Is this feeling rooted in personal experience(s) and memories?

Yes outside of Silicon Valley it is strongly encouraged that engineers transition to management. It just isn't as respected outside of tech hubs and it's pretty recent. Is this changing for the better? It depends on the metro and the rate of change in perception varies.

> Be open to the likelihood that your experiences don't generalize to others.

I am definitely open to my generalizations being incorrect in many different places and times. I'm just stating what I feel is the general mass trend.

> I posted this elsewhere in the thread--I don't know if you saw it, but the Harris poll actually released some numbers not too long ago on the notion of prestige in various occupations

Looking that this poll and several other similar studies over the decades, my hypothesis has been proven wrong. Thanks for posting quantitative data. Yeah polls are subject to a lot of errors. Still, they're better than guesses based on personal experience. Logically I'm thinking that I've been proven wrong. However what's annoying though is that even in light of data, I still feel that I'm 'correct'. My gut still tells me that engineering is still seen by the masses as low prestige (outside of tech hubs like Silicon Valley). If I were to rationalize it, I would say that popular media is the main driving force behind my opinion. It's hard to ignore annoying shows like The Big Bang Theory. Ugh, I really hate that show. Another reason is that I feel the polls are measuring prestige incorrectly. imo A political office is very prestigious, yet in these polls they score so low. Why? Because the way the researchers measure prestige includes perception of ethics and generalized likability.


You can't compare being a teacher with a career in "law, medicine, politics, or finance" or a programmer. The latter all require very high intellectual aptitude, either logical/mathematical (programming, finance), memory (medicine, law) or social intelligence (finance, politics). In contrast, mostly everybody can be a teacher (and according to comment [1], teachers usually come from the bottom of their class).

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9090437


Perhaps 20 years ago it was the case that anyone could get job as a teacher. That's very difficult from succeeding as a teacher, and it's also not true today.


Like anyone can be a lawyers or a programmer. There are good and bad ones, and a good teacher will require a lot of skills and 'logical' aptitude as well as empathy. AFAIK, you can't take a 4 week bootcamp and teach high-school math, but you can get a job at a startup after a rails bootcamp.

Can we stop with the 'we are so special/intelligent' arrogance?


This isn't true - the core skill of controlling classes is pretty hard. It's not an intellectual skill, but a social intelligence one.


The difference is that you only see you're bad at it when you're already a teacher, teaching a class. If you suck at programming, you see it in the introductory course of first semester of college.


You don't have to be that smart to be a programmer, and it takes less schooling than being a teacher requires.


Maybe not smart, but you have to have the ability to do a certain kind of abstract thinking. Like translating concepts into sequences of very precise steps (i.e. algorithms).


We're all the same social animals. Men are just as status-conscious as women are, so your observation probably doesn't have as much explanatory power as you seem to think it does.


Not necessarily. There is a lot of anecdotal theories that women care more about how they are perceived by their peers. There might also be some research (a minute of Googling brought up this, although I'm quite sceptical of most sociological/psychological research).

> The researchers concluded that women seek to regain a sense of belonging whereas men are more interested in regaining self-esteem.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_rejection#Ball_toss_.2F_...


I'm not sure why I'm meant to put much weight on "anecdotal theories of women" while staring down the barrel of an 80/20 gender gap that is basically unique to computer science.


Speculation ahead! This may all be BS (except for the next paragraph, which Googling will turn up decent support for), but could lead to some interesting discussion.

Girls mature emotionally faster than boys, which may result in them starting to care about, and be able to understand and do something about, group status and group power structures earlier than boys do.

Anecdotally, that fits with what I saw as a kid. Going into the teen years, boys tended to have small social circles compare to girls. A boy sleepover was two or three boys. A girl sleepover was half the girls in a class.

Others I've talked to report similar, and this seems to be a common enough observation that it has become somewhat of a stereotype (hilariously parodied in the South Park episode "The List").

Now let's consider how an interest in a STEM field might develop into a career. I think for a large number of kids there is a critical period where an interest changes from a spectator interest to a participatory interest, and I think that often happens around the late pre-teen, early teen years.

