29 1 / 2012
23 11 / 2011
I recently gave a talk at Software Craftsmanship North America about diversity in technology and programming, specifically gender and specifically in the context of teaching diverse beginners as we do in Girl Develop It Columbus. A lot of follow-up topics and questions came out of it that I felt needed more discussion and clarification. So I will be posting on them here.
When talking about diversity in technology, often the discussion revolves around only one aspect of it: diversity of gender. Which in itself tends to be limited to only one aspect of gender: those who identify as women. This effectively neglects diversity of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other aspects of gender that encompass the transgender community.
I think there is in fact a single, pragmatic reason for this. Simply put, the issue of women in technology is most accessible to the target audience. Most men in technology (who also tend to be white, straight and cisgendered) have partners, family members and friends who are women and feel connected to the topic through their connections to the women in their lives. Statistically speaking, it’s just more likely those men have those connections than connections to people of different races, etc.
This is not to say that these men, or women who are white, straight and/or cisgendered, don’t care about the full range of diversity. It’s merely to explain why the “woman” aspect tends to bubble up most often. However, it’s also a good reminder that, because of this, we need to work harder to bring this issue to the forefront.
While my own speciality is in issues relating to women, I try to connect them to larger diversity issues as often as I can. Essentially, I consider the basic principles I advocate to be just as applicable to other minority populations. Frankly, I would take it a step farther and include a description of “minority populations” to encompass anyone with divergent background, thought or personality. I know plenty of white, straight, cisgendered men who still have experiences of feeling left out or alienated because their styles don’t align with the dominant culture or zeitgeist in technology. What opens the door for women can open the door for any of these others, as well.
This is exactly why the title of my talk made no mention of women. It didn’t even specifically mention gender. I developed the content of my talk from my experience as a woman and working primarily with educating women, and I’m transparent about that. But I think the lessons learned work for a variety of situations, and I think there is a great deal of potential in the lesson of connecting your own experience to the experience of someone else in a different situation. In that vein, I make efforts to encourage those connections. I think I should make that clearer the next time I give this talk.
How exactly do we go about doing this? Several people asked me specifically what guys can do help open up tech culture, and I’m going to devote another post to that topic. In general, I advocate the principle of appreciating and treating people as individuals, and taking the time to get to know them as individuals - and expecting the same in return.
A few groups, sites, resources, etc. supporting wide diversity in STEM fields (a woefully incomplete list - please contribute suggestions if you have them):
- Blacks in Technology
- Black Girls Code
- National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP)
- American Indian Science and Engineering Society
- Article: Are Hispanics America’s Next Great STEM Innovators?
- Article: Racism and Meritocracy
In summary? People are individuals. That’s a cool thing. I think valuing individual experiences, passions and ideas breeds innovation. And I like innovation. Therefore I like individuals. And I want to build an environment where individuality and innovation can flourish.
23 11 / 2011
"This is why I personally care about diversity: it’s the canary in the coal mine for meritocracy. When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong with our selection process, that it’s not actually as meritocratic as it could be. And I believe that is exactly what is happening in Silicon Valley."
05 11 / 2011
"First things first. We’ve heard a very old argument raise its head — People can get ahead if they want to. If they’re not getting ahead, it’s their own fault. – I don’t accept that or believe it to be 100% true because of what I’ve experienced and seen growing up. While in many ways I’ve had amazing opportunities in my career, my awareness regarding other people’s opportunities, or lack of them, has not dwindled. I know that my enthusiasm is contagious but the harsh reality is that I can see people judging, comparing and calculating me and others. The comments that have shown up on posts around the NewMe Accelerator (the whole reason there is a CNN documentary), this issue with Arrington and really anytime race comes into play around technology are disturbing. I see people so far removed that they wouldn’t probably dare step out of their homes and away from the keyboard. 4chan’ing at the desk but a coward face to face."
20 10 / 2011
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."
03 10 / 2011
"If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math."
01 9 / 2011
- On tech conferences and the amazing invisible women: “No one’s telling you to kick a qualified man out of a speaking slot just to fill it with a less-qualified woman. But it wouldn’t hurt you to take a minute to see if your definition of ‘qualified’ sounds kind of similar to ‘I’ve heard of him/her before.’”
- Doing good to make us better: “Making computer science pink won’t increase the number of women, instead, we need to build up support and encouragement for all students.”
- Notes from the classroom- TA’ing at high school comp sci: “The fact that this organization has created a very practical and pragmatic way to introduce already interested young women into programming, is about 90% of the battle. These girls are there, and willing, we just have to provide the time and space to continue their exploring.”
- Why women shouldn’t write about why women shouldn’t attend tech conferences.
- A technical conference filled with women.
- The hive mind needs more women: “The implications of all of this for any company doing online business is clear: optimizing groups with more women and more democratic discussion is just as important as casting your crowdsourcing net far and wide.”
25 7 / 2011
"At that same dinner, one African American woman summed up progress in this way: ‘We’ll know we have parity when mediocre black women get funding for bad ideas at the same rate as mediocre white men.’"