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Women in tech: Gender parity or forced quotas?

Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

A few personal blog posts have recently been surfacing about the "issue" of women in tech, specifically experiences and female representation at conferences.

While in all articles the women state they are feminist (none of that "I only hang out with boys 'cause girls are lame" crap) they take interesting stances.

Lea's Pensieve article, aptly titled On Women in Tech, discusses the idea of forced quotas for women at tech conferences and how these quotas can actually harm the representation of women in tech rather than promote it and change the view.

It was glaringly obvious that one of the reasons they had been invited was to fill an unspoken quota. Did that make me feel better as a woman in tech? Absolutely not. It terrified me. It became one of my worst fears when giving talks. I always feel I have to try extra hard to prove I’m not there because I’m a woman, but because I’m a good developer and I have something valuable to teach. It was the driving force behind my presentation style, my focus on going deeper in the technologies I talk about, my penchant for surprising people with things they didn’t know. I can’t say it turned out bad for me. I do get enthusiasticreviewsaftermost technical talks I give. However, the quota failed miserably in its original intention: To inspire me by seeing other women on stage.

Julia Ann Horvath writes in On Women in Tech: A Different Perspective , a somewhat response blog to the above article (but not in a mean way) that though they Women Initiatives can be misguided at times they are ultimately useful in building community and support.

Sure, there are problems that have arisen as a result of more people paying attention to the lack of diversity in our industry. Some of these problems were addressed in a recent blog post and while I had a hard time agreeing with the author's conclusions about the impact of the Women in Tech movement, I found a few specific arguments to be valid:

  • I, too, am deeply bothered by the idea that women should or would be hired into roles they aren't qualified for, to meet a quota. It's a problem that I've been vocal about in hiring conversations and my concern has been met with respect and consideration by most.

  • As a woman, and someone from a mixed background, I, too, am offended by people who use racial or gender-equality issues as a platform to promote themselves or to define their personal brand.

 


Comments

Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

I think both blogs are constructed well and ultimately end on the point that women centred iniatives are great if they are created by the "right" people for the right reasons. The right people being those who believe in women and women in tech and want to see an equality within the field.

This article also came out today and I have not read it yet "Taking My Seat at the Tech Table" by Stephanie


cubicalgangster
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Joined: Dec 11 2008

Norway is seen as a country that has greater gender neutrality than the rest of the developed world, yet has one of the largest gender disparities in the tech industry. Country's with less gender neutrality, like in the developing world, have a more equal distribution of the sexes in these work forces. Certain anthropologists suggest that this is because in a world where people are free to choose they are more likely to adhere to their own personal preferences.

One question I have concerning women in technology is, considering that there is an imbalanced ratio of genders present in this industry, if it's naturally occurring why are people trying to change it. Here in Montreal, the employment services YES is really pushing in technology. But if the trend is that women are less likely to gravitate towards this kind of work why are we as a society then trying to promote it?

I also agree with the quotation in the first post, won't quotas serve to disenfranchise the women who choose to be there? If women are generally less geared towards technology and we do nothing to promote their presence in the industry doesn't that better serve the women who do choose the industry?

I see women being treated equally and equal representation of the sexes in various industries as two different things, and these moves to balance ratios seems redundant in the fight for equality.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

Hi cubicalgangster,

I respectfully disagree with every word you said - except about Norway, and that's only because I haven't seen your sources yet.

 


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001
Canadian Women in Technology (CanWit)has a mentorship program for girls and women who are interested in tech careers. Their studies have concluded that by the time girls reach grade 8 or 9, they've already chosen their course. When surveyed, girls overwhelmingly stated that they feared interest in tech careers would make them unpopular among their peers, even subject them to ridicule. That's the kind of messaging coming down to them. Even after achieving a high degree of academic success, women are second choice when it comes to secure appointments and leadership roles. When I worked in computer science, I watched a brilliant Palestinian Canadian scholar, with numerous publications and research grants amounting to more a million dollars, get passed over as Department Chair in favour of a less talented, non-productive 50-something white guy who skated along on one minimal NSERC grant. It had been years since he'd published to any degree other than adding his name to grad student work. Fortunately the Faculty of Science finally got with the program and appointed the woman to head CS some years later. Women don't choose to reject tech careers so much as they are discouraged by negative social stereotyping and diminished career choices. Just take the case of my eldest daughter who worked in IT for years, enduring sexual harassment from her married boss, watching as her male coworkers got training and advancement while she was told she was only hired because the owner thought she had a nice ass. She's back in school now, studying to be a systems analyst, and is breezing through her courses. http://canwit.ca/

Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

Perhaps women are less likely to chooe fields outside STEM because we're discouraged from it from the time we are very young.  Math and engineering are for boys, we're told, toys that develop spatial and building skills are marketed as boy toys, with the occasional inferior product produced in pink (remember the pink microscope that came out a few years ago? Was it Amazon or Toys R Us?). Meanwhile, chemistry sets for girls are for concocting makeup and perfume and princess images are pushed on them before they're even verbal.  Might, just might, that have anything to do with it?  (Correct answer is YES. You can add NO DUH for good measure.)