(This is probably just a coincidence, but it is interesting that this is around the age that in olden days boys would start apprenticeships).

Note that the kind of participatory STEM things that you can do (outside of organized school activities) as a young teen tend toward solitary activities. Perhaps, then, boys are more likely to do these things because at that critical early teen phase boys are still oblivious to the importance of group status and power structures, and so a potential boy science nerd will spend Saturday night at home hacking alone on the computer, or building a ham radio, and so on.

By the time boys catch up on emotional maturity, and start spending time dealing with group status and power along with the girls, the boys have already set themselves on the road to STEM careers.

It would be interesting to get data on people who choose a STEM major in college, and on people who graduate with a STEM degree, and on people who go on to a STEM career, and break each of those groups down into two subsets. (1) People who decided that (or a closely related field) was what they wanted to major in while still young teens, and (2) those who discovered their interest in that field in college, such as when they took a course in it to satisfy a breadth requirement and found they liked it enough to major in it.

If my speculation is correct, the first subset (people who chose their path while early teens) will be more tilted toward men than the second subset (people who found their serious interest in the field while in college).

Finally, this suggests an interesting topic for one of those "late night, been drinking or smoking dope a bit, kind of tired, let's discuss something really wild" type discussions: will HBO's "Game of Thrones" have an effect on gender ratios in STEM? (Yes, there is a chain of reasoning to support the "yes" case that is good enough to give one a decent chance of defending that position long enough for everyone to get drunk or high enough, or sleepy enough, that discussion ends).


It's not exact. Man care more about their place in the hierarchy , while women care more about how they're perceived by people around them.


How convenient it is for us men to believe stuff like this.


Yeah, top jobs where women dominate are all super high prestige, elementary school teachers, nursing/health aides, secretarial, retail, food service... :)


You failed to include all the blue collar low-prestige jobs where men are far more common, like construction, factory jobs and warehouse work. For every profession that is low prestige and largely female, there is another profession that low prestige and largely male.


And for every high-prestige profession dominated by men, there is one dominated by women, natch.


Sounds like sarcasm? If so, it's unwarranted.

For example, clinical psychology is high-prestige and high-paying, and is dominated by women. Medical research and more generally the biosciences is another (smaller majority, though).

http://www.sheheroes.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Percent-...


You're missing the forest for the trees (assuming your assumptions are correct).

Business (executives, secretaries) is more respectable than IT (programmers, tech support).

I would argue that nurses and teachers have higher prestige than a programmer or engineer in most parts of the country. (Let's not confuse salary with prestige)


Still comparing apples to oranges. The most common job for women is secretary (which generated countless headlines). The most common job for men is truck driver not programmer. People always focus on CEOs and company founders being all men, but no one brings up all the people working construction, pest control, mining etc...


I can't prove you wrong, but I find the idea implausible. Perhaps it's because a good half of my friends are PhDs.


Retail and food service are not dominated by either gender.

Early childhood education has a serious bias against men. Due to social stigmas, parents of both genders are generally more comfortable leaving their young children in the care of a woman rather than a man.

I think most nursing jobs have roughly the same level of prestige as most engineering jobs. It just doesn't look that way here because this place is hyper-focused on the small subset that are high prestige.


More women than men study medicine, so for example your "nursing/health aides" example really conveys the wrong picture.


Pharmacists are paid extremely well and have a higher representation of women (56.3) than men.


Actually, Pharmacy is going to become the new Law. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119634/pharmacy-school-cr...


I heard an interesting theory on low female attendance in STEM this week: the fact that those fields are stereotyped as nerdy, "low prestidge" men. It keeps a lot of men, at least in the US, out of the field too. When I went through engineering school at least half of my classmates were from countries that have very different attitudes towards engineering.

I'm sure there's some data out there breaking out US STEM graduates by country and see how that compares to other fields like arts and sciences - that'd be a good place to start a conversation around whether or not some Western countries have a cultural / stereotypical problem.


> I heard an interesting theory on low female attendance in STEM this week: the fact that those fields are stereotyped as nerdy, "low prestidge" men

Can you give me the source?


