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Bridging the STEM Gender Gap Divide

Stuart Reges

Another still small voice has joined the chorus of those calling for us to reconsider our approach to the gender gap in technology. Writing in Quillette, University of Washington computer science lecturer Stuart Reges discussed in depth why there is reason to believe that the tendency of more men than women to pursue careers in the field may arise primarily from innate factors rather than bias or discrimination.1  Predictably, many have called for him to lose his job as punishment for speaking this heresy.2  However, one response that stood out from the others was written under the intriguing and provocative title “Women in tech: we’re training men to resent us” by Microsoft software engineer Kasey Champion.3  In it, she describes how learning that the article had been written by Mr. Reges, who had been her teacher and mentor when she was a student at the University of Washington, challenged her to rethink her view of men who think differently on these issues.  She goes on to discuss his arguments in detail, explaining what she believes he got wrong and right.  Since she seems to be genuinely interested in dialogue, I write this response as a step toward establishing a serious, respectful exchange of ideas on this important issue.

Our Industry’s Messaging Toward Women

Ms. Champion describes her initial reaction to seeing the article as follows:

Yes, that article is about me [her emphasis].  It’s about women I call colleagues, friends, students, family.  The author, Stuart Reges, is the head lecturer for the University of Washington’s introductory programming program.  The program that is the foundation of my entire career.  Not only was Stuart one of my first cs [sic] teachers, but he hired me into my first management position, and this year helped hire me to teach at my alma mater.

Before I was even able to open the article I was practically hysterical.  What if I open this and it turns out my secret teenage fears were true all along? That the man who took a chance on me when no one else would thinks I’m not qualified to do the thing I love to do.

This description of the emotional reaction that the article provoked is revealing but not surprising to those of us who have followed this issue closely.  Indeed, it is illustrative of one of the greatest flaws in the messaging of the women in science movement, through which it has let women down.

Essentially, the message that the movement has sent to young women goes something like this: Women are just as good at computer science and software engineering as men.  Therefore, your work is valued.  The field may be male-dominated for now, but we’re working to change that, and you can be part of that change. The future is 50/50—we’ll make sure of that, so there will come a day where you’ll be welcome wherever you go.

There’s just one problem with this message: What if the future isn’t 50/50?  Are we teaching women to pin their hopes, their ability to feel that they and their work are valued, on an event that may or may not actually happen?  Are we teaching them to assume that those who see things differently take these positions out of hostility toward them?  If so, are these approaches helpful?

This concern is not unique to gender.  In his book The Blank Slate, the psychologist Steven Pinker addresses the innate differences that exist between people in a broader sense, debunking the notion that no such differences exist.4  He directly addresses the political concerns that have made it appealing for so many people to deny their existence:

[T]he doctrine of the Blank Slate, which had been blurred with ideals of equality and progress for much of the century, was beginning to show cracks.  As the new sciences of human nature began to flourish, it was becoming clear that thinking is a physical process, that people are not psychological clones, that the sexes differ above the neck as well as below it, that the human brain was not exempt from the process of evolution, and that people in all cultures share mental traits that might be illuminated by new ideas in evolutionary biology.

These developments presented intellectuals with a choice.  Cooler heads could have explained that the discoveries were irrelevant to the political ideals of equal opportunity and equal rights, which are moral doctrines on how we ought to treat people rather than scientific hypotheses about what people are like.  Certainly it is wrong to enslave, oppress, discriminate against, or kill people regardless of any foreseeable datum or theory that a sane scientist would offer.

Following the wisdom of Professor Pinker, we might instead wish to deliver the following message to young women—and young men—considering a career in technology: Your work is valued.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, what the color of your skin is, or whether you’re in the majority or minority.  The only thing that you should be judged on in this profession is the quality of your work.  No discovery in genetics or neuroscience is ever going to change that.  Even if it turns out that fewer people of your demographic turn out to be interested and/or talented in this field, that doesn’t matter.  If you as an individual are equally interested and talented, then we value you equally and want you to succeed and feel welcome here.

Wouldn’t this message be far more liberating and empowering?  By decoupling our values from facts of biology that are beyond human control, we make unconditional our message of welcome to all those who have the interest and talent and wish to join us in developing the technology of the future.

The Errors of James Damore

Ms. Champion describes the responses to Mr. Damore’s document as falling into one of two categories, characterizing him as either an “EVIL, IGNORANT, RACIST, SEXIST IDIOT” or a “PERFECT ANGEL MARTYR” (her capitalization).  While I don’t believe that I have characterized Mr. Damore as either perfect or an angel, I won’t deny that my prior writing on his case has focused almost exclusively on the ways in which he has been mistreated.  I chose this focus because I believe that the mistreatment that he endured was a grave injustice and that all other issues in his case paled in comparison.  That said, in the spirit of finding common ground, I will now offer two ways in which I believe that he was mistaken.  I do not view these mistakes as moral failings and offer them not to join in the demonization of Mr. Damore but rather as constructive criticism that will hopefully be useful to all involved in moving forward toward a more constructive dialogue.

When I first read the document, my gut reaction was twofold.  On the one hand, I was relieved to see that these ideas were finally getting a public hearing.  For far too long, virtually all discussion in major media towed the politically correct line that the gender gap was the result of some sort of discrimination, whether past or present, overt or implicit.  In the rare case where this narrative was challenged, the challenge came from extremists who discussed the issue in needlessly inflammatory ways.  For example, Milo Yiannopoulos reported on an experiment that failed to find gender bias against women in software engineering interviews with the incendiary headline, “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women In Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews.”5  This sort of rhetoric is counterproductive.  It only served to cast a cloud of illegitimacy over perfect valid research that should have been a wake-up call to reconsider widely held assumptions.  By compiling the relevant research and presenting it in a manner that was scientifically rigorous and devoid of anything that could honestly be classified as hate speech, Mr. Damore performed a much-needed public service.

However, I knew that, despite its scientific validity, the document in its present form was unlikely to persuade anyone who wasn’t already at the very least skeptical of the politically correct narrative.  Given the degree to which emotions ran high around this issue, simply presenting the factual evidence could be perceived as hostile.  In order to reach those who might feel threatened by the possibility of innate differences, Mr. Damore would have needed to start out by first explaining why the existence of innate differences should not pose a threat to women in technology before delving into the evidence—something along the lines of the passage from Dr. Pinker quoted above.  Ideally, this reassurance would have been reiterated throughout the document.  I am under no illusion that approaching it this way would have protected Mr. Damore from having his career attacked, but it certainly could have increased the number of people who would have been sympathetic to him to at least some degree.