The argument is basically this - women don't go into STEM because they're naturally inclined not to, see for reference the socially approved toys they choose, and they're socially approved for girls because it's really their preference and nature not to go into STEM.

It's essentialism.  You define who we are by our genital structure and secondary sex characteristics before we're allowed to choose.  This is, in fact, a completely sexist position to take, cubicalgangster.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Not to mention women who wind up not getting an education because they are saddled with kids, or are in families where the priority goes to the boys, or numerous other factors.

No, women aren't inclined toward technology at all:

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

Be sure to read the part about how, while on the world's first test-drive of a car, she brainstormed how to repair and refuel it in a world with no parts shops or gas stations.

Never mind the false assumption that so-called traditional women's work isn't itself highly technical. It's just not valued or paid that way.

 


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

Then there are the many women who leave STEM careers because of harrassment in male-dominated workplaces, or because of inflexible workplaces that penalize you for taking mat leave or having to deal with kids.  I've been following a number of female science bloggers and they often battle the attitude that once you are a mother, you aren't worth advancing, even if you have a partner who is sharing the childcare. 

The really interesting part, for me, is that the workplace would be better for both men and women if we stopped looking at kids as a working woman's problem and thought of it as a working parent's problem.  But first we have to address that endemic essentialism that says women are the primary parent and men just "help" (which is incredibly insulting to pretty much all the fathers I know).


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001
Couldn't agree with you more TB. A friend's partner, an engineer with a very bright future, took a 6 month mat leave. Upon return she found that most of her responsibilities had been farmed out and that her hours had been cut. Constructive dismissal, if you will. Last I heard her job was eliminated and my friend and his partner were taking the company to court. There are many more women in engineering than there used to be, but the dominant male culture remains intact.

Ghislaine
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Joined: Feb 15 2008

Timebandit wrote:

Then there are the many women who leave STEM careers because of harrassment in male-dominated workplaces, or because of inflexible workplaces that penalize you for taking mat leave or having to deal with kids.  I've been following a number of female science bloggers and they often battle the attitude that once you are a mother, you aren't worth advancing, even if you have a partner who is sharing the childcare. 

The really interesting part, for me, is that the workplace would be better for both men and women if we stopped looking at kids as a working woman's problem and thought of it as a working parent's problem.  But first we have to address that endemic essentialism that says women are the primary parent and men just "help" (which is incredibly insulting to pretty much all the fathers I know).

I agree with you here - but just one small point - kids shouldn't just be looked at as a "problem" for employees of either gender to deal with. a sick toddler for example cannot go to daycare and just needs tlc all day long. Kids are the next generation, the next engineers perhaps. I know it wasn't your intention timebandit, but I don't think dust saying "the kids are the problem of both parents" will move us forward. we just have to accept missed days at work/coming in late due to children as part of life, normal, accepted, accomodated, etc. My husband and I take turns doing sick days/appointments, etc. I still always feel guilty missing work though. and if I send the kids to daycare when they are borderline sick I feel guilty too. 


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

I think outside obligations are viewed as problems in the workplace as things currently stand, though.  Not just kids, but aging parents who need attention, for example.  In addition to workplaces often lacking compassion for people who have others depending on them, up until now, these obligations are seen to apply disproportionately to women, unfortunately.  I'd really like to see that change.

 


Kaitlin McNabb
Online
Joined: Oct 19 2011

What Women Don’t Want

Until Tuesday morning, Pax Dickinson was Chief Technology Officer of the online magazine Business Insider. And until yesterday, not many people had heard of Pax. I only first encountered him two weeks ago, and now wish I never had.

Two apps were demo’ed at this tech mega-conference, one to help users share photos of themselves sneaking peeks at women’s breasts, and the other giving users points for mimicking male masturbation. Both “Titstare” and “Circle Shake” were displayed in front of a mixed crowd that included teens from BlackGirlsCode and even a nine-year-old hacker, there to present her own site. Yesterday morning, I awoke to find a tweet from Pax in my stream, claiming that TechCrunch should apologize to the TitStare founders for calling them misogynists.