No? Literally an idea I overheard in a conversation.


I found it striking in Big Bang Theory how even the smartest scientist is not deemed worthy to date a waitress. Nothing against waitresses, but I think it said a lot about values in society.


The reason you're getting blowback has to do with the tone it sounds like you're taking on the issue of gender and prestige with some selective examples.

In regard to your final question: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/vault/Harris%20Poll%2085%20...


This is the first time I've heard engineering called low prestige.


Wow... really? It's absolutely viewed as low prestige in my experience. I mean our culture has an ingrained stereotype of the socially awkward, maladjusted engineer, that's definitely out there. The jocks, "cool kids," extroverts, your typical fraternity member etc. are supposed to be in finance or striving to be an executive or something.

I think it's generational to some extend. IMO the baby boomers are particularly bad w/ regards to the stereotype. My parent's friends ask about my work as a programmer, and I suggest that their son or daughter who hasn't figured out what they want to do consider taking it up (code bootcamps make it easy, great market now, etc.), and I just get such cringe reactions from them.

But... younger generations are better, given how startups are now viewed as "trendy," and I do think movies/TV like the Social Network had a big impact.


Maybe it's because I'm Asian ;) Perhaps engineering isn't glamorous, but it's highly skilled respectable work.


It's now low prestige, it's just lower prestige than e.g. medicine, law or "investment banking".


This is more truth-y than true. If occupational prestige drove employment, we'd all be firefighters. And, of course, when you actually look at occupational prestige figures, engineers crush lawyers. Really, there's no axis on which your hypothesis explains anything.


Which explains why politics - which by definition is full of people who have enough status to set national policy - is full of engineers, while the lawyers are left discussing the finer technical points of voir dire on Lawyer News.


Not that I'm saying you constructed it this way intentionally, but this argument is the rhetorical equivalent of one of those Highlights For Children "How Many Things Can You Spot Wrong With This Picture" puzzles; including, at least:

* The notion that politicians occupy high-status careers

* The notion that it's the status held by politicians that is the reason they're allowed to set national policy

* The notion that your intuition about status trumps the actual numbers for occupational prestige, which are (a) easily found and (b) immediately refute both the premise and conclusion of this argument

* The notion that most lawyers are on a track to become politicians

* The notion that lawyers would be overrepresented among politicians because people love lawyers that much, and not because the top echelons of law are disproportionately well compensated, or because those people make decades-long careers out of making connections with businesses and power brokers

* The notion that you can evaluate the overall status hierarchy position of a career solely by observing it's top echelon (here: national office-holders, and not city council-people)


Your primary failure was confusing personal popularity with social popularity with status/agency/influence. You're - mostly - continuing to make the same mistake.

Of course status is defined by caste power and social agency. What else would it be defined by? Facebook likes?

The fact that no one much likes lawyers is irrelevant. So is the fact that lawyers individually may fail to make a living from lawyering, or even that a few outliers have a social conscience.

Let me know when an engineer becomes president of the US and we can talk about the other details.

>not because the top echelons of law are disproportionately well compensated, or because those people make decades-long careers out of making connections with businesses and power brokers

This confuses cause and effect. The point of becoming a certain kind of lawyer is exactly because it's the best way to gain status and self-serving influence through that kind of activity.

Writing a compiler will never get you that kind of status, no matter what gender you are.

Nor will making a cool app.

Becoming a billionaire might. But tech billionaires tend to become billionaires because they act in aggressively self-serving ways in business and/or are well-connected, not because they're rewarded purely for being brilliant engineers.

Engineering brilliance on its own will get you GitHub stars and conferences and maybe a job or two. But no more than that.

Still don't believe me? Ask a few thousand people outside tech who their favourite engineer is.

That's how high-status engineering is.


Hoover was a mining engineer, so there's one.


