Woman in technology

Usually I avoid topics like women in technology because (1) it is a can of worms, and (2) I can really only speak for myself. For the most part, I’d rather be seen as a person in technology than a woman, but this weekend the twitterverse erupted with opinions about Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf. As a woman who is often the only-woman-in-the-room, I want people to know it isn’t always easy. I was a bit shocked by the blatant failure to empathize.

On the Big Web Show, I talked about being a women in a male dominated field (min 7:12). “I was a carpenter before I got into web stuff, so you guys can’t really compete with the carpenters, no matter how unruly you get.”

That is true, but a simplification. Zeldman threw me a chance to speak openly about being a woman in technology, and out of nervousness, I punted. Perhaps I was also afraid to sound strident? Anyway, I’m going to share some of the things that have happened to me, in hopes that it helps people realize that I was lucky to be successful and a woman. I mean, just take a look at the fastest growing careers for women. We are veterinary technicians not veterinarians, dental assistants not dentists, medical assistants not doctors. We like to believe we have evolved, but the data speaks to something else. Being a home heath aide is dirty work with bad hours and heavy lifting — but it is a career women can imagine, whereas, right now, they clearly can’t imagine themselves coding. I want to understand why not…

After conducting a thorough study on the status of female researchers at MIT. The Dean said:

The heart and soul of discrimination, the last refuge of the bigot, is to say that those who are discriminated against deserve it because they are less good.
Dean Robert J. Birgeneau, Dean of Science at MIT

He says it beautifully. Discrimination now rarely takes the form of some guy saying “hey little lady, shouldn’t you let a man handle that?” It is much more subtle, but just as ugly. These days, bright, thoughtful, enlightened people assume that the absence of women in certain fields results from women being unable to compete on merit. The assumption that, if someone creates a scholarship for women, it is because otherwise, women can’t hack it.

I would argue that there are female developers who are just as good as men, if not better, but despite that, they are less likely to stay in school, stick with engineering jobs, speak at or even attend conferences, and be recognized for their contributions. The problem compounds itself as women see no role-models for how to be a woman in this field, and only the very thick-skinned manage to stay in engineering and web development.

Why is computer science a sausage fest?

I believe CS and Web Development currently select for certain masculine qualities that are largely unrelated to someone’s prowess as a coder. I believe it is these tangential code-cowboy qualities women are unable or unwilling to emulate, and not their skill or capacity for abstraction, problem solving, creative thinking, or communication — All of which actually make them better developers. In fairness, I think a lot of men would rather not live like code-cowboys, but the unspoken judgement is adapt-or-you-must-not-be-smart-enough-for-CS. The vibe is a competitive rather than collaborative, and leaves many women feeling invisible.

Affirmative action

People mistakenly assume that affirmative action is about granting minorities undeserved privileges. In it’s purist form, affirmative action is about allowing minorities natural talents to flourish by removing artificial, unfair barriers and decoupling the true skills required to succeed in a profession from the cultural baggage that builds naturally within an insular community.

If we separate the criteria that makes someone a code-cowboy from the criteria that makes them a solid developer, I think we would find that women can and do compete despite significant discrimination. Scholarships like the one Google proposes aren’t meant to give women of lower merit something they don’t deserve, they are meant to circumvent the discrimination that extremely talented women still face. If you assume that a scholarship for women exists because women are inherently inferior, rather than because they are simply underrepresented, it might be time to soul-search and ask yourself if there is a bigot inside.

I (don’t) wanna be a cowboy, baby

The code cowboy

  • Stays up all night recoding the entire code base, documents nothing, and forbids anyone to touch it because they aren’t good enough to understand his level of code.
  • Refuses meetings, chats, or any other form of communication.
  • Cares more about being perceived as the brilliant-uber-genius than he does about his team working well together.
  • Gets into silly pissing contests which boil down to “hehe, my brain is bigger than yours”.
  • Finds complex solutions to problems, thus proving his brilliance.
  • Makes a lot of mistakes due to lack of sleep, overcaffination, and ego — but thank god he is around to save the day when the bug is discovered.
  • Is fairly certain clients, PMs, designers, and really anyone he has to deal with on a daily basis is at least three standard deviations below his IQ.
  • Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when credit or rewards for accomplishments are offered.
  • Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when opportunities to attend or speak at conferences arise.

The good developer

  • Digs the fact that he is making products for people. Likes people and enjoys communicating with them and understanding how they think. Can put him or herself in other people’s shoes and reliably imagine how they might react to different parts of the UI.
  • An excellent problem solver who takes into account all aspects of a challenge when designing a solution – including human elements like maintainability and usability.
  • Shares credit with the entire team or entire internets. Recognizes that no solution evolves in a vacuum.
  • Applies consistent effort and recognizes that working in a way that promotes long term productivity will yield better results.
  • Respects the members of his team, including those who aren’t engineers.
  • Manages projects so they don’t require super human feats of sleeplessness to meet deadlines.
  • Has a life outside of work, other interests, friends, and family — they love code, but they love lots of other things too. If you don’t understand how this makes them a better developer, see item #1.
  • Amazing capacity for abstraction and creative thinking.

The Twit-storm

Women may be less likely to be a code-cowboy, but they can be amazing developers. We are not trying to give anything to anyone that doesn’t deserve it, but instead, to counteract the subtle prejudices that leave women feeling invisible, excluded, and unrecognized for their accomplishments. Now, with that in mind, let’s look at the twit-storm I found after leaving a seven hour mediation session on Saturday. I’ll put my comments inline since I was unavailable to tweet that day.

The doofus that started it all:

RT @googlestudents Google grants for female computer scientists to attend JSConf 2010 // this is disgusting.. i hope there is one for guys.

This stinks of jealousy. Why not be happy for the female students? Why rain on someone else’s parade? Something good happening to someone else seems to disgust fringley. Frankly, it comes off as childish.

Moving on… this is when the storm began to brew.

hProof that no good deed goes unstoned http://j.mp/c37Dev what a d-bag #jsconf

Voodootikigod has the longest twitter name in the universe, and he makes a good point, we should remember that Google has good intentions and perhaps not be quite so disgusted. Fringley, I’m talking to you.

Special treatment for women with no merit?

@voodootikigod maybe they think that giving special treatmeant to someone based on sex, color, age, ect instead of merit/randomness is wrong

Jdalton makes a good point. No one wants to feel like they got where they are because of what is in their pants. On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent to JSConf. Why should he assume that? In fact, the website says quite the opposite, the women must “have a strong academic background with demonstrated leadership ability.”

I resent the notion that women are inferior and that is why they are getting grants. Google is correcting for women being less likely to stand up and say “me, me, me!”, not for their technical skills or development prowess.

Thinking that I got where I am because I’m a woman and got special treatment (rather than on my own merit) is a painful and insidious form of discrimination. You have to be thick skinned to make it in a field where this kind of thing happens frequently. YES. It happens frequently.

What I’m trying to say is that women face a special challenge in tech because their male counterparts, when feeling jealous, will tend to pin female geek’s success on their gender. We face another problem, when we begin to wonder ourselves, and doubt our own abilities. This is the last refuge of the bigot indeed.

