The Horror! The Horror! How dare we discriminate against men, by listening to women?

For those of us who’ve learned to actually be aware of sexism and racism, it’s incredibly frustrating how the same stupid pathetic arguments about sexism keep getting regurgitated, over and over again, by clueless guys. It’s exhausting and frustrating to constantly answer the same stupid, bullshit arguments. But if it’s frustrating to a white guy like me, just imagine what it’s like for the people who are actually affected by it!

This rant is brought on by the fact that lately, there’s been a movement in the tech/engineering community to try to actually do something about the amount of sexism in the community, by trying to push conference organizers to include speakers outside the usual group of guys.

You see, it’s a sad fact that engineering, as a field, is incredibly sexist. We don’t like to admit it. Tons of people constantly deny it, and make excuses for it, and refuse to try to do anything about it. Many people in this field really, genuinely believe that technology is a true meritocracy: those of us who succeed because we deserve to succeed. We see ourselves as self-made: we’ve earned what we’ve got. Anyone else – anyone else – who worked as hard as we do, who’s as good as we are, would succeed as much as we have.

Unfortunately, that’s not reality. Women and minorities of all sorts have a much harder time in this community than the typical guy. But when you try to do anything about this, the meritocrats throw a tantrum. They get actively angry and self-righteous when anyone actually tries to do anything about it. You can’t actively try to hire women: that’s discriminating against the guys! You’re deliberately trying to hire inferior people! It’s not fair!

I am not exaggerating this. Here’s an example.

Summing it up, turning away qualified male candidates and accepting potentially less qualified female candidates just to meet a quota is not only sexist, but is a horrible face to put on the problem. My wife is a nurse. A female dominated field. I also own a construction company. A male dominated field. In neither field would you see a company or an organization suggest hiring one gender over the other to satisfy a ratio.

What exactly is being accomplished by limiting the speakers at an event, or your employee base to an equal male / female ratio? Turning away qualified candidates and hiring purely based on gender, or religion, or race? What does having a program like Women Who Code, PyLadies, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, etc… accomplish? The short answer; very little if anything. In fact, I believe groups like this have the potential actually do more harm than good. But I’m not here to debate the minutia of any of those groups so I’ll summarize;…

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone seriously suggest that you should
turn away candidates based purely on gender, or race, or whatever.

What we do advocate is recognizing that there are people other than white guys in the world, and maybe we should actually include them once in a while.

The majority of people running tech conferences are white guys. When they think about inviting people to come speak, they’re naturally going to start off with a list of “Who do I know who’d be a good speaker?”. The nature of the tech community is that the vast majority of people that they immediately think of are going to be men – because the majority of people they’ve worked with, and the majority of people they’e seen speak at other conferences were men.

People love to handwave this, talking about how it’s just that the field is so male dominated. It’s true that it is, but there are many problems with that as an excuse:

  1. The male domination of the field isn’t meritocratic. We discriminate against people who aren’t like us at every level – from elementary school teachers discouraging little girls from being interested in math, to college classmates harassing women in their classes, to people conducting job interviews and making hiring decisions.
  2. The actual fraction of women who work in tech is much larger than the fraction of women in leadership, or who are invited to give talks at conferences.
  3. There are a shocking number of women who are driven out of technology and engineering by harassment by their male coworkers.

People get really angry when we say thing like this. Part of it is that old meritocracy thing: you’re saying that I didn’t earn my success.

Guess what? You didn’t. Not entirely. No one succeeds solely on the basis of their own merit. There’s always a huge amount of luck involved – being in the right place, having the right body, having the right parents, having the right opportunities. Yes, hard work, talent, and skill helped you get to where you are. It’s a very large, very important factor in your success. But if you were born to a different family, with exactly the same abilities, you might not have ever had any chance at succeeding, despite equally hard work.

The other side of this is actually a sign of progress. We’ve come to accept that racism and sexism are bad. That’s a really good thing. But in our black-and-white way of seeing the world, we know that sexism is bad: therefore, if I’m sexist, I’m a bad person.