Mr. Damore’s second error, one made by many people on both sides of this divide, was to treat the causes of the gender gaps “in tech and leadership” as being one and the same.6  Not all men are the same, just as not all women are the same.  The fact that software engineering and corporate executive positions tend to draw from the male population does not mean that they draw from the same subset of that population.  We often hear about the need for more flexible work environments to accommodate the primary responsibility for child-rearing that many women take on.[7]  The software companies where I have worked have had 40-hour work weeks, flexible hours, work-from-home options, and generous parental leave benefits.  Yet, their staffs have remained overwhelmingly male.  Other professions such as medicine and law tend to be far less flexible, yet they have approximate gender parity.  Therefore, this is unlikely to be a major factor behind the gender gap in software engineering, although it could contribute to the gender gap in executive positions, which tend to be very demanding in terms of working hours.  On the other hand, the impersonal and objective nature of writing code could make such an activity appeal to predominantly men.  This would not apply, however, to executive positions, which tend to involve far more interpersonal activities such as negotiations.

Mistaking Boggarts for Death Eaters

Ms. Champion makes an allusion to the Boggart, a magical creature that appears in J.K. Rowling’s novel Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as a metaphor for men who question the prevailing narrative.8 The Boggart takes the form of whatever most frightens the person who confronts it.  However, when a witch or wizard learns to conquer their fears, they can force the Boggart to transform into something comical that no longer poses a threat and thereby destroy it.  She describes her mental model of Mr. Reges as being a Boggart, first appearing threatening but then ceasing to pose any threat once she found the courage to read the article and come to understand what he actually believed.

This story reminds of an experience that I had more than a decade earlier surrounding a similar controversy in 2005 involving the then-president of Harvard University, Larry Summers.  When the story broke that that Dr. Summers had attributed the STEM gender gap to a lack of aptitude on the part of women, I was puzzled.  What was he thinking?  Wasn’t he accusing certain people of being incapable of doing something that they had been doing for decades?  It wasn’t until two years later than I finally read his speech in full and came to understand that what he had actually said was far different from what I had believed he had said.9  Dr. Summers was speaking solely in statistical terms.  He was not calling for discrimination or accusing any woman of lacking aptitude simply by virtue of being a woman.  Rather, he was saying that the small percentage of the population with the highest levels of aptitude in science might contain more men than women.  He raised this not as the sole cause of the gender gap but rather as one of three and not the most important.  I realized that I had been part of the problem.  It was because of the rush to judgement without knowing all of the facts made by people like me that he had lost his job.  From then on, I resolved to never judge a person guilty of racism or sexism based on portrayals in the media without first reading what they said, verbatim and in context.

The Boggart metaphor also applies is a second way that Ms. Champion may not have realized.  In addition to distorting one’s perceptions, assuming the worst of others can literally cause them to become more extreme.  When someone is demonized, they will often develop an animus toward the person or people demonizing them.  When someone is silenced, they will feel forced to retreat to their own echo chamber, only able to speak their mind to those who largely think the same things as them.  In cases where someone is misguided or mistaken, their views might be changed or refined as a result of dialogue.  Yet, those same views will only become more extreme if forced into an echo chamber.  This phenomenon is by no means exclusive to this one issue.  There is every reason to believe that it played a role in the election of Donald Trump.  For years, rural and working-class white Americans were struggling.  If they dared to suggest their grievances should be heard on equal footing with those of women and minorities, they were condescendingly dismissed as “privileged” by the Democrats, while the Republicans remained silent for fear of being branded racist or sexist if they spoke out.  Is it any wonder that many of these people flocked to a candidate who made it clear that he felt their pain when no one else in a position of power would?  Had those in power treated all Americans with respect, it is conceivable that the Trump candidacy would have never even picked up steam.

If Ms. Champion continues to engage with those of us on the other side of this divide, I suspect that she will find far more Boggarts than Death Eaters.  While the forced silence has prevented me from being able to identify colleagues at my company who share my views, I have been able to meet such people in other contexts, especially at moderate-, conservative-, and libertarian-leaning political groups.  While I have found others who believe that innate differences play a role in causing the STEM gender gap, the number of people I have met who believe that women who work in technology shouldn’t be there, that a woman’s contribution to the field is worth less than that of a man, or that women should be subject to discrimination is exactly zero.  In fact, when one reads the writings of Mr. Damore and Dr. Summers, it becomes clear that there is no reason to believe that either of them believes any of these things and every reason to believe that they don’t.  Those who have felt threatened by one or both of them would do well to reconsider whether these perceptions are accurate.

Other Forms of Diversity

Ms. Champion criticizes Mr. Reges for associating diversity solely with gender.  I agree with this criticism but believe that it would be better directed at diversity efforts in the technology industry as a whole rather than at one particular individual.  In my experience, our industry has become so obsessed with its gender ratio that such concerns seem to trump anything and everything else.  Even race has become an afterthought.  I recently attended a conference where the code of conduct included an anti-harassment statement in which race and religion appeared at the end of the list of protected classes, after such things as “physical appearance” and “body size.”10  To the extent that ordering matters, it would seem that these should appear at or near the front of the list, in light of the bloody history of slavery, lynching, religious wars, pogroms, and genocide that has taken place.

A related criticism that should be made of the way that we talk about our industry is that we focus solely on the types of diversity that are lacking and say nothing of the diversity that does exist.  The sole metric that we use for diversity in the industry is the percentage of the big three “underrepresented” demographics: African-Americans, Hispanics, and women.  Little attention is given to the fact that there is an abundance of other minorities, including immigrants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Asians, LGBT, and people on the autism spectrum.  My first mentor in computer science was a woman who immigrated from Bulgaria.  The first team on which I worked coming of school consisted of five engineers who were from five different countries on four continents.  My current team includes not just Americans but also Koreans, Indians, and a Pakistani.  We have several LGBT team members, and I am on the autism spectrum.  I’ve always felt that one of the coolest things about working in our profession is that it gives us the opportunity to meet brilliant people from different cultures all around the world.  Simplistically casting the industry as an “old boys’ club” or the last bastion of the WASP patriarchy seems woefully out of touch with what it is actually like.

Are Women Happy Here?

Mr. Reges claims that most of the women in technology who he knows are happy working in the industry, while Ms. Champion disagrees.  My own experience is at least somewhat more similar to that of Ms. Champion in that many of the women whom I know have at one point or another expressed dissatisfaction with the state of gender diversity in the industry.  The catch is that a dissatisfaction, even a very strong one, with certain aspects of one’s job may not necessarily translate into an overall dislike of the job as a whole.  Therefore, it is conceivable that both Ms. Champion and Mr. Reges are correct at the same time, that many women are dissatisfied with the state of gender diversity while simultaneously being satisfied with most other aspects of their work.  This type of sentiment can exist on both side of the gender gap divide.  I would assign a high overall satisfaction rating to the industry as a whole because of the many things that it does right despite being deeply frustrated with the degree to which our leaders are willing to censor and discriminate in the name of promoting diversity.