How can we attract more women to the field?

@jdalton would love to hear a better way to increase diversity so conversely the CS profession is not dominated by a single gender?

Yay! I like what voodootikigod says here. I saw Maria Klawe speak at Yahoo! about “Gender, Lies and Video Games: the Truth about Females and Computing”. She said that CS is the only science where the participation of women is getting worse not better. We have a problem. We’re geeks (supposed to be good at problem solving). So let’s figure it out!

I think we should look at:

  • Video games are largely made by and for men. We need to be willing to rethink the genre completely, bust things wide open to make video games appeal more to girls.
  • CS education works best for people who already know how to code before they begin. CS teaches the theory behind a practice in which they assume you already have some skill. Women are less likely to already know, because they don’t play video games as much. In addition, code-cowboys among their classmates are likely to judge them harshly for being a beginner. Are psychology majors expected to already know how to psychoanalyze patients before their first semester?
  • CS education also focuses a lot of effort on puzzles and very abstract concepts when practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men). I like yummy algorithms, but we could make CS education more accessible by putting them in context.
  • Women are less likely to jump up and say “me! me! me!” They are far more likely to wait to be asked to participate. We don’t need women to be different than they are, we just need to invite them in a way that works. Hell, I spent 8 years coding CSS before I ever spoke about it to anyone. The first time I spoke at a conference, John Allsopp contacted me to ask if I would do it. I never would have submitted a proposal. You might say that I should have, but I would counter that I shouldn’t need to act like a dude to get respect.
  • Women don’t have female role models. Now, I don’t mean that we need to have deep tear-filled conversations about the perils-of-being-women-in-technology. I would like to talk to geek women about geeky stuff, not about being a woman.
  • At Velocity Conference this year, they had a girl-geek lunch. It was awesome! Just a note, they also had tons of women speakers and lots of female attendees. For a deep-geek conference, I was very impressed. Actively seeking female speakers does not mean accepting lower caliber. It means accepting that women might not submit proposals, but they might agree to speak if you ask them nicely. They might not be *famous*, but they may well be amazing innovators, skilled at what they do.
  • Could we do something like MIT did? They commisioned a giant study, measured everything, and found that women were in fact being discriminated against. Their offices were smaller and had fewer windows, their pensions unpaid, they had unequal access to MIT resources. The study painted a grim picture, but then, with true MIT efficiency, they then set out to correct it. Well worth a read, especially if you think we are all just being sensitive. For the record, the ones that stay in the field are absolutely *not* being sensitive. ;)
  • Recognize the need for work-life balance. Most women still have primary responsibility for children and home. Women need to be equals at home first, but perhaps companies can make it easier for them to get access to awesome childcare and flex time.
  • We need affirmative action to correct the problem. However, other developers need to recognize that the benefits of affirmative action go to women of merit. Not just people who happen to have a vagina.

Problem? What problem?

@voodootikigod as long as there are no barriers for them, and I can't think of one, I don't see a problem.

Um, dude, if your site was loading in 18 seconds but you couldn’t think of any reason for it, would you decide you didn’t have a performance problem?

My experiences with sexism

I don’t usually share this stuff, because I’m not thinking about it most of the time, but these things happened to me:

  • I had a manager tell me I should stop writing code and focus on powerpoint and management, areas he found to be more in line with my talents. Was it because I’m a woman? I don’t know, but it does make me wonder how many women get pushed into management too soon, before they’ve had a chance to prove their technical chops.
  • At one company, I had to change desks because people kept asking to schedule appointments with a VP who sat nearby. Even after changing, they would walk past two guys to ask me. Someone suggested hanging a sign, “I’m not a secretary.” I was in a new job and I just wanted to fit in and code cool stuff not hang signs announcing things. There were only three women out of hundreds of engineers on my floor.
  • A guy whose opinions I usually trust said to me that he believes women’s brains are fundamentally different and that we aren’t wired to understand code. He then said I’m an exception because I’m smart, but I’m still doing something which is against my nature.
  • I once had someone tell me:

    That guy only wants to work with you because he wants to sleep with you. None of your ideas are that interesting, I’m just saying, don’t get mad, it is the only possible explanation.

    Ow. I might never get over that one. It still stings a year later. I don’t want special privileges, but on the other hand, it is easy to see how I’m facing a special kind of discrimination that probably wouldn’t happen to a man. No one is going to assume that a man is on stage because he looks good in a skirt.

    Did the guy want to sleep with me? Maybe, we’re human and those sorts of things can come up. It isn’t a big deal. What bothers me is the notion that if he wants to sleep with me, he is completely incapable of evaluating the merit of my ideas. Thus, even if I am granted the privilege of working with him, it says nothing about my skill, intelligence, or capacity for original thought. It is all about my sexuality.

  • All the ridiculous, but potent, self-doubt that goes along with being a woman-in-tech. I really am my own worst enemy. Maria Klawe calls it “impostor syndrome”.
  • A client asked to have a male coworker on a call with me, though he was several years my junior.
  • I was asked to speak at a conference. A guy whose talk was rejected said “you’re so famous, I wish I was a hot girl.”

Where have all the women gone?

@jdalton having to like dick jokes, having no peers, having ppl make sexist jokes & grope you .. definitely not barriers, nope.

I’m so sorry that rmurphey went through these things, and I’m very glad she stayed in the field because we are all better for it.

Maria Klawe also said that even the best women in a CS program are far more likely to drop out than the worst guys. When asked how they think they compare, these women consistently rank themselves far below their actual skill level. This means women aren’t good at judging their actual skill level or comparing themselves to others. They need mentors and a leg up, to help them do it. Women are also less likely to pester their boss until she finally relents to send them to a conference. Again, we need to actively invite talented women.

When Harvey Mudd changed their CS program admission criteria to accept a broader range of people, and stop selecting for the socially-challenged-uber-nerd, they found that everyone’s grades improved. It benefits everyone to have a diverse group of people in our field.

@rmurphey last time I checked right click view source didn't ask your gender.

Jdalton, you had made some good points, but at this point I’m less impressed. Are you really claiming that gender discrimination doesn’t happen? What we have here is a complete failure to empathize.

@jdalton and your point is? my point is: attending & fully enjoying a conf as a woman is weird & i don’t blame some for needing incentive.

And this is part of why it is great to meet Rebecca and other girl geeks. It is tiring to feel weird and stand out all the time. Ultimately, what we want is to stand out for the quality of our work. In order to do that, we need to eliminate some of the obvious gender inequities and find ways to rebalance the flow of new engineers. I believe this will make our products better, our work life better, and our conferences better. We have to be willing to really change things to make CS fit women better… it shouldn’t only be the women we are trying to change.

.@rmurphey women like you @stubbornella & @amyhoy are well respected in the dev community. is respect not enough for acceptance?

Getify, it sure helps, but it is only one small piece of a larger puzzle.

