When we are Needed

Recently, the Information Technology Association of America released a report examining the state of diversity in IT in the United States and the results are less than comforting: IT is rapidly becoming less diversified, rather than more.

According to the study the *number of women in IT-related positions dropped by 20% in the last decade. This in light of the fact that women in other traditionally male professions are either holding their numbers, or actually increasing their levels of participation.

Most of the decrease came from administrative ranks, which means that women are not moving into management positions in the tech industry, or if they are, they’re not staying. Outside of the administrative ranks, women hold 24% of jobs in IT, less that the 25% as measured in 2002, which was previously considered the worst year for women in tech.

Catarina Fake at Misbehaving pointed to an article by Roy Mark on this report, who wrote:

In other words, there is a female brain drain occurring in technology. This isn’t about educating and training more young women in engineering and science, worthy goal that it is. It is about women who already have those degrees taking their skills to a climate that is more likely than tech to be respectful.

This is happening at a time when Bill Gates, Craig Barrett and John Chambers, et al., are trooping to Capitol Hill to decry the declining American IT talent pool. They want relaxed immigration rules. They want more tax dollars invested in science and technology. They want outsourcing.

Among those who have responded to these articles, Antonella Pavese writes about leaving IT years ago, not so much because of the ‘boys club behavior’ but because of the emphasis on speed over quality, and a disregard for the human aspects of computing:

What I found frustrating is not so much the exclusion from the boy’s club–although there is definitely some of that–but rather the excessive emphasis on speed rather than quality [...] on execution rather than strategy, and the disregard for the human and caring aspects of building applications (e.g., the quality of the user experience rather than the quality of the code).

Heather Solomon argues the issue isn’t with the industry so much as it is with society:

What I didn’t like about the article was the direct jab at the IT industry. I don’t think the problem is the industry – geeks aren’t bred to look down on women – but instead I think the issue is there are more men than women in the IT industry in the first place, thus increasing the ratio of male personality types. More men equal more chances to get personality types that look down on women. This isn’t limited to corporate culture, you know this exact thing happens with law enforcement, the fire department, the military, etc….

Dori Smith pointed to another article by SiliconValley. She also disagreed with Mark’s article, believing that rather than women leaving IT, IT is leaving women:

Lucrative? Fulfilling? Snicker. Sorry to tell you, folks, but the economy since 2001 has been losing jobs, not gaining them (or at least not gaining in sufficient quantity to match the number of people joining the workforce, which means net loss of employment). There just simply aren’t jobs that are equally lucrative. And for those of us who, like me, honestly enjoy programming, there aren’t any that are more fulfilling. So no, that’s not why we’re leaving.

Bonus link: Liz Lawley is going to the UK, to a conference on Integrating Research on Girls’ Choices of IT Careers. I’ll be cash money right now on the number of times — zero — someone will bring up the 800 lb. gorilla in the room: they’re encouraging girls to choose a career path that, by every metric I’ve seen, is decreasing in both number of jobs and wages for those jobs.

Dori’s opinion has real merit when you consider that the ITAA study also discussed the loss of IT jobs in this country. According to a Programmer’s Guild look at the study:

The study reveals a grim job market for U.S. IT workers. The total number of IT jobs in the U.S. has diminished 8% – from 4,882,000 in 2000 down to 4,469,000 in 2004. Over 100,000 new graduates entered the IT workforce each year during that period, and a few hundred thousand more entered on nonimmigrant visas, such as H-1B and L-1.

Women comprise 32.4% of the IT workforce, or 1,448,000 workers. Of these skilled female IT workers, 92,000, or 6.4%, are unemployed. Combined with the 124,000 unemployed skilled male IT workers, U.S. employers are failing to utilize nearly 250,000 skilled U.S. IT workers. Rather than propose solutions to the high unemployment current workers, ITAA calls for substantial increases in the number of women and minorities entering the profession.

The Programmer’s Guild has a rather unique take on the issue and a suggestion: the problem of unemployed tech is a direct result of the lack of imaginative and skilled employers in the US. Therefore, create a set of H1B visas that bring in skilled foreign employers, who then can only hire US employees.

So where are the women in technology? Why aren’t there more of us? I actually agree with all the opinions expressed on this issue: Dori, who says there are no jobs for women; Roy Mark, who says women are rejecting the male culture; and Antonella, who says the industry isn’t of sufficient interest to women. All of these are driven from one simple fact: when there is a need in the industry, women are weclome. When there isn’t a need, it’s Rosie the Riveter pack up your rivet gun and get out, all over again.

Oh geez, she’s doing the history thing again

If you’re not familiar with Rosie the Riveter, she was a character created in World War II to encourage a generation of women to work outside of the home in support of the war effort. The inspiration for the name originated from a song, Rosie the Riveter, sung by the Four Vagabonds (listen).

Norman Rockwell painted the first Rosie for the Post — a big, strong, woman having lunch, an American Flag behind her, her rivet gun at her feet. Later, another Rosie was created, this one just as strong, just as capable, but a little more in line with the 40′s idea of feminine beauty (to assure women they could work in factories, and still be feminine). In this poster, the words “We can do it!” are defiantly typed in bold letters across the top.

I thought of Rosie when I heard about the results of the ITAA report. It isn’t that women in technology today receive the same, overt resistence that the Rosies of sixty years ago did. After all, there is no one physically blocking doors so we can’t enter a room; no sugar poured down gas tanks so we crash when we fly. But something is off in the field, to keep it so imbalanced. Something wrong to cause such a significant decrease in the number of women, not to mention men of other races. Especially other races. If the issue with women is we’re turned off by tech because we want to spend time with our kids, than how do we explain the drop in black or hispanic men?

Since I can’t speak for either black or hispanic men, I’ll focus specifically on women. The last time we women shared a dramatic drop in employment with black men was at the end of WW II, so that’s as good a place as any to start digging for answers.

Yesterday’s Rosie

Last week I picked up a new book on the subject of women in WWII: Our Mother’s War, by Emily Yellin. The author decided to write the story when she came across letters written by her mother, who was a student at the start of the war, and eventually ended up with the Red Cross in the Pacific at war’s end.

Before the war, Yellin’s mother would have looked forward to meeting her future husband to-be in college, getting married, and most likely raising 1-3 kids. During the Depression, women weren’t encouraged to pursue a profession, particularly if you were middle or upper class. After all, there was hardly enough jobs to employee men who had families to care for, much less women who were fortunate enough to have men care for them. Unluckily, or perhaps luckily, war changed all that.

Yellin’s mother, Carol Lynn Heggen as she was known before her marriage, had several choices as to how she could contribute to the war effort, depending on her aptitude and experience. For instance, if she could fly a plane, she could have joined the WASP, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. Of course, she would have had to cover her own expenses to get to Delaware to sign up. And if she was killed on duty–an event that happened through deliberate sabatage as well as by accident–her friends and family would have to pay to have her body flown home. Her casket would not draped with the American flag during this trip because the WASPs were auxilliary and not real military.

Heggen could have joined the WAC (Women’s Army Corp, or sometimes WAAC–Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp), which served as a branch of the Army; or the WAVS, the Navy offshoot. Women in both served as nurses, repaired radios and cars, analyzed aerial photographs, forecasted the weather, and did a host of other critically needed work, freeing up men for the fight.

One such was Genevieve Chasm whose interview I especially enjoyed (as you’ll probably see why rather quickly):

I had a big mouth — in fact, that was my downfall. I didn’t care what the rank was. If I had been a man, they would have said, “Take that bum out, put him in combat, and make sure somebody shoots him the first day.”

When a service was opened for women, I just felt I should join, because the men were drafted, the men were enlisting, and I was single, and I just felt it was my duty. Now, I was 25 years old, very idealistic and patriotic, so I became part of the original group of enlisted women in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. When we arrived at Fort Ogelthorpe, Georgia, in true army fashion, the barracks weren’t complete. I mean, it was just chaotic.

Somehow or another we got through basic training. We had to get up very early in the morning, race around, and then we would be marched to the mess hall, and we’d just walk in the mess hall, get food on our tray, and we’d have to get out, they’d just throw us out.

Once the Mess Officer stopped and said (changes voice), ” I can get ten companies through my mess hall in a half an hour.” My big mouth — that was my downfall. So afterwards when they asked for questions I said to her, “I’ve been hungry ever since I’ve been in the army because all you think about is getting the people through, in and out, but you don’t think about feeding them!”

The last week before I was commissioned, we had to fill out a form, and one of the questions was: If you could have any job in the United States Army, what would it be? So I wrote, ” I would like to be a mess officer because I’ve been hungry as long as I’ve been in the army.”

Though not given guns and assigned to combat, the women were assigned around the world, and put in harm’s way as a consequence. In fact, many of the women had to undergo the same risks and hardships as the men, except that not only did women have to worry about the enemy, they also had to contend with the rumors back home. As Yellin noted:

While just about every woman who joined the Army did so with a sense of patriotism and commitment, a concerted slander campaign against Army women arose in 1943. Rumor had been circulating about the moral character of women who joined the WAAC during the first year of existence…Recruiting of WAACs was hindered. Most of the resistence to joining stemmed not from women themselves, it was found, but from negative reactions by the men in their lives to the idea of women joining the military…Most soldiers had little if any contact with WAACs, but they had strong opinions nonetheless. While many expressed some support of the idea of women in uniform, most were less than enthusiastic about their own family members joining.

One soldier wrote, “Join the WAVES or WAC and you are automatically a prostitute in my opinion.” Another wrote: “Any service woman–Wac, Wave, Spar, Nurse, Red Cross–she isn’t respected.” A soldier wrote his sister saying: “It’s no damn good, Sis, and I for one would be very unhappy if you joined them… Why can’t these Gals just stay home and be their own sweet little self, instead of being patriotic?”

Ultimately WAC leaders took the badmouthing in stride. One WAC officer commented, “Men have for centuries used slander to keep women out of public life.”

Yellin’s mother did take a position as part of the Red Cross. However, most women stayed at home and chose to contribute to the war effort by working in the factories, becoming a female defense industry worker, along with millions of her sisters. Women who came to be known over time as Rosie the Riveter.

Some facts about Rosie that might or might not surprise you

Contrary to popular assumption, women didn’t ‘enter’ the workforce with the beginning of World War II. The first women to go to work to support the war effort were those already employed, usually in low paying cleaning, waitressing, or secretarial jobs. These women started getting positions in the war industry as early as 1939, when the US began to gear up to support Britain, and in anticipation of our own inevitable entry.

As more men were drafted, the government and industry, still reluctant to go after middle class mothers, began a recruitment campaign geared at single women. By 1943, several million women were employed in positions traditionally held by men, but this was still not enough. Industries supplying the war machine and the Government devised a propaganda campaign to attract the only pool of labor left: middle class married women, with or without children–not an easy task, according to Yellin:

Recruiting housewives to war work was indeed a delicate prospect. Even women who might have wanted to work often had to contend with doubting husbands [...] And only 8 percent of all women had husbands in the service. The average wartime American family on the home front was still firmly composed of a housewife with a working husband.

These were the men who were called to task for their attitudes by the left-wing periodical The Nation, which published a revolutionary article entitled “America’s Pampered Husbands” in July, 1943:

Husbandly pressure on housewives not to enlist for the war-production front takes much subtler terms than an overt “I object.” Largely, it shapes up as men’s time hallowed, unspoken refusal to share in home responsibilities, an attitude that puts an intolerable double burden on the working wife….When household equipment needs replacement, when the children’s shoe size changes, when the toothpaste runs out, it is Mother not Father who scibbles memoranda on scraps of paper and squeezes in necessary shopping sometime, somewhere….If a woman can learn to run a drill press, why can’t a man learn how to run a washing machine?

If a woman can learn to run a drill press, why can’t a man learn how to run a washing machine? This sounds like Doofus Husband has been around a long, long time.

A key fact to remember from the war effort is that the majority of women who worked (11.5 million) were those who had worked in low paying jobs before the war, and who had access to better paying and more interesting jobs because of the war. They outnumbered the number of women (6.5 million) who had never worked before the war. WW II’s biggest impact was showing women that they could do better than cleaning toilets for 2.00 a week.

At the end of the war, then, many of these women were not so sanguine about giving up these jobs. In fact, over 80% of the women who held jobs wanted to keep them. The government knew this could happen and again waged a propaganda campaign to subtly remind the women of their “implicit” promise to leave the jobs once the men returned. This worked with many of the women who voluntarily left their jobs Those who did not leave willingly, though, were usually fired, as industries now re-tooled for peace time efforts and jobs were returned to the men who were guaranteed those jobs when they left.

(Women and non-whites that is. The saying of “last hired, first fired” was originally created in WWII to describe black women, who were the last hired and the first let go in any position.)

Some protest was made about the firings, including a march in Michigan of female industry workers. However, for the most part women didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’, and left the jobs quietly. The move made by some of the women to keep their jobs died out without the support of the majority of women at the time.

Keep that phrase, “rock the boat” handy in your mind: it figures in the discussion later on.

