Career women in computer science

Diversity is an Attention Economy and the Economics Suck

be the change
Credit: Wikimedia

A while ago there was an article about how women got more RTs when they talk about diversity than when they talk about anything else.

This wasn’t that surprising to women, I don’t think, although it may have been news to some people. Well before this was news, I had been trying to balance what I put out there, and how much is about women (I limit myself to ~1/6 posts), but I can only control the output, not the response. To be honest I think that by volume (this is still ~2 a month) even if not percentage, I put enough out there that is overtly feminist means I am more known for that than anything else. 

I think about this anytime I see yet another list of women. Why do we have to have lists of women? Because women (often) don’t get included on lists of people. And because it’s share bait. Men hit RT thinking they are improving the visibility of women, and they are, but usually the visibility of women as women and not so much for the awesome stuff they do.

I think about this when I see a bunch of press about how diverse a founding team is, whilst they struggle to meet their crowdfunding goal.

I think about this every time I see a product aimed at improving inclusivity, because the truth is that if women and minorities are only feted for and more importantly – paid – for being women and minorities, nothing changes. The market for inclusivity is measured in $M, not $B, and it’s heavily service oriented.

A few weeks ago I locked down social media because I had refused to back down on wanting a code of conduct, and apparently angry feminists asking for things is something that some people think people should be warned about. It was shitty. It felt really shitty. I wrote about it, and a lot of people shared it. And great, sharing is good. In it though, I included a list of things people could do to help.

Invite me to speak: I got a couple of invites, this was nice.

Buy a product from a diverse founding team: This got at least one bitter complaint, I have no idea how many people did.

Sponsor the newsletter I co-curate: one person (thank you!) reached out to sponsor personally. But no companies  have bought sponsorship slots since then.

Apparently the end of the year can be slow for this kind of thing, but ever since that whole thing happened, I have worried that I unintentionally sacrificed the sustainability of a side project to a moral stance.

That’s not a good feeling. I feel an obligation to use my visibility to push for things that others feel they can’t. Did I overestimate my privilege here? My collaborator and I will personally be fine, but do our subscribers eventually lose out on a thing that we know has made a big difference to a number of people? Will this end and we’ll trace it back to this moment, and say, well we had a sustainable thing but then Cate had an opinion and everyone tweeted but there was somehow no more money ever again. Will some time pass and things pick up and we’ll just make a bit less, and it’s not clear how much less. I don’t know. I hope not. But it’s definitely a possibility.

One thing I explicitly did not include is donate. I hate the cycle of fuck-up-donate-nothing changes. Of course people asked for places to donate to anyway.

This is why we talk about #GiveYourMoneyToWomen, and by the way, give your money to PoC as well. Give your money to trans/NB people. Give it to LGB people. Exchange your money for products built by people who aren’t cishet white men with regularity and with enthusiasm. One argument I have heard against this, is that you shouldn’t buy something that you don’t really want just because of who the founders are. But actually, this is the entire purpose of the Old Boys Club. And if we who are not welcome in the Old Boys Club do not do this for each other – who will?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what male allies do, and I have come to the conclusion that they don’t need to do everything. Some speak up about inclusivity, which is great, we need that.

But actually I want to see:

  • Paying diverse people for products / services.
  • Hiring and promoting diverse people.
  • Investment in diverse founding teams.
  • Doing the work to create inclusive environments, calling out problematic behaviour (if done in a timely manner, this need not be a major event).

Nothing changes unless the balance of money and the balance of power changes. Talking and sharing doesn’t change the economics. So next time you’re about to share a list of women and feel like you’ve done your work on inclusivity for the day/week/month/year, move your mouse away from the “RT” button and click on the “BUY NOW” button instead.

Things I work on:

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