205 thoughts on “Woman in technology”

  1. I’m not a coder. I’ve done a bit of code but I’ve mostly done support and a load of XPembedded. Currently, the entire IT department I’m in charge of is female, but that’s because the entire department is me. The women in the company outnumber the men, but there’s only one woman with a male underling. The rest are either solo workers – me, the accountant, the boss’s *mother* – or are underlings themselves. In every other job I’ve had this has been the case – if there are any technical women at all, they won’t be the ones who get promoted or noticed. There were three female developers who joined one company I was at and left before the MD announced their “first” female dev – but then she did tend to wear low-cut blouses. She lasted three weeks, because she just wasn’t any good. Sadly, she’s the one who will be remembered, not the excellent coders who came before her and who had already been wiped from the company consciousness.
    The problem often isn’t people’s conscious prejudices, it’s the unconscious ones – people will take a male dev seriously at once, and trust that he knows his shit. A female tech will have to prove herself over and over and over again and that gets old fast. What makes it worse is there’s some people you just can’t convince.
    How many of us have had to drag a random guy in a suit into a meeting to repeat what we say so the client will listen? Sorry, Stuart, I know that bored you silly. I wonder how many women didn’t figure out that trick and just tried something else instead?
    How many of us have been having a good tech converstation with a colleague at a conference over a few beers and then had him suddenly make a pass? Yeah, John, that project you suggested would have been interesting to work on, shame you were more interested in getting laid. I wonder how many women went and did something else rather than work with men who can’t get used to the idea that they’re *people* not sex toys.
    How many of us regularly take the blame when things go wrong and get none of the credit when things go right, and have to watch the reverse happen to male colleagues? How many of us are sick and bloody tired of being told we’re imagining it when everything we say in a meeting is ignored or ridiculed… until it’s re-suggested later by a male?
    The main thing I kept seeing from people when I was interviewing for this job was surprise. The other candidate who made it to second interview – and yes, I was the only woman who even *applied* – looked surprised to see me there when he came out. I wish I could have seen his face when he got the rejection letter, because he would have known he’d lost out to me. Unthinkable! He’s got a beard, how could he fail?!
    The interviewer was surprised by the suggestions I made which neither they nor the other candidate had considered. He expressed surprise at how many different variables I’d considered and the logical approach I’d taken to the issue – I can’t imagine that being the case if I’d been male.
    The sexism in the industry is there everywhere, all the time – but the problem with it is that it’s not overt, it’s nearly all unconsciously done, and that makes it an absolute arse to fight.

  2. Men don’t feel there’s a barrier to entry because they feel at home in their work environments. Would men feel as comfortable programming if all coding offices were painted pink, Monday morning chatter was about the latest Twilight novel, and the office mailing list was used to send around animated GIFs of dancing teddy bears with motivational quotes?

  3. Thanks so much for writing this article. I am trying to talk my amazingly talented wife into programming. I have been sending her links to you, Steph Sullivan, Lea Alcantara, Jenn Lukas, Molly Holzschlag and others to show her the role models.

    I also have a four year old daughter and to think that there are things she will be talked out of doing because she is a girl drives me bat shit crazy.

    I always wondered why seemingly educated men (and some women) are total idiots when it comes to this issue? I want way more women and minorities in this field because I want the tech industry to solve problems for and by all people. I guess there are jerks no matter how smart you are.

  4. Great article, well-argued. I watched the Big Web Show and also wished at the time that you had gone into greater detail about being a woman in IT, so I’m glad you wrote this up. Definitely going to bookmark and share.

  5. Perhaps, a day might come when I would see lots of women active in the java (put any other technology stuff) mailing list. Perhaps a day might come when I would see loads of commit from women to the open source software.

    There are opportunities here. Where are the women?

    Honestly, it would be great with smart women around. But the truth is not quite what we would like it to be.

  6. Great article. The school I teach at has recently found that women are actually more valued than their male counterparts by employers at the time of graduation. They’ve been averaging 4% higher job placement (95% for women) and about $2k higher starting salary (62k). While the industry as a whole may be a “boys club”, the employers hiring our graduates are finding value in the women.

  7. I’ve read this post a few times and I’m torn. On the one hand, I agree with you on many points and I 100% believe that men need to do a better job at making this industry more welcoming and comfortable for women. On the other hand, I’m incredibly frustrated that you’ve decided to turn some issues into a gender problem when they clearly aren’t.

    The entire cowboy vs develop section is completely off-base for a few reasons.

    #1. Not one of the characteristics listed in either category is gender specific or even gender-biased.
    #2. Most of them seem to be common issues between front-end and back-end developers.
    #3. You’re making some very negative assumptions about motives.You’ve presented it in a way makes it seem that every man in technology is some uber-nerd who spends his nights and weekends writing code in his mom’s basement just to make your life difficult.
    #4. You seem to put passion and enthusiasm into the bad category. Yes I code after hours, yes I like to go to conferences to learn more, yes I like to speak at events. Are these really things that make me a bad developer?

    I know that your heart is in the right place with this post and I understand your problems with many of the common issues with our industry, but you aren’t helping your cause by implying that men like it this way. In fact, turning non-gender issues into gender issues can cause massive problems. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but it seems like you’re re-enforcing the very stereotypes that keep women out of technology.

    Also, please keep in mind that a lot of us aren’t exactly writing “has people skills” on our resume. It’s no excuse for being a jerk, but it’s easy to misconstrue somebody shutting you out because they don’t know how to relate. As a former mathlete/band geek/science club member, I can say it takes a while for some of us to come out of our shells. The guys with charisma and confidence tend to lean more towards sales and politics.

    A specific example might be the guy who thinks his code is too smart for you. I’ve been that guy un-intentionally on multiple occasions. Explaining complex code isn’t always easy. It sometimes requires a knowledge of multiple concepts and usually can’t be explained in a quick chat. It’s like trying to explaining IE6 box-model issues to somebody new to CSS. They have to understand html, basic css and know how it should work in modern browsers. During a busy project, you might just give them a fix without explaining it. It doesn’t mean you think they’re stupid, you just understand that they need additional knowledge before you can explain it effectively.

    Here’s what I propose:
    #1. Identify issues that affect us all, regardless of gender, and show some solidarity. For every woman that’s afraid to get into tech because of these issues, there is a man in tech that is afraid to appear weak by bringing them up. Joining together helps take the egotistical douche-bags who re-enforce these issues down a few pegs.

    #2. Encourage tech conferences to give free passes to women in college and entry level jobs. Unlike some of the guys in the twit-fight, I think this is a great idea. It’s up to us to show women that they are welcome, and if we have to go above and beyond to do that we should.

    #3. Don’t assume all guys are the same. If you assume everybody is against you for too long, the eventually will be.

    #4. Buy girls LEGOs. Kids form mental connections at a young age. We give boys toys that encourage building, engineering and analytical thought, then wonder why they grow up more interested in careers that encourage building, engineering and analytical though. Let’s get some girls building spaceships and castles.

  8. Dear other nerdy white guys,

    We nerdy white guys are predisposed to consider ourselves experts on everything, whose opinions are extremely valuable and must be shared with everyone. Sadly, we are not natural experts on racism or sexism. Our subjective experience is, by definition, not relevant to the conversation.

    These “logical” arguments about wildly unbalanced results proving a lack of systematic bias are silly and would embarrass the hell out of you if you used them to explain the statistical underrepresentation of African Americans in Fortune 500 CEO positions.