Economic Need

Most of the women who worked at the time needed to continue working–this in a society that overly emphasized women’s role as homemaker. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the more astute political wives, was to write an essay on women worker’s after the war, Woman’s Place after the War. In it, she walked a careful course between supporting women’s desires to remain in the workplace, and women’s traditional role. Throughout her essay was a message: whether women stayed in the workplace or not is based, more or less, on economic need:

“Will women want to keep their jobs after the war is over?” When I asked Miss Mary Anderson of the Bureau of Women in Industry, she told me it all boils down to economic necessity. Married women usually keep their jobs only when they have real need for money at home. This, of course, does not mean that women who take up some kind of work as a career will not stay in that work if they like it, whether they are married or single.

The first question that will be faced in the postwar period is simply to what extent jobs are available. The first obligation of government and business is to see that every man who is employable has a job, and that every woman who needs work has it. A woman does not need a job if she has a home and a family requiring her care and a member of the household is earning an adequate amount of money to maintain a decent standard of living [...] From my point of view, there is no justification whatsoever for labor leaders to oppose the employment of women at the present time wherever they are needed[...] An ever-growing number of young women in every walk of life are taking jobs as they finish school or college, but the main job of the average woman in our country still is to marry and have a home and children [...] As I said in the beginning, whether women remain in the labor market or not will be, as it always has been, mainly a question of economic necessity.

Economic need played an influential role on the acceptance of women in industry long before the War. As the production of goods became automated at the turn of the last century, women and children both were brought into factories in cities around the country to toil at backbreaking, mind numbing, and dangerous work–usually for 12 or more hours a day. The work was deemed acceptable for women because there was not enough men to feed the suddenly industralized cities.

However, with the increased automation, as well as unionization of the workforce, women were slowly but surely crowded out of some of the better paying industrial jobs, which were now, unaccountably, deemed to be men’s work. Again.

Returning to WWII, much is made of the fact that women joined the work force during World War II primarily for patriotic reasons. This is true, but many also did so for economic reasons– they had to support their families. Industries also had a financial motive for recruiting women: profits.

Millions, even billions, of dollars were up for grabs in an economy that was gearing up for war three years before Pearl Harbor. As the war machine grew, and the available pool of men decreased because of the draft, the leaders of industry turned their calculating eyes at the women left behind and joined with the government to recruit women to work.

It was a breathtakingly brilliant campaign, and a huge success. Over six million women were convinced not only to break out of cultural biases about “women’s work”, they felt they had to do so, as good patriots.

At the end of war, industry again looked to the men returning from war and knew that if a way back to gainful employment wasn’t made for them, unemployment could again reach the numbers that existed at the time of the Depression. A Depression, though good for some businesses, is not good for most and to be avoided at all costs.

Again, industry turned its calculating eyes on the women who had been recruited, and joined with the government in a new propaganda campaign geared at getting women back into the home, into turning back into good little wives again. When that didn’t work, they fired women workers, or decreased their pay or opportunities until they again returned to pre-war economic levels: just barely above poverty. Many times this was in full support of unions that had originally enrolled the women, because too many workers drove down wages, as noted in Roosevelt’s essay.

Fast Forward

Fast forward now to a time about 50 or so years ago–a decade after the War. At that time, America was at the height of the cold war scare, and a new war was being fought: a war for industrial and scientific supremacy against the communists. Though the people in this country fought the war on idealogical grounds, those in industry, and consequently, Government, did so on a purely economic basis: Communism was bad for business.

Students were encouraged to study science, engineering, and math. Even women were encouraged, as more and more positions opened up for those with a scientific background. In fact, by 1966, the daughters of Rosie the Riveter earned 42% of scientific degrees given in the US.

Now, fast forward again about 20 years, to a time when society is becoming increasingly dependent on computers, and the computers are becoming smaller, cheaper, and much more common. The demand for skilled computer help is such that computer engineers are considered almost demi-godlike in their ability and treated reverently by corporations who overlook the computer worker’s eccentricities in face of their overwhelming need.

Even the eccentricitiy of being a woman, as women obtained 36% of the computer science degrees given in 1985 (according to National Science Foundation, NSF, records).

I received my CS degree in 1987, but the country’s frantic pace to dominate science had abated in the late 70′s and 80′s, brought about, partly, by disillusionment and a growing distrust of government, though industry still continued its move to automation. The growth in computer science jobs still continued, but was beginning to slow, as more companies had reached their initial ‘ramp up’ into automation. Companies no longer had an urgent need for computer science workers and could afford to be pickier.

Still women and minorities continued to increase their percentages in engineering and computer science — a small yearly increase that was to peak, for some reason, in 1984.

This slowly declining need for computer science workers is reflected in a overall drop in CS degrees sought in 1990 and 1995: from 39,121 in 1985, to 27,695 in 1990 and 24, 769 in 1995. What was more significant, though, was the percentage of those degrees given out to women in that time: falling to 30% in 1990, and 28% in 1995. This was counter to women’s increased participation in other areas of science, including math. Still, even within an industry undergoing a slowdown, women could find work, though, women were typically not paid the same or given the same opportunities as men.

Fast forward, but just a little, to a sudden and unexpected explosion that occurred when a new thing called the “Web” appeared. Industry, both old and a newer, net-enabled, was caught with its pants down, badly in need of a class of worker it had been discouraging for about a decade, and desperately in need of people who could fuel this new economy.

Beginning in 1995 there was an dramatic upsurge in students seeking degrees in computer science, though a need for a degree was no longer necessary; all that was important is that you could speak ‘geek’. Workers overseas who had been trained in computer science were a premium, and no one thought anything of bringing over as many as possible. It was only later was it noted that most of the people brought over to the country were men.

Many of the women who entered the internet-related workforce did so directly, encouraged by Industry, and not through getting a CS degree — causing all sorts of havoc in NSF charts and statistics. After all, we were needed now, not in four years or six or eight. We moved into positions of responsibility and management, and shared our duties with men who seemed to smile on us with approval. Perhaps not equally, but equitably.

(At the time, though, women getting computer science degrees continued to drop–an indicator that could account for the sudden drop of women in IT administrative positions in the last several years.)

Like our work mates, we began to attend technical conferences, and could pick and choose which jobs we wanted. We had money, and we presumed we had respect, and felt secure enough to form organizations and began to encourage younger women to ‘consider getting a degree in computer science’.

We were Cinderella, moving uptown from the ashes.

Then 2000 happened, and an industry based more on wishful thinking than sound economics smashed to the ground with a resounding thud that was reminiscent of the Depression, but with fewer soup kitchens.

Building a Competition Pressure-Cooker

In less than a year, jobs lost in the high tech industry numbered in the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, globally. Combined with an increasing use of offshore labor and the new culture this has spawned, each year finds this country facing the fact that there are fewer jobs, but more workers. In fact, any new computer science major moving into the field now, does so at the cost of displacing an existing worker.

It is a highly competitive environment, with every job having several applicants. This competition is made more so by companies such as Microsoft pushing for increased levels of H1B visas, not just because it wants to hire more workers from outside of the US, keeping the competitive level for jobs at a high pitch; but also because India has held out a carrot to American industry: increase the number of H1B visas given out by your country, and we’ll open up the market for manufacturing and other opportunties in this country. After China, there is no more lucrative new market now for a company like Microsoft than India.

During this time, the number of women getting CS degrees continued to drop, as unemployment for women in CS rose above the national average, and women in the industry began to move over to other careers. Some believe women are leaving the field because of a lack of natural ability. If this is so, this aptitude-related effect would have shown from the very beginning. Others say, including the NSF, that women’s lack of participation in the tech industry is because women are still the primary care givers. If this is true, this drop in participation would manifest in other careers, and we’re not seeing this in the statistics.

I think that much of it has to do with artificially inflated competition in IT. People like Bill Gates see competition as a way of honing a razor sharp aggressiveness in employees–keeping us always a little bit worried about our jobs, and more than a little bit hungry, will lead us to perform at our peak. Considering Gates early exposure and interest in poker, and his obsession with winning, it’s not surprising that Gates would equate competition with quality.

Well, that’s just bullshit.

This essay was inspired in no part by a discussion that occurred at Dori Smith’s weblog, when she made the statement about women not being able to find work (linked earlier). In her comments, Robert Scoble said:

Hmmm, at the same time you say the jobs are disappearing I was just talking with a key manager over on MSN Search and he says he is having trouble finding qualified developers in the United States.

I also have had the same feedback from the developer division, the IE group, and quite a few others.

And if you think this is a Microsoft thing, you should check with HR people at Google, Yahoo, Cisco, and other Silicon Valley companies. They are all having trouble finding great developers.

I was angry and blasted Scoble’s comment, anger inspired in no small part by the implication that corporations such as Microsoft are just begging for people, when most of us know (and as I discussed earlier), this isn’t true. Here is a fact, technology unemployment in this country exceeds overall unemployment. And women in technology have an unemployment rate higher than the men.

If Mr. Gates is good at poker, surely he has enough math to understand this.

Though competition may lead to a perceived increase in profits (something I think we could debate, but best left for another writing), it doesn’t lead to diversification. In fact, competition is diametrically opposed to diversification, and it has nothing to do with quality, and everything to do with preserving the status quo.

What we do

When jobs are plentiful, diversification within the job pool is not seen as a threat. In fact, diversification can be seen as a way of extending one’s power over a larger base of people. Book companies see more people buying books, conference organizers hope for more butts in seats, industries have less stressed and healthier, happier workers. However, when jobs are threatened, any change in the status quo will be seen as a risk–even those in an industry populated by people who consider themselves free of bias.

It is a natural inclination to want to pull in, like the turtle into its shell, when threatened. Except in the tech industry, this ‘pulling in’ materializes as a resistence to difference. Though we in tech pride ourselves on our embrace of new technology, exposure to different cultures in our travel, and even liberal politics, we can be very conservative, socially. We tend, when stressed as a group, to bond with those who we see as providing a protective shell around us. By this I mean those who are most familiar, and who can help us, and we can help in turn. In other words: white male geeks bond with other white male geeks.

This is really no different than what happened during World War II: a time of great insecurity, when men felt threatened not only on the battlefront, but also back home. Again, as deplorable as it was at the time, it was no surprise that rumors persisted about women who joined the WAC and their dubious virtues. After all, if women proved themselves competent in a completely male occupation such as soldiering men knew–they weren’t stupid after all–that they could be facing massive changes when they returned home, even if we won the war.

Even as men came home and embraced modernization in technology and science, they also equally embraced conservative values in work, home, and religion. It was during this time, following the dangers of WWII and coping with the new fears of communisim and atomic war, that this country established some of its more obvious ties to Christianity. Corporate loyalty was encouraged, as was the display of material wealth.

And the ultimate in femininity was an smash-up between Marilyn Monroe and June Cleaver.

Human behavior is human behavior, and WWII really wasn’t that long ago. It’s not surprising, then, that today’s IT field seems to be littered with photos of white guys meeting other (or the same) white guys at event after event. Not surprising, even understandable, though not necessarily something to be encouraged.

As for women and our behaviors to each other, then and now, well, that’s more complicated.

Say, isn’t a cleaver a kitchen knife?

At the time when World War II ended, women did fight to continue their positions, and some even succeeded, albeit at reduced wages. However, if women had banded together as a group and insisted on full rights, as well as access to equal opportunity, much of today’s entrenched infrastructure may not have had a chance to form and today’s women would not be faced with as difficult a battle.

Women didn’t, though, and the reasons why have plagued me for years, because unlike the wartime experiences, the thoughts of the women in World War II after the war are rarely transcribed. It wasn’t until I finished Yellin’s book, specifically the Epilog, that I began to better understand why women quietly went home.

Yellin wrote about her expectations when she started the book; about how she wasn’t going to make it seem that women performed equally with men; that women’s sacrifices could not hope to meet those of men.

I was aware, as were most of the women with whom I talked or about whom I read, that I should be careful never to claim that the women’s part during the war was significant as the men’s. Of course, no one objected to the women being given their due. But it usually seemed like an afterthought. Once all the men’s sacrifices were acknowledged, then we as a country could afford to give women’s role in World War II a tip of the hat as well.

Later, the author heard her mother giving a speech about women’s rights and telling a story about a grandmother who one day saved her home from a prairie fire when her husband was away. She and a neighbor, whose husband was also away from home, created a cross-fire that burned the available fuel before the fire reached it.

The act wasn’t of historical significance. Yellin’s ancestor wasn’t defending the home from indians, or holding off the British or any number of other enemies — bit it did save the home. This gave the author an epiphany of sorts.

Through my mother, and all the women in this book, I came to see that the small things, the less dramatic changes in the world, were sometimes the most revolutionary. And often those were the kinds of changes women effected.

But it is in the big, noisy events that we are seen.

A few years back, Clay Shirky held a invite-only meeting in New York, and a person who attended posted photos. As we looked at them, it became obvious, glaring really, that not only were all the attendees white, all but a few were men.

We pointed this out and it started a conversation that ended up pulling in Clay’s good friend, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Publishing. We began to look at other conferences and events in technology and saw the same thing repeated: participation consiting primarily of men, who were primarily white. When questioned, the men would bring up the lack of women interested in (fill in the blank); or how there are no women who work with (fill in the blank); or how the event’s organizers are mostly interested in quality rather than diversity.

Yet whenever we (women and men both) would question the assumption that diversity degrades equality, there would usually be one or more women who would come along an re-assure the men being challenged that they, for one, are quite content with how things are. They are not those type of women, I remember reading in one weblog.

