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Women, IT & The Outrage Machine
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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 12:45:35 PM
NSF stats tell the story
I think that this stat:  "Women constituted the majority of graduate students in ... medical/other life sciences (76%), biological sciences (57%), and social sciences (54%) ... meshs perfectly with the Girl Scout data. Three of the most math & science oriented young women I know are majoring in life sciences - two in biomedical engineering and one in biochemistry. They can use their talents to help people.

IT really is often portayed as a bunch of guys in a dark room, eating cold pizza, staring at screens and scratching their pits. The problem isn't with the women, it's with how IT is marketed as a profession.

 
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 1:51:19 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
My niece is earning her PhD in math and has done considerable work in computer science. When she talks with my wife and me about her field, she gushes about the work, the challenges, the joy of learning and teaching. She doesn't complain that most of her professors or fellow PhD candidates are men. She doesn't worry that she's going into a field that remains male-"dominated." Maybe she's naive. But i don't think so.
TechNoSeattle
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TechNoSeattle,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2014 | 2:16:07 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
I can't believe she discriminates against programmers that like country music!
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 3:14:02 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Come on -- people discriminate for all kinds of reasons, both consciously and unconsciously. At least she's upfront about it. On another column about rating sites for HC providers there's a discussion of reasons people dump their doctors. We all have our peeves. And honestly, the idea that a coworker might insist on listening to people sing about red Solo cups might make me weigh in against that hire.
TechNoSeattle
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TechNoSeattle,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2014 | 3:14:56 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Sorry, I was just kidding.  :)
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 3:27:07 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
I figured - but then again, I'm dead serious about the cup song :-D
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 5:57:03 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
As a country music fan, I can't support that particular bias. Though I do know someone who wouldn't hire a programmer who didn't play some musical instrument. As Lorna says, we all have our biases.
Tammie Colivariti
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Tammie Colivariti,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 10:02:36 AM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Note we hired the developer irrespective of his musical tastes. He had the appropriate credentials and experience, after all, which is far more important - despite the fact that it turned out poorly (as predicted).

As Lorna noted, we all discriminate based on biases and ancedotal experience that shapes our perceptions. Vivek Wadwha cites Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, who further cites research that "shows that people tend to hire those who are similar to them." 

I've had to take personality tests before being hired to make sure I, you know, fit in with the rest of the organization and its culture.

I'm not likely to be successful or happy joining an organizations that has radically different value systems, likes to listen to music or drink beer or eat foods or support causes I don't agree with or like, so that discrimination isn't just a one-sided street, either.


  
Tammie Colivariti
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Tammie Colivariti,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 10:08:54 AM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
I don't think she's naive at all. When I decided that computer science was my field it was because of the challenges and the (perhaps naive belief back then) that I could, in fact, one day change the world with technology.

I looked up information about the field using BLS - but I was looking at salary trends and growth rates, not male:female ratios.

I think the biggest issue with "IT" and younger women really is perception and the belief that IT means coding or configuring systems. The reality is there are such a wide variety of career paths in IT/high tech that are rarely mentioned that might appeal to many more women if they were aware of them.

IT needs to better position itself. It's a branding problem at this point.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 3:06:29 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Not every woman wants to live in Silicon Valley or be part of a startup culture that requires 24/7 devotion to work -- not every man does, either. IT, more than some other fields, prizes that 24/7 work ethic.

Many female IT leaders have powered through often being the only woman in the room -- as has the author of this column. (Many female IT journalists did the same thing, so I can relate.) You can power through it and you do, if you love the work. Still, I hope this is not the case for the next wave of female IT pros. It is valuable to see how other women manged their IT career paths.
Non profit techie
IW Pick
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Non profit techie,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2014 | 6:26:12 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
I have just finished reading "Gender Codes". It was about the history of women in IT.  It was full of stats. In its inception, IT was an offshoot of clerical work and it was majority women.  Over time, as IT gained status and salary, it became male dominated. Discrimination was more prevalent in early years, but now it is mostly marketing and perception. Some people care about being the only "fill-in-the-blank" and some don't. Also as with most professions, if it is not conducive to your home life, it might not look appealing (man or woman). 