It is also worth considering exactly what grievances women have been expressing about life as a software engineer.  Those that I have heard from women I know have either amounted to a desire to see the gender ratio change or involved relatively trivial microaggressions.  For example, one of my female colleagues once recounted an anecdote of being told by a Brazilian engineer that she met at a conference that she was the first woman he had ever met who worked in security.  I have never heard any personal accounts of my female colleagues enduring discrimination or bona fide sexual harassment. It speaks volumes that the bulk of the anecdotes that I have heard related took place not in the offices where the women worked on a daily basis but rather at conferences, often international conferences that included attendees from countries that may have very different norms from our own concerning the relationship between the sexes.

Is Computer Science Dry?

Ms. Champion dismisses Mr. Reges’s contention that women simply choose other fields because that it where their passion lies on the grounds that “the traditional way of teaching Computer Science makes it hard for students to see it as anything other than a dry, laborious vehicle to building operating systems or video games.”  The problem with this characterization is that “dry” is a relative, subjective term.  Many of us have a great appreciation for the ingenuity of an efficient algorithm to solve a difficult problem or the elegance of how programming languages use algebra and object-oriented design to model the operations to be executed and entities to be manipulated by the computer.  Research has shown that women are more likely to gravitate toward work involving people, while men—and autistic people—are more likely to gravitate toward work involving things and abstract entities.11  Is it any wonder that we see things differently?

One of my greatest beefs with the messaging of outreach programs directed toward women is that they often tend to misrepresent what life as a software engineer is like, portraying our work as more interdisciplinary and interpersonal than it actually is.  In effect, we lure women into the profession by lying to them about what their life will be like here.  This could explain at least some of the so-called leaky pipeline where women are more likely than men to leave the profession.  After spending some time working in the industry, they discover that what they are getting is different from what they were sold and choose to look elsewhere for work that is a better match for their interests.  I saw this recently with one of my colleagues, who left her job for a completely different type of work, one in which she would be paid a fraction of what she earned as an engineer.  Her reasons for leaving had nothing to do with gender.  She was just interested in doing something different.

If we are serious about supporting women, then that should mean honoring their right to make their own decisions about what career path is right for them and supporting them in their choices.  It should not consist of aggressively steering them toward a field in which they are “underrepresented” just because a more even gender ratio looks good for technology companies.

Yet, suppose that Ms. Champion were to be correct on this point: that changing our approach to computer science education would increase the number of women majoring in the field and that we were able to find software engineering jobs matching their interests that would retain them in the profession.  That would still leave the problem of the engineers who do work in the “dry” areas of computer science, as these areas are not superfluous but rather crucial.  These types of software—compilers and operating systems, web servers and databases—form the infrastructure of information technology without which more applied types of software engineering would be all but impossible.  There is every reason to believe that the companies that focus of these types of work would remain predominantly male.  The men who work at these companies should be appreciated for their valuable contributions, not loathed on the presumption that they must be creating a hostile environment if few women share their interests and wish to join them.  Either way, the public and the media will need to understand that a large gender gap is not necessarily indicative of a workplace that is unfriendly to women.  Otherwise, innocent men will continue to be demonized.

Equality vs. Equity

The crux of Ms. Champion’s argument is a response to Mr. Reges’s distinction between equality, meaning equality of opportunity, and equity, meaning equality of outcomes.  Mr. Reges believes, as do I, that we should work to ensure that all individuals have the same opportunities to pursue the path of their choice, allow them to make their own decisions as to their majors and career goals, and let the cards fall where they will when it comes to the demographic statistics.  Ms. Champion illustrates her initial understanding of what Mr. Reges means with a picture of three people standing on identical stools to see over a high wall.  Since they are of different heights, only one can actually see.  Unfair, indeed.  She then illustrates an alternative in which each person is standing on a stool of a different size so that their heads are at the same level, concluding that this is what both of them with to achieve.

‘Illustrating Equality VS Equity’. Source: Interaction Institute for Social Change

If so, then what is the difference between equality and equity?  Those of us who support equality of opportunity wish to ensure that all individuals have the right to choose what resources are right for them.  Stools of different sizes are available, and we each pick the one that enables us to see.  Approaches of this sort have been used in reality, for example, to accommodate those who are left-handed.  We make left-handed desks and scissors as well as right-handed ones and allow people to choose which is right for them.  If a right-handed person decides for some reason that a left-handed desk is more useful to them, no one is denying them the right to use one.

Similar approaches could be used to address some of the difficulties faced by people on the autism spectrum.  One of the traits that is part of autism is that many of us perceive our senses differently from the way that neurotypical people do.  Stimuli that others would barely notice may be perceived by us as unpleasant or even painful, while we may simultaneously be able to tolerate stimuli that others would find aversive.  The exact nature of these differences in sensitivity is unique for every autistic person.  In my case, I find the sensation of a tie or collared shirt around my neck to be excruciating.  Strict formal dress codes have the effect of de facto excluding people with sensitivities such as mine.  The solution to this problem is simple: Make these dress codes more flexible or eliminate them altogether.  There is no need to grant special privileges on account of an autism diagnosis when no harm is done by extending the same rights to everyone.  Taking this approach is to the benefit of everyone, including the autistic person.  It avoids giving our neurotypical counterparts reason to feel that they have been the victims of reverse discrimination and hence possibly come to resent us.

In practice, the policies favored by equity proponents are not about allowing individuals to choose what is right for them but rather about empowering authority figures to decide who does or doesn’t deserve support, often based solely on coarse categories such as race and gender.  When affirmative action is practiced in college admissions or hiring, a well-qualified white or Asian male applicant can be passed over in favor of a less-qualified female or minority applicant.  The right of the individual to be judged solely on merit and not subject to discrimination on account of accidents of birth is subordinated to the right of the group to not be “underrepresented.”  At my high school, an African-American woman was granted admission to Princeton while several white and Asian students with higher grades, more advanced coursework, and SAT scores that were several hundred points higher were rejected.

The example of people of different heights receiving stools of different sizes is oversimplified in that it looks at a disadvantage that is objective and easily measured and quantified.  Many of the disadvantages used to justify diversity initiatives are difficult if not impossible to measure objectively on an individual level.  While they may correlate with race and gender, they vary hugely from individual to individual depending on a whole host of factors such as where one lives and who one’s parents, teachers, and mentors are.  It has often been claimed that girls do not receive the same encouragement to go into STEM as boys.  Even if this is true (which I strongly question in this day and age), those generalizations do not hold for all boys and all girls.  As I discussed in an interview with Quillette that was published earlier this year, encouragement was something of which I received very little growing up.12  I learned programming out of books beginning at age 7, despite having no formalized mentorship until late high school.  My parents did not support these activities, and I was bullied mercilessly by my peers for having different interests from what was considered to be cool.

