"Women in tech, where are you?"

Vít Habada on July 08, 2018

Disclaimer #0: I'm a mid-20s (male) kid that knows everything about life and parenting. /s Disclaimer #1: Prefix my statements with 'I think..' ... [Read Full]
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I actually believe it is feasible to get a lot closer to 50/50. Universities like Harvey Mudd, CMU and MIT have it figured out to at least reach 60/40 M/F. Their basic approach can be summed up as (1) make the intro subjects less dry, more interesting and more focused on how you can apply CS to solve problems in our world; (2) don't rely on students having gotten any exposure to CS before reaching the university; have classes that start from 0, and separate those with foreknowledge from those with none. That makes classes more interesting to those with foreknowledge and less intimidating to those with none. Not so hard, and notice there is nothing specific to gender about any of that. This will help the unfamiliar, intimidated male student as much as an unfamiliar, intimidated female student. There are just more of the latter.

To get past 60/40 I think we need to change societal norms and gender-based expectations. I have a whole blog post about that in progress, targeted for publishing Friday. But in a nutshell, when it comes to computer science, those societal norms can be empowering to men and discouraging to women in ways that are subtle but very impactful. And I think we can change them if we all work on it together.

I think you are a bit off-base saying that the problem is that we don't financially reward caring and people-oriented activities. That is a problem, but in a bit more general sense: our societal norms and gender expectations mess up both men and women. We mess up women by discouraging them from believing they can follow financially-rewarded careers and by expecting them to behave in ways that are not financially-rewarded. We mess up men by discouraging them from being caring and people-oriented, and expecting them to behave in ways that are aggressive and dominant. To make a very extreme illustration of this statement: there is a reason that most mass-shooters are men. But getting away from that extreme, it so happens that our biased societal expectations reward men financially more than women; there are rewards that women get (e.g. taken as a whole, more time with family) which are not widely recognized because our society is oriented so much toward financial gain. I think we need to even ALL of these things out to be fair and well-adjusted. We have lots more work to do.

 

We mess up women by discouraging them from believing they can follow financially-rewarded careers and by expecting them to behave in ways that are not financially-rewarded.

I think that hits the nail on the head. I've been involved in a couple of game development workshops with high schoolers and I find interesting that many girls started with the preconception that "this is boys' stuff" but then realised that it was fun and that they were as good as the boys with it.

So I believe that the next step after making CS degrees in universities approachable by people without prior experience is to expose teenagers to software development because that's when they are starting to consider university and career choices and many girls have the preconception that computer science is a dudes' thing.

 

By the way, I applaud all men who actually care enough about feminist topics to attempt to have a productive discussion. As Dian Fay mentions, there are many aspects to the problems, and only by caring TOGETHER and by looking for actions we can take TOGETHER can we make real progress. I've been in this industry for 20 years now, and even though the numbers haven't gotten better in that time, we've gone from "shrug, let's get back to work" to having conversations about aspects of the problem and how to work on them. It's progress.

 

Universities like Harvey Mudd, CMU and MIT have it figured out to at least reach 60/40 M/F.

That is awesome! I believe awakening and cultivating interest is the key. After all, we do remember stuff from school we found interesting (even if we are not using the knowledge on daily basis).

To get past 60/40 I think we need to change societal norms and gender-based expectations.

Given that today's world is becoming more and more interconnected I think we are able to converge somewhere rather quickly. But the norm we find might not be what we wanted - given that current discourse is based on 'group' interests.

I think you are a bit off-base saying that the problem is that we don't financially reward caring and people-oriented activities.

This whole bit is standing on James Damore's memo and the research he cites (note: I only read the abstract of the paper) basically stating that the cause for the imbalance is largely due to biologically-influenced differences in interest between men and women. And that's not something easily changed, hence I'm stressing the importance of putting a value on, well, 'good' things in general.