Not long ago, Michael Bernstein sent me the link to the story in Haaretz (no longer working, but the story is here). The government of Israel had pulled together a conference of scientists in the country “…as a national forum for examining Israel’s science policy”. Only thing is, out of thirty invited speakers, there weren’t any women. In fact the only woman who participated, did so as part of a panel.

As a response, several scientists actually decided to boycott the event. Several graduate students also showed up at the event to demonstrate, but the key impact was the boycott.

Compare this with our own reactions to events here in the States. For every one person who questions the criteria used to select speakers or invite guests, there are several who hasten to point out that ‘quality’ is what matters — with an implication that women don’t have the ‘quality’ to hack it. More, rather than protest such obvious inequities, men and women, both, will defend the conference organizers as being “…fair and unbiased”.

As for an organized boycott, these are unheard of in technology in the US.

We’re still not rocking the boat. We’re still the prairie pioneer who stops a fire and births a baby in the next moment, content with out role and our differences, and our quiet way of bringing about change. We’re demure in describing our accomplishments, and deprecating to a fault. We have never, as Yellin discovered, tried to write our place in history. We have never competed with men for recognition.

We have rarely competed with men, period.

Return to 2005 and an IT industry that not only celebrates competition, many of the industry leaders artificially induce competition as a means of obtaining ‘quality’. What are women to do in an environment such as this?

Some would say that we need to make women more competitive, but I don’t think that’s the answer because I don’t think we’re asking the right question. The real question is: do we women want to compete more, or do we want to get men to compete less?

I hate poker

I talked with an editor not long ago about doing a new book. I had a couple of ideas and the company was interested, but first they wanted to know: what kind of audience could I bring with me. I remember being taken back by the question. With a book proposal, it’s not uncommon that you need to define what’s your target audience, but this question was more what kind of pre-existing audience did I have.

I think I babbled out some numbers on previous books, and people who visit my weblog. It was one of those very few times when I wished I was an A-Lister, so I could point to the Technorati 100 and guarantee myself a book. But my numbers, though good, weren’t good enough. It was my first real taste of today’s new computer book industry, where it doesn’t matter what you write or even how you write it: all that matters is how big is your audience.

Three or four years ago or so, weblogging didn’t seem to be as competitive. Oh, some folks would brandish their web site hit count, and demand we bend down and kiss the dusty hems of their royal robes. But for the most part, we seemed to be a mish-mash of people, some who had more readers than others.

I’m not sure when we started counting links. I think it might have been when we started obsessing about Google page rank. Well, Google in general. About that time, if I remember correctly, sites like Blogdex and Daypop began to count links to stories and post the top linked stories of the day. Getting Slashdotted (or /. to use popular parlance) was a biggie, though I don’t think anyone has ever explained to me the value of being /.

Then other sites came along, like the Ecosystem and more recently Technorati and Bloglines, which maintain a running total of aggregated links, though the technology of these sites has problems with scale much of the time. These sites started posting ‘top lists’, and that was all she wrote, and now this environment is fiercly competitive. About like the technology industry itself, which spawned these lists, so I guess the result isn’t surprising.

For good or ill, links in this environment mean power.

Where are the Women

You can’t talk about Technorati without mentioning its influence on the perception that women in weblogging are invisible. Five minutes after the first Technorati 100 list was published the question was asked: where are the women? Asked, and asked, and asked. And with each asking, women have gotten angrier because by all indications, women make up about 50% of weblogging.

Angry enough that last winter discussion began about having a conference by and for women about women in weblogging and BlogHer was born. And the very first session of BlogHer is titled, BlogHer Debate: Does the current link-based power structure matter to you?

Good question. Returning to Yellin’s epiphany, she would most likely advocate women pulling out of the competitive environment. It is, after all, a product of male behavior, and women have too long played by rules men have set.

At the same time, though, Yellin also mentioned about women not having a chance to write ourselves into history. As we all know, history is written by the winners, and if women want to write ourselves into history, this means we must both compete and win.

It’s a good debate topic. It’s just unfortunate that the emphasis on the debate is focused at journalist/political webloggers. But like calling to like isn’t just a perogative of males: women also group based on affinity, and sometimes that can work for us, and sometimes, it can work against us.

For all of BlogHer’s open sessions and do it yourself topics, this conference is focused primarily around a journalist core. Does this conference, then, answer the questions for all women bloggers? Or just those who see themselves as journalists and political pundits?

We Few, We Proud, We Techie Women

About the same time that links became king was when I wrote the note on Clay Shirky’s New York meeting. I remember that it generated a lot of links and a lot of discussion and it got people to sit up and take notice. Enough so that those who organized conferences (especially tech ones since the tech industry is so tightly tied into weblogging now) and invite-only events began to be aware that if the speaker list was too white or too male, chances are the event would be challenged.

That was then, this is now. Now I imagine that conference organizers wouldn’t have any hesitation in putting together a male-only invite list to a technical event because few people, including women, will challenge these events. Few people, especially women, as Kevin Drum’s or Kos’ latest link-inducing gaffe will generate more interest among activist women webloggers than a males-only invite list to a tech summit.

It’s not unusual, though, for people to focus on their own area of interest, and respond accordingly. After all, why should a woman who isn’t a tech respond to a story about women technologists? I don’t really keep up with what’s happening with women lawyers, or teachers, or librarians–other than those whose weblogs I read.

I guess that other than this is my area of interest and my essay and so therefore I see the issue as more global, a key difference, to me, is that technology and weblogging have become so tightly intertwined; even more so than journalism and weblogging. After all, isn’t the focus of BlogHer’s first session on the technology, and its impacts? If the number of women in technology has declined in the last eight years, about the same length of time that weblogging has been around, what does this say for the ability for this environment to empower women and make change in society as a whole?

Kind of says that it sucks, to be blunt. In fact, rather than empower women, is weblogging as it is now practiced specifically tuned into empowering the same power infrastructure as exists outside of weblogging? For all that we pride ourselves on challenging the status quo, is the very nature of our challenge preserving it?

Consider the sponsors of the BlogHer event. Most are technical companies. Yet of these companies only a few have employed women engineers, and among those that have, women make up 20% or less of the total.

Marc Canter talks about buying a ticket for him and his wife yet Marc’s own Broadband Mechanics employs no women technologists. Six Apart? As far as I know, it also doesn’t employ any women engineers, though many of the support staff are women. SocialText has one woman, a VP of Marketing.

Let’s look more closely at Technorati, since it’s so heavily involved with the issue of linking. Technorati employs 27 people from the photos at its staff page. Of these, two are women, and neither is a technologist. Not only is the company predominately male, it’s also predominately white. In fact, before they removed the photo, the only black face that showed among the pictures was the company dog.

Yet does sponsorship of BlogHer give each of these organizations a ‘get out of trouble with women free’ card? Hard to say.

And of the men who we’ve reached out to, who have written glowing things about how great this conference is gong to be: how many have expressed their oh so sincere regrets about not attending? Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor, Glenn Reynolds, David Weinberger, Robert Scoble, to name a few.

Turtles all the way down

The turtles will never willingly relinquish power.

If we could leverage the will of all women, in weblogging and out, we would have power and we could effect such change. Yet even within this digitally connected band of sisters, we are grouped by interest, which means we can’t leverage the power of all women, or even most of the women on any specific event. Aside from a few global issues, each of us has a different trigger when it comes to mobilization. In this, we’re no different than men, except men have one thing that women don’t necessarily have: unity within interest.

In World War II, among the Rosies, there were many who wanted to continue to work, but most didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’, and the few that were willing, made little impact. And so our struggle continued for decades longer than need be because in fateful moment when we could have made such as resounding statement, we took off our work gloves and put on a house dress and quietly returned to the roles society had dictated for us.

As for women in technology, there are those who believe we should shout out when we see disparity, but there are equally as many who believe that doing so will ‘rock the boat’, and this will ‘push’ away the menfolk. After all, no one likes a loud, abbrasive feminist, or a bitch that has no sense of humor. No one likes an angry woman.

But anger is anger, regardless of the sex of the person who is angry. Anger is not nobled by man nor enfeebled by woman. Anger just is.

I’m not even sure who is in the right: those who say compete, and those who say don’t; those who get angry, and those who don’t. All I know is that I’m getting tired of looking at white guys in pictures.

*The study’s findings for non-whites is even worse than for women, particularly for Hispanics.

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47 Responses to When we are Needed

  1. Shelley: “Well, that’s just bullshit.”

    Agreed. Don’t get me wrong… I think competition is vital. But folks should be competing to make better widgets, not to rack up Workaholic Badass Points.

    I don’t foresee things changing in the tech industry, though. We exist in an environment fueled by hype and Next Big Thingism, an environment that doesn’t reward quiet creativity, diligent refinement, etc. If that kind of thing is driving women away, I’m afraid the exodus isn’t gonna end anytime soon.

  2. Yule Heibel says:

    Great essay, Shelley — and loads to think about…

    Some half-formed responses so far (sorry, a bit long perhaps, but you’ve given me so much to think about, and much of it is in relation to other stuff I’ve been reading…):

    The whole competition question is really complex. I think Roger has a point when he says that competition should be about making better widgets, vs. status/ points/ whatever. Aren’t we at a point, though, where it’s less and less about producing “widgets” and more about managing images, conversations, products, politics, and so on? Competition and insecurity-through-psychic-damage seem to go hand in hand here.

    Your historical perspective on women in the workforce in WWII is excellent, and we should probably expand it to think about the economic and historical global factors putting pressure on workers today. John Ralston Saul, who argues that globalism is collapsing around our ears, wrote that globalism was/ is more about management, not production. He also argued that it restructured our perception of “the public good” in relation to competition defined as slick management.

    Maybe John Ralston Saul is right, that globalism is/ was all about management, not production, and that it’s a failure, to boot. He wrote that globalism was instrumental in restructuring “the public good” in relation to competition:

    One comic sign of the coming era was the creation, in 1971, in a Swiss mountain village called Davos, of a club for European corporate leaders. There they could examine civilisation through the prism of business. Soon businessmen were coming from around the world. Then government leaders and academics flooded in, looking for investors. Business leaders, politicians and academics alike seemed to accept without question the core tenet of Davos: that the public good should be treated as a secondary outcome of trade and competition and self-interest. (…)
    [By 1975:] Never before had the great nations so explicitly and single-mindedly organised their core relationship around naked, commercial self-interest, without the positive and negative counterweights of social standards, human rights, political systems, dynasties, formal religions and, at the negative extreme, supposed racial destinies.
    [see The End of Globalism]

    Saul goes on to explain that with globalism, form (or methodology) takes precedence over content. The latter actually becomes irrelevant. If that’s true, then it goes some way to explain feelings of disaffection among workers.

    But perhaps most to the point for this discussion, Saul points out that globalism was supposed to be such a treat economically, and yet what happened was nearly the opposite:

    Why did an unprecedented increase in money supply translate into a dearth of money for public services? And why did this growth in new moneys enrich mainly those who already had money? Why did it lead to a growth in the rich-versus-poor dichotomy and a squeezing of the middle class? Why did many privatisations of public utilities neither improve services nor lower costs for consumers but instead guarantee revenues to the new owners while leading to a collapse in infrastructure investment?

    People noticed that the financial value of the great breakthroughs in female employment had somehow been inflated away. Abruptly, a middle class family required two incomes. They noticed that in a mere 25 years CEO salaries in the US had gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times. Elsewhere the numbers were similar.

    And the savings from the cuts in civil servants were more than offset by the cost of new lobbyists and consultants. [from The End of Globalism]

    Looking at the issues you raise through this particular prism, I think the problem is political and has to be addressed at the political level. There’s no point in trying to compete in the system if the system is so badly messed up (“…in a mere 25 years CEO salaries in the US had gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times”…). At the same time, there’s nothing to be gained by packing it up and just going home, either. But the issue is definitely embedded in a larger political context, which might help explain the position of women who rush in to defend the status quo, who say that “oh no we’re not one of those (bad) feminists,” etc. They’re afraid of the larger political malaise.

    I just finished reading a terrific book by Allan Levine, The Devil in Babylon (subtitled Fear of Progress and the Birth of Modern Life), and his analyses of women’s issues is really fascinating. Issues like birth control (access to), abortion, being in the workforce, and so on, were usually part of larger debates around immigration — letting non-northern Europeans into North America (that is, people from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia) — and how the mass influx of immigrants from non-northern Europe was seen as threatening to the “purity” of the race in N.America. Women were bound into these debates when they tried being social reformers, sometimes getting themselves locked into the eugenicists’ camp, sometimes the socially progressives’ camp. I can’t help but think of all this talk of outsourcing (to all those “brown” countries) as somehow reverberating with the anxieties expressed in Canada and the USA in other periods in the 20th century, anxieties over who is entitled to a job, and who will take a job away from a white male. Will it be a woman, or a non-northern European (i.e., Jewish, Italian, Asian, etc.) male? Will the women “make trouble” (“rock the boat”) in this climate that “threatens” the white status quo, or will they support “their” men? Will the women fight against immigration and align with “purity of race,” etc., or will they see the larger picture and argue for progressive social reform? Will benevolent outsourcing by The Great White Male assimilate the (non-white) masses thronging once again at the country’s economic gate? Will women just have to step back yet again, to placate the status quo? Déja vu.

    You raise a ton of issues, Shelley, it’s a really thought-provoking essay. Thank you.