Social justice activists often speak of the value of lived experiences, yet the lived experience of someone like me is clearly unwelcome.  If I should have the audacity to suggest that what I’ve endured is of comparable (or perhaps even greater) severity than many of issues raised by the women in science movement, I’ll be at best condescendingly told that I need to check my privilege.  As a college student, I watched one of my female colleagues receive a $10,000 scholarship from Google.13  Her qualifications were not even close to mine.  She took no initiative to learn any computer science until she was in college.  When we were in class together, she would regularly complain about how hard our programming assignments were while I received perfect scores on them.  Yet, I was not allowed to even apply because of my Y chromosome.  Is it any wonder that many of us feel that we our talent and hard work are devalued by the women in science movement when we are literally paid zero cents on a woman’s dollar?

Intersectionality is in theory supposed to be about the ways in which the treatment of different identities combines in complex ways to produce the experiences that individuals have.  Yet in practice, it grossly oversimplifies by failing to take into account the ways in which the disadvantages created in the name of achieving diversity can combine with other disadvantages.  Consider the case of a student whose parents are wealthy enough to cover their child’s college tuition but for whatever reason refuse to do so.  Perhaps they are selfish and decide to spend the money on a yacht for themselves.  Perhaps they reject their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity and have disowned the child.  Such a child is caught between a rock and a hard place, disqualified from need-based financial aid yet receiving no family support.  In such a situation, a white male is the last thing one would want to be, as such an identity disqualifies the child from a large number of scholarship opportunities no matter how talented or hard-working he may be.

Is the Women In Science Movement Anti-Male?

The final point made by Mr. Reges to which Ms. Champion responds is the concern “that lack of progress will make us more likely to switch from positive messages about women succeeding in tech to negative stories about men behaving badly in tech, which [he thinks] will do more harm than good.”  She makes clear that she had not thought of this possibility before and finds it to be “goddamn terrifying,” going on to come to realizations about how her own movement’s messaging may be perceived by some of her male colleagues:

Is this what men have been thinking when we force them to sit in silent agreement?  Do men in our industry feel that we view them as personally responsible for the inequalities we are trying to fix?  No wonder they resent us!

She goes on to explicitly state that she does not view individual men as responsible for the issues that she is trying to address.  This is a huge step forward for which she should be commended.

However, it is worth dissecting in detail exactly what messaging has caused this perception.   Actions speak louder than words, and when we are subject to affirmative action policies that deny us the right to be judged solely on our merits without regard to our gender or race, it can easily create the perception that our accomplishments are viewed as having been handed to us on a silver plate through “patriarchy” or “white privilege,” rather than earned through hard work.  This perception is only heightened when those who oppose these policies are presumed to be racist and/or sexist and even threatened with our jobs if we speak our minds.

That said, there has been no shortage of hostile words, both within the industry itself and in the media’s coverage of this issue.  Screenshots shown in Mr. Damore’s lawsuit revealed ongoing overt hostility toward white men and conservatives among employees at Google.14  While what has happened at Google appears to be more extreme and pervasive than what I have experienced, there have been similar incidents at the companies where I have worked.  Media coverage of the sexual harassment found at Uber has portrayed this type of behavior as typical of the industry, when there is every reason to believe that most software companies are far more like Google than Uber.15  When a female engineer who left GitHub accused the company of sexism, the media took her allegations at face value without any evidence.[16]  An engineer attending the programming conference PyCon was fired from his job without due process after a female attendee accused him of using technical jargon as sexual innuendo.[17]  No evidence was provided beyond her word.

This perception is strengthened by the rise in the broader culture of a radical feminism that has no qualms about displaying hostility toward men and boys.  Words such as “mansplaining” and “manologue” serve to denigrate men’s opinions on the basis of our gender and delegitimize our right to think for ourselves if that leads us to see things differently from a woman.  Even the phrase “Not all men are like that” has been viewed by many as hate speech.18  For those who don’t see why this is a big deal, consider the following thought experiment.  Suppose that instead of blanket statements about men in the context of violence against women, it was blanket statements about Muslims in the context of terrorism.  When some Muslims pointed out that “Not all Muslims are like that” and that it is a small percentage who commit acts of terror, they were accused of changing the topic.  Enough Muslims do these things that all Jews and Christians have to live in fear.  Therefore, the only appropriate response is to join in the outrage without qualification.  To raise concerns about the civil rights of Muslims is to lack sympathy for the victims of September 11.  It’s funny how, when the demographic being targeted is changed, the arguments of certain feminists become indistinguishable from those of Donald Trump.

A Safe Space for Men, Too?

Ms. Champion concludes her article by making an outreach to men who feel that their views have been censored, offering to be a “safe space” in which “otherwise outlawed ideas” can be discussed.  For this as well, she deserves to be commended.  However, for men with views that go against the grain to feel safe, she will need to go a step further.  Conspicuously missing from her article is any admission that the firing of Mr. Damore was wrong or any condemnation of the appalling—and, dare I say, flagrantly unconstitutional—decision of the National Labor Relations Board to rule that his discussion of scientific research, the conclusions of which some women found offensive, was a form of sexual harassment.19  As long as these types of policies continue to be in place, many of us will not feel comfortable coming forward in the workplace.

I agree with Ms. Champion that safety is not about “the exclusion of tough conversations.”  What it is about is the ability to know that we will not be fired from our jobs, blacklisted from the industry, and deprived of our livelihood if what is in our hearts becomes known.  As long as the leadership is content to use economic force to silence those who disagree with them with the acquiescence if not outright encouragement of the women in science movement, we will not feel safe.

A tolerant workplace is what we should all be aiming for, and tolerance does not require that we all agree.  People of differing opinions should be able to coexist and work together toward a common goal of building technology.  Whether or not we see things the same way politically, with respect to the STEM gender gap or any other issue, we should be able to recognize the value that each of us provides to the team.  In the long run, science and history will determine who is right and who is wrong on this issue.  Yet whatever the answer turns out to be, we should understand that it should never be seen to negate the value that any engineer, whether male or female, brings to the table.

 

The author is a software engineer. Gideon Scopes is a pseudonym. Given the current climate surrounding political expression in the technology industry, his real name has been withheld.