That’s not true. Sexism is a deeply ingrained attribute in our culture. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in the US or in Europe, or in China, or in India, or in Africa, without being constantly immersed in sexist attitudes. You’re going to be exposed – and not just exposed, but educated in a way that teaches you to have the attitudes that come from your culture.

Recognizing that you’ve grown up in a sexist culture, and acknowledging that this had an effect on you and your attitudes doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. Refusing to admit that your culture had any influence on you, and continuing to discriminate against people because you can’t admit that you might do something wrong? That’s what makes you a bad person.

I’ve told this story before, but it’s a damned good story, and it’s true, and it’s not hearsay: it’s my personal first-hand experience. It’s part of my own awakening to just how pervasive gender bias is.

A long time ago now, I worked for IBM Research. My third year working there, I volunteered to be the summer student coordinator for my department. The previous year, IBM Research had hired around 100 summer students, and exactly one of them was a woman. The vast majority were white guys, with a sizable minority of Chinese and Indian guys. The pool of candidates was nowhere near that skewed. It’s definitely true that men outnumber women in computer science by a sizable factor, but not 99 to 1. Our candidate pool was more like 5 men to 1 woman.

So, that year, the powers that be at the company decided that we needed to do something about it. What they decided to do was allocate a reasonable number of summer student slots to each department based on the departments budget, and they could use those slots to hire anyone they wanted. If they hired a candidate who was a woman or minority, they didn’t count against the budget. (Note that they did not reduce the number of students we were allowed to hire: they allocated based on the usual budget. They set up an additional budget for the extra students.)

My department was one of the smaller ones. We were allocated 5 slots for summer students. The day we started allowing people to request students, all 5 were gone within a couple of hours. The next day, the guy across the hall from me came to my office with a resume for a student he wanted to hire. Of course, it was a guy.

I told him that we couldn’t hire him – our budget was gone. But if he could find a woman, we didn’t need budget to hire her.

He threw a fit. It was the angriest I ever saw him. (Most of the time, he was a really nice, mellow guy, so he was really upset about his!) It was discrimination! Sexism! Unfair! He carefully went through the resume database looking for the best candidate, not the best male candidate. We were refusing to hire the most qualified candidate! On, and on, and on. I finally got rid of him, after pointing out at least a dozen times that I was just a lowly junior engineer, not someone who made the policy.

The next day, he was back in my office. He was practically bouncing off the walls: he’d gone back to the resume database, and he’d found a woman who was even better than the guy he’d wanted to hire.

This is the point of the whole story. He wasn’t some nasty, spiteful, misogynistic twit. He wasn’t being deliberately discriminatory. He wasn’t consciously screening out women’s resumes. But the fact is, when he went through the resume database without being forced to consider women, he’d eliminated the resumes of every single woman. He was going through a database of 1000s of resumes, and in that process of quickly skimming, he skipped over a more qualified candidate, because she had a woman’s name.

This is what happens in the real world. We don’t deliberately try to be sexists. We don’t act in a deliberately sexist or discriminatory way. But we’re part of a culture that has deeply ingrained sexist attitudes. We’re taught, by the way teachers treat boys and girls differently in school. We’re taught, by the way that society treats us differently. We absorb the message that when it comes to things like engineering, women are inferior. Most of the time, we don’t even really notice that we’ve absorbed that. But we have. It’s been hammered into us so many times, in so many ways, in so many settings – it would be shocking if we didn’t pick it up.

I’m using my experience at IBM as an example, partly because it’s such a vivid demonstration, and partly because it’s impossible to figure out the real names of anyone involved. But I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen in every job I’ve had where I’ve been involved with hiring. It’s not usually deliberate, but it’s very real.