    In a language which we white guys typing our unfiltered thoughts on the internets can understand: “STFU n00bs.” :)

    Seriously, lads… think and do some research before mouthing off on the internets. For example, how exactly do you objectively measure the worth of a programmer? If you know how, you may be the only person in 50+ years of software engineering management research to have found a reliable means of doing so… so please share. (I know, I don’t need to encourage you to share!)

    Unfortunately for the meritocrats, there is no magic formula for measuring the total worth of a software developer. Software development is inherently collaborative; software developers are not interchangeable parts; every project has a different set of requirements and constraints. It’s damned hard to measure someone’s worth to a software development project, and the only way I’ve found (in reading a lot of books on the subject, and in 15+ years of direct experience) is almost entirely subjective.

    In a subjective world, the people who impress the evaluator the most get the raises, promotions, credit, etc. Guess who those people are? The loud pushy crabby credit hogs, or the ones who take the team out for a party when a milestone is reached and who take time away from their assignments to help others, and who spread credit and quickly accept blame for their own mistakes?

    Finally… consider this statement: “It must be a pure meritocracy… after all, I’m winning!” :)

  9. The mansplaining! It is overwhelming!

    Pierre, might I suggest you read http://books.google.com/books?id=1ll6BuF4-kgC&lpg=PA244&ots=5C_zeUmj5_&dq=literate%20nuns&pg=PA244#v=onepage&q=literate%20nuns&f=false It discusses how nuns were literate, but deprived of resources, such as books, by the hierarchy of the church. The reason there weren’t more copist nuns is because of incredibly sexist social structures, not because more nuns didn’t want to write. In fact, if they weren’t literate they wouldn’t have become nuns. It is almost a perfect example, it just doesn’t mean what you think it means. Sexism has had a real effect on society and history, and especially on what parts of history we hear about. The books we do have that were written by nuns we know they had to fight hand and fist to get the resources to record, so they must have considered them worth that effort.

    You don’t have to be autistic to program. You may have to be willing to tolerate behavior from other programmers that would completely unacceptable in any other profession, but that’s not a product of “programming”. Programming is about art, language, patterns, communication, planning and structure, all of which is coded as “feminine” in our society. The first programmers were all women. Maybe that’s why these men are so defensive; trying to redefine programming as “masculine” by societal standards is a big stretch. The whole point is that nothing involved in programming actually requires this exclusive, competitive, fear-based culture that has sprung up around it, and which so many men are apparently willing to leap to defend.

    Here is how I describe the scholarship thing: the culture of programming is not meritocratic and you did not earn whatever recognition you have received. You may have worked for it, but it as though you had just run a marathon by starting half way there. It means something, hey you just ran a half marathon!, but it is in no way equivalent to someone who ran the whole thing. And so if Google wants to give out an award just to the people who ran twice as far, even though you both crossed the same finish line, you should realize that there’s a good reason for it.

    There aren’t more women in computer science not because women don’t want to code, but because they don’t want to code *enough* to put up with the bullshit entailed in being a female programmer. It’s not that they “don’t see the point”, it’s that they have to work harder for men for less reward and make themselves vulnerable to abuse, and so their decision curve looks different. If you look around at the jobs where people are writing complex scripted Excel sheets for tasks that aren’t worth a programmer’s salary, they are almost all women. Those positions are less well paid, but they don’t have to deal with programmers who share your attitudes.

    hakunin, you are ignoring that it’s not that easy. It takes money, which overwhelmingly goes to male entrepreneur, and education, which has similar barriers to industry and also requires interacting with teen-age men who aren’t held responsible for their actions. It’s not that men are all dicks, it’s that men are rewarded for being dicks by the people in positions of authority (who happen to be men or women who have succeeded under these circumstances.) Most women have said, “Fuck that noise” to dealing with the hypermasculine culture of programming, but they don’t keep programming, they leave. The field of software engineering is poorer for it.

    There are plenty of women role models, if men were willing to look. But instead of talking about Dr. Goldberg, the Rubiests interested in Smalltalk design talk about Mr. Beck. Instead of talking about Admiral Cooper people talk about Mr. McCarthy. Instead of talking about Ada Lovelace people talk about Alan Turing, plus they conveniently forget to mention that he was gay (see, as reference, the recent piece in Pragmatic Programmer Magazine). Women’s participation has held steady at around 20% from the time the field was founded. I can certainly believe that people don’t encounter female professors in school (did you read the MIT study? It describes some structural reasons for this well), but men who ignore the women who are out there, who work at places that “just happen” to never hire women, who don’t notice the female speakers at a conference or just happen to never go to those talks, they are all part of the problem. They are being willfully blind, so that they can continue to believe that women “just don’t see the point.”

    We see the point. We just also see that we have to work with people like you.

  10. As a woman (not a girl!) who has worked in IT at the largest online retailer and at a software giant, I’ll ad to the conversation that IT departments vary greatly, although there are, a handful of common scenarios.

    In many instances women who volunteer or assert themselves are shot down in favor of the next man to volunteer, based on gender alone. In some contexts there is an innate gender bias, I’ve seen this many times: Female’s who volunteer or toot their own horn are seen as hyperactive and somehow as not fully grasping the problem by insensitive Managers. The bias is that Men who volunteer or toot their own horn are seen as confident leaders whose ridiculous false-swagger is somehow overlooked and is deserving of gratitude and compliments simply for volunteering (regardless of product or final contribution quality).

    Woman can bust their chops, but often have additional hurdles to obtain all the relevant info from coworkers to design an elegant solution. Often if you have a insensitive disorganized Manager (unfortunately common), than some coworkers in competitive environments will withhold relevant details to try to maintain the edge. They may do this to some men also, but many times sexism does comes into play. In certain IT environments (not the good and most productive ones) Women often have to work twice as hard and be twice as coy and humble to produce work they are proud of. Then, they don’t get the recognition they would have, if they were of the other gender and it had been easier to achieve.

    To the first commenter, putting women on a pedestal and saying they are too good to work in IT, and of course they weren’t welcome to live in a Monasteries in old times, or really any other pursuit other than bearing children and cooking and appealing to men. Are you saying: don’t ruin your feminine charms being smart and employable in a role that might be interesting and rewarding? Also, are you saying only men have Autism? Just curious, I don’t see anyone jumping on the most ancient sexist tripe yet a women’s counter-sexist post is jumped on by many.

  11. I had a similar experience to Terbie’s with Male/Female Managers. Weird, right? In a few instances, I wondered if the woman Mangers where self-loathing of their gender.

  12. @Stephanie Hobson: Very funny! I have worked in a marketing department where I was the only male. I loved it. And our corporate colors were pink! And we did have to start a corporate email signature standard because the motivational quotes (too often set in Papyrus or Comic Sans) were getting out of hand! This was pre-Twilight, thank God!!!

  13. Scott,

    I think there are a number of dynamics at work.

    First, some of the prominent supports of Agile have spoken out about gender (even though the Agile Manifesto was signed only by men.) Martin Fowler, for example, weighed in on the CouchDB thing vocally and Jim Highsmith at least acknowledged openly the issues with having leadership teams consisting of only white men. It means that women who go looking for information about Agile are less likely to get turned off by abrasive public figures or alienating introductory materials.