References:

1 Reges, Stuart.  Why Women Don’t Code [Internet].  Sydney: Quillette; 2018 Jun 19 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://quillette.com/2018/06/19/why-women-dont-code/

2 Jaschik, Scott.  Furor on Women’s Choices Create Gender Gap in Comp Sci [Internet].  Washington (DC): Inside Higher Ed; 2018 Jun 25 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/06/25/lecturers-explanation-gender-gap-computer-science-it-reflect-womens-choices

3 Champion, Kasey.  Women in tech: we’re training men to resent us [Internet].  [place unknown]: Noteworthy – The Journal Blog; 2018 Jun 22 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://blog.usejournal.com/women-in-tech-were-training-men-to-hate-us-cd3e81c6b15b

4 Pinker, Steven.  The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.  New York: Penguin Books; 2002.  509 p.

5 Yiannopoulos, Milo.  There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women In Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews [Internet].  London: Breitbart; 2016 Jul 1 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/07/01/not-sexism-women-just-suck-interviews/

6 Davis, Sean.  Read The Google Diversity Memo That Everyone Is Freaking Out About [Internet].  Alexandria (VA): The Federalist; 2017 Aug 8 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: http://thefederalist.com/2017/08/08/read-the-google-diversity-memo-that-that-everyone-is-freaking-out-about/

7 Bravo, Lauren.  Flexible working: the secret to professional women’s success [Internet].  London: The Guardian; 2016 Apr 28 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2016/apr/28/flexible-working-secret-women-success-pay-gap

8 Rowling, J.K.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  New York: Scholastic; 1999.  448 p.

9 Summers, Lawrence H.  Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce [Internet].  Cambridge (MA): Harvard University; 2005 Jan 14 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.harvard.edu/president/speeches/summers_2005/nber.php

10 MongoDB World Code of Conduct [Internet].  New York: MongoDB; [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.mongodb.com/mongodb-world-code-conduct

11 Sommers, Christina Hoff.  The Science on Women and Science.  Washington (DC): The AEI Press; 2009.  330 p.

12 Lehmann, Claire.  The Empathy Gap in Tech: Interview with a Software Engineer [Internet].  Sydney: Quillette; 2018 Jan 5 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://quillette.com/2018/01/05/empathy-gap-tech-interview-software-engineer/

13 Scholars Program [Internet].  [place unknown]: Women Techmakers; [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.womentechmakers.com/scholars

14 Scopes, Gideon.  Lawsuit Exposes Internet Giant’s Internal Culture of Intolerance [Internet].  Sydney: Quillette; 2018 Feb 1 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://quillette.com/2018/02/01/lawsuit-exposes-internet-giants-internal-culture-intolerance/

15 Kircher, Madison Malone.  Gender Discrimination at Uber Is a Reminder of How Hard Women Have to Fight to Be Believed [Internet].  New York: New York; 2017 Feb 21 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: http://nymag.com/selectall/2017/02/susan-fowler-alleges-sexual-discrimination-against-uber.html

16 Romano, Aji.  Sexist culture and harassment drives GitHub’s first female developer to quit [Internet].  Austin (TX): The Daily Dot; 2014 Mar 15 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.dailydot.com/debug/julie-ann-horvath-quits-github-sexism-harassment/

17 Brodkin, Jon.  How “dongle” jokes got two people fired—and led to DDoS attacks [Internet].  Boston (MA): Ars Technica; 2013 Mar 21 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/03/how-dongle-jokes-got-two-people-fired-and-led-to-ddos-attacks/

18 Plait, Phil.  Not all men: How discussing women’s issues gets derailed [Internet].  New York: Slate; 2014 May 27 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/05/27/not_all_men_how_discussing_women_s_issues_gets_derailed.html

19 Mulvaney, Erin.  Read the NLRB Memo Defending Google’s Firing of James Damore [Internet].  New York: The Recoder; 2018 Feb 16 [cited 2018 Jul 7].  Available from: https://www.law.com/therecorder/2018/02/16/read-the-nlrb-memo-defending-googles-firing-of-james-damore/

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The author is a software engineer. Gideon Scopes is a pseudonym. Given the current climate surrounding political expression in the technology industry, his real name has been withheld.

31 Comments

  1. RadixLecti says

    “Is this what men have been thinking when we force them to sit in silent agreement?”

    It says a hell of a lot about Ms. Champion that she:

    a) inadvertently admits that she and her peers have been forcing people to agree with them
    b) finds it surprising that people who are forced to agree with her end up resentful and reactionary

    So much for EQ.

    • ISTM that she was using inclusive (“we”) language not because she’s in on it, so to speak, but because she recognizes that this is the way the discussion has been held so far – she is suggesting that “forcing” dissenters to sit silently, and therefore to imply their agreement, is harmful to the discussion. I think she was trying to suggest to her (female) peers that tacit “agreement,” indicated only by silence, in an environment in which it is career death to question, much less to disagree, is a net harm to the cause of supporting women in STEM.

      Basically it read to me as if she was taking her peers to task on this point. Of course YMMV.

  2. ga gamba says

    A terrific analysis of the ideas at play and the tensions therein in your opinion piece, Mr Scopes.

    Golly, that illustration. Very much misrepresents what equity is really about. Don’t be surprised when the fella complains the two crates are unstable, unsafe, and made him feel his handicap was more conspicuous and marginalising. There’s always a whinge and special pleadings. Further, life is much more than one venue, so what is a disadvantage in some contexts is an advantage in others. That short fella is tiny enough to sneak in under the baffle gate, grab a comfy seat, and order a beer.

    As a college student, I watched one of my female colleagues receive a $10,000 scholarship from Google. Her qualifications were not even close to mine. She took no initiative to learn any computer science until she was in college. When we were in class together, she would regularly complain about how hard our programming assignments were while I received perfect scores on them. Yet, I was not allowed to even apply because of my Y chromosome.

    I wonder what the outcome was. Did she learn to code at Google? The workplace environment is far more demanding and stressful than the uni lecture hall. In my experience I’ve seen people wash out and move to other careers, some move to less demanding departments were one is a “better fit”, and then there are the toxic ones who attack others before their own professional shortcomings are revealed. The best defence is a good offence; they find or fabricate experiences to be offended about so that coworkers cower and don’t complain.

    … we should be able to recognize the value that each of us provides to the team…

    It’s a noble sentiment, but sometimes value is defined in novel and even pernicious ways that undermine the team. If the value is simply “diversity and inclusivity”, which in and of themselves may not enhance creativity or productivity, i.e. things that improve the bottom line, then where’s the value?

    • LAW says

      My suspicion was that she eventually encountered someone who judged her solely by merit, and was disgusted by the “misogyny” in the industry. That’s another bonus about everyone lowering the bar for particular demographics. If you take a stand and refuse to do so, it looks to the people you’re working with like you are raising the bar just for them.