The point of things like the pledges to not attend conferences that don’t have women and minorities as speakers and participants isn’t because we want to exclude the most qualified speakers. It isn’t because we want to force conference planners to include less qualified speakers. It’s because we know that it’s easy, without trying, to exclude some of the most qualified speakers, because the people running the conference don’t notice them.

They’re just like my friend at IBM: they’re not deliberately trying to exclude women. But if they don’t actively try to think about people outside the usual pool of guys like them, they won’t include any. And if they don’t, then they’re priming the next round of conference planners to do the same: if everyone you’ve seen give a great talk at a conference is a guy, then when you’re planning a conference and you try to think of some great speakers to invite, then who’s going to come to mind?

I’m particularly annoyed at the snipe that the author of the quote up above takes at “Girls Who Code”. GWC is a great organization. If you actually take the time to listen to the people who run it, you’ll hear some appalling true stories, about things like young women who go to college to study computer science, and on their first day in class, have classmates telling them that they’re in the wrong classroom: this is a programming class, not a class for chicks.

We have a community where we treat women like that. And then we rant and rave about how horribly unfair it is to do anything about it.

37 thoughts on “The Horror! The Horror! How dare we discriminate against men, by listening to women?”

  1. This is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen on sexism in tech. Very well put together.

    One thing I’d add is how interesting it is that so many individuals who are professional problem solvers have such a hard time solving problems like “How do we get different people on stage at conferences?”. Acknowledging the details of the problem you’re trying to solve is a pretty critical aspect of how people in tech operate. Why not apply it to issues of sexism and diversity?

  2. Using gender to make a decision is sexist. Full stop.

    There are two tests of sexism:
    1: swap test: if you swapped the genders would it be sexist? If yes then the policy is sexist
    2: blindness test: if you didn’t know the persons gender would your behavior change.

    Remember, the goal isn’t a 50/50 split but to make gender nothing more than a physical attribute like the size of their pinky toe.

    1. It would be lovely if that were true, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

      The point of things like this is that discrimination is already happening. When conference after conference never even thinks about inviting a female speaker, because all of their top choices are men, that is discrimination.

      We’d love to get to the point where it no longer matters. But right now, it does. It’s not the case that there aren’t any equally qualified women speakers to present at conferences: there are, but they don’t get invited.

      Back at IBM, it was absolutely not the case that 99 out of 100 of the best qualified candidates just happened to be men. But without making a special effort, that’s what they hired.

      My department at IBM ranged between 60 and 100 people, depending on various corporate reorgs. How man women? At most, 3. 2 left, because they were tired of how they were getting treated. That ratio – between 20 and 60 men for every woman in the department – wasn’t representative of anything: not the candidate pool, not the pool of graduates, not the gender ratio in top-tier publications.

      At Google, I worked in three different groups of engineers. The first one was 8 of us in NYC. All men. The next was a small group, of 3 – all men. The next group varied between 8 and 12. All men. (We did have a woman as a product manager in that last group.) That’s not representative of the pool of candidates applying for jobs. That’s not representative of anything about the field.

      If you stick your fingers in your ears, and shout “la la la, you’re discriminating against men”, you’re just ignoring reality. You can’t overcome discrimination without recognizing that it exists, and doing something about the causes. Ignoring it just reinforces it.

        1. To clarify: I would not ask candidates for their gender and would hide the name of the applicant if nessary. Build systems that prevent gender discrimination: help build objectivity.

          1. When it comes to resume screening, absolutely, yes: Make the review as blind as possible. But more generally, you simply cannot make these things truly race-and-gender blind.

            What happens when a candidate comes in for an interview? Do we run their voice through a ring modulator, and hide them behind a screen?

            How do we choose speakers at a conference? People who plan conferences aren’t trying to pick an all-male panel of speakers. They genuinely believe that they’re objectively selecting the best group of speakers that they can. But the majority of the pool of speakers they’re familiar with are the pool of people they’ve seen speak – which is nearly all men.