  3. Tim says:

    Wow. It is going to take me a while to digest all this, and think of something intelligent to say, if I decide to say anything at all. For now, I just want to thank you for writing the essay. It is so easy for our society to make women invisible, in so many ways.

    Tim “happily working for a (woman) VP of engineering”

  4. Phil says:

    The real question is: do we women want to compete more, or do we want to get men to compete less?

    Spot on. It also reminds me of an unintentionally hilarious quote I blogged about elsewhere -

    “In an era when extremists shout loudly, it is time for men and women of good will to shout even louder.”

    You could say that the real question is whether we want women to shout even louder, or men to just quieten down a bit once in a while.

  5. Phil says:

    Forgot to mention – that was a great post. Apart from anything else, it puts the whole “free choice is fair, quotas are discriminatory” line in a much broader context. There are some powerful interests at work out there, and you’re either pushing against them or pushing with them.

  6. It’s an old debate, should reforming the system seek to keep the basic structure, but expand who can contend for the top slots, or to change the structure itself? Sometimes in feminism this is called “equity” feminism (men and women can both be rulers and serfs) versus “gender” feminism (change the very roles of rulers and serfs). But note:

    ” … except men have one thing that women don’t necessarily have:
    unity within interest.”

    Remember: The rulers of the world are overwhelmingly white men; very few white men are rulers of the world. There’s no unity within 50% of the population that ranges from the billionaires to the homeless.

    “Getting Slashdotted (or /. to use popular parlance) was a biggie, though I don’t think anyone has ever explained to me the value of being /.”

    Oh, I can explain that, very well – ATTENTION. Several *hundred thousand* people hear the article, around *ten thousand* see the material. Some people don’t care. But some people do.

  7. Shelley says:

    I hope I didn’t ramble too much on this. The problem with longer writings in a weblog is it’s difficult to see it in it’s entirety.

    And of course, being so large, most of the people who might have benefited reading it won’t, because it won’t fit in an RSS aggregator.

    I do agree with you Roger about competition being about quality of product, not how much can a corporation squeeze out of its employees.

    Yule, that is a fascinating quote about Davos. I can understand why globalization seems like the only way to go in the future — one world, shared resources. But globalization, as you say, is now being used to continuously ferry work to poorer countries until they reach a level of affluence, and then yank the work away and give to yet another poor country. It is the best interest of business to have all the people in the world about two levels above poverty.

    Seth, I’ve been slashdotted twice, and it really didn’t benefit me. I received attention for a couple of days. But then the slashdotters had moved on to the next topic–out of sight, out of mind. Having a 100,000 pairs of eyes looking at my site, does no good if they don’t really _look_ at my site.

  8. Monjo says:

    Actually the so-called “men of power” historically create rules that punish men. All the employment laws, abortion laws, sexuality laws, etc laws favour WOMEN. It benefits the men in power to kick ordinary men and keep men down FAR MORE than it does to hinder women.

    Of course, women (feminists) have campaigned for many laws that DO NOT HELP women. This initially seems ironic, until one realises that power corrupts. Or that the goal for many is not to make the lives of the majority better ONLY the empowered minority.

    The number of women in Computing Science is neither a major surprise. Though my reasoning may sound sexist. A lot of computing skill in mathematical (logical). It is said there are ONLY TWO areas of human achievement where there are geniuses: Maths and Music.
    When you consider the skills (intellectual and personality) required to excel in programming it comes as little surprise that a majority are men. This disparity becomes greater when the number of CS needed reduces – the more CS there are, the less is the impact of genius and male-bias personality traits.

    Shelley: I admittedly skimmed your article, but it isn’t too long and is pretty coherent. I don’t know if it wont fit into RSS – I’ve seen some long articles in RSS.

    I am not convinced that a competitive society favours men – it only favours SUCCESSFUL men (who then get more sex/sexual partners, and presumably children). Women’s sexual success is not really affected by financial success.
    Also I am not convinced of the relevance of society 60 years ago to today. Should black people be afforded better rights because of the slave trade 150 years ago? What matters is giving people EQUAL OPPORTUNITY now, today. It seems to me this largely exists.
    From where I sit, I see girls outperform boys at GCSE, A Level, it it 55:45 favouring women at university. Women are less likely to be unemployed in their post-Uni days, women typically buy houses at a younger age then men, and in most regards are far better off.

    The fact men have a MEAN AVERAGE of better income than women is just the elite one per cent AND the effect of women CHOOSING to have a family. Yes CHOOSING – remember women can abort at will. (Though that saddens me and there’s no point me pretending that abortion is good). Obviously, with so many women choosing to leave employment for a long period, plus many employers hesitant to employ women of child-bearing age – companies can go bankrupt if they had a spate of employees get pregnant, especially under the much tougher EU laws. This may also explain why women struggle to get jobs at small firms (27 staff is not a lot, it could not cope with 5 ppl off for 6 months to a year for maternity), which most technology start-ups are.

    I am not sure the solution. As I say EQUAL opportunity is the important thing. And I think we sort-of have that. What we need now is for realism and not to worry about EQUAL OUTCOME! Whilst I think women have equal opportunity and exceed men in most areas, women are still less employable beyond a certain point… this mostly stems from “women’s rights” which exceeds equal rights. (Mostly employers worried about maternity pay/leave and sexual harassment suits, both proven to make women poorer). Scrap these unfair rights, make employment law equal and fair and women will be on a level playing-field and generally will probably out-compete men… but with CS it may be an exception. Like it or lump it we can’t get around genetics. One proposal has been to give women incentives to do sciences, maths, and so forth – I don’t like that either. I hate all forms of discrimination, especially positive – as a white, middle-class, guy when it comes to being rejected I am top of the tree, as everyone takes on blacks, Asians, women, disabled-people etc to fulfil quotas and appear to be an “equal opportunities” employer. It could be I am just stupid and incompetent…

    Globalisation in the context of work should make everyone richer. The globalisation I don’t like is the Americanisation of world cultures. Globalisation should be good for women (and the ordinary man) and moving jobs from one area to the next has never made people poorer. Normally it is a sign of increasing wealth Shelley. You should look at labour distribution in the UK over the past 250 years and compare it to when the agricultural and industrial revolution happened.
    As one industry moves, new ones are created.

  9. Monjo: “Like it or lump it we can?t get around genetics.”

    I have a saying – every time these sorts of discussions come up, someone illustrates *exactly* why race/gender/etc. discrimination cannot be discounted. You just have to scratch the surface beyond the careful phrasing of much (but not all!) of the professional punditariat, and the aspect is manifestly obvious. Forgive me if I do not devote the space to reposting Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure Of Man”.

    Shelley: “slashdotted twice, and it really didn’t benefit me.”

    This connects to what I call the *multi*factor model of A-list’ery. There are multiple factors, attention AND function. An attention-spike BY ITSELF, will not lead to success, if you don’t otherwise fill a slot. But this is often misleadingly taken to mean that attention is useless.

    It’s like “funding” and a “business model”. If you don’t have a good “business model”, infusions of venture capital funding will not make your company successful. Funding won’t turn a bad business model into a good one. But inversely, a good business model rarely will succeed without funding.

  10. mobile jones says:

    Shelly, how cow! I don’t visit you for a few days, and now I feel like I’m a month behind. There is so much here to consider and absorb that it will surely take a few more visits before I can comment on more than one aspect.

    I agree that BlogHer has a journalistic core. It’s a brave endeavor on a very aggressive schedule, so one would expect this inaugural effort to be pulled together with a degree of trust required. Trust is easier with those you know or have experience with. It’s very similar to the early teams of startup companies where founders are generally and preferably like-minded and experienced in working together. It’s desirable to reduce risk. Human nature dictates that when we reach out over a ledge we want the hand of someone we know and trust to hang onto lest that hand let us go and we tumble into the abyss.

    I find the do-it-yourself idea from the BlogHer team inspired. It holds out the opportunity for anyone willing to do the work and willing to stand up with their voice a chance to be heard. The opportunity to attend this conference and be exposed to voices and perspectives that I’m unfamiliar with is as tantalizing as any culinary adventure.

    The reason that your list of A-listers aren’t showing up for BlogHer is because they are self promoters. They are masters of it. That’s an observation not a criticism. There is no value in listening to others when you’re goal is to be “the expert.” It is a weakness in their longevity even if they don’t yet see it. There’s no need to explain to them that experts like companies loose relevance when they don’t listen to the world around them. They wake up one day, and wonder, “Who moved my Cheese?” These guys prefer the big fish in a small pond philosophy to the not-so-big fish in a big pond. If they aren’t the stars, they don’t play. Predictable isn’t it?

    I believe that the BlogHer team as done their best to be inclusive of many voices, and to listen to the desires and criticisms of their efforts. They have taken steps to make participation available to those who can not attend by providing live bloggers in multiple languages, encouraging satellite meetings to coincide with the conference, building a community site that will sustain exchange beyond the event and a final session which engages the participants in setting goals.

    You contribution to the BlogHer effort was desired, and I put some effort into doing my part to help that happen. But I guess, you dismiss or trivialize my efforts, because I’m not an adviser or someone that you deem powerful enough to be considered. That’s unfortunate. The BlogHer team has shown me more respect than you have, but I don’t hold it against you. I still think you could contribute to BlogHer if you would. Your awareness is my goal.

    I’m not going to prejudge the results of BlogHer. There are lots of voices from tech, IT, politics, business, and even journalism that I choose to go and interact with, and hear from. Not unlike entrepreneurs, those creating a conversation, product or company will make mistakes. Success is learning from those mistakes, and trying a thousand things before you find the few that work. Those are the qualities I’ve seen from my interactions with the core team of BlogHer.

    Can you demonstrate the unity that you say the boys have? I would really like to see that be so.

  11. Shelley says:

    “You contribution to the BlogHer effort was desired, and I put some effort into doing my part to help that happen. But I guess, you dismiss or trivialize my efforts, because I’m not an adviser or someone that you deem powerful enough to be considered. That’s unfortunate. The BlogHer team has shown me more respect than you have, but I don’t hold it against you. I still think you could contribute to BlogHer if you would. Your awareness is my goal.”

    Mobile, you don’t know me very well if you thought this comment would have any weight with me.

  12. mobile jones says:

    I don’t claim to know you very well, Shelly. Nor do I think you will ever know me. So what?

  13. Ravi Mohan says:

    First I am not a white man though I *am* a man :-)

    I believe superiority *in programming* has nothing to do with the sex o rrace of the person concerned.
    Everyone has access to the same sdks , the same paradigms, the same languages, the same algorithms .
    Everyone is “born equal” in programimng.

    Having said that, i do believe quotas *are* discriminatory . Instead of focussing on whther the writer of code is a man or woman , white , black or brown , perhaps we should just look at the quality of the code itself.

    Where women are being actively discriminated against (and discrimnation does not equal not giving an automatic pass to the highest levels of industry) I am sympathetic but i have no sympathy with people claiming that just because a conference panel consists of white men, it is discriminatory .

    I am Indian by nationality(yes one of those evil people who “take jobs away” from the USA and i notice that not many Indians dominate either the blogosphere, or the ranks of “tech gurudom”, or the ranks of conference speakers. Does this mean that Indians are discriminated against and should seek a quota ?

    Not at all!! It just means that if an Indian wants to become a guru/get invited to conferences, be prominent in the blogosphere etc, then he should just shut up and work harder at it and don’t whine about “i am being discriminated against because I am black/Indian/feminine/whatever” .

    I enjoy Shelley’s writing not because she is a woman who writes well , but because she writes well period .Good writing is good writing, whether the person at the keyboard, is man, woman or martian.
    So is Good Programming .

    Quotas ARE discriminatory . When i hire for my company i want the best ,period. I don’t care if they are similair to me(say,Indian men) or different (say,White women) . Skin color ,sex and nationality have nothing to do with the quality of one’s work.

    I will be quit the industry before i ever hire to fill a quota , to end up with a politically correct ,”balanced” representation.

    If that is politically incorrect, then so be it . I have seen many fine companies try to “promote diversity” and end up encouraging substandard (as measured by quality of work/code etc)people just because of their chromosomes or skin color.

    Do i believe in the right of women to create a conference(blogher) to focus on”women in bloggiing” ? certainly .Will I attend it ? Never. neither would I attend a “men in blogging” or “whites in blogging” conference .

    Good blogging is good blogging. If someone were to create a conference on *good* blogging I would be first in line. I have no time for either discrimnation *or* political correctness.


  14. Beautifully written essay, Shelley.

    As one of the very few prominent and visible women in our field, I have the opportunity to directly ask the people that ask me to speak at conferences and participate in events why they choose fewer women. The answer is consistently: “Well we asked so and so and she said no.”

    So as much relevance as there is in needing to fix the underlying social issues in getting women to IT in the first place, there’s another concern here too. Women have to take responsibility and STEP UP. The more women that are visible, the stronger and more positive a message we send to young girls world over that they can achieve great things.

  15. dave rogers says:

    Ravi makes Shelley’s point by utterly missing it; and rhetorically placing his hands over his balls, defending himself against emasculation by “quotas,” something Shelley never mentions once, let alone advocates.

    Ravi’s a guy who “believes” in equality, but who can’t get past his own cultural/gender filters to even acknowledge inequality.

  16. Ravi Mohan says:

    I am sorry you think I was attacking Shelley .I agree with most of what she says and her historical analysis is brilliant . I do disagree with her that there is “discrimination” against women in the tech industry . I do not have to agree with everything a person says in order to respect her .