    • What I find most amusing about that equity comic is that it tries to make its point through people trying to get access to something they didn’t pay for. That sums up the diversity movement in a nutshell. Their entitlement is so pervasive, it doesn’t even register that if everyone acted like them, there’d be no game to enjoy.

      After years of this, I just can’t bring myself to care. Those of us who worked our way up on our merit didn’t have the rosy privileged life that feminists imagine. We were nerds and geeks, the social outcasts of our generation, recluse and online when that still required staying indoors. Now we’re the bad guys because years of pursuing our own interests without social validation lucked us out into a lucrative career.

      The fact that it still has to be asked whether the diversity movement is anti-male, rather than accepted as an undisputed fact, speaks volumes. The most important gap that needs to be bridged is one of empathy, but I doubt it’s possible. It’s not that I don’t think women are capable of it… it’s simply that it is not required. For women, responsibility and accountability are just accessories, which can be donned when they complement the desired look, and discarded when they don’t.

      Most of all, the focus on men as the bugbears is no longer credible. The movement that coined the phrase “when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression” seems unable to look into the mirror long enough to see just how much of the male experience is invisible. Warren Farrell said that “Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say” but now we’re at a point where men are shouting loudly, and women-as-a-group stubbornly refuse to listen.

      • The illustration is interesting, and there will obviously be some cases that fit into this mould (e.g. giving someone a wheelchair – something that not everybody needs – to help them move about). But it’s too simple for a lot of the situations that start debates about equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome. For a start, not everyone wants a tall stool (or a wheelchair), whereas one problem with affirmative action is that it necessarily makes a job less available to some people who do want it. Besides that, giving a tall stool to a short person will make them better at watching the game (and won’t make anyone worse off), while giving a position to a less competent person will often put them in a position they won’t feel comfortable in and have some cost on whatever institution they’re joining. Then there’s the whole issue of competition – there’s no competition for spaces along the fence, but there are lots of situations in which good jobs (for example) are scarce, and the background cultural assumption is that competition will help fill those roles. Now, nobody would complain about someone in a wheelchair applying to a job in a bank, but if it’s someone who’s demonstrably less numerate (or even less interested in finance) than the other candidates, and they get hired, then there’s obviously a problem with fairness.

  3. Andrew Mcguiness says

    Put the observations in this article together with the article headlined “Why Can’t We Hate Men” in the Washington Post. That article called for men to step aside from positions of power and success, or to suffer being hated by men. Getting sacked by a means of a Twitter-storm of accusations of sexism/sexual harassment/rape is how the ‘anger’ plays out.

  4. Grahan says

    A small but important point. Equality of outcome is not the same as equity. Consider two equally talented people, equally cable, working the same job but one of them works 20% less hours by choice. Equality of outcome would be they are paid the same. However this would not be equity because one of them is working harder. Equity is defined as fairness. Equity implies equivalent inputs and equivalent rewards. Equality of outcome without equality of input is unfair.

    • ” Equality of outcome would be they are paid the same.”

      Well, not really. That is not what “equality of outcome” is about. It would be more like, if the person who works 20% less not by choice by is hindered by say some disability, then he should be paid the same.

  5. DBruce says

    Blitzkrieg explains this: in 1940 the Germans conquered France by concentrating forces in such a way as to guarantee local superiority of force. Minorities are using the same model – the only answer is to organise on similar lines. I read article after article on this site where some atrocity of unfairness has been committed against the author, but he didn’t do anything at the time.

  6. Glen Kissel says

    Alas, one wonders if those who scream about “racism”, even raised a peep when Obama’s Justice Department vigorously defended state governments that check the skin color of their citizens, and if the skin color was black, those black-skinned citizens were then held to a different standard, a lower standard, in state contracting, state hiring and state university admissions.

    The same went for females.

    Those policies, and the Obama DOJ’s defense of them, are/were purely racist and sexist.

    Honestly, if they didn’t speak up about those blatant policies, then we should wait for their apology for their own hypocrisy before listening to them.

  7. The cartoon is terrible because it implies none of the three leaning over the fence are legitimately entitled to view the game – presumably because they are brown – so have to do so surreptitiously.

    And if they really want to make a point about gender why use three male figures doing something (watching sport) which is stereotypically male?

    In any case, removing the fence would mean they all got a view without artificially having to lift someone up. Removing barriers does not discriminate in favour of one group against another. Affirmative action does.

    • John McCormick says

      If you think those two are bad, you should take a look at Kasey Champion’s article where you’ll find two more such illustrations that are even more ridiculous. One of them asserts to portray “Liberation” in which the illicit viewers are standing in the outfield.

  8. So much spilled ink and shed tears on what comes down to such a simple issue, which is that employers want to pay their employees less.

  9. Brian F. Will says

    I work in female dominated science field (marine science). Though women have dominated marine bio since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, you wouldn’t know it by speaking with most of them. My female colleagues often arrive to assignments with absolute contempt for any male authority, despite knowing that these same men had thrived among female peers for years.

    It’s a relatively new phenomenon, and I believe it’s the university system that indoctrinates young women with an “us versus them” mentality. This mentality, as I implied, is not necessary in a field whose glass cielings have alrrady been shattered (marine science). And yet, the dogma and vitriol has only increased even decades after thier forerunners cemented the field as female dominant.

    Why do they view thier colleagues as combatants and not peers? For decades I observed female and male coworkers not only get along well, but pair off and get married, start families, maintain long and rewarding friendships. Professional conflicts were vetted with objective reasoning.

    Not anymore. Screaming matches and accusations or the rule. Subjective, intellectual combat is the new normal.

    I think that earlier feminists always “knew” – without ever saying so – that the modern women’s movement was liberation from pregnancy, not liberation from men. Modern women cannot make that distinction. The fact that intercourse had once held the very real consequence of pregnancy is foriegn to them. To them, marriage and courtship are tools of oppression, not necessary aspects of a (formerly) highly selective process that women had to make.

    We ought to discuss the effects that birth control and abortion have had on society as a whole. We never really have. Sex was once a decision that could alter the next 20 years if her life. Now it is, at most, temporary regret.

    The point is: modern women can only view gender discrepancy in terms of oppression, not the fact that pregancy was a major factor in lack of female representation in some fields. In mine, where women held sway decades before modern feminism, they either avoided or postponed pregnancy, or married men within the field (often the same office/agency) making child rearing much easier.

    That’s all over too.

    What had happened to the health care and social worker industries will now happen to STEM. They know they have the numbers. They know we won’ t fight back. We’ll simply have to deal with this new race of artificial men – a race that has ironically come to worship masculinity and adopt its most harmful traits, yet still despise the presence of men. So long as sterilization is accessible, and 12 hour day care raises the very few kids they have for them.