            Once again, no one is seriously proposing choosing less qualified speakers, or hiring less qualified workers. It’s recognizing that bias is there, and that we need to do something to get rid of it.

            The fact is: in the real world, we *are* screening out candidates that are minority and/or female. Pretending that we aren’t doesn’t change that. What affirmative action style policies do is just attempt to partially undo that screening out – by reintroducing the qualified candidates that we unfairly eliminated.

          2. The fact is: in the real world, we *are* screening out candidates that are minority and/or female.

            Im not pretending we aren’t doing this: Im saying we should solve the underlying cause rather than papering over it with pro discrimination policies.

            We need to figure out why we are screening out qualified applicants or qualified speakers and fix those issues.

            Affirmative action style programs increase the chance we care about gender.

            P.S. im using gender vs sex somewhat loosely.

    2. What I think is rarely talked about is the inherent difficulty of treating gender as no more significant than the size of a toe. Or even as an insignificant visible attribute, such as hair color, even skin color. The difficulty is that it requires taking a view in which sex truly doesn’t matter.

      And for most humans sex is very high up in the list of things do matter! Our interest in sex is deeply wired. Treating men and women as fully functional equals requires setting that aside in business and other social contexts.

      Which is totally doable. The difficulty is that it’s an intellectual view at odds with our hard-wired gut view. It’s not hard to reach an emotional understanding that, for example, people with different skin color are just … people. It’s harder when so many primitive clues are signaling “sexual differences here!”

      Ironically, I believe a path to egalitarianism may lie not in treating gender differences as irrelevant (which they really so aren’t) but in recognizing them and acknowledging them. Perhaps, in a sense, even celebrating them. The sexes aren’t “equal” so much as “equivalent“.

      (Frankly, I’ve never understood the “no girls” clubhouse thing. Life is so much more interesting mixed!)

  3. Mark, I have read you regularly for several years and enjoy GMBM greatly. I congratulate you for this post on sexism in technology.

    I’ll add a tale of my own. Years ago I was a lab director at a nonprofit research institute with over 50 people in my lab. The best and brightest was a young woman with a PhD in electrical engineering who I’m happy to say has remained a close friend after both of us moved on to other jobs. I am proud that it was I who recruited her straight out of graduate school.
    While we were still working together, Mattel, the makers of Barbie, came out with an ad campaign in which a toy girl character (may have been Barbie but I’m not sure) was happily saying how hard math was and that she was glad she stayed away from it. My colleague was incensed and wrote Mattel to complain. Much to her and my surprise Mattel responded, apologized and ended the ad campaign.
    Sexism in science and technology appears in many guises, and has to be stopped whenever one encounters it.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Im trying to solve a long term problem of women, men, and those between being treated differently based on gender. This can conflict with people trying to solve a short term issue of making the numbers look better (it’s a real issue, but one which will be solved by the long term solution too)

      1. You’re not going to solve the “Long term problem” without acknowledging the unconscious bias against hiring (or inviting to speak) women. Have a look at some of the anecdotes in the post and other comments to see how much damage even the slightest bias can do. We are also trying to solve the long term problem of bias against women, and we have an actual plan to do so: Increase the number of women speaking and teaching now (and if that requires pushing overtly against the current imbalance, so be it) and the next generation will be less susceptible to the problem.
        Simply declaring a fiat ban on any solution that acknowledges differences between the prospects of the different genders merely serves to preserve the entrenched injustice.

  4. Misogyny and racism harm us, our teams, and our companies as well as the targets of these overt or covert actions. If we purposefully or heedlessly screen out more than 60% of the talent pool we are virtually guaranteeing mediocrity at best. Furthermore if we end up hiring people “just like us” we are guaranteeing there will be future problems no one can solve because it can’t be solved with our viewpoints and techniques.

  5. Mark, I appreciate that you took the time to read my rather lengthy article, and took even more of your time to put together this piece. I hope your readers read it fully too!

    Unfortunately, I think you missed the bigger point I was making and made assumptions on a couple things I did not clarify in the post.