    Second, some of the dynamics agile is trying to address are the same dynamics that put women off of programming in the first place. In fact, pointing to Agile is a great way to illustrate that the problem isn’t with women and programming, it’s with women and the culture surrounding programming.

    It has been shown that pair programming in intro programming classes reduces the drop-out rate of women (as well as reducing the drop-out rate for men, though less significantly). It increases skill, and confidence in that skill by providing immediate feedback, as well as introducing students to a different culture. Testing does the same thing; it provides a reality check on your ability that you can’t get from either self-assessment or external assessment, both of which come with baggage. Tests either pass, or they don’t. It encourages team-based recognition, since nothing is the result of a single programmer, which can help overcome some of the disadvantages women face in promoting their own work. Agile teams also tend to look for somewhat-quantitative measure of success, rather than subjective measures that can be easily swayed by cultural affinity. In fact, a lot of the recent push for quantitative metrics is coming from the Agile community, something which has helped other fields achieve better gender balance.

    Third, I think it’s self-selecting. The men who enjoy being dicks to people don’t work on an Agile team; there are plenty of other places that will reward them for their attitude. People who imbue their code with ego don’t work on an Agile team; someone else might refactor that code tomorrow. It requires discipline and a different approach to programming, both of which require maturity and reasonably-stable self esteem. Finally, because of some of the early culture (though not all, *cough* Uncle Bob *cough*), I suspect some sharp women who would otherwise quit programming instead found Agile teams to work on. Thus, Agile has the crop of older, experienced women with the confidence to speak at conferences and the connections to be invited.

    So we might be able to apply some of it, but as you can see in this thread, applying a model of mutual respect to programming is not a particularly popular approach and goes against years of embedded assumptions of sexism.

  14. @Jamie Flournoy Doesn’t the meritocracy approach hold sound for university programs where there are good metrics for quantifying performance pre/post admission (and girls are probably winning)? Are you saying the inhospitable tech industry is responsible for the abysmal enrollment rates of females in university CS programs?

  15. I have no strong feelings towards Google’s scholarships, bad or good. If I was forced to take a stance on it, it would be on the “good” side, since it doesn’t change a thing for men (which I am btw), and (might) create chances for women. Is it discriminating? Hell yea! Do I care? Hell no! It’s Google’s money, so it’s their choice what they do with it. It becomes a totally different story when governments start doing it though, because then my tax money is being used to discriminate me. This is pretty common practice where I live, but I still don’t really care that much. Mainly because of the mechanics behind it, if the situation called for it, it would be the other way around, but also because of the small fraction my tax money is in the big pool.

    If you think women in tech have it bad, go up to the diner on the corner and apply for a job while wearing a hijab, then try while wearing a clearly visible cross… yea…

    Like I posted on Rebecca Murphey’s blog: I have friends that completely gave up on their industry of choice because they couldn’t get a job, being male, and ended up settling for a stereotypical male job.

    I’m starting to feel that the Drupal community is sort of an exception to all this, I count 12 occurrences of “Drupal” on http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_FLOSS and a quick glance at the schedule of the upcoming con (http://cph2010.drupal.org/news/initial-program) shows at least 10 women presenting.
    Did you catch that crazy rampage about the Drupalcon Paris website last year? The design included a silhouette of a typically French burlesque icon, which they named Yvonne and threated sort of like a mascot, saying she would also be attending. This was totally misinterpreted by some as being the representation of all women attending the conference and “sexism” was shouted left and right. I feel really bad for the people involved in that design, it looked like they went through a lot of effort to make it scream “Paris” as much as possible. Pretty much the next day the design was changed, I was a sad panda, as I felt a piece of French culture was ripped from it. And then some started claiming that the stylized Druplicon was sexist because it looked like it had a mustache… -_-

    Also, why is it that nobody ever complains about the lack of women in industries as construction or waste handling?

    Tell a person 20 times a day he’s a moron, and he will eventually feel like a moron.
    Keep saying it’s hard for women in tech, and they will eventually think it’s too hard to even try.
    – just saying…

  16. @dw — so, you’re justifying that someone can label the tech industry as a bunch of sexist males but that in reality that criticism doesn’t apply to *me*, a male in the tech industry, as an individual, only the group as a whole? that’s a clever escape clause, have to admit i’ve not heard that one before.

    i know i’ll now sleep better at night knowing that all those foreigners that talk down about the US don’t really mean *me* personally. they just hate my country as a whole, but i’m sure if they got to know me they’d think i was really a great guy.

    “Stereotype: A fixed, commonly held notion or image of a person or group, based on an oversimplification of some observed or imagined trait of behaviour or appearance.”

    if *i* should just dismiss broad stereotypes (like “men in tech are actively sexist”) since it doesn’t necessarily apply to me, then why can’t everyone who is stereotyped just dismiss such blanket statements as well?

    if i say all women are bad drivers, that doesn’t mean that i’m saying any one particular woman is a bad driver. So it’s defensible as not being disciminatory since any woman who challenges me on that characterization, i can just say “oh, i didn’t mean *you* specifically.”

    “I hear this all the time from other white men”. so… i guess that because all these other white men say the same thing as me, then i should be lumped in with them as being a group that, on the whole, should be discredited?

    the reason why we all know that even latently held stereotypes (and bigotist opinions) about broad groups of people are bad is because those thoughts and feelings generally lead to actions against individuals.

    discrimination occurs when we take that stereotype and start using it to guide our behavior toward an individual person. so… what about the several times here, and countless times elsewhere, when *i* personally have been discredited simply because i’m a male and haven’t (or can’t) see the industry through the eyes of a woman?

    or what about how *you* yourself just made a broad generalization about a bunch of white men and then singled me out to say that because *they* are using silly reasoning, so must i be?

  17. @jdk

    Good metrics for measuring what kind of performance exactly? (How often do you use Leibniz’s notation?)

    B-schools can’t produce good executives, and that’s a pretty old profession. Why should we expect CS programs to produce good programmers?

    >Are you saying the inhospitable tech industry is responsible for the abysmal enrollment rates of females in university CS programs?

    Yes, yes, OMFG, yes. The guidance counselors and parents and fellow students and university professors who say that females are mentally unfit for technical careers are also responsible.

  18. I loved it! Thanks for sticking your neck out there to speak the truth.
    Just because I love to code doesn’t mean I love you, IT guy :S

  19. You really help me to reflect upon my behavior.

    Yes, I tried to push a female CS into management/design, rather subconscious, but I see it now, after reading this article.
    Thanks for fixing that.

    Keep up your awesome work!

    1. @riethmayer – seriously, so very impressed that you admit that. The whole point of my post was not to feel sorry for myself, but rather to shine a light on what is. I think just by noticing, things begin to change.

  20. BTW I am just another internet dork mouthing off. Feel free to disregard my opinions on education, the root causes of gender bias, etc.

    The point I really want to make is that the people not subject to a particular negative bias have no business arguing that it doesn’t exist entirely. (Absence of personal empirical evidence is not evidence of absence.)