  10. L.D. says

    I work in a male oriented industry which is rapidly changing to be more mixed. Here are some thoughts.

    I have experienced both female and male prejudice, sexism, ageism and religious prejudice. In times where this happened, very few people were supportive of me. When there was support it was exclusively male.

    All my career advancements were from men. There were plenty of women in power who I worked with and only two come to mind as far as helping me with my career. That pales in comparison with the aid, encouragement and support I received from men over the last decade+. These men were old, young, straight, gay, white, hispanic and black etc.

    The main difference I have discovered between female and male coworkers is this: When ever I encountered prejudice it was usually in the form of ageism. Men and women would treat me poorly even though I held a position of power because they believed it to be underserved. After a period of time my work ethic, my talent and my experience showed itself. Men began to treat me with respect, women did not.

    Men are not saints, they can behave intolerably. Women can be absolutely amazing people. When it comes to the workplace this is my anecdotal experience.

    I don’t believe that we need to encourage women or minorities to come to any one industry. I think we need to find deserving individuals and encourage them from what ever corner of the world and walk of life they come from.

    I don’t think we should push people where they are not qualified or not interested. That is a recipe for a bad experience. It absolutely breeds resentment for all parties involved.

    Also, for all the qualified and deserving women out there, let’s not dilute their accomplishments and skill.

  11. stemphd says

    This is a great article, thank you. It brings up several points, missing from most discussions, despite the amount of ink being spilled on these issues in the mainstream.

    First, yes, there are several gender gaps commonly mixed into one. In fact, I can see *three*: one in technical professions, the other in corporate (or political) leadership, and the third among top professors in STEM. The first, which was the main subject of the Google memo, is likely to be caused mostly by differences in interests (the things-people continuum), with everything else just a minor footnote. The gap in leadership is likely to be influenced by differences in life priorities and personalities, in addition to interests. Finally, among professors in STEM (which was the main subject of Larry Summers in 2005), all of the previous are relevant, in addition to differences in ability: there are indeed more men at the very top of the mathematical skill distribution (and also more men at the bottom, due to the higher variance among males).

    However, I have to disagree with the author’s optimism that going into more depth on these issues will open a more civil discussion, or that James Damore would have fared better if he presented the details even more precisely. As Scott Aaronson put it (https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3376): “In fact it’s often because they fear you might be right that the authorities see no choice but to make an example of you, lest the heresy spread more widely. One corollary is that the more reasonably and cogently you make your case, the more you force the authorities’ hand.” Sadly, I don’t have any good suggestions on what to do instead.

    I have spent quite a few years in the tech industry and academia, and another thing from the article that perfectly matches my experience is the anecdotes of “injustice” one hears from female colleagues in the field. Examples: “someone at an exhibitor booth assumed I am non-technical” or “someone greeted me in French, he must have been hitting on me”. While I certainly believe there are some terrible people around, and we should definitely have zero tolerance to real sexism and harassment, the question is how common these are in absolute terms, and in comparison to other fields.

    Yet another excellent point from the article: Silicon Valley is in fact very diverse and so are Computer Science departments of top universities. I loved my opportunities to meet people from around the globe during my career: people from every corner of Europe and Asia, and many from other continents as well. I can’t possibly count the meetings during which I was the single white person in the room (and I’m an immigrant). The only problem, of course, is that this diversity is not the “right” one, as defined by bureaucrats: in addition to less than 50% of women, the Latin Americans you meet do not think of themselves as “Hispanic” and the blacks tend to be born outside the US. Do we accept their definition of diversity, or do we celebrate the diversity and multiculturalism we did actually successfully achieve?

  12. MCA says

    Women are less than 50% of the CS workforce because of discrimination. The evidence for this discrimination is that women are less than 50% of the CS workforce.

    The argument…is a flat circle…

  13. markbul says

    Let me know when we start bridging the ‘laying asphalt driveways in 88 degree F heat’ gap.

  14. KATHLEEN HARTMANN says

    Ms. Champion writes: Before I was even able to open the article I was practically hysterical. What if I open this and it turns out my secret teenage fears were true all along? That the man who took a chance on me when no one else would thinks I’m not qualified to do the thing I love to do.

    The title of the article she’s talking about is “Why Women Don’t Code.” I am completely lost as to how this is offensive and why anyone would doubt his or her merit based on this title.

    I also don’t understand why it is a problem if there are more men than women in a work place. I’ve worked in predominately male environments, mixed environments, predominately female environments and now remotely. My preference is remote work, because I find office politics and gossip draining. But, second to remotely, I actually have preferred when I worked with mostly men. The guys I worked with were respectful and funny and didn’t ask for emotional support. Whereas, when I worked with mostly women I was drained. Every work environment is different. I’m sure there are women I’d love working with and men I’d hate working with, but it’s really about the individuals.

  15. “virtually all discussion in major media towed the politically correct line” .. should be “toed”.

  16. Stanislaus Ulam says

    Asian and Middle Eastern women don’t have problems excelling in science – only American women.

    • I would venture to guess that for many women outside of USA and narrow concept of West, tech, STEM, etc education and jobs are a way out of poverty and dependence on state/family, and one of the surest ways to be able to support yourself, have a family, etc. In a way, the situation is reversed, many women feel they have much fewer options.

      So there you go, USA: make your economy shit for a few decades, and you will see the surge of women go into the most profitable fields. Like that solution?

  17. whothehell cares (@DuplicityNo) says

    Ho hum. When a profession is dominated by females, that’s OK. When dominated by males, all hell must break loose. So sick of all this BS cherry picking sexism by feminists.

  18. X. Citoyen says

    I wish you luck. You seem to realize that responding to the gender gap will take more than exposing people to facts. Identity politics provides a cultural script that burrows deep, reshaping an individual’s self-concept and redefining they experience the world. Where getting passed over for promotion might have been blamed on oneself, an asshole boss, an obsequious colleague, or some combination of all three, for example, it is now perceived as yet another example of the machinations of patriarchy.

    Once this script has overwritten others, moreover, the facts look like a refutation of one’s personal experience. This is, after all, why some activists (the sincere ones, at least) feel that words are violence and become (genuinely) upset upon hearing or reading about people like Damore. Evidence against the gender gap is, for them, evidence against the script, which amounts to a refutation of their lived experience.

    None of this is to condemn people who’ve been sold this bill of goods, much less to defend identity politics or to justify the unjustifiable treatment of Damore and others. But it will be a tough slog. As the marine biologist notes in a comment above, even the numerical dominance of women in a field won’t affect the script for those enthralled to it. Like anyone else, they will seek to preserve their self-concept to the bitter end, ad hocking new explanations to dispel whatever dissonance the facts present.