Below are the major points that determine if anyone will succeed in a field 
  • Knowledge of the field
  • Interest
  • Education / Training
  • Hiring
  • Advancement

The concern was that other STEM fields are seeing more female participation, but IT lags behind. *Sounds alarm* People are also concerned that we (USA) are not being as competitive as we could be due to the dearth of women. IT skillsets now encompass things that some perceive women to be "naturally good at". I believe it is an interesing situation, but not a "problem". It is a problem when people are actively discriminating.  

For me personally, the people I have encountered have been mostly supportive. People who weren't supportive, were not nice to anybody.
eunheekim
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eunheekim,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 1:10:47 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Bravo, Colivariti, for ignoring article after article describing the sexual harassment women in tech face from both peers and higher ups, and encouraging business leaders to make no effort in attracting minorities to their companies. Because, of course, the perspectives of women and people of color offer no value to a business, or to the IT industry, and it's much more logical for the community to continue remain inundated with nothing but white males.

If you don't give a "rat's ass" about diversity, why bother writing this article? If it's something you don't care about, why not keep your opinions to yourself and let those of us who DO care about diversity have our say?
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 1:23:00 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
You're missing the point. Sexual haraasment is illegal, period. So is discrimination. That's why we have lawyers. Businesses that make no effort at diverifying their workforces are making a business decision. Maybe it'll come back to bite them, maybe it won't.

The point of this column is that people interested in diversity in IT definitely ARE having their say. Ad nauseum. But at some point, she's saying that IT collectively needs to do stop whining and start marketing itself as a career that meshes with what the best and brightest -- male and female -- want. Read: work/life balance, making a difference in the world, challenges and learning. And, those in a hiring position need to stop with artificial quotas and hire the best person for the job, period.

Are you as worked up about the lack of men in nursing? Or a lack of women at construction sites?
eunheekim
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eunheekim,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 2:56:58 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Except that women in IT who complain to superiors about sexual harassment in the workplace are often fired or relocated to another department -- the transgressor is rarely, if ever, punished. And it's not just in the enterprise sphere; the amount of hostility and sexism towards women at tech conferences is astronomical.

These events don't happen in a bubble. They create a dialogue and impact women currently in the IT industry, as well as girls considering a future career in technology.

Pointing out racism and sexism in IT isn't "whining," and the concept of "meritocracy" is inherently flawed. Ashe Dryden, and recently, Allison House, have both written excellent articles covering these topics.

"Are you as worked up about the lack of men in nursing? Or a lack of women at construction sites?"

Yes, I am. Men are often discriminated against in care-related fields and often forced into managerial positions they don't want to be in, just as women who want to work manual labor are often patronized. Patriarchy benefits neither gender.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 4:39:08 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Again, I think you're missing the point. The author isn't calling women who legitimately complain about harassment whiners. She's calling people who insist on arbitrary quotas because they don't like the gender percentages whiners. If there's true hostility and sexism, companies need to root it out and make sure it doesn't happen again. No one's arguing against that.

The concept of "meritocracy" is inherently flawed? Granted, I haven't read Dryden's or House's work--maybe you should summarize the conclusions here for everyone.

As for your statement that men in the nursing field are often "forced into managerial positions they don't want to be in," come on. You're losing credibility there. Amid a nursing shortage, you're telling us that hospitals are kicking male nurses upstairs against their will? 
eunheekim
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eunheekim,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 5:22:49 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
First of all, the "whiners" remark was in response to Lorna Garey, who remarked that "IT collectively needs to do stop whining."

