Networking Organization Presentation WISE women in computer science

A Small Internet Kerfuffle

Credit: @concernedfems
Credit: @concernedfems


Last week after a series of twitter rants, I wrote up what concerned me about the “Male Allies” panel at GHC (Grace Hopper Conference) this year. A surprising number of people read and shared it, and whilst (of course) some people disagreed, or thought that ABI (Anita Borg Institute) does so much good it’s not helpful to criticise them, it was in general well received.

Last night (Wednesday, the first day of the conference) was the panel. Of course, I went. Of course, I livetweeted it. Others joined in on the hashtag and there was a game of bingo (the person who shouted bingo, if you find me, I’d like to buy you a beverage) and you can find the storify here: I captured as much as I could but I’m sure I have missed some things.

To be clear, I did not create the bingo card. One of my friends did, and I’m so proud of her for being so brilliant, and so hilarious. And I wish I had had time to play but I was frantically typing throughout!

The Good

The best thing, is that I do believe that ABI listened. Barb Gee opened mentioning my blogpost, and affirming her commitment to tackle what I had characterised as the hard problems, saying she wasn’t in the business of window dressing.

Regardless of what these men came out with, and yes a lot of it was unimpressive, I think it’s good that they showed up. I hope that aside from this time on stage, they are spending the rest of the conference listening to the many fantastic women who are here in Phoenix this week.

Another good and helpful thing to come out of it, was bits of data. Intuit haven’t revealed their diversity numbers yet (encourage them to do that!) but GoDaddy did in advance, albeit with an extremely unfortunate title. Intuit did reveal the attrition rate of their female employees (8%) and we discovered the number of men at GHC this year, 483.

The Expected Bad

Pipeline. Pipeline. Pipeline. This is an ongoing annoyance for me, that I rant about regularly. When men talk about why there are so few women, they always talk about the pipeline to the point of completely ignoring the high attrition rate that comes from women leaving the industry. That attrition rate has come to feel far more relevant to me. The pipeline is convenient because it can be addressed by throwing money at it, and because it doesn’t require the level of introspection that examining behaviour within your organisation or doing the hard work that culture change requires. Of course the pipeline also asks that women work on recruiting girls into this toxic environment.

Lean In. Honestly I was a little shocked at how up front this was, the open admission that you just need to work harder and be much better than your peers to survive. Of course they neglected to mention that this is whilst dealing with the overhead of continual micro-aggressions (they’re just being nice!), the odd headline-incident, and adding in the time requirements for all that Corporate Feminism (pipeline!) too.

Cookies for trying. The Facebook guy did admit they weren’t exactly winning at this, but one point made in the GoDaddy article about their numbers was that 18% was one percent better. There are so many things to object to here. Firstly, is that 1% statistically significant? Can we get a p-value? Secondly, it’s not clear that the numbers released are comparable, as the definition of “technical woman” varies (some companies claim Eng/PM/UX, some are broader) and operating in different countries will have significant effects on your numbers (India and China do better, Australia and the UK seem to do worse, for example). Also claiming to reflect graduation rates when graduation rates have been declining for decades and a company is not entirely made up of new grads feels intellectually dishonest.

The Unexpected Bad

My conspirators were asked not to hand out bingo cards. Whilst as a speaker myself and someone who has been harassed as a result, I sympathise with the fear of heckling. But, I think they could have embraced it more. The bingo card was created because women thought they had a good idea of what these men would say, and if these men had come out with genuinely new and insightful things and no-one got Bingo, no-one would have been happier than us.

Unconscious Bias Training. Much was made of this, and now a version of it is being run at Facebook. Personally, I have read much of the original literature on this and when I interview I put in significant time to de-gender feedback (and even being well read on this topic, I often find things). But running it as a course, scares me. Firstly, what is the quality of the facilitators running it? What level of expertise do they have? Secondly, when you create an environment where you ask people to confront the thoughts that they don’t articulate, some of them likely articulate some of those thoughts – how is this addressed, and how do the women in the room feel when that happens? Thirdly, a study suggested that anti bullying education helped bullies be more effective, does that apply here? Without data, it will be hard to say.

I know a woman. There’s a joke that men care more when they have daughters, and it’s good for pay equality at companies when a CEO has a daughter. This came up repeatedly (not just daughters, but also wives and moms and sisters), and it’s pretty depressing. There are a lot of single men, and men without female relatives in the tech industry, and that requirement is not encouraging for hope that they will start to care about their fellow human beings.

Framing as rejection of men. There was a theme in some of the messaging around this panel that we needed to involve men in the conversation, like that was a point that needed answered. I don’t know any women that dispute this. It’s more a question of which men, where, and how. I think it’s good that these men had a conversation on a stage, but did it have any effect in reaching other, less enlightened men? Maybe, there is a better stage.


TW: Mention of Sexual Assault.

ABI tried to engage with the community on Twitter last week, with the hashtag “#MoreThanWords”. When I think about men in tech using more than words, I think about sexual assault. Which is possibly because I’m jaded, or a cynic, or because I am one of many woman in tech who was sexually assaulted by a tech dudebro.

But I get their point. And I agree, that talking is insufficient, and real allies do.

Earlier this year (before I left), I wrote an internal rant on quitting what I termed “Corporate Feminism”, which was popular to the point where some women there still recognise me from it. Essentially because 1) pipeline (focus on recruitment over retention), 2) bad career move, 3) tiring. And one of the things that Alan, who was on the panel, does, is he listens to internal rants and he read it, posted a thoughtful response, and did something.

So I ran into him ahead of the panel and warned him of the livetweeting, and he mentioned that post and that people were taking advantage of what he had done, and continues to do (clearly, I should have quit Corporate Feminism years ago).

The point of this story is, I wasn’t particularly impressed by what these men said, and the numbers at the companies they represent are abysmal, so let’s not let them pat themselves on the back yet. But what really matters is what they go back to their organisations, and do.

The Concerned Feminists are watching.

57 replies on “A Small Internet Kerfuffle”

You are correct to be concerned about unconscious bias training: variable quality of teachers, mediocre content, etc. in the one UB class I’ve taken.

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[…] there was a Q&A with Satya Nadella, and a male allies plenary panel. I was more worried by, and disappointed in the panel. My friend Leigh made a bingo card, and we sat next to each other – her running […]

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