  Obama - Law
  Bush - Business 
  Clinton - Law
  Bush - Business
  Reagan - Actor
  Carter - Nuclear Engineer & Farmer
  Ford - Law
  Nixon - Law
  LBJ - HS Teacher
  JFK - Econ 
  Ike - Military
  Truman - No degree
  FDR - Law
  Hoover - Engineer
  Coolidge - Law
  Harding - Journalist
  Wilson - Law Prof
  Taft - Law
  Teddy Roosevelt - History & Politics
Law is clearly the modal occupation for presidents, but there's some diversity.


Or politics is filled with lawyers because most politicians are legislators and their main job is to pass laws...


> It's now low prestige, it's just lower prestige than e.g. medicine, law or "investment banking".

Software developer and data scientist are both at the top of the list of best careers in America right now, and more people aspire to be startup CEOs than movie stars or pro athletes.


Have data for that startup CEO's? Because unless you are talking about a very narrow group of people, it hasn't been my experience at all (sure, if you ask 20-30 years old, they will say startup CEO, mostly because that is the only thing they believe they still can be, but ask 12-16 year olds and the results). Also, most people don't know what a startup CEO's really does and just expect a lot of money and ruling over the company while meeting clients at a golf course while most startup CEO's are partly broke and work 12 hours a day


Maybe they are "best careers" (although I highly doubt it - e.g. traders are way better careers), but we're talking about "prestige" here - the wow factor when you tell people what you do. When I say I'm a programmer, many roll their eyes (while acknowledging that it's easy for me to get a job). Granted I'm not a lawyer or a doctor, but let me know when they start making series about programmers like they did about lawyers (Boston Legal) or doctors (House, Grey's Anatomy).


Where I went to university the engineering students had their own jokes category, usually about them never getting laid.


You don't think it could have anything to do with attitudes toward women in each respective field?


You don't think there can be other reasons except attitude?


I'm not saying that the current culture doesn't factor in this. I'm just saying that there may be a stronger factor at play. Business and medicine used to be just as bad, but the large numbers of women entering those fields changed that despite the preexisting toxic professional atmosphere. I feel that it would be the same for tech and engineering, if only it were more attractive for more women.


May be, but women(and men) make their decisions before entering the field.


[deleted]


I'm not saying he's right, but "we're all social animals" ignores the entire discipline of evolutionary psychology. Biology forced males and females of various species to evolve different strategies. For humans some of those strategies are obsolete, but it doesn't mean that they're gone from our brains. If you haven't, check out The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller or similar books.


Please don't refer to the Mating Mind here. It's borderline-crank material, and not regarded as serious by the vast majority in the field.

Referring people to almost any book by Steven Pinker is much better. E.g. "How the Mind Works."


Curious why you think it's crank material (and why my comment warrants a downvote btw). I've read most Steven Pinker's books as well. Miller's is mostly a rehash of other people's research along with some speculation and opinion on his part, but he clearly states so. In any case, the reference does not invalidate my rebuttal of the parent comment.


Women tend to focus on those jobs where the need for the job seems solid.

If we focus, for a moment, on those jobs that are available to those who have college degrees, many women become teachers, but teaching is not high prestige.

There is little risk that the USA will outsource all the hospitals to China, so women go into medicine. There is little risk that the USA will outsource all the lawyers to China, so women become lawyers. There is little risk that the USA will outsource all the teachers to China, so women become teachers.

But there is a possibility that most of the engineering jobs will move to China. And I think women are wary of investing 10 years of their life learning a skill that might get sent overseas.


>many women become teachers, but teaching is not high prestige

If you give weight to the McKinsey study, almost half of US public school teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes. This suggests that the best and brightest women are not opting to be teachers instead of engineers, they are choosing other jobs.


Interesting. I'd love to know what professions are chosen by the women in the top third of their college class.


> Women tend to focus on those jobs where the need for the job seems solid.

I find the use of lawyers as an example odd unless people are just downright ignorant of what is happening in that industry. For quite a while now now, there has been a glut of law school grads that are unable to find jobs. Furthermore, more and more legal work is being outsourced to India (and this trend keeps rising) or automated (like discovery).

If your assertion is true, then several years ago, when both of these characteristics of the legal profession started to occur (few job prospects after graduation and outsourcing/automation), then we should be able to observe a significant decrease in the number of women choosing to pursue a law degree versus men choosing to pursue a law degree.

