I love both of these pictures: Ashley Martin in the Jacksonville State locker room following her outing as the first female kicker in Division I football history and 18 year-old Cheryl Haworth lifting 127.5 kgs during the Goodwill Games in Brisbane. I'm happy to see women succeeding in traditionally male sports, and getting coverage for doing so. You know, I always wanted to be a wide receiver or quarterback. Quarterback Princess was one of my favorite TV movies ever (I didn't realize Helen Hunt played the lead role) and I used to play flag and touch football during the summers whenever I had the chance. If you're ever in SF and inclined to throw the ol' pigskin around, give me a ring.
I'm thinking about organizing a discussion/chat/coffee klatch about this whole women-in-technology thread we've been having this week, and thinking the P2P conference next month in DC is the place. Will you be there? Would you be interested in talking about ways to get more women involved in conferences (both attendance and speaking), and any other issues? Let me know and if there's enough interest, I'll try to pull something together. Of course, if you live in the area, regardless of whether you'll be at the conference, your attendance would be appreciated.
What? I have a favorite comment? I hadn't realized I was such a dork.
Hey! That's my hand! It's not everyday one sees one's hand on the world wide web, you know.
Happy birthday, pb. Happy birthday pb. Happy birthday, dear pb-e, happy birthday pb! Yippee!
My mom sent me her thoughts via email (though I told her to post it as an essay on her blog). Since receiving her MSIS degree in 1986, she has worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation, CompuServe, and (for ten years) Sybase.
I took a look at the new postings you noted on megnut yesterday and feel that my experience is quite different. Maybe it’s not being in the ‘dot com’ area, but I just don’t see such a lack of women in the various places I’ve worked over the last 15 years. The workplaces I’m talking about are database and application companies, companies like Sybase, Peoplesoft and Lawson Software where I’ve worked with, and for, a balance of men and women, and where women have been equally well-versed in programming skills and respected for their technical capabilities.
Of course I did get my start in a special Master’s program at Northeastern University called Women in Information Systems. At that time in the mid 80’s it didn’t seem unusual for such a program to be designed specifically for people with non-technical degrees who wanted to move into a technical area, and to have the program in its title, assume those non-technical people would be women. However even in those first years, it was not strictly limited to women, and there was one male student in my class. In fact the program still exists, and with the same name, though it now specifically includes men in its introductory statements.
When I think specifically about technical women I’ve worked with, I think of the woman who co-managed the development of row-level locking at Sybase, as well as coding a major piece of it herself, the woman who was the mainstay of technical support for years and relied on by everyone in engineering to solve the most technically difficult problems, and all sorts of other women who did, and do, development programming and who know their way around performance and tuning issues on just about any operating system. Perhaps these sorts of women just haven’t jumped onto the web/blog bandwagon as yet, but should they choose to do so, there’s no question that they could hold their own technically. And, though I’ve singled out a couple of exceptional women, they were part of an overall balanced male/female workforce.
Of course, I’ve read the statistics on how fewer women are going into the field, but I wonder if that isn’t just in the US. Many of the technical women I was remembering were green-card holders, mainly from India, and fairly recent recruiting that I’ve done uncovered many female, primarily foreign, candidates as well. When I recruited at Northeastern I found this to be true of the WIS program, though when I went through, I can’t remember being classmates with any foreign students. Actually, in the last year or two at Sybase, I’ve noticed a dearth of native-born Americans in engineering in general, both male and female, with the preponderance of programmers being from India or China.
I don’t know what conclusions can or should be drawn from any of this, but you’re right that this area of attracting more (US) women into computing is fascinating.
More links and resources:
The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris was recommended to me by a reader. Kirku Reviews writes:
Social psychologist Tavris (Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, 1983) unveils society’s systemic and often unconscious definition of the male as the norm against which women must measure up or be found deficient–a provocative and thought-provoking look at how sexism persists today.
It’s received good ratings over at Amazon, I’m going to check it out.
Girlstart in Austin, TX is a non-profit which, “encourages and empowers girls in mathematics, science, technology, and engineering.”
Her Domain of Austin (a very cool resource which is great if you live in that area) has a list of women’s sites.
Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists? by Ellen Spertus from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “A theme of the report is that women’s underrepresentation is not primarily due to direct discrimination but to subconscious behavior that tends to perpetuate the status quo.” Highly recommended read.
And how could I have forgotten to mention the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing? Though the conference won’t occur until October 2002, I’m already looking forward to attending since I couldn’t make it last year.
And finally, WITI – Women in Technology International a women in technology portal of sorts.
Thanks again to folks who sent in links and recommendations.
I'm continuing to do a lot of thinking about women in technology and I've been combing through my own personal history for signs of technical encouragement and discouragement. I'll write up my findings in the next day or so. In the meantime, here are some interesting links on this topic, many sent in by megnut readers.
GenTech Publications (GenTech is "an applied research project whose mandate is to create conditions within which girls and women have maximum access to, and confidence in, a wide range of new information technologies")
Dori Smith's thoughts on women speakers at tech conferences
A MetaFilter thread on this issue.
An anonymous email to Dave from a woman in high tech regarding her struggles.
