I’m back from Devoxx, having had lots of food for thought. In particular, my panel on Why We Shouldn’t Target Women generated a lot of discussion and I’m still trying to process it all.
|Martijn Verburg; Regina ten Bruggencate; Trisha Gee; Antonio Goncalves; Claude Falguière; Kim Ross|
The panel went really well, we got decent interaction from the audience, and of course my fellow panel members were awesome. I managed to restrain myself from using the opportunity as my own personal soap box and allowed other people to speak occasionally. Sadly the only male on the panel stole the show somewhat, so Antonio won’t be invited in future… Actually in seriousness, it was great to have a guy on the panel to present his point of view. It was interesting that he’s a father, highlighting that parenting issues are not the same as women’s issues, and conflating those two concerns hurts both genders. But Antonio’s hair is far too shiny and pretty and he’s funnier than I am, so I’m not standing next to him again.
I’d love to make a note of all the issues discussed during the hour, but I’ll be honest, I was too busy trying not to fall over in my girly six-inch stiletto boots to remember anything that happened. The video will hopefully be available on Parleys some time in the future, so I will link to it when it’s there if it’s not too horribly embarrassing.
|Someone let me have the microphone again…|
One question that came up more than once throughout the week was: IT/programming is not the only industry with a lack of women, why should we care? Maybe it’s just natural?
I think we need to be very careful before writing off such an imbalance as “natural”. We need to make sure first that we aren’t discriminating against groups, consciously or through some unnoticed system bias. And for me, the thing is that we notice that women aren’t well represented in technical roles, but we don’t necessarily notice the other groups of people who might be being put off for similar (or maybe totally different) reasons. We can’t so easily tell if gays, jews, parents, shy people, folks from poor backgrounds or any other less distinguishable sets of people are finding it hard to make it as a programmer.
We can see the figures for females. In the UK in 2008:
- 44.7% of people taking ICT (Information and Communications Technology) at GCSE (age 14-16) are girls. As in many other subjects these days, the girls get better results than the boys.
- 38.6% of kids taking ICT at A Level (16-18) are girls. Only 9.6% of Computing students are girls. Again, girls outperform the boys in both subjects.
- 19.4% of those studying Computer Science at university are women. This is down from 24% in 2003.
- Through a not-very-scientific poll of the members of the London Java Community, it looks like approximately 15% of techies in industry are women. Interestingly, some companies have a much higher proportion than others, but I think that’s something to explore another time.
- It makes women think that there must be something wrong in our industry if women need to be treated differently, or mentored differently, or need additional training to get by. Or it makes us think that we really aren’t as good as our male counterparts because we’re being given special treatment.
- It builds up resentment amongst our male colleagues, so they soon begin to wonder if we’re doing our job because we’re good at it, or if we got there because we got lots more help, or because we’re there to tick some sort of box
- It’s not solving the problem of lack of overall diversity - where are the programs for people who went to the wrong schools, for those who didn’t think about programming as a career, for a million other special interest groups that exist out there?
- Reach out to those you want speaking at your conferences. This might include women, it might include people from other “minorities”, or it might just be awesome people that you want there making your conference look good.
- Use these people for marketing and role models - it is indeed possible that if you have some female faces on your conference site and posters, you might attract more women attendees. Actually, if you have more women role models you might attract more men, but hey, it’s all about diversity.
- Buy your kids Lego and teach them programming.
- Treat women in your company like people the same as anyone else. We were asked about how to deal with a younger female boss. Kim’s answer was perfect: “Like an older, male boss”.
- Get involved in mentoring programmes, not just for women but for people of all ages - kids at school, undergraduates, or people who are already in the industry and want to take that next step, for example to speaking at conferences or writing or leading teams or becoming CTO.