Has such a discrepancy between the genders been observed in the quantity of law school applicants?

What I've observed is that women tend to go into careers that are "high-touch" and that factors like prestige and job security are lesser considerations. Teaching and nursing are the two canonical examples. The only parallel I can draw to job security, is that high touch jobs are far harder to automate and outsource. Japan has been trying with some of its robot experiments, but the uncanny valley is a high barrier to cross to automate high-touch jobs.

Interestingly this is why we see engineering/automation making doctors less relevant, while we see nursing becoming more important. Technology to aid with the low-touch aspects of medicine (the tasks doctors typically perform, such as pattern detection and pattern matching) are getting good enough that those interested in the high-touch aspects (nursing), can do most of the work required without the need to share responsibilities with a doctor.

(FWIW while society considers doctors to be higher prestige than nurses, I feel they are both equally important. IMHO, being a doctor as a profession having higher prestige is a historical anomaly since there are statistically fewer people in society who are good at the analytical work that computers now excel at. For thousands of years, sexual selection favored neurotypical minds. It has only been in the past ~100 years or so since the industrial revolution where sexual selection has started to favor sexual selection in favor of those on the aspie/autistic side of the spectrum).


So why do women become elementary school teachers rather than high school teachers?

Although in general it's probably true that women tend to be more risk averse.

I've always said that women are probably simply too smart to go into IT. Sitting in front of a glowing rectangle in a gloomy basement is probably not the best recipe for happiness. Cliched as it sounds, but a job that involves talking to people might be much more likely to make a person happy.


Women do tend to pick jobs where the job satisfaction is clearly defined. We understand the lifestyle it will bring, how it will make us happy & what we will get out if it. Lots of people are encouraging women to go into IT, very few are explaining why. I work in IT because I enjoy seeing people's lives improved by technology, not for the hours with the glowing rectangle.


I'm glad you question the why, it drives me crazy that this rarely gets mentioned. Nothing against IT - I work in it, too. But I also struggle with "finding meaning" a lot. I don't think I ever saved anybody's life. I suspect for example physicians struggle a lot less with the question if what they do is any use at all (apart from the fighting bureaucracy part). Of course you can do great things with IT, but it's certainly not a given, probably not even the norm.


I think The Big Bang Theory is pretty awful too, but I think how you describe what you do makes a difference:

- "I'm a programmer" (people think about typing)

- "I make apps" (people think about the amazing things you create...by typing)


That works well for customer-facing software, but I'm not so sure about the general case.

"I make a quality control system for a large factory" (people think about all sorts of boring things)

"I make payroll software" (people feign interest for a moment, then change the topic)


I mean, most jobs are boring. Some are boring in the broad view, and actually interesting in the particulars (many software jobs fall into this category); a few are the inverse (some science jobs sound fascinating but actually involve lots of tedious, repetitive work). The majority of jobs are boring in both the big picture and the details.

If you want a job that will interest/impress people at a cocktail party, that is an extremely short list of careers.


> "I make a quality control system for a large factory" (people think about all sorts of boring things)

Sure. But making a quality control system is (for most people in most cases) actually boring. The same skills could be applied elsewhere for something far more compelling. But if you framed them how you achieved them - "I'm a programmer" - they'd sound like the same jobs, which they're not.


Social ineptitude is not restricted by gender.


HN's casual nerd misogyny showing up again...


How is this misogyny? I didn't say that it was skill or talent that was keeping women from our fields.


A sweeping statement like "women only care about social validation, and that's why there aren't many in tech" is sexist.

First, that's like saying "men only care about money": it's not backed by any real evidence and it is disparaging to an entire gender.

Second, that's sweeping under the rug the constant discrimination against women that is keeping them out of our industry. You are making women responsible for not choosing tech as a career, whereas they are being excluded from tech by the sort of casual sexism on display on HN (and most SV tech companies).


"A sweeping statement like "women only care about social validation, and that's why there aren't many in tech" is sexist."