Thanks to everyone who's written with words of encouragement and support, I really appreciate it. And I'm glad to know I'm not alone on this issue. The mounds of email really made my day. 🙂
As I suspected, I poked a stick in a hornet's nest with my comments yesterday. But that's fine, because I think this is an important issue that bears discussion and we've been silent on it for far too long. Dave's post which I was unable to link to yesterday is available again. Dave's also got some more stuff on his site today in response to my piece and there's an interesting essay by Robert Scoble on his Scobleizer site. (Scary stuff by Scoble, definitely worth a read. He says he observed that mostly the boys were playing with the computers. Does it really start this young? Egad. Though he also says the boys were playing computer games, and with a dearth of quality games for girls [like they're going to play this?], I begin to understand why they chose not to use the computer.)
To clarify some points from yesterday, and perhaps some misunderstandings. First, I want to make clear that I did not mean to imply that conferences were at fault in any of this. I recognize that there are often very few women speakers to invite. This is merely a symptom of the problem, not the cause. And it's one I've spoken about with concerned folks like Rael Dornfest, who want to see more female attendance and participation at O'Reilly's events.
Second, Dave writes, "When Meg looks at me she sees a mindless sexist — her words not mine." [update: this has been changed on his site.] Actually, I said Dave was "spouting some sexist drivel," which is quite different. In fact the word "mindless" didn't appear any place on this page . I certainly don't consider Dave mindless, in fact I think he's very mindful; he is always thinking and questioning. I take umbrage at his assumptions, the little sexist generalizations that he doesn't seem to realize he's dropping. (And these assumptions go both ways you know, there's a bunch of stuff that he says about men that I think is untrue as well, that builds upon the same old societal stereotypes regarding roles of men.)
For example: (all emphasis mine)
On the decentralization mail list I asked if the P in XML-RPC is People. The discussion up till now has been very male-oriented, about the finer points of plumbing. Only a man could find this interesting (disclaimer: I am a man).
Everywhere I looked there were secretaries and librarians, doing the organizing and writing. The Web is a structure of documents. Women get that in a way men don't. Evolution created them that way.
Now we need to connect it all together, and we need help to do that, because we're mostly men, and men don't do civilization.
Here's the one that pissed me off yesterday:
But software comes from men with few exceptions. And I'm not saying anything should change there, there may be a reason why men's minds are better suited to creating complex and dark caves and patiently retrying connections. Evolution created us differently from women.
Dave doesn't ask if men's minds are better suited, he wonders if there's a reason why men's minds are better suited. The assumption here is that men are biologically more adept at creating software than women. Also he brings up a long-held misconception about female capacities when he talks about "creating complex" pieces of work, as if women can't do this. Opponents of female enrollment at universities in the 19th century argued the complexity of studies were beyond a woman's grasp, and potentially damaging to her reproductive system and mental health.
But lest you think I want to bash Dave to bits, which I don't, I'll concede a point he makes. Dave writes, "And I see Meg as fearful of something." Yes, I am fearful of something: of the 21st century unfolding like all the others before it, as male-dominated.
Men continue the run the show and every day women are missing out on the opportunities to craft and lead what are critical elements of the 21st century. This stuff is the advancement of humanity; the New Economy, the post-New Economy, Silicon Valley, technology and the web, it's all changing the way society interacts and communicates, and women need to be involved on all levels.
I'm also fearful because women are so silent when sexism appears. I'm fearful the young women think women's liberation is over; the movement's done. How many women do you know who say things like, "I'm not a feminist but…" What's wrong with being a feminist? And why are so many men, and women, afraid of the label? I am terrified that men will continue to hold the power and control. And I'm afraid that women will silently sit back and let them.
In other news that's very cool, the U.S. lightweight women's quad took home a silver medal at the 2001 World Rowing Championship in Lucerne, Switzerland. That's Marny Jaastad in the bow, who was my captian the first year I rowed at Tufts. Woo hoo Marny! Congratulations!
Dave's spouting some sexist drivel on his site today, which I'd point you to but he's removed most of it. There was nice crock of shit about men being better suited to programming than women and several other comments that riled my blood. All that remains is an important observation regarding the percentage of women in attendance at tech conferences, which is always so out of wack. And it's something that really irritates me, not only the lack of women, but especially the lack of female speakers at most events.
Dave's suggestion is to pair conferences ("A librarian conference at the same facility as a developer conference. They'd get better software and we'd get more users and kinder feedback?" [Kinder feedback? Is that because women are so sweet and nice?]) so there'd be more "female energy." But that doesn't address the root of the problem: the imbalance of women and men in the tech industry. We need more role models to inspire the next generation of women. More women in senior positions, and in influential speaking and leadership roles, is an important step to increasing the numbers of women in the industry.
In the next two months I'll be speaking at three conferences: O'Reilly's Peer-to-Peer and Web Services Conference, Seybold SF, and Wizards-of-OS: Operating Systems and Social Systems and I can't wait. Back in February I looked at the photos posted online of the first P2P conference and I observed the majority of folks speaking and attending were male, and that bothered me. I realized I could whine and moan about the lack of female participation at these events, or I could do something about it, so I made a decision: I would try to speak at more conferences to rectify that imbalance. I'd demonstrate that there are women starting companies and building products and doing programming as well as men. Three conferences isn't much, but it's a start. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.