  21. Great post Nicole and thanks for reminding me of a few things. I do research on gender inequalities in developing countries, especially in the African continent and it’s very easy to forget that there is still a lot to do at home, in those places where we think that gender equality is an achievement. There is still a long way to go and your perception, discussion and the way you exposed this issue is admirable.

  22. I can completely understand Fringley’s Twitter post about “hoping that there was a scholarship for the guys”. Yes, there was a smudge of jealousy in there – and why not? I went back to university to finish an old science degree. I remember looking for scholarships and bursaries in my 1st, 2nd and 3rd years – and the only ones available were for women in science. There was no stated academic requirements either – if you were female, you could get a bursary … and you were automatically qualified for consideration for the scholarship. I remember feeling quite jealous at the time. The majority of the students in our science department were female and could get financial aid. If you were a guy, not so much.

    There were 9 grants and bursaries open to female science students in 1st, 2nd and 3rd years. The only bursary open to male students required that you or your family own a woodlot in the province (whacky British Columbia), and they preferred that applicants be of Scandinavian descent. Seriously. If you weren’t, then the only financial aid open to you was a single 4th year bursary of $600 – which anyone, male or female, could compete for.

    So was I jealous of the opportunities presented to the female science students? Absolutely!

    (although I can’t complain too much – in the end, I managed to win that 4th year bursary ;)

  23. I know that women are minorities in this field and most of the time discriminated. It’s right that it’s not about whether women have the same capacity or intelligence to perform in this field of work.
    But, I think the major cause of this situation is the lack of interest from women in the field. Especially in the software development field where you need to put lots of effort to be an expert, or even just to be productive.

    In my 20s, I only have about 3 years of software development experience, although I’m naturally a geek since I was a boy. In my experience, it’s not really “that” interesting. It’s more exhausting than interesting. It’s a very competitive field where what you know today could be irrelevant and a total mistake the next day. Unless if you’re at the top of your game, where the software industry could be bent according to your will (rhetorically speaking).

    Let’s consider this case, if a woman is capable to be productive or to have a fully-developed and enjoyable life in other fields, would this woman choose to be a computer scientist, software developer, etc.? Is being a computer scientist or a software developer such an attractive career? Compared to other careers such as running a business (not a software business), design, arts, entertainment, etc.

    Men are dominating this field because most of the time the work environment is culturally attuned to their habits and lifestyle. A man who could be better in other fields may not choose software development too.

    Software development is actually an area where anyone could actually contribute without prejudice. Because the core of the activity is to write code and produce good software. It doesn’t need our skills in politics, persuasion or our physical appearance, etc.

  24. I take exception with your assertion that women are not becoming veterinarians and doctors. The classes in veterinary schools are overwhelmingly female, and they have been for at least a decade. The percentage of women matriculating from medical school has also been steadily increasing for at least thirty years, and men and women are at near parity.

    The reason that these are not “the fastest growing fields for women” is that the number of these upper echelon positions are going to grow much less quickly than the fields that support them. For example, over the next eight years the number of veterinarians is expected to increase by only 20,000 or so. The majority of those will be women, but each vet will employ several veterinary technicians.

    Similarly, over the last thirty years the annual number of medical school graduates has remained roughly constant. Instead growth has been focused on increasing the number of lower level positions (medical technicians, etc.).

    However, I agree whole heartedly that women are discriminated against in many technical fields. I just take exception to the factual inaccuracy that women are doing poorly in the female dominated field of veterinary medicine or that women are significantly under-represented in medical schools. (Although there are certain medical specialties which are an old-boys club.)

    1. @Jeff Younker – good point. Obviously the data I was using was simplistic. I did say the CS was the only science where participation by women is declining (which I got from a much better source, Maria Klawe). The real point here is that, if women need a career they can get into relatively quickly with minimal study, make good wages, and have a lot of flexibility, CS rocks! Rather than filling support roles, they should consider going into CS. Not just in the upper echelon.

  25. “I had a manager tell me I should stop writing code and focus on powerpoint and management, areas he found to be more in line with my talents. Was it because I’m a woman? I don’t know, but [obviously it is]”

    Wow, being passive aggressive much? It’s points like this that make your whole argument go down the drain.

    Also, an honest question: If you’re always treated differently, how can you tell when you’re being treated the same as all the guys? Isn’t there a risk of “why isn’t he looking at me? Is he ignoring me?”?

    1. @Steve – I think you read my tone incorrectly. I was *honestly asking* if gender had anything to do with it. There are many other ways to explain the same data. As to your question, I think most of the time I’m treated well. Am I treated like “one of the guys”? I don’t know, should I be? (And why would I care if they are looking at me? I don’t understand)

      Also, please do try to keep comments respectful, even if you disagree. There is a real live human being (with feelings) on the other end of the comment form. I’m trying to understand things better, so I did some research, and then I shared that research. Like I said in my post, I much prefer a collaborative, “let’s figure this out together” approach.

  26. You make some great points, and I’m really glad you wrote this article because I don’t feel like there are very many out there that are non-scientific and that describe a woman’s perspective of this field.

    The “cowboy attitude”, if you will, of aggressively fighting and clamoring for every opportunity is the cause of a lack of women in other careers such as high-powered business execs, not just in tech. I recommend reading “The Sexual Paradox” if you haven’t already.

  27. Nicole, you haven’t responded to email, so I will post here.

    > On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent to JSConf.

    I assumed no such thing. I think it’s lousy that you have continued to pass off your interpretation of my assumptions/tweets as matter-of-fact, even after my initial explanation (which was buried by the mass of comments). Your carelessness is hurting my reputation. Please correct the post and either exclude my tweets or reword your statements more carefully.

  28. I would love to see more women in computing but I don’t think it is possible unless equality prevails in other parts of life and everyone’s thinking. (Including women).

    Also, you are focusing on negative stereotypes of men and positive stereotypes of women.

    Take this.

    Code-cowboy man : Works hard because he has primary responsibility to earn living or does open source work for love of profession.
    Developer Woman : Spends too much time in meetings & decorating trivial things rather than getting real stuff done under disguise of being good communicator and understands people.

  29. Hi,

    Firstly, I was glad to read your article (and subsequent comments) which discussed the situation in more detail than can be expressed via twitter. However, I now regret ever making the post in the first place. It seems that many people believe that it was fuelled by jealously, which could not be further from the truth (I am not at University, so have nothing to gain from a grant for students anyway).

    My reaction came from imagining that I was an eligible male student and how I would feel if I was unable to get a grant to attend a conference that would benefit me, merely based upon my gender. In my humble opinion, this to me; does not seem fair. It was not my intention to ‘rain on anyones parade’ or be bitter about the grant in the slightest. I am happy that students are given these sort of advantages.

    Maybe my tweet was a little insensitive and I sure as hell will be keeping my opinions to myself from now on, as people have now based a long lasting impression of me from one short comment – I was angry and upset to find people (publicly) calling me a ‘d-bag’ and a ‘doofus’ having never met nor spoken to me.

    Put yourself in the shoes of a male student that can’t get a grant just because he is male. I’m no expert on the subject, but isn’t it that the sort of behaviour that caused gender divides in the first place?