And I think the research result makes sense - if we abstract away from prejudice, expectations and incentives and leave men and women to find and pursuit a fulfilling purpose, then the end result can't be a 50:50 ratio across everything due to the difference in interests.
Simply, women and men are not the same and that isn't in contradiction with equality! That I think is what extremists probably fail to realize.

The case of Universities having an equal distribution of men and women might just be an aggregation bias. Also, are there any data comparing enrollment and graduation distribution of genders?

We mess up women by discouraging them from believing they can follow financially-rewarded careers and by expecting them to behave in ways that are not financially-rewarded.

This is indeed, very well put.

 

This whole bit is standing on James Damore's memo and the research he cites (note: I only read the abstract of the paper) basically stating that the cause for the imbalance is largely due to biologically-influenced differences in interest between men and women.

First off, some (honestly!) friendly advice: if you want to have a productive conversation about feminist matters, go very carefully on positively quoting Damore or using phrases like SJW as you do in another comment. Even the moderate liberal audience has a high chance of being turned off by such things. I try very hard to be open to all viewpoints, so I'm not instantly walking away here, but some people will.

I actually agree that men and women have some degree of psychological/personality differences as a whole, and that this does lead to some differences in career choice. This research says "the general population of men differs a bit from the general population of women in these measures of personality." The problem with quoting research like this is that you are making a big leap in assuming (1) the difference is large; (2) it causes [significant] differences in career choices; (3) [At least Damore assumed this, and by mentioning him you imply you agree... again the warning to be careful] it causes differences in skills that have a [significant] effect on how capable people are at succeeding in a career.

The case of Universities having an equal distribution of men and women might just be an aggregation bias.

Not sure what "equal distribution" you're talking about (60/40?) or how that is aggregation bias.

Also, are there any data comparing enrollment and graduation distribution of genders?

Graduation distribution:
dev.to/suedeyloh/fascinating-stuff...

I'm still working on getting data about enrollment, or rather dropoff rates during college. I have higher priority data I'm digging up first, like exposure rates in high school. Follow me if you want to keep an eye on what I find. :-)

[edit]
Also note: the percentage of women in software has changed over the years. From an all-time high of 37% in the 80s to a steady-state around 27% in the 90s to a new steady-state of 18% for the last decade or so. You can't say that's just "human nature" - there are societal factors involved in those changes.

First off, some (honestly!) friendly advice: if you want to have a productive conversation about feminist matters, go very carefully on positively quoting Damore or using phrases like SJW as you do in another comment. Even the moderate liberal audience has a high chance of being turned off by such things. I try very hard to be open to all viewpoints, so I'm not instantly walking away here, but some people will.

When I was quickly going through your comment, quite frustrated at the time for other reasons I might add, my initial emotional reaction was steering me towards being defensive (read "being a dick"). Literally reading the first paragraph in annoying patronizing voice. And as you say, it was difficult to read more from there. It did not feel good. And that's my problem! You are being genuine and to the point!

Of course, it does not feel good having your faults pointed out, it does not feel good to be wrong, it does not feel good to be offended by something, may it be even be a little thing. And that's fine, natural even. We do not know each others intent, emotional state, history and hardships we had to go through. And in an open discussion, it is necessary to calmly read again and really 'listen' to what the other side has to say. And one would do that, if they're truly interested in the discussion (you just did that!) - that's where I'm getting at with PC being a deterrent in my other comment.
Well, and if simply mentioning someone else's name reduces the number of participants, so be it. I can't imagine having an open discussion with such person. A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.

As I mentioned, I'm not taking any stance. I'm simply taking a premise that the research suggest and bulding from there.

Sorry, back to the point. I could argue PC all day.

First, let's note a few points that, I think, we can agree on and build from there:

  1. (A) Women are just as intelligent as men (confirmed by studies).

  2. (B) There are differences of deeper nature affecting the career choice of men and women.