  19. Caroline Macri says

    Thank you for addressing the “dry” aspect of programming. In the workplace, I have never felt unusual for being a woman. It is the world in general that makes me feel unusual for loving the abstract beauty of math, or sometimes just wanting to be locked in a room by myself for hours with a juicy piece of code.

    Homeschooling our eight children has made very apparent the fact that, unless some underlying personality trait exists, people cannot be forced into loving STEM, and especially not forced into loving the abstract beauty of math. As much as my husband and I would have originally desired, the children will not all be carbon copies of their techie parents. And, if I understand correctly, a woman choosing a STEM career is strongly correlated with having a parent (father or mother) in the field.

    In general, our children seem to be gravitating to the more applied, and therefore less “dry”, STEM fields. There’s hope we’ll get a computer science child eventually, but so far we have at least two engineers (male and female) who code only if their life (or grades) depend on it. Quite frankly, though, without having had such a large family or having taught our children ourselves, I don’t know that I would have believed as readily some of these findings about gender and STEM.

  20. derek says

    What a waste of time. The skills required to be productive in that industry are from desire, aptitude and training, in that order. If you have the aptitude there are many places where you can find the specific niche that fits your desire, every field needs smart capable people. It comes down to desire. There is something very satisfying in coding, the constant learning, the required discipline and necessity to put yourself into a different world to understand and execute the codification of an abstract concept. Then to make it work. Not everyone has that desire even if they have the aptitude.

    So let people be. The are worse things in the industry and how it treats people. There are very hard problems to solve. This drive for an unattainable utopia is as ridiculous, counterproductive and dangerous as every similar drive that characterized the last century.

  21. Dark Matter says

    I see a similar ideological specter overtaking my field:

    I work at a major entertainment company, whose characters and films are famous worldwide. We cater to a truly diverse array of customers, though sometimes our more adult-targeted content gets us in hot water with accusations of “isms” from all the usual pop culture leftist bloggers (who typically aren’t even the ones buying our content). In all instances, these “controversies” blow over in a week or so. Still, our company has all but officially adopted a stance of leftism in most of its content – even our corporate environment has gone in this direction. For instance, in response to an employee worrying that one of our female-led properties was pandering to its audience, a director in my department proclaimed, “We got an angry white guy here”. In another case, the president of our company shut down a conversation about potentially renaming one of our podcasts (which was created by female employees) – his reason? “We’re a bunch of white men talking about changing something women created”.

    A distressing example happened directly with me recently: part of my job involves browsing our company’s art and selecting images that might be good for licensing use. The images are pulled from an archive, cataloged, and uploaded to a database that our licensing partners can access. This particular type of art, which is sometimes a bit violent or sexy, is typically only used by partners marketing to adult/fan customers.

    Three years ago we brought in a new hire to assist me with this process – she would do the leg work of pulling and cataloging the available images, which she would then send to me for approval. Over time, I learned that this new hire was a feminist. She and I have engaged in debate over the topic of social issues many times, and, though we usually disagree, it has always been fine (I’ve since stopped having these conversations though, as I no longer feel it’s “safe” to have this type of conversation on my office). Still, I like her a lot (she’s smart, and a great worker) and have always felt we have both gained something from our discourse.

    Recently I discovered that my co-worker had been holding back certain pieces of art which she deemed “sexist”. We discussed the matter and I pointed out that it was not part of our process for her to preemptively decide to cut images without sending to me for review. Her response was that the images were “obviously sexist”, and therefor she didn’t think them even worth considering. My response in turn was that I felt the images to be obviously “not sexist”, and that the subjectivity of the matter was all the more reason for me to be able to weigh in. She said that was fine, but that moving forward she would only be comfortable if we have a “process for escalation if we disagree”. Mind you, I am eight years my co-worker’s senior at this company and am several positions higher than her. This doesn’t mean I am automatically right, but my experience and understanding of the business has allowed me to make these decisions every week for eleven years without any art I selected causing an issue even once.

    Frustrated by the circumvention of my authority on the process, I brought the concern to my manager’s attention. His response was that maybe she was right in escalating the content for wider review – after all, who are we to make such decisions? I told I am, and have always been, perfectly comfortable making the decision. My additional problem was that any image even accused of potentially being sexist would immediately be killed if escalated to a committee. I’ve seen this happen before and the result is that a really cool product that our adult/fan customers would love never makes it to market. We’re essentially held hostage by the fear of a twitter mob that doesn’t even buy our products.

    In the end I lost the battle, and now we will escalate any image that my co-worker deems potentially offensive. After eleven years and a perfect record of avoiding controversy in this process, I am no longer in charge because of one feminist accusation that I don’t have the right opinion on this content.

  22. Two things to add:

    1. One of the insidious problems with equity that you didn’t mention, is that minorities have their competence questioned as their co-workers wonder if they were hired on merit or by filling a quota. They are forced to ‘prove’ themselves over and over. I would hate to be a minority in a place were people like me were hired for reasons other than competence.

    2. When I started in the software profession (1984) there was never any doubt about competence. CS schools were filled with women and nobody considered the issue of gender. In the past 34 years, as more and more professional options open up to women, the smartest are clearly choosing other professions over software engineering. There are far fewer women in the schools today than there were then. And it is self-evident that we have not suddenly developed a societal bias against women in the past 34 years!

    Equal opportunity will yield diverse outcomes.

  23. Peter from Oz says

    So it all comes down to an extended version of Martin Luther King’s dream: one day people will be judged on their character and abilities and not on their characteristics.
    The big truth is that we cannot immediately assume that any disparity of members of each sex who work in a certain filed is a result of discrimination.
    In fact I’m certain that feminists never bother to make that argument in relation to the construction idustry or most of the other ”dirty jobs” in which men predominate. It is usually only the prestigious occupations/professions that feminists claim that 50/50 is the natural way of things.

  24. I’m a now retired woman who was educated in Math and Physics, starting in 1969. I got excellent marks, but decided to have a family rather than continue to grad school.

    I ended up returning to work after four or five years later. (I needed the income). I found work in computer programming, where I remained for the rest of my career.

    It is a fact that women score lower than men on tests of the type of skill required to study Math, Physics or do computer work. Not only is the mean of the bell curve for womenlower than that of the bell curve for men, but the standard deviation is smaller (meaning that the curve is narrower).

    Deal with it.

    My sister teaches Math at college, my daughter majored Chemistry and did well, being accepted at medical school. She’s currently a general surgeon with two children and a great husband.

    My son has not succeeded at the same level as my daughter.

    Why? DNA dice roll.

    See Steven Pinker’s book “The Blank Slate.”

    And you know what? I don’t care about thos situation. Just face and the facts and move on.

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