    For the conference that I mentioned, our speaker process is done by an OPEN call to speakers. Speakers submit their talks and we select purely based on the quality of the submission. Gender plays zero role in our selection, and the proposed idea was to make it play a key role by forcing a 1:1 ratio of gender. Should we follow this 1:1 rule, we would literally have 6 speakers at best.

    The second assumption that it appears you made is that I do not like groups like WWC, GWC, BGC, etc… Without a doubt I see and appreciate the value of organizations like this. However, not having any of these groups in my area, all I can speak to is what is seen on the surface. Organizations who on the surface (it’s in their names after all) discriminate against a particular gender or race. I stand by my comments, however, I could probably write another equally long post clarifying the the good and bad I see coming from them. Like it or not, the comparison often proposed of “White Males Who Code” is equally as bad on the surface.

    And finally, the point I am trying to make. Solving the gender imbalance that is in our field is not something that any of us are going to fix over night. Education starting at a very early age, open to all forms of humanity has proven to have the biggest impact for societal issues in general, and is not different in this scenario.

    That does not mean there’s nothing you can do right now. Your examples have validity, and of course I’m not discounting the removal of any outright sexist / racial decisions or people in our field. That was not the point of my article though.

    Thanks again!

  6. While a good point overall, I have to take exception with the 50/50 quote:

    > What exactly is being accomplished by limiting the speakers at an event, or your employee base to an equal male / female ratio?
    > [...]

    Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone seriously suggest that you should turn away candidates based purely on gender, or race, or whatever.

    If you establish quota ratios based on an attribute, you have to turn away qualified candidates based on that attribute if your quota ratio doesn’t match the real ratio present in the applicant pool. That’s unavoidable, and I think it’s pretty obvious that’s what that quote meant.

    If a committee requires that X% of speakers have attribute Y, the natural question is: Are at least X% of the best qualified speakers actually Y? What does the committee have to support their established quota ratio beyond wishful thinking? The fear by many is that X is picked based on some ideal dream, not real data. If the job of group A is to be objective and their ratio isn’t, then they’ve failed. The fear of silly ratios is perfectly rational since there are a lot of die-hard idealist nutjobs out there.

    If we’re going to have ratio quotas, those quotas need to be based on real, publicly available, data so that everyone can be comfortable that ratio of chosen candidates reflects the talent pool.

    (On a side note, the qualification distribution is likely far from 50/50 in the IT field. As you point out, certain classes of people (white, male, etc), have enjoyed privileges of education, job opportunities, etc. Those opportunities will result in higher skills. Programs that are objectively trying to select the best candidates from a skill set should in fact be selecting more candidates from the privileged class.)

    The *real* problem lies in changing what those ratios are (efforts like GWC). That’s longer term planning and has slower results, but it produces real fruit and doesn’t harm even more people (denying qualified people positions, breeding animosity, etc) in the short run.

    And then we rant and rave about how horribly unfair it is to do anything about it.

    To be fair, most of the objections that I hear are about the methodology (like forced 50/50 ratios) or motivated by a *fear* of a bad methodology. They aren’t objecting to the very existence of the effort. I don’t think the group of people being berated there is very large.

    But in our black-and-white way of seeing the world, we know that sexism is bad: therefore, if I’m sexist, I’m a bad person.

    That’s not true. Sexism is a deeply ingrained attribute in our culture. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in the US or in Europe, or in China, or in India, or in Africa, without being constantly immersed in sexist attitudes.

    That’s a very good point, I like it.

    1. Very few people advocate quotas.

      You should read Executive Order 11246 some time, because it’s actually a very sanely-drawn regulation. “Affirmative action”, at least as far as the United States goes, is not quotas. It’s actually a requirement to acquire evidence and then evaluate it critically, which is something that all tech-minded people should agree with.