Second of all, are we reading the same article? Colivarti is putting the onus on women, not hirers or decision-makers, for the lack of female representation in the IT industry. The entire article is based on fiction, and sidesteps a real and prominent issue: IT is hostile towards women. This has been an ongoing problem that both men and women have spoken up about in recent years. You can't have a discussion about gender quotas and women just "not being interested in tech" without recognizing that sexual harassment is pervasive.

Although I would advise actually reading the articles, here are some relevant excerpts:

"Meritocracy creates a hierarchy amongst the people within it. Some of those at the top or striving to at least be above other people have been guilty of using their power for bullying, harassment, and sexist/racist/*ist language that they use against others directly and indirectly. This creates an atmosphere where people who would otherwise be deemed meritorious within this system choose not to participate because of a hostile, unrewarding environment."

"The idea of a meritocracy presumes that everyone starts off and continues through with the same level of access to opportunity, time, and money, which is unfortunately not the case. It's a romanticized ideal - a belief in which at best ignores and at worst outright dismisses the experiences of everyone outside the group with the most access to these things."

And, yes. "Men in Nursing: Barriers to Recruitment" and "Delusions of Gender" are examples of work that discuss this issue.
Tammie Colivariti
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Tammie Colivariti,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/23/2014 | 9:29:04 AM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
That's kind of the point - folks who care more about diversity than anything else have their say and dominate the conversation every day.

We've been trying to "fix" this problem for 20 years and with all the meddling we've done where have we gotten?

Fewer women in technology. Apparently our meddling and concern is doing more harm than good. Most likely because we're looking at the problem completely wrong. If you really want to change the ratio of women in technology, then it's time to start considering we're looking in the wrong places to tinker.

At some point women have to take responsibiltiy for their own choices; it's not always the fault of the employer or other employees. As if women can't make their own choices and are herded like sheep into other fields because of men, employers, and the education system. Sometimes that's a factor, and we have rules and regulations and policies that govern those situations. And yet here we are, with the same "problem" and the same old debate.

And again, "blame" implies some kind of problem. No one has satisfiactorily answered why we're having this debate in the first place.
eunheekim
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eunheekim,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/23/2014 | 10:42:10 AM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
"That's kind of the point - folks who care more about diversity than anything else have their say and dominate the conversation every day."

Maybe because, historically, women and PoC didn't have a voice. It's not until recent times that minorities can actually speak up without fear of persecution.

"At some point women have to take responsibiltiy for their own choices; it's not always the fault of the employer or other employees. As if women can't make their own choices and are herded like sheep into other fields because of men, employers, and the education system."

What I personally don't understand is your insistence on ignoring the sexism that pervades the IT community. As someone who works in the IT industry, writes about IT and is a woman, you'd have to be hiding under a rock to not see the countless articles that come out month after month describing the level of sexual harassment women face. Go ahead and type "IT industry sexism" into Google. Or read the Twitter accounts of women who've led established careers in technology and are finally speaking out because they're either retired, left the IT industry or are now independent contractors. It's everywhere, and you can cover your ears and hide from it as much as you want, but the problem is there, it's real, and it's not going to go away.

If you want to be ignorant about what happens to other people in this industry, that's on you. But don't write articles blaming women for not wanting to be part of a hostile work environment.

"And again, "blame" implies some kind of problem. No one has satisfiactorily answered why we're having this debate in the first place."

Then apparently you're not paying attention.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2014 | 3:07:45 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
"Maybe because, historically, women and PoC didn't have a voice. It's not until recent times that minorities can actually speak up without fear of persecution."

So, what, you want women and minorities to walk around with chips on their shoulders? For how long? Five more years? 10? How do you think that's going to work out?

Look, I spent six years in the military, much of it in an armored division where there were 10 men for every three women. It Texas. In the late 1980s. Talk about pervasive sexism. But I learned pretty fast that most men treated me the way I demanded -- and deserved based on my skills -- to be treated. Let's stop already with the "I am a victimization waiting to happen" mentality. All that mindset is doing is adding to the PR problem that IT has and discouraging women from entering the field, which makes the whole thing a vicious circle.