    She said
    “A few years back, Clay Shirky held a invite-only meeting in New York, and a person who attended posted photos. As we looked at them, it became obvious, glaring really, that not only were all the attendees white, all but a few were men.”

    In my opinion judging “dicrimination” by looking at such photos and making a mathematical analysis of the frequency of occurence of race and gender characterisitics is wrong and dangerous .

    I do not think there is anything particularly wrong in this lack of politically correct ditributions of people at a conference. It just means , in my opinion, that women and other “minorities” (note the quotes) who think they ought to be represented should work harder at making an impact on the technical scene.

    As *I* see it , software is a culture that thrives on respect which is given based on your contribution. A woman who is worth respecting for her contributions is Mary Poppendieck . So is Rebecca Parsons . For that matter, so is Shelley .My point is that the reasons for respecting them and/or inviting them to conferences have nothing to do with their gender .

    Yes Shelley did not advocate quotas .I grant that . But the only way to get some kind of “normalized” (with respect to gender and race)photos of speakers at a conference is (in *my* opinion) to apply some kind of quota , perhaps implicitly, by inviting someone to speak ,not for the qualiy of their writing or thinking or code , but because they are women or colored /insert your familair divisive factor here.

    I should have been clearer on this . I shall take this part of your comment as valid feedback and endeavour to improve my writing.

    As to the rest of your comment ” cover his balls” , “cultural filters” etc .I think these are just cheap shots that do not contribute to the debate or greater understanding of the position. Where did “cultural filter” come from anyway? Because i said i was Indian?:-) Now who is being judgemental and “rhetorical” Dave?

    I will let others read our posts and decide who is using rhetoric to cover a lack of valid points.

    To sum up, I agree with Shelley that if someone is discriminated against because they are women, black etc then this is wrong. I am not sure that the “lack of women speakers at a conference” is a sign of such discrimination.

    I also maintain that in the software industry, if you know whow to write high quality code , *in general*,no one will respect you any less because you are a woman .I am sorry if that is politically incorrect. That is my experience.


  17. dave rogers says:

    Ravi, software is not a “culture,” I’m not sure what you’re saying here. The “software industry” may “value” intelligent, technologically literate or talented individuals, but it exists within a culture, or number of cultures.

    Shelley’s point is that the unconscious, unexamined prejudices of culture devalue the role of women in the workforce.

    It’s not strictly a gender issue, as it’s almost universally a feature of human nature. Like most often attracts like, so when a particular group is dominated by one characteristic or another, be it race or gender or language or culture, anyone who differs from the dominant group is, by definition, “unlike,” and therefore is less strongly affiliated with the dominant group; will enjoy less support from the more strongly affiliated members of the group; and will be subtly encouraged to leave the group if other factors stress the members of the group (the “dot-bomb” crash).

    It was interesting to me to look up the etymology of the word “affiliate.” You might check it out.

    In mu opinion judging “dicrimination” by looking at such photos and making a mathematical anlysis of the frequency of occurence of race and gender characterisitics is wrong and dangerous.

    You don’t say how it is wrong or dangerous, and evidence is evidence. If conference speakers, pictures of attendees at conferences, cannot be used as evidence, then what can? We’re not talking about an open, conscious form of discrimination here, where there’s a secret cabal of misogynists running the IT industry and we can hack into their e-mail server and discover all the incriminating evidence. We’re talking about human nature, cultural norms and biases, and the barriers it places in the way of women (or any minority group) who would like to enjoy the same opportunities for success in the workplace as men.

    Yes Shelley did not advocate quotas .I grant that . But the only way to get some kind of “normalized” (with respect to gender and race)photos of speakers at a conference is (in *my* opinion) to apply some kind of quota , perhaps implicitly, by inviting someone to speak ,not for the qualiy of their writing or code , but because they are women or colored /insert your familair divisive factor here.

    Then why did you raise quotas as an issue? It’s a conditioned, habituated, defensive response by a member of the dominant group. It’s not a cognitive, volitional, rational response. You read something you didn’t like, and you trotted out a loaded codeword, “quotas,” and then fronted a shallow argument for it. I will point out you’re doing the same thing at the end of your with the “political correctness” stalking-horse.

    Furthermore, I will note that you’re arguing against “normalization,” which again, Shelley did not raise as demand or even a desired goal. She’s merely pointing out that women are disadvantaged in the IT industry and the dominant (usually white, definitely male) group is quite content to ignore that fact. From your perspective all is well, and you don’t need to examine your own cultural and gender biases because you “respect” people who code well.

    Finally, it’s interesting to note your use of the term “divisive factor.” Don’t you think that reveals a bias in your own perspective? Why do you regard gender or race differences as “divisive factor[s]?”

    As to the rest of your comment ” cover his balls” , “cultural filters” etc .I think these are just cheap shots that do not contribute to the debate or greater understanding of the position. Where did “cultural filter” come from anyway? Because i said i was Indian?:-) Now who is being judgemental and “rhetorical” Dave?

    Name me a culture on this planet at this time that is not male-dominated. Marginalization of women in the workforce is a characteristic of culture and can’t be excluded from the debate because it is perhaps the single largest contributing factor to the difficulty women face in the workforce.

    I might ask why you are so defensive?


  18. sQurl says:

    Wow, lot to absorb, but one fact that most of the articles on the study miss:

    The drop in female employment in IT was primarily in the role of Administrative Assistants or other office type jobs at IT companies and supporting IT groups.

    I’ll have to go back and find the link on that one, but we haven’t lost marketshare in technology as badly as it gets played out, we’ve lost secretaries working at technology firms.

  19. Shelley says:

    sQurl, true, most of administrative jobs dropped were for data entry. Most data entry positions in this country have either been eliminated with automation, or offshored. It was wishful thinking on my part that ‘administrative’ in this context could actually mean mostly management.

    Still, the key issue is that even if you eliminate these types of positions, women in IT have declined since 2002 — and it was no great number than, either.

    Ravi, as Dave mentioned, I did not use quotas. I’m not against quotas. When South Africa, in an effort to diversify it’s government added a quota for female representation, in a few short years, this quota was actually exceeded by popular vote because the original stereotypes and cultural blocks were disrupted because of the quota. In other words, it works like a water pump: you have to prime a water pump with water, to get more water.

    Still I didn’t mention quotas. But your implication is the only way to change this is through the use of quotas. This implies that companies and conference organizers do not see women as quality participants. After all, the only way to get more women in the profession or conference is through the use of a quota. I disagree, and I think Dave’s use of cultural filter is dead on. Change the filter, and all sort of new faces will appear.

    Molly, Kathy Sierra has said about the same thing. You see that the problem is women — women aren’t participating; women aren’t submitting proposals to conferences; women aren’t stepping up and doing their share.

    You’re putting the emphasis on how women have to change, and indirectly, supporting the existing culture.

    Yet, and ask danah boyd on this and she’ll agree, it is primarily a group of men (consisting of a culturally homogenous type of man) who determine what is a good talk, or a good speaker, or a good person to hire, or a good student for that matter.

    It is primarily men who define the tests, and quizzes.

    It is primarily men who interview, and define interview questions based on their own strengths and experiences.

    It is primarily men who put together conferences and invite only summits and opportunities for networking. And who is invited? Oddly enough, a very ‘compatible’ set of participants.

    Even among webloggers, like calls to like. Among the political pundits (restricting as to weblog content), males will respond more willingly, with great depth, and more frequently to other males. It isn’t that there are fewer female pundits (hardly, I’m finding that the landscape is full of female pundits); it is that the female pundits are linked less. More importantly, engaged in weblogging dialog less.

    What I wrote is this is a competitive environment, and in a stressed environment, like favors like. Now combine this with what Dave Rogers said on culture filter. ‘Quality’ is relative.

    Hodder is putting together a list of women who have accomplished things. You talk about your own experiences, as Kathy Sierra does. You most likely won’t agree with me, but in my opinion and this is not meant to be offensive, you are, indirectly, a part of the new propaganda machine running today: that the cultural filters don’t exist, and it is up to women to change. We have to play by the rules, rules defined by men; until we do, we can’t cry because we’re not allowed into the playground.

  20. Ravi Mohan says:

    I don’t think we’ll ever agree completely.(Nothing wrong with that :-) .You have a

    right to your opinions ,as do I ).

    I am not being “defensive” . This is a nice tactic! first ,you attribute all sorts

    of “cultural and gender filters” to me, and when i say this is without basis and
    you are just imposing some weird worldview on me , *I* am being defensive? ha! I am

    just amused at your ready categorization of someone you don’t know

    You adopt this tactic again in your second comment.

    “It’s a conditioned, habituated, defensive response by a member of the dominant

    group. It’s not a cognitive, volitional, rational response.”

    In other words you claim to know better than me why *i* think something!You have put

    me into some predetermined categories(dominant groups) and analysed the reasons for ME saying something (NOT “cognitive, volitional, rational ” but “conditioned, habituated, defensive”. ) give me a break!Save the pop psycho analysis !

    Perhaps you should react to *what * I say and not your (implausible)theories on why i say what i say? please?

    Your earlier comment had one valid point (i used “quotas” while Shelley didn’t).I said that this was a *mistake* and your crticism was valid and you come back and say “why did you raise quotas” and rush off into interpreting my psychology ! duh! what
    part of “that(your criticism) is valid” don’t you understand?

    I will just repeat what i have found to be true in *my experience*. In the software industry and in the free software movement , I have found that the respect you gain, whether you are invited to a conference, etc depend on *fairly* objective criteria like the qality of your code .In my career, I have had the good fortune to meet a lot of people who are at the pinnacle of geekdom (and thus speak at conferences, write the leading books etc) and also quite a few people who organize conferences, user groups etc . *My experience* (and it is only that) has been that gender/race etc has never been an issue . These people (rightly in my opinion) didn’t give a hoot about your race or gender , just the quality of your thoughts and code.
    If others(including you) have different experiences, I am ok with that and am willing to listen.

    Let me repeat this just to be precise. I am *not saying* that white males don’t dominate.what i m saying is that i don’t care because in my opinion it is not relevant.What i am saying is that the leading coders/thinkers/writers etc do dominate. If
    they happen to be white men , then so be it ( i am NOT white !) .Tomorrow they may be Indian or Chinese, I just don’t care!I just want the best people at any conference i go to.

    If not caring about a factor(race or gender) makes me “biased” then perhaps we should redefine “bias”

    If I want to be invited to speak at these conferences, all I have to do is to outshine the Kent Becks, the Martin Fowlers, the Mary Poppendiecks and the Shelley Powers of the world,by the power of my ideas(embodied in my code or writing) not whine about “anti Indian prejudice”.

    I’d rather die than be invited to a conference because I am a “person of color” or some such pseudo factor and not on the basis of the quality of my
    code or ideas.

    Do people in the software industry reject or marginalize great code just because the writer is a woman/other “minority”? As a thought experiment , the language ruby or the “ruby on rails” framework (for example)would be any less successful if their authors were women ? Does anyone who uses these languages and /or frameworks (or any other piece of excellent software) even care about the gender or nationality of the authors?

    “Finally, it’s interesting to note your use of the term “divisive factor.” Don’t you think that reveals a bias in your own perspective? Why do you regard gender or race differences as “divisive factor[s]?”

    I do *not* believe that gender or race *differences* are divisive .There you go again , twisting what i said.

    The exact sentence was
    “But the only way to get some kind of “normalized” (with respect to gender and race)photos of speakers at a conference is (in *my* opinion) to apply some kind of quota , perhaps implicitly, by inviting someone to speak ,not for the qualiy of their
    writing or thinking or code , but because they are women or colored /insert your familair divisive factor here.”

    In other words I was saying, and I do stand by it, that the notion of using attributes like gender and race to grab a position that you cannot achieve by
    writing better code (in the context of the software industry) *is* divisive and unfair.

    Dave,It would really help if you react to what i say and not what you *think* i say


    In my *opinion* no one should be invited to a software conference based on gender or race.(sorry Shelley, I have to disagree with you here !! That’s ok though !! I don’t have to agree with you 100 % to enjoy your writing)

    When *a particular* woman (or Indian or black or hispanicor any other “minority”) writes superior code(or writes a superior book or blog for that matter) and *then* he/she is not invited to a conference , considered a thought leader etc *because* of gender or race,then you have a valid case for discrimination . I don’t see this
    happening.Please feel free to give me counter examples . I am willing to learn .

    Whether dicrimination exists in a context (like politics or general ‘culture’ ) where there are no objective measures is a different issue . I do NOT believe that just because one exists in a culture one automatically absorbs the negatives and
    prejudices of the culture and are guaranteed to be unconsciously driven by them.
    making such an assumption leads to pre defined labale like “All Americans are imperalists” or “women are illogical” .

    A rational human being is aware of the good and bad aspects of the culture in which she lives and strives to maximize the good and minimize the bad .

    Trying to win an argument by basing it on some “unconscious prejudice absorbed by osmosis” is pretty weak .

    One last time, i don’t see any discrimination based on gender or race in the software world. On one dimension any ranking of people happens on the basis of their code/design ideas . On the other , more corporate axis, the economics of producing
    software creates its own ranking.I don’t see gender or race being an issue . And this is as it should be.