      The idea is extremely simple:

      1. Collect and retain data on the gender/race/whatever balance in your organisation.

      2. a) If there is no imbalance, do nothing.
      2. b) If there is an imbalance, evaluate what its cause is.

      3. a) If the cause is something over which you have no control, you are done for this iteration.
      3. b) If the cause is something over which you do have control but there’s a rational reason for it, document the reason. You are now done for this iteration.
      3. c) If the cause is something over which you do have control and there’s no rational reason for it, fix it. You are now done for this iteration.

      4. Iterate.

      Is there anything in this that any rational person could possibly disagree with?

      1. When people are scared of quotas (or other forms of action), I think they are primarily concerned that the evaluation in steps 3.a and 3.b will be skipped (or they believe that those steps don’t exist at all). Skipping 3.a and 3.b is essentially quota filling.

        1. Right, and the key point is this: You can never be certain that you are not part of the problem unless you actually go to the trouble to find out. The mechanism by which affirmative action works is to make you back up a claim of “we’re not sexist/racist/whatever” with hard evidence.

      1. Right now the classes with privilege have gotten more education, training, and experience in their field. That’s pretty much the *definition* of privilege. That’s what I said.

        Are you just out to troll a flame war with that kind of comment? There’s no way you honestly read that out of what I said.

          1. No. Your first statement was:

            “maybe women really are worse than men”?

            Which is obviously not what I said at all. It’s an over-generalized, emotionally-loaded statement. If you were trying to understand my point and were not trying to pick a fight, you would never have phrased it like this on this incredibly sensitive topic.

            Your second statement:

            “Men, by definition, have more definition, training, and experience. But how dare you insinuate that I’m saying men are better qualified!”

            Not as bad of a rephrasing, but still a horrible one.

            Men have more training and experience by the definition of discrimination. Not by the definition of being men, as your quote implies.

            “Men are more qualified” is a vague statement. How so? All men are better than all women? The 100 best are all men? What on earth does that statement mean? It isn’t what I said and there is loads of room for misinterpretation. Again, a summary that is more broad and more charged than my statement.

            Overgeneralizing and overcharging people’s statements is pretty much step one in trolling, particularly on this topic.

          2. That men are better qualified, as a group, is being said. That doesn’t mean that men are inherently better than women – it’s very much a manufactured thing. Women are routinely undermined (e.g. crap like the “this isn’t a class for chicks” coming up in CS, though thankfully that level of overt jerkishness in undergraduate CS is on the out).

            To put it in really blunt terms, it’s easier to learn math and science when the math-and-science-learning process doesn’t involve a bunch of douchebags telling you you can’t learn math and science, you’re a woman (or you’re black, or your poor, or any of the other nonsense reasons that get brought out), and that’s before getting to subtler things like stereotype threat that affect current performance more than learning.

            Or, to use an abstract analogy – you have two groups which start out essentially the same as regards the skills relevant to catching a ball. You then take one group, and cut their arms off. The other group now has better ball catching skills, as a whole.

  7. This article would’ve way more interesting if you challenged meritocracy heads on. Instead you focus on the routine “implicit sexism”/”sexism without bad guys” line… blah blah blah

    So what if men just *were* significantly better than woman by some “objective” metric? Or vice-versa? Then the state of affairs would be equally bad as to what it is right now under meritocracy.

    Society doesn’t need meritocracy; it needs socialism- where we treat all people as equally valuable.

  8. The interesting thing about this topic is that every single woman in a STEM field that I talked to had some anecdote to tell about implicit maybe/maybe not sexism. Be it the freshman student, that disbelieved her qualifications (I heard that story from pretty much any female TA I’ve met and had someone like that in every single one of my freshman courses) or the receptionist that asked if she was accompanying the (male) person before her at a job interview. Each of these stories individually might not be sexism, but the overall picture is still pretty clear: If you don’t make a conscious effort to not discriminate, you will discriminate. (Interestingly enough, your own gender does not even play the biggest role in whether or not you discriminate)

    1. Exactly.

      I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of exceptional women. Every single one had horrible stories about things that had happened.