We can't and should not sweep illegal discrimination and harassment under the rug. But let's also decide not to walk around expecting to be treated like crap, because that tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
eunheekim
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eunheekim,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/23/2014 | 3:52:03 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
Pointing out that systemic racism and sexism exists in our society isn't walking around with a "chip on [one's] shoulder." Sad that your advice to marginalized people is to just sit down and shut up.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2014 | 4:48:50 PM
Re: NSF stats tell the story
On the contrary - my advice couldn't be further from "sit down and shut up." And not to speak for Tammie, but I believe she feels the same.

It's more like: Go wherever the heck you want to go and do what you want to do. Don't let anyone -- including the hand-wringers -- tell you you can't or it's too scary or you'll be held down. Be a stand-up person and a team player. Keep your skills up to date. Be kind. Demand to be treated fairly. If a company doesn't value you, find one that does. Reach down to help those coming up behind you.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Strategist
2/20/2014 | 1:35:13 PM
Thank you!
Thanks for a female voice of reason finally disputing this PC nonsense that we everyone in the field are exposed to on a regular basis. Your points are accurate, well thought out and logical.
jwestbrooks293
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jwestbrooks293,
User Rank: Strategist
2/20/2014 | 1:54:49 PM
The smarter gender?
Honestly, I think there are fewer women than men in IT because women are more intelligent than the men in IT.  If you look at what employers expect of their IT staffs and what the real hourly rate is for IT work, why would anybody want to get into IT.  Yes, there are people like Mark Zuckerberg who became billionaires.  However, put them on one side of a balance scale and people with ruined lives and health on the other and see which side hits the bottom first.

 

from 40 year IT veteran
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 1:58:38 PM
Re: The smarter gender?
So you're saying that the issue isn't marketing perception, it's reality? Do you think that's true across industries, and that eventually it will drive away smart people of both sexes?
jwestbrooks293
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jwestbrooks293,
User Rank: Strategist
2/26/2014 | 3:43:13 PM
Re: The smarter gender?
Yep.  Until the revolution comes and IT workers demand that they not be classified as "exempt" just because they work in a computer related job.  Until then IT work, for the mass of people, will just be a modern incarnation of the chain-gang.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/26/2014 | 3:49:29 PM
Re: The smarter gender?
You raise an interesting premise - what if employers had to pay overtime for all those 60 - 80 hour weeks spent coding? What would happen? My guess is, even more programming jobs would move to India or other countries without US-style labor laws. That wouldn't be good for men or women in the profession.

On the other hand, neither is being expected to work long hours as a matter of course, as opposed to occasionally when big projects enter crunch time.
jwestbrooks293
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jwestbrooks293,
User Rank: Strategist
2/26/2014 | 4:03:24 PM
Re: The smarter gender?
You're right and I don't know what the answer is.  I wish I did.
majenkins
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majenkins,
User Rank: Moderator
2/20/2014 | 1:56:15 PM
RIght On, Except
Thanks for the well thought out and organized column/post. I like others have lamented the PC Outrage over what appears to be a non-issue. I also loved your question about the garbage collection and have used that and other jobs as a counter point before as well. Now for the exception, though maybe I should save this for your follow up column, but I know a very good developer whose favorite music is country. He does listen to other genres but his favorite is still country. He is currently the manager of our eBusiness applications group.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 4:37:50 PM
The Valley Isn't The Sum of IT
"... or that you have to live in the Valley or some other high-tech center to get ahead."

