Follow-Up to When We are Needed

The discussion following my posting of When We are Needed last week split into two different directions: one focused on the discussion of women, competition, and need; one focused more on the tech job market in this country and the factors that are driving both men and women out of the field. The two are related, but the problems with the tech industry really go beyond lack of diversity. In fact, the tech industry in this country is in trouble, and it has little to do with big companies not being able to find ‘good’ people. However, I want to get into this in a separate post.

(There was also a third thread, primarily between me and Seth about whether there is any true value to the Slashdot effect, which would also be a good separate article.)

Returning to the issue of women and need and competition, comments attached to the post were exceptionally good and I am appreciative of those who took the time to respond. I don’t want to pull a comment in out of context so I won’t quote any here; I recommend that you read them for yourself. The author of the book I quoted in the post, Emily Yellin, added commentary and posted a link to a relevant article well worth a read. I want to, in particular, thank Dave Rogers for his very astute comments and associated posts on culture and human nature and their impact on this issue, as well as Yule Heibel for her commentary, especially as it regards to her tenure at MIT. I also appreciate Ravi taking the time to write several comments, though I don’t agree with his assessment that quality can compensate for the shortcomings of cultural bias. For more detail, see Dave’s comment here.

Sour Duck wrote a very thoughtful post noting some of the uneasy ambivalence I felt in the writing. In reference to my statement that women have rarely competed with men, she writes, A good point, but this seems to blame women a bit too much. The problem with the act of competing is that it’s a gendered and public endeavor.

It does, and goes back to the statement made, Do we want women to compete more, or do we want men to compete less?

I don’t think this is an either/or. Or lets say that I don’t believe that women can continue relying purely on ‘positive’ contributions to make an impact in western society as a whole, much less technology. I read recently about the little ten year old girl from Pakistan who was the youngest person to get a Microsoft developer certification. When Microsoft flew her out to Seattle for Bill Gates to personally congratulate her, one of the first things she noticed was the lack of women at Microsoft, and one of the first questions she asked Gates was, where are the women?

This young woman is showing us the way: yes, we need to make significant positive achievements–but we also have to rock the boat. We need both.

Jay Rosen is going to Blogher and wrote on it. Good on you, Jay. Sour Duck is also going, and like her, Jay also mentioned the earlier quote on competition, which gives me hope that this will spark some very interesting conversation at BlogHer.

I have been taken to task for not being supportive of this conference. I don’t think my support or lack of it is important; what is important is to acknowledge that the issue of visibility for women goes beyond the narrow confines of weblogging. We don’t need technology, we don’t need links, we need respect. And frankly, I think we can contribute positively until the end of time+1, and we’ll still be having these same discussions. Time to rock the boat. Or to use the analogy I introduced in the essay, time to turn the turtle on its back.

Returning to Sour Duck’s post, she also printed my essay out and it came to 35 pages! My that blows short posts all to heck and gone, doesn’t it? But I have already started editing the work, cutting out some of the rambly bits, and adding additional references, in order to send around to some publications. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and history is waiting.

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9 Responses to Follow-Up to When We are Needed

  1. Tim says:

    Good luck getting it published. Sorry i didn’t have anything particularly intelligent to say in the comments.

  2. And frankly, I think we can contribute positively until the end of time+1, and we’ll still be having these same discussions. Time to rock the boat. Or to use the analogy I introduced in the essay, time to turn the turtle on its back.

    Your posts remind me of the civil rights movement and Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King jr. The question I often ask myself are

    1.) At the end of the day who made more of a difference to black people, Martin or Malcolm?

    2.) If I was around in the 60s who would I have leaned more towards?

  3. Shelley says:

    Tim, your comment was particularly welcome — your’s, Roger’s, and Phil’s. Short but heart felt. Thank you.

    As for publishing the article, well, I like to keep expectations realistic.

    Dare, yes Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both boat rockers. Or did you think that King was not because he advocated peaceful means for change? So did Ghandi, and both he and King were hugly disruptive influences in the 1900′s.

    King was heavily involved with the Montgomery bus boycot–one of the most successful boycots in history, and one which changed the culture of the city. And this was just one of the events he was involved with.

    Ghandi, just by being a frail, quiet man,who walked to a shore and grabbed mud and salt and proclaimed, “With this salt I am shaking the foundation of the Empire!” And he did.

    As for Malcolm X, I don’t think he rocked the boat near as much as King did. Malcolm helped change the culture for blacks; King changed the culture for every one.

  4. Sour Duck says:

    I’m so glad you’re going to submit it for publication! :) I hope some editor accepts it; sometimes it’s all in the timing, but if there’s a journal with a “women and technology” issue coming up, yours would be a strong candidate.

    Good luck!

  5. Shelley,
    It looks like we agree about the impact of the conbtributions of both Malcolm X and MLK Jr to the Civil Rights struggle. My original impetus for posting was that your posts on women and technology remind me a lot of Malcolm X.

  6. Dare, it’s entirely possible that the best answer to your question is:

    “They made far more of a difference by each having the other for contrast, than they would have alone.”

    As Shelley pointed out, both were against the existing system. In particular, King preached nonviolent resistance, not acceptance of the status quo. While he has a saintly image today, and was indeed a hero, he was far more poorly regarded when he was alive, even by many liberals. Moreover, his later prominent opposition to wealth inequality and the Vietnam War, tends to be airbrushed out of retellings.

    Note he was also an extensive philanderer, which I expect would have gotten him scandalized under today’s standards.

    Gandhi had his counterparts too, also ignored.

    But I don’t think the debate here is nonviolence vs. violence (just about everyone participating is basically on the nonviolence side of that divide). Instead, it’s separationist vs. integrationist.

    My own hope is that there’s something that goes beyond “Some people think the proper thing to do is be separationist, because the existing system is corrupt and (other-group)-centric, while other people think the proper thing to do is to be integrationist, because they’ll change the system or it’s the only game in town”. I mean, it’s a true statement, but it’s been stated in various ways ad infinitum.

  7. marnie webb says:

    It seems to me that perhaps some of the questions about gender and completion might also be framed as “Is competition the only way to quality?” I’d suspect that are other behaviors that lead to quality. If so, are some of those behaviors less damaging to the culture as whole? I’d argue a behavior — competition — that favors one type of competitor (white men) whether because of genetics or history or both — hurts society by leading to only a small portion of the quality that’s really available.

    Other paths to quality might be more inclusive and so result in, not just higher quality, but more quality.

    I guess I’m trying to say that competition is about scarcity and quality isn’t a pie. It can be unlimited.

    I’m not quite sure how that relates to jobs. Just that competition gives us a single view into quality and so a type of interviewing and resume reviewing that is skewed heavily in favor of historic winners.

    If I keep at this long enough, I might eventually make sense….

  8. Anna Haynes says:

    It seems to me that perhaps some of the questions about gender and competition might also be framed as ‘Is competition the only way to quality?’

    I wonder if there’s a way to get at this – not so much “is it the only way”, but “is it the best way (from the company’s perspective)” – it sounds like the kind of problem Steven and Stephen (Levitt and Dubner) could address, somehow, in Freakonomics II.

    and once we’ve addressed “is it the best way from the company’s perspective?” the next Q would be “is it the best way from the nation’s perspective” which would be much harder to answer. And also less likely to be “yes”, due to externalities.

    Hoping there will be a Freakonomics II…