  30. Whilst a lot of the points in the argument are true, I don’t believe they necessarily reflect a solely gender-based argument. The majority of the points highlight traits such as shyness, self confidence issues and facing your own personal barriers to entry – and have nothing to do with owning a particular set of reproductive organs.

    I for one, am very shy, don’t like talking to people, don’t like putting myself forward to be selected for tasks in case I’m seen by my peers to fail. I’m also going it alone at a comparatively young age without a formalised education in the field – and almost all of your points ring true for me.

    The actual sexism is a wider society issue (which should be reported); whilst totally reprehensible, there’ll be the sexist jokes and harrasment at an investment bank or a Wetherspoon’s on a Friday night. It’s not something we should sit and accept, but it’s not a “nerd-doesn’t-know-how-to-treat-women” thing.

    I do, understand the argument that special treatment shouldn’t be offered based on gender – I could be the poorest, most talented developer, but if there’s nothing like this to help me get a foot in the industry (only because I own a penis or have a skin colour which is that of the majority of people in my field), then ultimately, I might just fade away.
    Which is the exact argument that’s being proposed here: “if there’s no support or if there’s discrimination against me because I *don’t* own a penis, I might just fade away.”
    Similar arguments about an industry that cares about people already on the “inside”. People on the “outside” (regardless of gender) just aren’t that well catered for.

  31. Personally the only way to survive as a female in a technical role is to be a self employed contractor so one can keep out of all the politics and power plays.

    As soon as one becomes an employee and under the rule of a narrow minded manager one is destroyed in confidence, self worth and ability to function with any creativity or enthusiasm.

    Why would any self respecting person (female or male for that matter) want to go daily to be constantly belittled and shredded? Because that’s what seems to happen to far too many of us in the workplace.

    For me the move to employment was necessitated since as one gets older the work opportunities (particularly at the moment) got to few and far between and I thought that doing some sort of engineering job would be better that the alternatives.

    I also made the mistake in believing all the HR glossy stuff about equalities etc.

    Have learned to keep my mouth shut, to follow instructions (even when wrong) and not to offer alternative views on anything.

    Very disillusioned and dispirited.

  32. I just hope that this whole stir-up won’t keep any of the developers who might get the chance to come with a ‘google-ticket’ from accepting out of fear of being at the center of attention one more time for the wrong reasons.

    jsconf is great, javascript is very much in motion right now. i’m looking forward to it, expecting it will be very rewarding. please come and see for yourself.

  33. Aren’t there just fewer female geeks? Aren’t females better at “people skills”?

    Many geeks retreat to technology because they find it so much easier to deal with than people, to the extent that they can spend all their time doing it without the need to get a life!

    So if you need to be a geek to excel in technology (particularly software) and there are more male geeks than female, there will necessarily be more males in technology.


  34. Joining the party late, but I don’t think I’ve seen my view represented above:

    – I seriously think it’s naive (and counter-productive) to argue that under-representation MUST be caused by discrimination. (I am not arguing that it isn’t a factor, or even that it’s not true – just that the unchecked assumption is silly/problematic)

    – Rather than talking about a “Field” in which women are under-represented, I think it’s interesting to look at certain attributes of job function: In particular, I believe that women are rare in white-collar job positions that do not involve customer contact. You could argue that this is because sex sells, in a world where men still hold a majority of economic power, you could argue that it’s because women have innate people skills that men don’t, you could argue that it’s all sociological – but I think it would be interesting to look at it this way: are women simply excluded from “people-skill-less” positions because they (objectively or by perception bias) compete better in “people-skill-full” ones?

    – I’m not arguing, of course, that people skills are not valuable in tech, or specifically in development/programming, but rather that it’s easier to get by without them.

    – I suspect that this is lurking at the back of many minds but not stated. For example, above you mention “practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men).”; why?? You’re just echoing that “women think differently” crap!

    – I believe your “I don’t want to be a cowboy” rant is misguided. Women are perfectly competitive/competent “cowboys” in many other fields – consulting, medicine, etc – fields where a social element is recognized.

    Basically, I think we need to look a little harder at the biases at work; I have nothing against “Affirmative Action”, but to this problem it seems (to me) to be simply an ineffective PR stunt.

  35. @Steve,

    Nerdy men don’t ignore each other. They talk with each other, bounce ideas off each other, listen to other men’s ideas. Sometimes women do get ignored; it’s our magical powers of invisibility. It’s how men believe there aren’t any women in computer science. There can be good attention (related to work! looking for our input! listening to our experience!), bad attention (expecting us to make coffee! expecting romantic interactions! expecting us to conform to gender stereotypes! scornfully treating us with disdain! explaining why we are Doing Female Wrong!) and alienation (ignoring us! restating our ideas and getting credit! preferring to talk with other men! not inviting us to the business/social events because your wife might be suspicious!) It is perfectly legitimate to complain about both the second and third types of interaction.

    The “you wouldn’t want to be just one of the guys” is a red herring. Would I prefer if the culture was different? Sure. Could you possibly say something offensive I haven’t heard in my lifetime around nerdy men? Nope. I’m still here anyway. I know the difference between being treated like a nerd and treated like a female nerd; it has to do with how seriously people take me, whether they interrupt me, whether they assume my observations are false until I prove them when men in the room are assumed to be right until proven false, whether they avoid eye contact with me but not other people, whether they assume that I want to go into management. Sexism isn’t subtle; if you are sexist, the women you interact with have probably picked up on it. Whether or not they can productively do anything about it is a whole different matter.

    I can provide an example. There’s a guy at work who doesn’t respect my opinion. I have actually had the experience of sayings, “Let’s do $X,” and him replying, “That’s a stupid idea. Let’s do $X.” He got promoted to team lead and singled me out for observation, replacing my existing tasks with busywork and excluding me from any meetings where decisions are made. He speaks in a patronizing tone, and says things like, “why don’t you focus on the tasks I’ve given you?” when I make observations about pieces of the product I wrote, back when I was allowed to write code.

    Now, it could be he genuinely wants these clerical-level tasks done, doesn’t feel like I communicate enough and has never found my contributions valuable. It could be that he disrespects me because of my age, my communication style, my coding style or my lack of an advanced degree, though other people on this project share all those characteristics.

    Or it could be that I’m the only woman on the project.

    I can’t prove it; if I could I’d have HR down here right now, but it isn’t passive-aggressive not to hurt my career by getting HR involved when I don’t have any evidence, even though the logical explanation for this is gender-based. I can’t confront him about it without making the problem worse; I still have to work with him the next day. After talking with my supportive boss, I am transferring. Will this hurt my career? It could. Being known as a “whiner” or “quitter” at my job is devastating; you are rewarded for working with difficult personalities. When it comes time for promotions, will the fact that I transferred of his team hurt him? Probably not. Will it hurt me? More likely. But there wasn’t another good options.