This is the myth that really needs busting. Tech does not = Silicon Valley. I spend most of my time meeting with tech leaders outside Silicon Valley, in places like Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Chicago, Omaha, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh ... places where IT leaders are taking the raw material tech vendors put out and turning it into tangible value for their companies and customers. Tech innovation is thriving outside the Valley, creating opportunities for great technologists.
CindyC527
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CindyC527,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 4:26:04 PM
Meritocracy
As a female software engineer who has worked in the field for 20 years, I agree with the statement "You want to attract smart, capable women? Make sure hiring decisions are based on merit, skill, and the ability to learn and work as part of a team."

Nothing bothers me more than when people assume I have my job only because I'm there to fill some gender diversity quota.

I've enjoyed working in IT with many wonderful men.  I've noticed that any gender discrimination problems I face...such as coworkers making comments like "I'm surprised you're so logical...most women I know are emotional"....only come from weak, insecure men.  The highly competent, capable, and secure male engineers I've worked with never say stuff like that...they're just happy to have the help of another capable engineer, regardless of his or her gender. 

 

 
Stratustician
IW Pick
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2014 | 11:30:00 AM
The fact that we are still having this debate is the real problem
As a woman who has worked in the IT space, mostly the IT security space and more recently the cloud space, I can sympathize with both sides of this argument.  Firstly, I didn't major in computer science or engineering, I came from marketing and technology (before eMarketing existed, it was the only way to merge the 2 realms).  I stayed on the creative side of the IT industry through marketing, but as many IT folks forget, when it comes down to it, it's often the marketing folks, especially product managers, who have the technical knowledge.  After all, when the sales and pre-sales folks don't keep up with certifications, it's us who complete them to keep vendors happy.  To this date I have so many certifications that I will never use beyond a theoretical purpose. I've always been one of a handful of women in my division, and rarely has there been another woman on my team.  Why is this?  It's intimidating.  You need a special kind of backbone, especially in marketing, to not feel like the token oddity, since well, it's a male dominated field.

But does that mean it should be?  The problem is that the learning curve, especially when you look at job descriptions as the author pointed out, is that we feel like if we don't have every single skill, we will be passed up for another male.  I hate to say it, but I can count on more than one hand where I have been more than qualified for a position, but was overlooked for a male because they were worried a woman would skew the team dynamic.  

On the opposite hand, it's not just an IT thing.  Case in point, my significant other is a nurse, which like the IT industry, is skewed towards the other gender.  He is the token novelty despite that he is exceptional at his role.  Exact same situation. 

So how do we fix this strange situation?  Honestly, if you ask me, there needs to be more mentoring for women in IT.  We talk about it, but many women feel that if they enter the field they will be left to fend for themselves.  It's worse when you add in the sexual innuendos, inappropriate behaviour from bosses and colleagues, and the general feeling of being overlooked because you feel like you cannot compete with your peers due to negative biases that have no foundation in reality.

It's tough. There is no fix for this, because its a problem that shouldn't exist.  If you look at the industry historically, especially during WWII, women were respected in these roles.  Something happened to change that, and personally, I think that we need to look at why that shift caused so much disruption in the IT industry.

 
AbdulT993
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AbdulT993,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/22/2014 | 2:43:19 PM
Thank you, Tammie Colivariti
Thank you for this well-written, common sense article. The FACT of the matter is that nothing, absolutely nothing, is keeping women from entering into IT. Despite all of the wailing, moaning and hand wringing of the would-be social engineers, women freely make their own career choices these days and have for quite some time. Everyone knows that it is illegal to deny someone a job based on gender, so it is a woman's own choice whether or not to get into IT.  Duh.

The "outrage machine" is actually just a liberal political agenda. Who else but liberals bean count every facet of life hunting for X (gender, ethnic, sex orientation, etc) under-representation or inequality or whatever their cause du jour?

Abdul
zerochamp
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zerochamp,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2014 | 4:55:11 AM
Pay grade analysis
Here's an article on Quartz that may help or hinder this messy debate  It shows evidence that the pay gap between sexes in IT doesn't exist, although judging by the comments thread it may be guilty of logical leaps that the author here so strongly complains about.


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