  3. (C) The difference (B) is small, even insignificant, on average.

you are making a big leap in assuming (1) the difference is large

Consider a measure of 'being interested in computer science'.
Let's take a random man and a random woman out of the population. We ask the question "Who is more interested in CS and by how much"? And the answer is, statistically, that the man is more interested in CS, but only by a little, as expected. Now let's look at the numbers - how much are both interested in CS? Well not much - because average person is not interested in CS! I hope that's not surprising and we can denote it as point (D). We learned not to look at the average, because the average does not matter in this case. We need to look at the people, that are interested in CS. Simplified:

  1. Denote the measure as C - 0 being not interested in CS and 9 being very interested in CS.
  2. Assume C follows normal distribution.
  3. Let's say only people with C > 7 will pursuit CS.
  4. Let's say the difference in C between genders is only 1 in favor of men.
  5. Plot the data for each gender - horizontal axis being C and vertical axis being percent of population of men/women in given C column.
  6. We are now presented with two overlapping bell curves, men's curve being shifted by 1 to the right.

(2) it causes [significant] differences in career choices;

Now sum everything from C > 7 - that small difference in the middle results in significant difference at the end (5) because C does not scale linearly and follows normal distribution.

(3) it causes differences in skills that have a [significant] effect on how capable people are at succeeding in a career.

Similar statistical 'proof' can be used on other, already mapped, personality traits.

Math doesn't lie. But we can question this if:

  1. Personality traits do not follow normal distribution or

  2. C does not correlate with personality traits in expected manner or

  3. C does not follow normal distribution.

But evidence seem to suggest otherwise.

I'm still working on getting data about enrollment, or rather dropoff rates during college. I have higher priority data I'm digging up first, like exposure rates in high school. Follow me if you want to keep an eye on what I find. :-)

Wil do!

Also note: the percentage of women in software has changed over the years. From an all-time high of 37% in the 80s to a steady-state around 27% in the 90s to a new steady-state of 18% for the last decade or so. You can't say that's just "human nature" - there are societal factors involved in those changes.

There is an explanation for this that is aligned with the claim.

  1. (E) The study found, that more equal society gets, the bigger the difference between men and women. Scroll down to Discussion and continue from there.

  2. (F) Specifically for CS: to not be interested in CS, I have to know what CS is. Awarness of what CS is has definitely gone up since the 80s.

  3. (G) I can also argue the other side: If (E) does not hold for CS, then following (F), one could predict, that CS will be on the rise, since tech world is becoming a part of more and more people's lives and businesses. That CS will go through social 'normalization'.

Now if we are using 'CS' in general sense, then I believe that (G) holds even if (E) holds as well, because it will be quite difficult to avoid 'CS' in the tech-enabled future (it's becoming an essential skill).

If we are talking CS as (basically) a branch of mathematics, then the representation of men and women might stay more or less the same. My uni for example is very open, very theoretical and mostly full of dudes.

Now, in context of all of this, it might be interesting to see the data from the universities. From applicants to continued career in the field of study. That's why I'm fishing.

Thank you for taking my advice in the friendly spirit in which it was offered. It was not intended to be a criticism or judgment on you. I totally understand how it can be easy to interpret this kind of discussion in a negative kneejerk way. Discussions on the internet are hard.

I think the main thing you and I differ on is the degree to which we believe people's behavior is governed by nature vs. nurture. Let me offer as a counter-argument, my own discussion of the nurture side of it.

dev.to/suedeyloh/engineering-diver...

I am not nearly as interested in trying to determine what % is nature and where that leaves us, as I am in figuring out how to balance out the nurture side of the equation and THEN seeing where nature leaves us. Because I do not think we are "done" fixing the environmental factors involved. Let's spend our time on those.

The good thing is, to whatever extent environmental factors ARE part of the imbalance, we can DO things about them. So my post attempts to start addressing that.

Thank you for taking my advice in the friendly spirit in which it was offered.

That's not what I'm doing at all, quite the opposite in fact. I agree that discussions are hard but I have no intention of adjusting my speech (which I consider to be mild) for sake of not offending anyone.

balance out the nurture side of the equation and THEN seeing where nature leaves us.

