Amy Stephen

Hacker Grandma


Promoting Women

tl/dr - Please follow Margaret and give her feedback on her multiplayer game.

A couple of days ago, I tweeted:

SUPPORT FEMALE DEVS: @dead_lugosi created an interactive game where many players are needed: Please join in / RT!

A couple of my good Twitter friends, @skoop and @frankdejonge challenged me, asking if I was recommending their involvement on the basis that the developer is a woman or if I believe the game is worth their time.

The truth is both. I recommend involvement in this great game and because the developer is a woman.

As I indicated on Twitter, in the past nearly ten years of working in open source I have primarily supported, trained, assisted and promoted men. I do not believe a tweet promoting women is an issue. It was suggested that doing so was a form of reverse discrimination and that all of my efforts helping men were not a counterbalance to this single tweet since I had not helped those men on the basis of their gender. Ergo, my tweet discriminated against men.

Rather than engage in yet another silly twitter debate. I volunteered to collect my thoughts in a post to explain my thinking. =)

Women Cannot Do It. (Yea, right.)

Before I go much further, I wonder how many know that the Sochi Games in 2014 represent the first time women will compete in ski jumping? You might, or might not, know that for years, female athletes have fought for inclusion.

In a 2005 interview with NPR, the president of the International Ski Federation, Gian Franco Kasper, told reporters that there are “very few ladies who are really good in jumping.” And that the physical strain “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

The thinking being a woman’s uterus might fall out by the repeated impact as a result of the jump.

You think I kid? Listen to Kathrine Switzer’s account of her experience as the first woman ever to run the Boston Marathon in 1967.

It is ridiculous nearly 50 years later to continue to see women blocked from participation because the good ‘ole boys network is unaware of how well secured the uterus is in the female body. =)

Back To The Future

I have often said that current times for women in technology remind me of when I started back in the early 1980’s. Statistics seem to support my perception as the number of female developers rose for 20 years and then declined for 20 years. Today, we have returned to the levels of 1980 when I started in computer programming.

Now, I don’t claim to understand why this has happened. But, I do know that the problem appears to be even worse in open source. The recognition and involvement of women as key and influential open source developers is extremely low.

If you look at the various project developer teams, rarely will you find a woman on the team as a developer. It is not the norm to see many women attending developer conferences let alone talking about technical topics.

I know from personal experience that having your ideas heard, being selected on the basis of your merit, being asked to participate as a developer, even after years of contribution, is easier for men then it is for women. In fact, many young men who I personally helped were selected over me.

In my humble opinion, there is bias at play.

Bias and Privilege

As people, we are largely unaware of our own bias. When we are selected, we want to believe we earned it and that no one else was better qualified. No one wants to believe they were provided an opportunity they didn’t earn. That’s what is meant by ‘privilege’ and all of us have it.

It’s pretty hard to compete if you don’t have the chance to participate. To say that there are not many women who are competitive at Ski Jumping when women have not been given the chance to compete at Olympic levels is related. It is not just a remarkable coincidence.

Starting this year, that changes. As time goes on, given opportunity to participate, I would bet my granddaughter’s college fund on the fact that the number of women competing at world class levels in ski jumping will do nothing but climb.

Reversing the Trend

We can reverse the downward trend of women in technology. But, it’s not something that can be fixed overnight. We are talking about generations.

First, it’s important to look at how we raise our daughters to make certain we don’t discourage girls from pursuing areas of interest and aptitude and that we don’t dampen competitiveness and assertiveness as “un-ladylike.” Except for the most conservative of thought, I believe there is broad agreement across most political spectrum that this is a valid and important goal.

Also, I believe as women, we need to unlearn some of the ‘grooming’ we were raised with and learn to be much more brave about sharing our work and more assertive about getting opportunities we deserve. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book shares ideas of this nature.

We don’t all agree on the approaches Sheryl describes. Some are critical of this philosophy because it is perceived to be blaming women for institutional discrimination. I personally believe there are valid points in the opposition to a “Lean In” campaign and encourage those interested to read bell hook’s take on it.

In balance, however, I still encourage women in technology to read the book because it will take us generations to change some of our biases in thinking about gender. Kids need to be fed today. Bills need to be paid. As women, we need to learn to take care of ourselves.

I challenge projects to look at how they invite contributors to participate. Have you involved women? Double-check the possibility of bias. Keep your eyes open for women developers. You might be missing an opportunity.

Finally, I think it’s important for women to help women. Any group that has a problem needs to work together to fix it. So, I proudly promote women in technology. I want women to know they aren’t alone, that there are others of us out there who want to work in harmony as sisters, that we support one another and that we promote achievements made by women in technology.

I won’t stopping helping men. And, I will continue to promote women who are developers. Both are positives, there is not a zero sum game of limited love and support we have to offer one another. In my opinion, there is no reason for concern.

You may disagree.

And you are entitled to your opinion, as long as you afford me mine. Let’s make certain in 2014 that we agree to show one another respect and discuss these issues without inflammatory response. If we can do that, we already made huge progress.

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