WISE women in computer science

Friends, Allies

Credit Deviant Art / LashelleValentine
Credit Deviant Art / LashelleValentine

After my recent experiences, I’ve been thinking a lot about men. Not in the way where I think they are all misogynistic, sexually assaulting jerks (although yes, my idea of the prevalence of these things is off – I hope). But also just clinging to those in my life who I know have a healthy respect for other humans, for women, for me.

Weirdly, it was easier to talk to my male friends about the creep-on-the-plane. They were just purely horrified and angry on my behalf. Women were more likely to comment on how I should have reacted, and have a more complicated reaction because of things that had happened to them, or other women they know.

I’ve realized, lately, and I think I’m horribly slow to this, that men have a huge part to play in addressing the lack of women in tech, and so few of them seem to realize it.

There is this range, from don’t care, to panic. It’s rare to see people at either side of it, although you do find them.

Most fall in the middle, somewhere around well-meaning-but-not-actually-helping. The ones who don’t actually want to think it’s a problem, who will go to great lengths to ignore things, say things like “that guy is a jerk to everyone!”, or “some men have that problem too! So what are we doing about that?”

Sometimes they are afraid it will take something from them, that if we have more women that will mean there will be less men. They worry they won’t make the cut, and have to deny it, hide behind some ideas of meritocracy, that aren’t really all that meritocratic.

And then there are those that get it. Maybe they want their daughters, sisters, wives to have the same opportunities they do, maybe they are viscerally terrified that they cannot succeed without a diverse team, because they want to create things that work for everyone, not just nerdy boys.

I’ve become convinced that right now, one of the best ways we wil see progress is to find these guys, and pull them towards the edge, until they are as angry as we sometimes are. Until they see it. Panic.

I really think, that we have got towards the end of the benefits we will see from a bunch of dudes in a room. The next places that technology will revolutionize will require a broader view of the world. People expect more, demand more, you can’t not cater to 51% of the population because their husbands and fathers are actually making the decisions. That isn’t the case anymore, if it ever was. Women are the biggest users of social networks, the drivers of consumer spending. So you need to know what they worry about when you consider privacy, have some idea of how they shop (clue! Efficiency is often not the major goal).

When we talk about the dream of getting women into tech, we talk about numbers. One third is the magic number. That was the case when I was at IBM, on my old team, on my current one. It’s actually awesome. But rare.

I have a slightly different one.

I want to have technical women that I don’t like. I want to work with technical women who I don’t think are amazing, and I want to not freak out about that. I want to have enough women around me that I build relationships with those I have stuff in common with, more than just a job title.

There is this stereotype of what a woman in tech is like, near tech, not making, and wrangling engineers that she seems to despise. It bothers me when I encounter women like that. It bothers me that it bothers me. That we have this idea of what it means to be a woman in tech, and it doesn’t even seem to be technical. The idea that you have to be a certain way – usually some version of a nerdy scifi lover who never had a girlfriend in high school is just so limiting. To women, but also to some men.

The boy is telling me about his day, and he says something about “loading things into your head” like he’s some kind of computer himself. And I say, “that’s not what I do. I mostly work by having feelings and I follow them around the codebase”.

He thought I was joking, but I’m not. Thankfully we never made it to the topic of what must be wrong with me to work like that.

Maybe it’s just, I’m not a nerdy boy.

It would be nice if that was less weird, and less hard.

One reply on “Friends, Allies”

I’ve become convinced that right now, one of the best ways we wil see progress is to find these guys, and pull them towards the edge, until they are as angry as we sometimes are. Until they see it. Panic.
I’m not sure when it happened, but somehow this is me. I always cared, I always thought it was important, and then somehow… it tipped into real anger. It’s not just about my wife and friends: it’s about my students that preface every question with “I’m sorry,” as though raising their hand in a Q&A session is an imposition. It’s about the women I know as peers in STEM fields, many of them brilliant, who’s fathers told them that they’d never be good at math. It’s about the friends who tell me quietly, like it’s something to be ashamed of, that yeah, that is why they are so involved with making campus resources for assault survivors better. And of course, it’s also about the stories that turn your stomach because you just don’t understand how somebody could do that to their own daughter.

I’m not sure I have a point here, just that I think you’re right. Angry is the right response.

Also, your blog is great. Both the parts that address things that suck, and the parts that address things that are awesome. Thanks for writing it!

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