    I don’t think my wishlist is particularly unreasonable. I want to work with people who believe people are humans first, coders second, and then maybe gender, while being aware that not all humans are like them and not expect people to act like (straight, white, cis) men in order to get recognition (it doesn’t work, anyway, as someone else pointed out; people respond differently to the same behavior depending on the gender of the actor.) I want to be able to go to lunch with a colleague without worrying that it will be misconstrued as a romantic advance. I want my ideas to be taken as seriously and not have to choose between living with discrimination or advancing my career. I just want to write code with a team of peers who consider me a full member of the team.

    Just because we don’t always get what we want doesn’t make our wants unreasonable.

  36. I have mixed feelings on your post, Nicole. I am only 28, but married and father of two boys (under 2.5yr old). I see where you are coming from in a lot of what you are saying, but I am very much a “self-server” in that I believe if somebody wants something they should go get it.
    It is hard for me to see industries, companies, instituations cater to certain types of people, seek them out, and throw “the world” at them when I, as a white male in America, have had to pay my entire way through college, ask for nearly every raise I’ve ever been given, and change jobs 3 times in 5 years to get where I’m at today.
    Yet I also see points in what you are saying that because a type of person may have an inherently different dimeanor, it SHOULDN’T be something that works against them. In a way, however, this is, to me, a form of darwinism.

    Be strong, be assertive, be confident, and you can accomplish anything your counterparts can – as you are clearly demonstrating.

    I completely acknolwedge there are some unfounded biases and blatant discriminations out there, but I also acknowledge the frustration of those passed over by “freebies” given to poeple who are of lower caliber on the basis of anything other than their performance. To justify that last comment I’ll say I was a TA in college for CompSci classes; I saw more than one student who was on a full ride to the university (mostly for ethnic background) that performed at a much lower caliber than other students w/o scholarship. I also had friends who were riding on full scholarships based on their race or country of origin (as they admitted to me) whom I consistently outperformed.

    If I had a daughter (maybe some day I will), I would do everything I could to foster whatever interests she had. If those interests were in Math or the Sciences, I would never dissuade her. Likewise, however, I would do my best foster in her a confidence to KNOW she can do it, and to GO for it. Not to sit back and wait to be handed her opportunities.

  37. Maybe I have been ignorant on this issue, but I always assumed there where not many women in IT because it simply was not an interesting career choice for many women. I have never seen a women be ‘pushed’ out of the field and into another career and I have never heard anyone tell a woman that a career in IT was not for women. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just saying I have never seen it. rmurphey talks about groping… I’m pretty sure a sexual harassment claim should take care of that… and what kind of a place are you working at where you get groped? Certainly would not happen anywhere I have worked.

  38. I don’t support discriminating, but if women aren’t flocking to engineering and science, what can you do? It seems not much.

    Perhaps the stereotypes exist because reasons for their existence exist. Perhaps chicks just don’t dig digits. Perhaps the world will always be the way it is, whether we want it or not. Perhaps it’s no use complaining. Perhaps this is just another useless discussion. Or perhaps change is on the way. Probably not.

  39. To Pierre:

    Hate to say it, but you are wrong about women not liking the challenge and absorbtion of “actual” programming. I am a developer and I love all aspects of my job. The challenge of finding solutions no one else can (I am the only developer in an internal IT group). The challenge of writing new things and even more, I love to do graphics programming with my sons at home. However I am a mom of four children and a grandmother of one… I know when to take time off from programming and do other things. Funny the programs always wait for me to come back and don’t seem to mind. Even better sometimes the solutions just click right away when I come back to something :)

    I also know I am not the only woman that is like this. My best friend, we met when 10, has all the same abilities and does the same type of work.

  40. I got as far as your comment on the third tweet…”On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent…” You are being hypersensitive. His point was that qualifications were made less important than gender. He did not imply that those women were not deserving, as I’m sure you would not intentionally imply that they ARE deserving just because they are women. I’m also fairly sure you don’t understand that you SEEM to imply just that.
    You also SEEM to imply that the only possible reason women could be under-represented in technology is discrimination by men. While I’m sure such discrimination happens, I have never witnessed it in my 10+ years as a coder. How many women choose other careers based on their interests? How many go elsewhere, not because they are discriminated against, but because they are sure they WILL be discriminated against in that particular field?
    The vast majority of PEOPLE aren’t qualified to be coders, and of those, a smaller majority choose other “less boring” jobs. (less boring for them, I love coding) So you can’t be saying that womanhood equals programming talent or interest. Women, as a group, need to set their expectations higher. The fact is, men have no need to discriminate, because so many women sell themselves short.

  41. Just got out of a meeting where I am being asked to move into a management role. Been asking to do more coding for the past 9 months and have had lots of compliments on how good I am.

    Strange that this happened one day after reading this article.

  42. Even on forum/site where I participate there isn’t many (any?) women, and more often than not, they are transgender persons.
    Watcha think bout that?

  43. another thought:
    1. suppose for a minute that the same number of men and women are in the workforce (i don’t actually know the percentages, but just try it as a thought experiment).
    2. as long as there is even ONE profession that is out of whack percentage-wise, there must be others that are out of whack percentagewise. so…
    3. Can we really talk about the difference in # of women in tech without talking about the difference in the # of men in nursing?

    Maybe nursing is irrelevant, per se – but the presence of any profession that unevenly distributes across genders is going to be reflected in other professions. Some of the subtle bias you described above, in tech, happens to a friends of mine that is a male nurse at a hospital. So for every perceived issue, I think part of the thought exercise is to take a step back and examine similar situations where the gender balance is reversed – is the issue a “normal” bias likely to occur in any profession with unbalanced gender? or is it a specific issue to the male gender or female gender in this situation?

    I recall hiring several excellent female software engineers out of college. They weren’t just the best women engineers I could hire, they were among the people I was most excited about hiring overall at our firm. Unfortunately, 10 years later, only one or two of them are still writing code. Well, wait. Is it unfortunate? One of them is a vp of engineering at a major tech company now. Another one owns her own small business. And the third is, still writing excellent code and amazing people with her skills.

    The case of the VP: within one year of starting at our firm, she moved into a dev management position. I advised her that it was too soon to move into management – that management skills were relatively easy to learn, and mostly required emotional intelligence and life experience to execute well. But coding skills were difficult to come by (at her level) and would be the best route to differentiate herself in years to come. She thought I was holding her back (perceived gender bias). I thought she was “bailing on code” too soon in her career. I doubt she’s written a line of code since. But she’s been very successful. So, you may perceive people to be pushing women to promote to management early, but my own experience was the opposite – that they were all too eager to give up coding and move into what they perceived to be more respected and important roles. Of course, the people who write code don’t respect management more than other people who write code, but there is no convincing the young that you have learned this lesson already ;)

    My larger point: there are so many truths that each of us have lived and experienced. We form our conclusions based on the data we can see, and our own biases and conceptions. Yet we still have to be open minded to the idea that our own personal truth isn’t absolute, and may not even be accurate overall. Thanks for sharing your experiences Nicole. I hope more women software professionals will stick with it and do more – our industry would benefit greatly from the diversity, and the talent.

    of course, one thing that often goes unnoticed is that the boys in our society are falling behind in education overall… we have a crisis brewing but we don’t see it very well because the statistics of previous generations still dominate the data (at least when you’re looking at working age population).

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