Also, from Pax Dickinson's twitter:

"misogyny" is "hatred of women". It is not "misogyny" to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take women seriously, or to enjoy boobies.

NO SERIOUSLY HE SAID THAT ABOUT MISOGYNY.

ugh, I fear seeing his definition of racism. It probably goes something like this "racism is only when you enslave another race, not if you systematically continue to infringe their rights or just hate them because of their skin colour."


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

The worst part of the Pax Dickinson caper is that he's not that unusual.  If he was just some bizarre anomaly, you know, you could just dismiss him and hope he continues to be his own worst enemy as his career circles the bowl.  Sadly, he's just one of many. 

Just look at what happens when women start designing video games and talk about inclusivity and story lines - death threats, rape threats, threats to harm their children, horrible stuff.  So much so that they leave:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/08/16/video-game-writer-leaves-company-after-threats-against-her-children/

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9014450/Death_threats_force_woman_to_suspend_blog_cancel_talk_at_O_Reilly_conference

Dickinson isn't the problem, he's just the symptom.  Like the rash from the measles.  First you have to find a way to kill the virus.


Kaitlin McNabb
Online
Joined: Oct 19 2011

Preach it Timebandit.

I think what the good news is about this case is his former partner, a lady who quit the company out of disgust, issued a statement about how she dismissed the sexism arguments before and now she realizes she was wrong to do it.

http://www.businessinsider.com/why-im-finished-defending-sexism-in-tech-...

My friend pointed out: Addressing stuff like she thought she was "in" with the broculture and therefore was excepted from sexism, which is a common mentality ("I'm totally a guys girl, other girls who are uptight about sexism are just being uncool!") is a good critque to make.

That is so, so common and prevalent especially in teen girl culture. How many times have we heard "I don't really have girl friends because I don't like drama. I have so many guy friends" as a selling point for being "cool" or exempt from "girl culture"

Sadly, probably this women's point will be dismissed because she has "boobies"


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

Interestingly enough, this is something that is also going on in the skeptic/atheist community.  Google "elevatorgate" (but only if you've got a strong stomach).  A lot of the female defenders of the dudebro skeptics (I'm looking at you, Penn Gillette) are playing the "I'm female and I'm not offended by rape jokes/sexual harassment/sexist jokes, so X is being a professional victim" game.

I have always had a lot of male friends, and at some points in my life they've outnumbered female friends.  Some of them have, from time to time, gotten their noses out of joint when called on behaviour where they haven't examined their biases.  The good ones get over it and learn.  Some of them are going to be harder to educate than others.


Kaitlin McNabb
Online
Joined: Oct 19 2011

eek! not googling!

Ugh, I really hate that rhetoric "Well I'm a ____ and it doesn't offend me therefore it's not offensive" as if one experience or perception negates and devalues everyone elses and that is always the person the d-bags search out to justify their terrible opinions. "well, I know a girl who is a friend and she said it's fine, therefore I can make this joke."

I find the most annoying thing with being friends with some groups of men is earning the rep of "don't offend her, she'll get mad" or various permutations of that. I never understood why the thought process couldn't be carried one step further -- like, if you are offending me, someone you arguable care about, with your crappy sexist jokes, maybe you're offending a lot of women/POC/anyone?

Also with same group you get stuck in the feminist buzzkill/educator role and it blows, mostly because I don't like having to feel like I have to "teach" people why it's not okay to make rape jokes and then defend my opnion like it is absurd... sigh.


Kaitlin McNabb
Online
Joined: Oct 19 2011

Also, this dude Pax, is digging himself an enormous hole on twitter. I look forward to him never getting out.


Francesca Allan
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Joined: Feb 25 2013

Timebandit wrote:
A lot of the female defenders of the dudebro skeptics (I'm looking at you, Penn Gillette) are playing the "I'm female and I'm not offended by rape jokes/sexual harassment/sexist jokes, so X is being a professional victim" game.

Reading this thread reminds me that I don't exactly alway stick up for the sisterhood. I wouldn't ever say anything like you've quoted TB, but all the same I do tend to talk more about gender parity with my female friends and more about my problem with spousal support with my male friends.

Timebandit wrote:
I have always had a lot of male friends, and at some points in my life they've outnumbered female friends.

This has always been true for me and I've never understood it.


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