      We live in a culture where sexism is deeply ingrained, and as a result, the idea that we can just decide to stop being sexist, without making any effort, without stopping to notice the ways in which sexism affects our judgements – it’s ridiculous.

  9. I think part of the issue for most men is that they see the meritocracy issue in binary terms. Either the tech field is a meritocracy, in which case their success is entirely deserved, and due only to their own skills; or the it’s all a sham and everybody in IT is unqualified, and in their position strictly because of their gender/race/whatever. So they’ll see this suggestion as a personal attack on them. And of course, the truth is somewhere in between. Most of us (at least the white males) really did achieve what success we have due to our merits – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t obstacles in the way of other people, obstacles that we may not have had to face. It’s very difficult to see that without having been in that other situation, though.

  10. I found a professor of Engineering that was posting on an MRA website about how math is male and women should just be quiet and the ‘guys’ will let them in when they’re ready. He was a really pompous ass.

    Check out my mancheeze blog on wordpress for the story. His name is Thomas Impelluso. You’ll laugh hard but it’s really tragic this guy held a position of power with the sexist attitude he has.

  11. For the sake of the argument, let’s pretend that forcing a 50/50 ratio will give you less qualified speakers. If that’s the price to pay for a more inclusive workspace, I’m totally willing to do it.
    Mind you, that will never be the case, I know plenty of really smart women devs, that will be great to have them in a conference.

  12. I have to admit that I usually just ignore posts on the topic of sexism — I just can’t be bothered to pay attention to it (an attempt for an excuse: I am not in a position where I make or contribute to any sort of people-related decisions). I read this one, and found it very clear and well-put. I agree with every single point. Looks like the right thing for me to do is to start paying more attention.

  13. Great post, thank you for sharing. As a white male still slowly awakening to the importance of these issues, it takes me a number of anecdotes like yours to build awareness.

    You were at IBM Research a while ago, and I am there now. It saddens me that a few months ago I observed the exact same situation; upon hearing that we had extra intern pools for women and minorities, a colleague started raging about how unfair this all was. Ironically enough, this particular colleague is among the 5% of women in her department.

    1. Yeah, without knowing the percentage of women that registered, doesn’t say much.
      I bet if women are underrepresented in a regular software development setting, they will be more underrepresented in the realm of competitive coding.

  14. A question that fascinates me is, if we could remove all sexual bias from society, would engineering professions have equal numbers of men and women, or is the “engineering mind” more aligned with masculine modes of thought than with feminine modes? (This begs the question whether there really are — very generally speaking — masculine and feminine modes of thought or whether it’s all entirely cultural conditioning.)

    An “engineering mind” to me is a mind that revels in detail and precision and design and solving new problems. Engineers are often critical people due to a mindset oriented towards spotting what’s wrong with a system (and then fixing it). Engineers tend to view perfection as a goal and tend to view problems in terms of solutions.

    I’m pretty sure we’d all agree not everyone has that kind of mindset. A common (what I’ll label) “feminine” approach to a problem is sympathy and support. (A huge epiphany for me was learning that often a friend just wants sympathy and not a list of possible solutions. They just want to hear, “Damn! That sucks!” not, “Well, what you should try is….”)

    Maybe a simple way to put it is that (to me) masculine modes tend to be about things and facts whereas feminine modes tend to be about people and feelings. There tends to be more humanity in feminine modes as I see them.

    A given mode of thought actually has nothing to do with a person’s actual sex. The term “gender” is often considered to refer to mindset, not body, and “sex” is the “M” or “F” you put in the little box. In fact, we’re all capable of both thought modes, and a fully actualized person is conversant with both.

    That said, I’m fascinated by what real differences there may be between masculine and feminine thought modes and to what extent, if any, they align with male and female sexes. So far there’s been too much prejudice and social bias to even begin to explore the question, but maybe someday!

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