    I think i have said almost everything I had to say .
    Thus , unless some new point comes along ,I’ll stop commenting *on this blog* . If anyone wants to write to me , please do so at magesmail@yahoo.com.

    Thanks again Shelley for a great read .As i said i don’t agree that conference organizers for example deliberatley or even unconsciously exclude women .I think it is just paranoid to believe that conference organizers want anything less than the best presenters, irrespective of gender/race.

    As i said earlier, I would like some examples of women who wrote some nice code and are excluded .As i see it the only “rule” anyone has to play by is to write excellent code .What is “gender/race unfriendly” about that ? (i am not being hostile.It is impossible to convey “voice tone” in a written note. I am genuinely curious).
    Can you point at some “minorities” being ignored/suppressed after making say significant contributions to an open source code base? I am very interested .Shelly, I am NOT offended you think I am part of some propoganda machine ! (though i don’t reallythink so) If I am I would like to know some facts that i may “snap out ” of it :-)

    And thanks Dave for exposing my “unconscious irrational response”s! Very amusing!

  21. Seth Russell says:

    Personally i don’t know if “female pundits are linked less. More importantly, engaged in weblogging dialog less” is statically true or not. But if it is, it is certainly surprising. I would expect it to be the other way around. It seems to me a heterosexual male is more prone to engage a woman in dialog, than he is a man. Men, err real men, enjoy dialog with women, even strong opinionated and bitchy ones. And that goes for linking as well.

  22. Emily Yellin says:

    I’m not sure what I am walking to into exactly by posting here. But I read Shelley’s essay and was fascinated by what she got from my book “Our Mothers’ War”. I agree that the question of whether to compete or not is a big one for women and minorities in our culture. And who writes our history is also a question that has always fascinated me.

    If I may add, I don’t think these are either/or questions. I think we need to find a way to make the pie a little bigger to accommodate our big world. That is certainly what blogging has done. And I say that as a female journalist, and one who has faced down her share of competition.

    I will post here an essay I wrote in February on the back page of Time Magazine. I think it addresses some of this. And as I read your comments I thought it might add to your discussion.

    Thanks for letting me try to rock the boat a little here.

    What Larry Summers Got Right
    Many women do resist the 80-hour workweek. The problem is men who don’t

    Feb. 28, 2005
    I was all set to have my regular chat on the phone last week with my 19-year-old niece Chloe, a sophomore at Harvard, when I got an e-mail from her asking if we could reschedule. She was so busy with schoolwork, she said in her message, that she couldn’t spare any time to talk with her dear aunt for the rest of the week.

    A few days later came the full transcript of the notorious remarks by the president of her university, Lawrence Summers, who evidently has no shortage of theories about women and achievement. The document confirmed what Summers had reportedly said a month earlier in a closed-door session in which he gave his ideas about genetics and gender. “In the special case of science and engineering,” he said, “there are issues of intrinsic aptitude.” He did allow for the fact that he might be wrong. But he wasn’t finished drawing new battle lines in the gender wars. He went on to speculate that women, especially when they have families, aren’t willing to put in the hours necessary to get ahead. I guess he doesn’t know Chloe. Because that seems to be just what his university is teaching her to do.

    Summers asked, “Who wants to do high-powered, intense work?” The answer, he implied, is mostly men. It’s easy to see why his remarks would offend women who have made great sacrifices to succeed. But maybe this is where Summers has a good point. If women react to his theory by declaring their commitment to work 80-hour weeks, they’re making the same mistake that many men do. By contorting to fit the current system, they’re missing an opportunity to reshape it according to their needs. Indeed, Summers also asked if it is right for our society to have family arrangements that require women to make these hard choices more than men. He said he would get back to that point later. He never did.

    In one of his apologies last week to faculty members, Summers acknowledged what Chloe and her female professors must experience every day. “Universities like ours,” he said, “were originally designed by men and for men.” He said he had come to see how that “sometimes hidden fact” shapes everything from career paths to the standards used to evaluate faculty and student performance. He even called for a rethinking of the assumptions that set that up. Whether he follows through is another question, but in his ham-handed way, Summers reminded everyone that we still have a work culture in America that ignores the real-life needs of all its workers to juggle careers and family.

    Are 80-hour workweeks the only model of success? Isn’t there a better way that doesn’t leave women who want children–and men who want to see their children–with all-or-nothing propositions? This is not a new problem. The era of World War II, when women were vital to war production, was the first time married women outnumbered single women in the American workplace. It was also one of the first times the issue of child care for working women became part of the public debate. FORTUNE magazine, in 1943, recognized the double duty that women were being asked to perform and suggested that something had to give. “If the present makeshift conditions are not cleared up, the effects can easily be imagined: a rise in absenteeism, worry, lowered morale–all of which means less production–not to mention permanent scars on the bodies and minds of American children.” That was in 1943. You’d think we would have arrived at better solutions by 2005.

    Now that Summers has stumbled onto the problem, his university could lead the way out. Just listening to some of its own graduates would be a good start. Joan Williams, head of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University, wrote in a Harvard Law School alumni bulletin, “Defining your ‘ideal worker’ as someone who works 60 hours a week is not good business. You are choosing whom to keep based on the schedule they can keep, not based on the quality of their work.” Some solutions to this aren’t exactly new ideas: flextime, for example, and restructuring career tracks to accommodate instead of punish parenthood and caregiving to elderly family members. But actually getting society to embrace those as acceptable for both genders is where the challenge lies.

    Chloe has told me she wants to run her own film-production company some day. I look forward to hearing all about it when we can resume our Sunday chats on the phone. I just hope Larry Summers waits until she leaves Harvard (or he does) before he questions whether genetics explains why most heads of film-production companies are men.

    Emily Yellin is the author of Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

  23. dave rogers says:

    Ravi, you can bow out of the discussion if you wish, but the only thing you’ve demonstrated is a facility for ducking the issue.

    You don’t see a problem, therefore there is no problem. Nice, comforting, circular logic there.

    Did you even look at the report Shelley linked? It isn’t clear that you did.

    Do you believe the only type of discrimination is some overt form or racism or sexism where people don’t “respect” others because of some characteristic?

    Do you even acknowledge there may be something called “cultural bias?”

    Do you understand what conditioned, habituated thinking is, and its role in day to day life?

    These are not things that make individuals “bad people.” We rightly believe that bigots are not “good” people, but even those of us who don’t believe we’re bigoted have conditioned, habituated patterns of thinking, largely passed on to us through our culture, that influence our behavior and our choices in non-conscious ways. That’s not “pop psychology” (And I hasten to add you are very quick to come up with the disparging code-word for whatever uncomfortable information presented to you that you don’t wish to acknowledge. That itself is a form of habituated thinking.)

    The point is, there is no secret cabal of misogynists running the IT industry. The overwhelming majority are guys like you, who think they’re totally unprejudiced, that you “respect” people based on merit, and that there is no “problem.”

    Gravity is the weakest fundamental force in the universe, but it’s strong enough to hold planets and planetary systems together, and to make it hurt when we fall on our ass. The forms of cultural bias, habituated thinking and conditioned response I am describing are very “weak.” They are not conscious, volitional, choices. It isn’t necessary for you or even a very large number of men to be overtly, consciously prejudiced against women or any other group in order for the effects Shelley is describing to manifest themselves. You don’t have to be a “bad” person for “bad” effects to accrue to your behavior.

    The dominant group supports members of the dominant group more than it does outsiders, usual in only small, but statistically meaningful ways.

    Even women often behave in ways consistent with a cultural bias. When a job becomes unreasonably demanding, both a man and a woman might feel quite unhappy about it. If both have children and both are married to working spouses, there is less of a cultural barrier for a woman to choose to quit the job than there is for a man. A woman can rely on social and cultural expectations of being the nurturant mother in the home, even if that’s not what she especially wants. It’s just that she wants the unreasonable demands of the job even less. A man without a job is not “supporting his family,” and so he feels compelled to endure unreasonable demands even at the expense of his health and his family.

    Some of these cultural norms are changing, slowly, in America, but they are still present.

    Again, in subtle, non-conscious ways, men in management positions will often, likely more often than not, make choices and decisions that favor another man when all other considerations are equal or nearly so. Nevertheless, there will be an explicit, nominally “unbiased” rationalization for the decision, but it’s mostly due to affiliation, like supports like.

    These affiliations and biases operate across a number of axes of difference, gender, race, religion, language, culture, even physical appearance. They are subtle, and in most cases are likely hard to detect in a specific example or instance, but in the aggregate (as reflected in things like unemployment figures), the effects are discernible.

    How does this change? Well, if it’s like gravity, I’d say women have to learn to fly. But if we’re going to go on priding ourselves on being thinking, rational creatures (and I don’t think we are, at least not nearly as much as we seem to credit ourselves as being), then we’re going to have to think about what the evidence really says, think about how we really behave, and try to be mindful of it going forward. This won’t change in a single generation, possibly not in several, but it won’t ever change unless the dominant group acknowledges the possibility that there might be a problem.

    Nice chatting with you Ravi.

  24. dave rogers says:

    I think it’s cool that Emily Yellin posted here, and it may not be clear from the timestamps, but we were both writing at about the same time. I hadn’t read her post before I wrote mine, but I was happy to read what she wrote.

  25. Ravi Mohan says:

    Oh well, here we go again.

    “Ravi, you can bow out of the discussion if you wish, but the only thing you’ve demonstrated is a facility for ducking the issue.

    i had explicitly invited comments to my email id. But if you want to resume here,here we go .

    “You don’t see a problem, therefore there is no problem. Nice, comforting, circular logic there.”

    so I am supposed to believe something you say on your your say so ?
    Sure that is linear logic all right !

    let me turn this around .”I see a problem so there is a problem irrespective of any evidence or lack thereof. Alternative interpretations of a piece of data are all irrelevant . Everyone has to fit into my world view or they have “cultural filters”, ” gender filters ” etc on” .

    yeah right . If you want to start off a debate based on the fundamental axioms of pyschology or sociology please do say so . Unless you are a trained psychologist (in which case i will bring in a few expert psychologist friends of mine to debate the theory with you ) you are just skimming the parts of psychology that appeal to you and engaging in pseudo jargon.A trained psychologist would be very wary of slotting people into predefined categories based on some world view .
    If that is not “pop” psychology then what is?

    (please go through the posts above and see who is trying to answer objections honestly and who is applying labels without even listening )

    Just because I do not agree with you , that does not mean your knee jerk classifications of people into “rational/irrational” etc have any empirical validity .

    you also say

    “(And I hasten to add you are very quick to come up with the disparging code-word for whatever uncomfortable information presented to you that you don’t wish to acknowledge. That itself is a form of habituated thinking.)”

    heh heh! If you think I am going to consider you some kind of authority and take your ridiculous labelling of people at face value, you have another think coming! You are quick to categorize my thinking into some preconceived slots (irrational , habituated etc) and not so keen on debating the logic or otherwise of any points i make .

    and if you refuse to listen to other peoples opinions and just stick “labels” on them (eg: “disparaging code word” that is all right eh ? :-) )
    Interesting .

    “. They are subtle, and in most cases are likely hard to detect in a specific example or instance” .

    ok does this mean you still don’t have any concrete examples?

    Aaah so you can’t really know whether discrimination is happening or not. All you have is some data that shows (at best ) that women are dropping out of technology areas and decide that “discrimination” is the cause .It is another matter that No link to “discrimination” has been proven . Interesting.

    Let me answer your specific questions . Do feel free to respond by inventing even more labels for my thinking.

    Did you even look at the report Shelley linked? It isn’t clear that you did.

    Hmm and what would make this clear? My agreeing with you ?

    Do you believe the only type of discrimination is some overt form or racism or sexism where people don’t “respect” others because of some characteristic?

    well i fail to see if race or gender is *irrelevant* to me and i judge a coder by his /her code and NOT by her race or gender how i am “biased” .

    you claimed i had a bias in my perspective . I responded with the above argument. i didn’t see you counter that ? instead you stick one more label on me that of the lunk head who doesn’t understand “non overt” racism .

    my question still remains unanswered .If race or gender is irrelveant to someone (as is the case in the open source world. all that matters is the quality of the source/design )then how is that “gender unfriendly ” ?.

    I explicitly named women who are respected in the technical world and didn’t go through this discrimination whine to get there .

    You didn’t respond to that either.

    Do you even acknowledge there may be something called “cultural bias?”

    yes . But i don’t agree with you that (a) that this is a *very* significant force (b)this dominates people to the extent that are unable to overcome it .
    I mentioned explicitly that rational people understand and deliberately overcome this .

    “There *may* be a force of cultural discrimination” does not equal “this force ends up in massive discrimination”

    Also this is a prime example of circular logic .one guy says “I claim that you don’t agree with what i see because of cultural bias .I offer no proof just my handy theory”
    the second guy responds “if you don’t have any proof you are just blowing smoke . Morover i claim i am not culturally biased” and the first guy responds “the fact that you deny cultural bias proves you are biased!”

    If you examine the past posts you will see that this is the kind of logic you have used . In your very first mail you claimed i am operating through “gender/cultural filters” and “rhetorically placing his hands over his balls” (how is that for cultured debate? )

    In the second you claimed that i was responding with
    ” a conditioned, habituated, defensive response by a member of the dominant group. It’s not a cognitive, volitional, rational response. You read something you didn’t like, and you trotted out a loaded codeword, “quotas,” and then fronted a shallow argument for it.”