I feel that you're making really strong and incorrect assumptions about my posts. I never said that "women only care about social validation". Is it wrong to say that more women frown upon occupations that are seen to be held by social pariahs and outcasts by society at large? Why would an ambitious woman be interested in becoming what's seen as an educated plumber or janitor when she can aspire to become a respected high level, finance executive or powerful lawyer instead? imo it's more common sense rather than misogyny.

Also some sweeping gender statements are actually true, such as men being more prone to violence than women.

"Second, that's sweeping under the rug the constant discrimination against women that is keeping them out of our industry."

I agree that there's a ton of discrimination against women in the tech industry. But really how of this discrimination keeps women from actually joining our fields? Your argument would make more sense if there were a lot of women entering AND then leaving, but that doesn't happen. Few actually even try entering our field. Look at the military. While things are slowly changing, there are few environments more toxic to women than the military's male dominated, authoritarian atmosphere (gender discrimination is horrible, but rape that isn't prosecuted and punished is much worse); the tech industry isn't even close to being as bad. This is pretty well known to society at large, yet there are more women joining the military (and then leaving) than there are women joining the tech industry; which leads me to believe that the general social perception of our field is just horrible when the even armed forces are beating us at female recruitment. Now let's look at finance. The average wage gap in the financial industry for genders is the worst compared to other industries (about $0.70 to a $1), investment banks have the reputation of being 'frat houses', and yet more women enter finance than our industry. imo gender discrimination isn't as strong of a force for deterring women from entering a field. Gender discrimination is much stronger at affecting how long women stay active and how far they can rise within a field.

Historically there's been a ton of discrimination against women in pretty much every field. I feel that the sectors that already got 'fixed' (i.e. somewhat better than before) were the ones where large numbers of women have entered due to interest (i.e. politics, healthcare, business, legal). Those women were well aware of the toxic environment, but the interest level was so high they joined anyway. I feel that while education and company policies regarding discrimination helped those sectors, the larger female presence was a stronger force. I just don't see that in technical fields.


> Also some sweeping gender statements are actually true, such as men being more prone to violence than women.

Well, the alternative explanation is that men are simply better at violence than women (because we're stronger). E.g. men commit more suicides than women despite women attempting more. Also, domestic violence is roughly equal (60-40), but I imagine women are hurt worse more often.


Do all men care about money? No. But are there are set of men who seemed to be consumed by money more than any set of women, oh yes.

Who works on Wall Street? Hell the movie Wall Street, Boiler Room, etc aimed at?


As opposed to the special snowflake club ignoring the politically inconvenient research done in the last 20 years on gender equality? Differences in in-group bias, differences in headline coverage as victims, differences in court judgments, ...

Let's keep rewriting history so that white men are to blame. It's not like they do things like land probes on comets or anything.


Before you write a comment about why women are or aren't enrolled in STEM fields, please read the Wikipedia article on it. Every time someone says a generalization like "they just choose safer employment" or "high status something, something" without first reviewing a summary of the body of research into the matter, it's kinda pointless. It's like someone saying "here's why I think computers crash" but they've never read a book on HTML.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_STEM_fields


You wouldn't read a book on HTML to know why computers crash. A book on advanced C, maybe.


You kinda missed the point. Someone reading a book on html night stumble upon a kinda sorta correct response.


Much to my surprise, it doesn't seem to say anything really meaty about the role women play in terms of bearing and rearing children. Surprisingly, the header "Biological explanations" talks about spatial ability, not reproduction. Having read quite a lot about women's issues in order to figure out where my own life went wrong, I think failure to mention the burden women bear in this regard and how it impacts their careers is a substantial oversight.


Thanks, I found that to be a really good summary of a lot of possible explanations.


Given the politics of any gender-issue related topic on Wikipedia, there is little reason to bother reading it, much less use it as an appeal to authority.


What a sickening sycophantic declaration just to plug a very dangerous return to calendar-based contraception methods: http://www.readytogroove.com/the-cycle/appendix-a-the-sympto...


I'm going to upvote you.

It's a very good point you've made here.