Did you read the findings in the paper? The countries with more advanced 'nurture' side observed, that it has the opposite effect than expected. The gender ratios across different fields has gone down instead of up.

Now I totally agree with you that we have a lot of work in terms of making women feel more welcome and cultivating interest in women (for STEM fields specifically for example).

My point is: You are most likely focusing on the wrong number. And the (reputable) research supports that.

So what happens when there is an enormous amount of pressure on businesses and institutions on the topic of gender equality? Policies gets introduced - and thats not good for anybody. And I believe, that was the message of the memo.

If we want to move forward, we need to figure out what the relevant metric is and how to effectively measure it.
From the top of my head Strive for equal and maximal ratios of men and women, who are happy with where they are..

And for me, 'happines' in this context is:

  • doing something fulfiling, something that makes me feel good
  • being secure (financially and otherwise) and safe
  • time-dependent variable

Did you read the findings in the paper? The countries with more advanced 'nurture' side observed, that it has the opposite effect than expected. The gender ratios across different fields has gone down instead of up.

Until now I only read the abstract of the paper. Because you said that was all that you had read. I just spent some more time with it. I think you need to, also. Even in the abstract it says (emphasis mine):

Overall, higher levels of human development—including long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth—were the main nation-level predictors of larger sex differences in personality. Changes in men’s personality traits appeared to be the primary cause of sex difference variation across cultures. It is proposed that heightened levels of sexual dimorphism result from personality traits of men and women being less constrained and more able to naturally diverge in developed nations.

In the Discussion section you suggested, it repeats this message on page 176 under the graph:

The larger contribution to this correlation came from men’s shifts in personality as the mean value of their averaged scores on four dimensions— Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness—was significantly correlated with HDI, r(53) = .56, p = .001, whereas the same correlation for women was insignificant, r(53) = .17, p = .22.

And page 178.

Moreover, these changes appear to result from men’s cross-cultural personality variation. In more traditional and less developed cultures a man is, indeed, more like a woman, at least in terms of self-reported personality traits.

In other words, in the little bit of the paper you suggested I read, it looks like the differences are coming from men's changes in behavior, not women's. Yes, I'm cherry-picking science here, which I'm not actually proud of. But the main point I take away from this paper is that personality traits are partially determined by your environment, which is actually saying there is a lot less nature and more nurture in our behavior than you might think.

Look, I've been in software for 20 years and known many people. I have discussed career stuff with many men and women alike. I have been working with high school kids for 13 years, trying to get more of them interested in software. And I say again, there are many factors involved in the gender ratios we see today, but nature is far down the scale - there's a lot of stuff we need to fix still.

 

Don't take this personally, but I'm already tired enough of reading thinkpieces about The Whole Women In Tech Thing from other women in tech. We've collectively exhausted the topic of our industry's problems with respect to gender and other forms of diversity. There's nothing more to say, only things to do about it.

 

First, I'm a man (mentioned in first paragraph).

Second, I'm laying out the environment so that we can have a constructive discussion about the problem and 'do something about it'. That's the rest of the text.

Third, thanks for comment and feedback!

 

I did actually read your piece before commenting; that wasn't a shit & run! My point is that I've already read all I ever want to on the topic from people who have skin in the game, and even more from people who don't -- we're hardly lacking for men's perspectives on The Woman Issue. This is not adding anything new, not owing to any fault on your part, but simply because you're coming in late to a field of discussion which has long since been mined bare.

Enlighten me then, since you read all the angles you must have an insight.
What do you think is the core problem and what we can do about it?

If this topic was generally considered 'solved', I wouldn't have written about it, right?

The three questions are not random.

The first is a big one. If we can answer the first one, we will be much closer to the actual solution.

The second one should generate arguments against such policies (which are common and don't work), so that when they come up, we can shut them down.

The third is addressing an issue that I believe is not generally understood. Examples that comes to mind: HR complaint or a 'hero coworker'. Neither of which are effective.