    I see. When *you* say “conditioned habituated etc” this is all very logical but when i say “political correctness” it is a loaded code word” .

    Very nice!

    “Do you understand what conditioned, habituated thinking is, and its role in day to day life?”

    i am not a trained psychologist(are you ?) . and therefore i didn’t make any argument based on psychology theory .

    But I have read about conditioning ,As far as i understand this notion comes out of the behaviourist school of psychology .

    what you have not done is demonstrate that this “conditioning” is at the root of any discrimination. .

    Again i have claimed that if I do NOT care about the gender /race etc of the coder and only the excellence of code is a mteric, that disproves any assertion that I am biased , culturally or otherwise .
    Or are you claiming that gender is also part of evaluating how good or bad code is ?If so lt’s hold some double blind tests andshow that code quality judgements have nothing to do with the gender or race of the coder.What say you ?

    This is just another example of your diverting the focus with hocus pocus jargon.

    I had asked for explict instances of any minority member contributing excellent code/design/technical ideas/ (the metrics i used for my claim that the world of software (both free and commercial) is a respect economy that does not care about gender etc
    and just the quality of the input ) AND was discrimnated against .

    I notice you ducked this totally . Then you claim *I* duck the argument !
    let me repeat once more what i said.
    in the software world , respect(and thus invitations to conferences etc) are dependent ONLY on the quality of ideas/design/code .I am not sayng there isn’t the occasional misogynist or bigot . But if you are making dubious claims of some kind of universal disrimnation then the onus is on you to prove it by showing specific examples . All this psedo psychology based name calling is a poor substitute for solid argument .

    PS : It is late night here in India . so It maybe w hile before i respond to your response . I haven’t ducked out” and am very much here .

  26. Shelley says:

    Emily, thank you so much for commenting, and your excellent comment. I wanted to mention how much I enjoyed your book. I also wrote a bit of satire about the Harvard incident in a post called Guys Don’t Link. It might give you a chuckle.

    Your point is good, and it’s also difficult. Do we want to continue supporting this culture, or do we want to lobby for change? If we do the latter, in the meantime until the change occurs, if the change occurs (again, in times of stress, ‘like bonds to like’, and the dominant group becomes resistent to change), women in tech might as well be invisible.

    But this goes beyond tech. This really is having to do with culture, and not necessarily a male/female cultural difference.

    I know I have disappointed several folk (such as Mobile) who are going to BlogHer by my disquiet over this event. It isn’t that I don’t respect the event and what the organizers want to achieve. It’s that the anger that instigated this event has been lost somewhere along the way, and I don’t this was necessarily a good thing. It isn’t an event that will challenge the status quo. It is a ‘safe’ event, and I am disappointed, perhaps wrongly so.

    More, there is a ‘room of one’s own’ quality to the event, and I’m not sure that we haven’t hurt ourselves following Woolf’s ideal into the modern times. Isn’t our room out in the world, rather than isolated? Don’t we make it easier for us to be ignored when we wall ourselves off into a safe, protected environment?

    THis does go back in some ways to your last chapter. We women have made history, but we haven’t written history. We have put out fires but we have vanished in the smoke. We should have our turn in writing history, but as you say, does this mean, then, that we have to give in to the dominant culture? Tooth and nail, and taken advantage of by industry?

    I don’t have answers. All I know is that something is terribly wrong.

    Ravi and Dave, you both have expressed your opinions with depth and sincerity, and I am appreciative. All I will ask is remember to focus on the issues brought up in my post and comments, not necessarily your opinion of each other’s rhetorical skill. Thanks. I know you’ll both understand my request.

  27. Yule Heibel says:

    When I still taught at MIT, I was intimidated by the fact that faculty meetings typically began at 5 or 5:30 and often went until 8 or later. I was anxious because I had no way to split myself into two people, one of whom could stay at the meeting and be bold, the other who could go home and see her babies, whom she’d left at 8 a.m. that morning. Granted, faculty meetings didn’t happen every day, but why did they have to take place at that time of day? Well, there weren’t any tenured women on the faculty (at that time), and the faculty men either were single, had no children, or had a wife at home taking care of business. Sure, not one of those men was a misogynist or bigotted against female professors (…or were they?), but they sure took advantage of the fact that they were sitting pretty in a culture that made reconciling career and family very very difficult. One of my colleagues had her first birth at age 40 or 41 (I think), with twins. She never dared mention them, lest she be mistaken for a “mommy.” The sole other female colleague had chosen not to start a family at all.

    Emily Yellin nails it when she asks why anyone (male or female) should want to emulate and perpetuate the 80-hour-work week extolled by Mr. Summers as the acme of competitive commitment to success.

    One of my former Massachusetts neighbours was finishing a residency as an anaesthesiologist at Mass. General Hospital, and began a PhD program in …something about growing extra ears on mice (famous biotech lab at MIT). Her husband was a physicist, but he managed to be the “mom” because he could ensure that his hours were a manageable 40+ hours per week. Well, at one point my neighbour realised that things were pretty spooky because her kids didn’t recognise her anymore. But, ok, she perservered and today she is successful, developing bio-technologies to grow veins from scratch in artifical uteruses which will help heart bypass patients (who usually have to have veins taken from their legs). So, a bunch of overweight middle-aged men (and some women) will really benefit from her work, but couldn’t she have gotten there without the insanity of 100 hour per week residency shifts and other attendant madnesses?

    As for writing history, even though some women “play by the rules” and absolutely knock themselves out, they still get relegated to the footnotes.

  28. Emily Yellin says:

    Thanks Shelley and Dave and Yule,
    I am glad I stumbled upon your discussion. It is particularly interesting to hear from you Yule. I am considering heading toward academia and that is a cautionary tale. Thanks Dave for saying the sane stuff from a male perspective. And thanks Shelley for using your voice here.

    Keep writing.

  29. Shelley said:

    “Molly, Kathy Sierra has said about the same thing. You see that the problem is women — women aren’t participating; women aren’t submitting proposals to conferences; women aren’t stepping up and doing their share . . . You’re putting the emphasis on how women have to change, and indirectly, supporting the existing culture.”

    I say:

    You’re completely correct on all counts.

    Successful relationships require compromise and revolution works very well from the inside out.


  30. donna says:

    Well, I wrote about this way back in 1996, most of which is still online here:

    scroll down to:
    “The Internet for Girls:
    Connecting Girls With Math, Science and Technology”

    The problems then are the same problems that exist now – boys and girls are equal in math and science participation up to 9th grade, when girls get pushed out due to social pressures mainly. The pipeline continues to leak through college and into the tech fields. If girls are good in science, they tend to go into biology mainly. Girls interested in engineering and technology can do well into their 20s when they start to have families and drop out to raise kids, like I did, since the demands of an engineering job and child raising are both pretty challenging.

    I went back to school, got and MBA and did consulting. Still do at times, but mostly, I prefer not to be in the field right now. I get tired of seeing the same old problems – managers who can’t understand that real people have lives and families.

    American management is, to put it mildly, fucked up. Until we accept that real folks have lives and families, women aren’t going to enter these fields in droves. Flexible schedules are just too important to us. In an age where most jobs can be done by computer, from home, there’s just no excuse for demanding 12 hours a day in an office.

  31. Shelley says:

    Donna, yours is a good point. And I don’t think it’s just women that no longer have any tolerance for these 12 hour jobs (as you also say). I don’t know of any guys that really want to devote their lives to their jobs..no, not even jobs they love.

    More, how much can we attribute bugs, flaws, and other ‘bads’ in today’s software because people are tired and stressed, and managers promise more than their teams deliver? How much more of value to a company is a worker who is balanced between home and work? As Yule pointed out, what’s the value of keeping people longer with medicine, if we’re just going to kill them off with work?

    A manager whose people are working 12 hour days is a manager who doesn’t know how to lead people or manage projects.

    Perhaps this is something the software companies can chew on.

    Molly, I agree that compromise is good…so when can we expect the guys to start?

  32. Dan Gillmor says:

    Shelley, this is a terrific essay, and says much that needs saying.

    Just one small clarification: My regrets about missing BlogHer were genuine, not (as you imply) feigned. I’m going to be on a plane Saturday, on my way to a seminar I’m leading for young journalists, an event that has been booked since January. I would be at BlogHer otherwise. I can’t speak for the others you named, but you might give people credit for meaning what they say unless you have some direct evidence to the contrary.

  33. Shelley says:

    Dan, you must have read Jay’s post.

    No implication meant, other than it’s unfortunate that so many of you couldn’t attend. Sincere regrets or not, it’s unfortunate you couldn’t attend.

    I have no doubts, though, that every person I mentioned had a previous commitment for their time. I know that you’re all very busy, and in demand.

    Hey, I won’t be going myself. And I’m not in demand, so who am I to talk?

    Have fun at your seminar for young journalists.

  34. Dan Gillmor says:

    I haven’t read Jay’s post, actually, but I’ll take a look.

  35. Shelley,
    This is a rollicking wonderful post. There are so much to chew on, I’m not sure where to start other than my own abbreviated story.

    I have a computer engineering degree that today is probably as valuable as wallpaper in my current career incarnation. Not too distant past I was a CTO at a venture-backed Internet software start-up. I did stints in marketing roles like product management in tech companies in between as well after a long stint in programming.

    Employment or consulting in 100% tech companies all the way…

    Until the recent tech downturn.

    I’m one of the statistics. I left I.T. Or maybe it left me.

    But I can’t say that with 20/20 hindsight I’m not actually better for it. It helped me diversify and stretch myself quite a bit.

    I think being a Hispanic female was a boon during times when things were flush. I was allowed to be different because hey, I look different (but really we’re all unique and I’m not exactly like other Hispanic females but who would know in I.T. ;-)).

    Something you said in your WWII comparison makes me wonder though. I couldn’t even get an interview to save my life in late 2001. I thought of using my husband’s last name on resumes. Anything to just get in the door. (BTW, I was not living in Silicon Valley then.) Ultimately I chalked it up to being part of the New Economy pariah more so than gender or race.

    Complex issues though. When folks are scared for their own jobs, I’m not even sure if they hire ‘like’ as you say as much as they hire C-players that won’t threaten to upstage them and potentially take their own jobs. I saw talented men whose entire company closed its doors have the same hiring hurdles – they were too “overqualified”. Read: You might take MY job.

    I agree with something Ravi said that he’d rather die than be a token speaker, contributor etc. To be a checkmark on the “diversity” card. At the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference last year, I was speaking to an Indian woman at lunch. A (very nice) guy walks up and THANKS us for being there. But that’s really part of the problem IMHO. I didn’t see my conversation companion as a “minority” nor myself. But obviously others did.

    I just recently spent 10 days in New Mexico. Lots of Hispanics. Problem is they expect that you identify as being a Latina. I don’t really. I’m my own person. But it underscored for me how others constrain you into a box: woman, hispanic, loony ex-technologist, blogger, whatever. A friend (uh, why do I need to mention he is Mexican? He’s just my friend) tells me a woman walks up to him at a coffeeshop and says: “I bet you are voting for XYZ in the next election.”(You can tell how politically out of it I am because I don’t remember XYZ’s name, but I believe XYZ is African-American). He answers: “Only if he’s a Republican.” Her jaw drops.

    At this point, I could care less if more women enter I.T. or not. I do care if women aren’t being true to themselves and if they are NOT entering out of any type of fear. I don’t care what women do as long as they aren’t holding back…

    I think you made some valid points about BlogHer and heck, women bloggers (myself included), playing it safe. There is a good-girl syndrome that has to do with people-pleasing and not potentially severing connections that often stifles women. We’re complicit in it ourselves. So, thanks so much for being so open and honest.

    Your post and a question to the BlogHer panelists by Lisa Stone triggered for me remembrance of Ursula Le Guin’s very wise 1986 commencement address. Ah, 1986. That’s the year I graduated with a computer engineering degree. I posted snippets today:


    She challenges:

    “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want–to hear you erupting.”

  36. Dori says:

    Successful relationships require compromise and revolution works very well from the inside out.

    Molly, I brought this up with Kathy last time this question came around, and I’ll bring it up to you ’cause she didn’t have an answer for me: how does one get on the inside in the first place?

    There are tons of conferences that I’d like to speak at, but I’m not on the list of people who get invites to submit proposals. If a woman can’t even get the attention of the guys running the shows, no amount of compromise matters, because she’s not even on their radar.

  37. Zo says:

    Marvelous thread, brought to a brilliant point by Evelyn’s post of the Le Guin quote . . .for, in my view, that is the talent and the strength and, yes, the hope, too, of the feminine. And perhaps, also, what Shelley feels about BlogHer, and the like: The strongest statement is to stand in place, and be.

  38. laura says:

    It isn’t that I don’t respect the event and what the organizers want to achieve. It’s that the anger that instigated this event has been lost somewhere along the way, and I don’t this was necessarily a good thing. It isn’t an event that will challenge the status quo. It is a ’safe’ event, and I am disappointed, perhaps wrongly so.

    Coming in late here, for what it’s worth, I just wanted to say regarding BlogHer, my sense is that you’re wrong about the anger component and its importance in the tone of the event. What it will or will not do I think will be a reflection of the participants, not the panel titles or sponsor list.

