Career Education WISE women in computer science

Crisis of Conscience

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Credit: Flickr / Jessica Garro

At some point, my doubts about whether it was the Right thing to do, to encourage high school girls to go into Computer Science crystallised, and I accepted – I just cannot do it anymore. I cannot tell them that it is a good idea, that they will be treated well, that there are plentiful opportunities for women. The data suggests that having a Bad Time is statistically… at least not unlikely.

This was probably around the time I got really fed up of people in the industry pointing to schools as the problem.

University students I’m more conflicted about. The closer to graduation, the more committed they are. Prep them as they go into the Real World. Earlier… I don’t know. I found watching, even from afar, a girl switch into, and then be driven out of CS heartbreaking.

Because I don’t need to talk to her to have a good idea of what happened.

I’ve heard the same stories, again and again, I’ve told them too. It is hard. The diminishing remarks (see this thread on Quota), being patronised – when will it stop? Personally, I’m still waiting. Feeling other. Being sidelined, marginalised, left out.

So more and more I’m focused on the women who are still here. I reach out to them (usually via Twitter), especially if I have some inkling they are having a Bad Time. I encourage them to go after opportunities, or to be selfish and focus on looking after themselves, and cheer them on when they succeed. And I get all of these things back from this network, too.

I got some interesting advice the other day, which was that when (the assumption was when) I have kids, I’ll be too busy to care, or to notice the micro-aggressions, outright aggressions, and other BS. Which is an interesting perspective, but one that I’ll leave others to explore.

But one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, is where is the middle ground between doing all the things, and Fuck you, I got mine? There is an emotional toll to noticing, a time-tax on needing to act, that maybe we can’t always afford. Not-noticing something can be an act of self-preservation, not malice. Although denying someone else’s observations is invariably unhelpful and often harmful, where does denying our own fall?

I’ve been spending much more time talking to men lately, and I’ve discovered that they are often awful to each other, too. I basically had no idea of this, and my unproven theory is: most guys being jerks comes from insecurity, they pick the easiest target, women are (in general) easier targets than other men.

Also, the men who are the targets (for the most part) don’t have the added burden of stereotype threat that women face. The guy is just a jerk, whereas for women there is always the possibility that he is a jerk and a misogynist.

Now, not noticing, makes so much more sense to me. Not only as a way of self-protection,  but also because it is less glaring.

All I’m concluding is: I can’t judge people for their (non-harmful) protective methods (I wish I was better at them) and I’m no longer so surprised when other women haven’t noticed things. And I can’t sell this industry to any more high school girls.

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