This founder is giving bad advice to women who don't want to get pregnant causing some women to ditch contraception like condoms... resulting in unwanted pregancices.


I think the "cycle tracking" stuff is usually more about "really want to get pregnant, having a hard time" vs "not willing to use one of the many other forms of birth control". (EDIT: although, this site does appear to promote it for preventing birth, too, wtf)

(It is always kind of jarring whenever I see that, because whenever I think of reproductive health my first thought is "omg please please please no", but there apparently are people who want to get pregnant/have kids.)


I watched the FFC live and what struck me was that it was the same as any other founder conference except that it was a girl on stage instead of a dude. If we want to stop making gender a big deal then we need to stop making gender a big deal. There is no Male Founder Conference right?


> we need to stop making gender a big deal

By your own admission, FFC didn't make a big deal out of gender and is therefore doing as you ask.

Events like these are appreciated and found helpful by the women who participate in them. Isn't that sufficient grounds to be happy that they are taking place?


If the first word of the title is a gender exclusive term, and that is not making it a big deal, what would be considered making it a big deal?


> FFC didn't make a big deal out of gender

You mean by putting "Female" in the title?

This is plain gender discrimination.


I think people need people from a background close to them to really feel like 'yeah, that could be me on stage'. I don't think that's good or bad, just how it is.


I don't think people need someone with a relatable trait to believe they can also accomplish audacious goals. However, I am convinced that it provides disproportionately more inspiration.


Is it easier for people to identify with gender than ethnicity?

Let's say a conference has speakers and attendees that are predominantly white men. Should I relate because I'm a man even though I'm not white? Should a white woman relate because she's white even though she's not a man?

It just seems weird to discuss disproportionate representation through only one lens.


I think both. For some background to the following: I'm male, live in the UK, and am from Australia.

I've been inspired a book on id software and a Sarah Chipps talk on failures - both showing that with all the people who are well known for making something awesome, there are a bunch of things you never hear about they made that didn't work out. I relate to it because I've made a lot of stuff that doesn't work out. I'm not American (like the id guys), and I'm not female, but the story of struggle resonates with me.

I've been inspired by all the node people, because they were all just friendly people in 2011 and now it seems like they're all running node companies doing huge things. I feel inspired because they treated me like equals then, and I think I'd like to join them one day in having successful business.

I've been inspired by Xero, because I met their founder at a conference once, and he was a nice person from the same part of the world as me, and now Xero are huge, despite being from New Zealand (which is even more remote than Australia).


Maybe this is too idealistic, but I would hope that conference attendees could relate because they are interested in the subject of the conference. It's disturbing that in practice, being a bird of a feather is exclusively defined in demographic terms. I have very little in common with most other people of my demographics, especially as pertains to my interests.

I want disproportionate representation - by people who are interested in the subject and are not just there to sell something or whatever.


> I think people need people from a background close to them to really feel like 'yeah, that could be me on stage'.

I don't think people inherently do. I think that lots of people actually do, and that this is a socially taught and reinforced trait just as much as sexism and racism are (and, in fact, I think it, insofar as it operates on the basis of sex and race, is a form of sexism and racism -- as it is tied to the individual judging themselves primary by the same kind of attributes -- but, unlike more external sexism and racism, isn't actively combatted because its not seen as negative, even though, in addition to its direct harms, it may serve as a foundation for the more external forms of sexism and racism.)


The Male Founder Conference meets every day in every boardroom.


So much talk for so very little. Can we not just celebrate women in tech? We all share this world for a limited time, so who gives a fuck who wears a shinier hat. Its all a game, a game that moves our world towards a better place, a world where we can put down our hats and spend time with each other and allow our benevolent machines to take care of us.


Carol Dweck has shown us that it is the belief that intelligence is fixed is a major problem.

If children are told that failure is just part of learning and not indicative of potential, they keep trying until they master the material.

Of course, if someone is uninterested in acquiring a particular skill, that's irrelevant. They may have exactly the same potential for learning, but just don't care.

We should not be trying to make people pursue careers because we don't like the statistics. People should be free to follow their own desires. They know better than "society", whatever that is.




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