Also, I assure the article is very much reactionary.

There is no one core problem (and consequently no one silver bullet), and I didn't say it was solved: I said that there is nothing new to write about the problem. I think it would have been a better use of your time to look for what's already been written -- seriously, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a hundred takes of varying quality on the situation.

As for possibilities in addressing it, here's my shortlist:

  • conduct initial resume evaluation for new hires anonymously to combat hiring bias
  • encourage tech workers to unionize to better fight for our rights across the board
  • treat salary disparity along gender, race, and other axes as wage theft and prosecute it accordingly
  • mandate adequate maternity (and paternity!) leave and ensure that family and career are not mutually exclusive goals
  • foster inclusive workplace cultures that allow full participation from everyone, deemphasize going for drinks as the primary bonding activity, ensure offsites and events are accessible and work with people's schedules as best possible

I should note that none of these are original ideas, just the ones I think will have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time. If you do a little research on your own, you'll see all of them and many, many more.

 

I stopped reading this article around the point where you wrote the word "stupid." Your use of this tone is a red flag that indicates to be that you're either here to troll or you have an axe to grind. At any rate, it's clear that you don't actually want to have a productive discussion on this topic - you want to be right.

If you hope to gain an audience for your viewpoint or have an open discussion on this topic, you might want to adjust your tone to acknowledge the possibility that you don't have all of the answers.

 

I get your point. I understand, that a strong language is a big no-no when it comes to debate.
You might get the idea that I have a some stance on this topic from the second disclaimer, but I'm not taking any - hence no reason for me to 'want to be right'. I just attempted to prepose the discussion with a bit of understanding (especially the women's side).

Despite what you probably think, I thought about whether to leave the word 'stupid' there and I'm ready to defend it:

  1. The word 'stupid' is hardly controversal in any context.
  2. In this context, I'm not adressing anyone. I'm calling a paradox resp. an argument stupid and I think justifiably.
  3. I believe, that a little bit of stronger language and political incorrectness serves as a great deterrent to the easily offended and quickly-judging people (those who don't want to discuss, because they won't listen).

Let me elaborate on the third point. For example:

You are assuming my intentions and my arrogance on this topic, distancing from actual message of this post, by focusing on a single 'not so bad' word used in directly non-offensive way.

So why do I think, is your comment so off, even when it seems so reasonable?

Well for example, you don't know whether it's a result of english not being my first language; it's not, but that's not relevant (I understand the semantics here). But argument holds: czech translation of 'stupid' is 'hloupý', which is absolutely part of literary composed language as opposed to, for example, 'dumb' meaning 'blbý'.
Similarly you don't know whether it's cultural or social matter (and hence without underlying intent).

If we apply a little bit of SJW stretching magic, one could say you are dissmissing my form of expression regardless of the content of the message, hence forcing me to follow social norm (and not express myself in a manner that I prefer) and effectively opressing me.

Of course I don't believe that, because that's stupid. I also really get your point, but try to understand where you are wrong. I would say it's just as simple-minded as ignoring someone just because of their looks.

Why is it always those who don't listen, that have the mind-reading ability.

 

Maybe some clarification is in place. I realize now, that the use of 'clickbaity' title was probably a bad idea. So why another one of these posts?

Prejudice towards genders or races won't go anywhere. There are a psychobiological reasons for those. But we have the ability to think and look past them. No ad-hoc policy will fix that prejudice. And prejudice towards gender (or race) without understanding is the core of sexism (racism).

So how can we understand the other side? By having a discussion.

"Women want preferential treatment" was my personal view of the feminist agenda from years ago, partly because a 'proper' toxic sexism seemed so absurd and absent to me (given my environment). That have been changed by awesome women having an open discussion with me instead of shouting 'inequality'.
..And I'm thinking feminism in a most general sense possible here, steering away from the extremists.

The reason why I chose this medium is because I believe the dev community consists of intelligent, educated/informed and open-minded people. Sounds like a good place for fishing for opinions on this topic.

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