    There can be fair disagreement on what tactics are the best approach for feminism and changing the culture. Personally I don’t see an either/or thing, that women must run off and talk amongst themselves or brazen it out with the boys. Can’t there be gain from both?

    There’s no question that in mixed company, the men tend to dominate the conversation. That means women are not only heard less, but we’re also speaking less, thinking out loud less, testing theories on others less. The gain from women’s gatherings, whether in the kitchen at the cocktail party or at events like BlogHer, is to be able to speak and be heard, think out loud and hear responses, and maybe even find connections in the process. It’s empowering, especially for women who’ve not found their voices as adults, as intelligent beings in a culture that values women as breeders and grandmas, with not much in between.

    I don’t see BlogHer as a way to replace any dominant paradigm, but just a more recent attempt to ask the questions that need to be asked, and hash them about without being corrected by the men. That’s all obvious (or I assume so).

    And yet, and yet I see another way in which BlogHer, and blogging and women finding their voices, truly represent a potentially powerful agent of change. (I apologize, this was going to be a brief ‘wow’ comment about a truly exceptional article posing as a blog post, but I think this is germane.)

    Many many years ago (back when I was watching Bewitched on a black-and-white TV), these very same questions were being hashed around. One of the more compelling conclusions (I feel) was that the culture will not change as long as women are generally kept from owning and operating the means of communication. They eventually distilled it down to what they called 7 realities:

    1) People make their judgments on the basis of the information they have at a given time. This reality is respectful: it says people are rational. It is peaceful: if you disagree, don’t attack; instead, think, ” If I had her information, I’d come to the same conclusion.” And it suggests a constructive course of action: offer your information.

    2) Each person is the best judge of his/her own best interest. Don’t force your judgment on others by implying that you know more about their self interests than they do. That person has to live with the results, not you. Again, a constructive course of action: offer your information.

    3) Media owners give us the information they think it is important for us to know. Respectful: this is just what you do in your media or would do if you had their media. Peaceful: don’t attack; it is not unlawful to own media and tell what you think is important. Alternative: work for equal ability to communicate to the whole public.

    4) Media do not mirror society. They represent only the owner’s views. (When they tell about us, they are not giving our information but their own information about us, reflecting their view of us.) Media mirror only their owners — a tiny segment of society.

    5) For the public to obtain the information of the majority, people must be able to speak for themselves. Respectful: lets people make their own case direct to the public. This reality provides a basis on which the communications system may be restructured to yield the information the nation needs to govern itself.

    6) Our political power is based on the number of people we each can reach with our information. If you own media and I do not (or your media reach more of the public than mine), you can portray my viewpoints to people I cannot reach with my corrections. You have more political influence and effect than I. Possession of a means of communication is thus the source of political power. The size of one’s media outreach audience measures the amount of political power one has.

    7) Democratically equalizing political power among us would require that we all have equal means of reaching the public — when we wish and in the way most suitable to our message, to communicate the information we each want the public to take into account in its political decision-making.

    I guess this is all a way of saying that the very act of saying has value, and what comes of it is unpredictable. The culture is changed by our interactions, especially in this new increasingly interactive world. There is something happening that we’ve not seen before, not since the printing press — an explosion of individual expression, shared and accessible by millions of others (if they look).

    It may yet get coopted by the corporatocracy and individual expression will be once again stifled by barriers to entry and cultural pressures to not rock the boat.

    But what you’ve touched on is that culturally the same male-dominated paradigm is happening. How to change that? Without politics and journalism, I don’t know. Without seeing the meta-patterns that repeat themselves over and over in various individual fields — IT, film, law, medicine, etc. — we’ll never change them. And, the way I see it, we’ll never see them unless we talk to each other.

    And we’ll never solve them without hearing from as great a subset of “every woman” as we can. The sharpest tack could be the quiet woman in the corner who sees all and never says a thing. If BlogHer can help her find her voice, that’s doing a lot.


  39. Shelley says:

    Evelyn, thank you for the link to the LeGuin address. She’s always had a fascinating take on subjects, and we talk about men writing history, but I had never considered about men defining the very language we use.

    I’m not sure if in times of competition we want to hire those less competent. The impression I have from others who I’ve read, it seems as if they want to make the hiring process difficult — almost more to validate their own worth. But I can see your point about hiring someone less competent. Even then, again from what others have written, the vry nature of the interviews filter, and I’m not talking about based on quality. If I were going to define an interview guaranteed to appeal to young, competitive guys, within a year or three after leaving college, well, I wouldn’t change a thing.

    More importantly though is this concept of women playing it safe. In particular IT is controlled by a finite group of gatekeepers — all of whom for the most part don’t like to be crossed. Rock the boat in this environment, and you’ll be like me, interviewing at a grocery store for a checkout clerk position. But if we continue to play ‘nice’, we’ll never get beyond the 10 percent solution (10 percent of presenters at tech conferences are women; 10 percent of management is women; and so on). Check out OSCON and you’ll see what I mean.

    You mentioned you don’t care what women do as long as they don’t hold back. I guess I would add, I don’t care what women do…as long as they aren’t held back.

    Laura, no need to apologize for a longer comment! It was more than welcome. You also have excellent points (wow, if this conversation continues at BlogHer, it is going to be a kick butt conference…excellent).

    I see your point, and this comes back to Virginia Woolf’s “Room of our own” concept where if we don’t break away, we’ll never have the opportunity: to write, to speak, to hear.

    But if we keep isolating ourselves, how will we ever effect change? And as for now seeing the patterns, wasn’t seeing these patterns the impetus for BlogHer?

    My concern about BlogHer — less so now after the conversations this week — is that the angry voices will be suppressed as ‘distateful’ or worse, trollish. The view will be that women have to change, not the culture.

    In other words, heavy on marketing, light on the activism. And this is anathma to me. During the continued civil rights fight in the 70′s, I wasn’t out marketing equality. During Vietnam, I wasn’t out marketing peace.

    I have (I should say ‘had’) a feeling I would have a disruptive influence at BlogHer, and that rather depresses me. Or did, but now, I’m not so sure I would be so disruptive.

    I will be watching with interest–even if I don’t sign up for a ‘troll free’ chat room account.

    Zo, it has been an excellent thread, hasn’t it? Gives me heart.

    Dori, whatever you do, don’t look at the OSCON lineup. It will depress you.

  40. laura says:

    Troll free, we’ll see. No promises, except rapid response.

    But I’m with you on the marketing vs. activism. I, too, am not one to get excited about a new way to market women to an indifferent (?) marketplace. I also probably would not be all that excited about a purely activist event, either. Not that I’m not an activist, but when it comes to business (and this is a business-related event for me, given the nature of my participation) I prefer to focus on what can be done proactively rather than what can be said reactively. Now, people will argue that proactive action is indeed activism, but I prefer to look at this entire thing as empowerment. Maybe we can’t change the world wholesale, but we can change how we interact with it, and by extension effect change in the world bit by bit.

  41. Conversation connection: Take a look at Ed Felten’s post:

    U.S. Computer Science Malaise

    “The consensus seems to be that computer science has gotten a bad rap as a haven for antisocial, twinkie-fed nerds who spend their nights alone in cubicles wordlessly writing code, and their days snoring and drooling on office couches. Who would want to be one of them? … Proposed remedies abound, most of them attempts to show people who computer scientists really are and what we really do. Stereotypes take a long time to overcome, but there’s no better time than the present to get started.”

  42. Yule Heibel says:

    Shelley writes (in comment, above):

    If I were going to define an interview guaranteed to appeal to young, competitive guys, within a year or three after leaving college, well, I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Ironically, my husband told me today that a local company (all-male, incidentally), which on its website advertises its CEO as “chief wizard,” has a job posting on monster-board-dot-ca that they’re looking for …are you ready for this?: “software gods.” Jesus, I think I’m going to throw up…

  43. Shelley,
    On the heels of BlogHer here are my thoughts (and also to your previous comments):

    First, BlogHer definitely didn’t tone down any angry, frustrated voices; folks were pretty vocal especially in the all-hands opening and lunch sessions. In fact, perhaps the quieter less alpha-female voices were drowned out, but that’s always an issue in any large group.

    I did hear Mena Trott say that when they find qualified female engineers they’d hire them and she said that they a slew of qualified highly technical women in tech support. She is obviously not an engineer. I worked long enough in engineering to know few CS and BSEE majors that have a desire for a tech support or QA role. Men or women engineers (it’s certainly been my personal experience) want to be squarely involved in product development itself. I think the reason she is not finding diversity in the engineering ranks has to do with the recruitment pool. It’s too narrow.

    This is how the Valley works and for the most part most of high-tech: You ask your current engineers to recommend friends to hire. Everything is done via referral and word-of-mouth. Social networks. Job announcements are the LAST resort. When I lived in Utah, there was a company that my Boston-headquartered employer acquired. In a company of around 150 they had no female engineers either. They claimed that they’d hire women if they ran into any qualified ones. (Yeah, I’d actually applied for a job there about 1-2 years previously; nada.) Outside of receptionists and one channel marketing person I didn’t see ANY females. The problem there – as I as case most often – comes down to where you look – where you go to recruit.

    They aren’t being malicious intentionally, they just look to their social circle for the folks they know and trust — their buddies. (But on the other hand, they shouldn’t be too surprised if the folks they bring in from that circle look just like them and think just like them.) In 1998, you were plain tapped out of buddies to hire and started widening the pool. You actually advertised again. Paid headhunters exorbitant fees to find people under nooks and crannies. I did my share of recruiting and interviewing in 1999 for J2EE engineers and definitely found a lot of qualified non-white male engineers and female engineers but that’s only because we were REALLY looking outside of the referral network. Rather than word-of-mouth within a social network, it was an open call model.

    I actually have a lot more to say, but this topic isn’t my soapbox these days.

    I’d be willing to talk in a podcast interview or something. Writing all the finer points of why I left I.T. after 18 years and how it might apply to bigger picture for women would take too long for me to jot down in a very articulate way. I haven’t even begun to talk about heading an all-male engineering team and why it might be difficult for women to rise to high positions in engineering. And getting girls into I.T.

    I feel totally comfortable working with men, and actually often prefer to. Executives like me because I can speak left-brained, objectively AND also right-brained, subjectively. Yet I have much less rapport with pure geeks that are looking for a “software god” (thanks Yule) to bow down to for their VP of engineering; they are often looking for someone to aspire to be like and I don’t fit that bill.

    On my prev comment, of course ORGANIZATIONS seek to hire the best people for the job. But in a tough job market, it’s your future/potential peers in interview process that may feel threatened for their own jobs (i.e. thinking about the next layoff, what-if scenarios) and if they are doubtful about their own future, sabotage your entry into a new company. I’ve seen this over and over again. I guess this point might be irrelevant as I think it applies to BOTH men and women, though.

  44. Lis Riba says:

    Just discovered this post and got as far as this comment before I just *had* to respond.
    More, how much can we attribute bugs, flaws, and other ‘bads’ in today’s software because people are tired and stressed, and managers promise more than their teams deliver?
    Furthermore, how much can we attribute… if not bugs, then senselessly limited designs… to a lack of diversity in the workforce?

    The original Palm Pilot was designed to fit into a man’s shirt-pocket and designed for a single person’s schedule. Had there been more parents in the workplace, might we have seen a more versatile product, such as calendars able to incorporate a family’s schedule? Every parent and spouse I knew found that a frustrating limitation, needing to track somebody else’s calendar without it necessarily being your own busy time.

    I was once part of the Lotus Organizer team. Diversity led us to features like removing the hard-coded term “spouse” so people could list “partner”s instead, enabling a contact to be a family (or group) rather than individual, and thus permitting multiple work listings. Have enough Jews and somebody will notice events can repeat in patterns the western calendar doesn’t account for. Night-owls will advocate for an ability to schedule events across midnight. And so on.

    Gender and race are part of it, but it’s also a general diversity of experience that makes for better design. And that’s what we’re losing here.

  45. Kaleberg says:

    I wouldn’t put down being linked to and being slashdotted as measures of success, especially if one desires to change the world. The only reason I read this log entry is because of a link at Freedom to Tinker, otherwise I would have had no idea that this site existed. More links and more eyeballs mean more potential to influence.

    I agree that the current structuring of the workplace with its emphasis on heroic hours and ludicrous face time is rather ridiculous and counterproductive. There is no reason that this should be part of the routine. If our approach towards providing day care was applied to furniture, every house would have a number of conveniently placed bars for use when hanging by one’s tail, and we’d all be sitting around on the floor or stacks of books rather than chairs.

    Changing the world, or even a small piece of it, however can require heroic hours and tremendous effort, and here women run into problems because they are expected to be “well rounded”, that is, not too focused on attaining any one goal. The women, and men, for that matter, I have known who have actually changed the world were not well rounded. Mind you, they had friends, and lives, and often children and hobbies, but they also had their goal, and when something had to give, it was not their goal.

  46. Paul Graham writes off everyone with kids and a mortgage and (by extension) a desire for life outside work in a single sentence. And that’s _most people_.

  47. Richard Noggyn says:

    I think that the reason they are not “holding their own” is that the majority of women, (not all I pray) do not primarily use logic in decision making. They run usually on Feelings and the IT industry requires a more logic based approach than that of a feelings based one. This article (see link following), seems to sum up most women’s psyche and it is not conducive to Information Technology.

    (ed. note: link to article removed as page was broken)