#1reasonwhy I care about diversity advocacy in technology

Watching the #1reasonwhy hashtag on Twitter, all about reasons why there aren’t more female game developers. Both depressing and inspiring. And also watching the Code4Lib community discuss an anti-harassment policy, which is inspiring, full stop. (Good people. Glad I spend time around them.)

Which means I’m thinking even more than usual about these issues today. This in particular: I feel like every time discussions about gender diversity in tech come up, someone (invariably white, male, young or young-ish) says something along the lines of, why can’t they just do what I did? Take the steps I took to get into the industry or community. (Instead of whining about it. Instead of needing things to be handed to them. Instead of…something.)

Well. Here are some things that I, as a woman increasingly-in-tech, do, that I do not think men in tech do:

  • Be the only person of their gender on a project, or in a room.
  • Run across continual reminders that the category of “geek” implicitly doesn’t include themselves. Any joke or reference that takes for granted it’s really hard for geeks to get girlfriends? Is one that assumes I (and gay men) aren’t geeks, and moreover everybody assumes as much.
  • Be nervous about the prospect of going to tech conferences, because of the possibility that a large fraction of the people of their gender represented will be there solely for their sexuality, not their competence (booth babes, naked women on presentation slides), and the corresponding possibility that people will assume they don’t have competence to contribute.
  • Note that other-gendered (straight) techies get eye candy at events and in games and so forth as a matter of course, but their own gender rarely does, and it’s not as if said gender does not also appreciate eye candy, thankyouverymuch.
  • Hang back from going to conferences or working on projects or joining IRC channels or what-have-you because they don’t know until they’ve tried it if this is going to be one of the cultures that’s intolerable to people of their gender. Spend the first hours or days or months they venture into a new venue waiting for the trolls to jump out from under the bridge.
  • Be concerned that, if they advocate for people of their gender to get opportunities, others will assume that those people are there only to check off a checkbox and are less capable than other-gender candidates. Be concerned that the candidates themselves will wonder if this is true. Assume that some people look at them and believe they don’t have technical skills because of their gender — and the more public and successful they are in their advocacy, the more often this will happen.
  • Assume that blogging about tech issues means they’re eventually going to get troglodyte harassment at best, and ultimately rape threats or death threats or both. Devote actual neurons to planning for how they’ll do the IP logging and which friends they’ll ask to moderate comments. Assume that the IP logging will be meaningless because law enforcement won’t care, but plan for it anyway.

So why can’t I just RTFM and submit a pull request and show up and start talking? Because I can’t. Because there is no path open to me that starts outside of tech and ends up in it and does not route through all this other stuff. Mind you, I have RTFMed (occasionally I’ve written TFM) and submitted pull requests and shown up and talked, but I have never just done that and I cannot just do that.

I would love to just do that.

8 thoughts on “#1reasonwhy I care about diversity advocacy in technology

  1. When you notice that these people are “(invariably white, male, young or young-ish)”, what does that do to your evaluation of them? When you mention it, what does it do to the conversion?


    1. I don’t generally find that engaging with them on this topic is of any use.

      In a sense, it doesn’t do much to my evaluation because — isn’t that the point? O hai, people who occupy the cultural default get to be judged along other axes! And aside from that I assume they don’t get what I’m talking about (and are going to put up a lot of mental barriers to getting it). That they’re in some mode where, because they haven’t had an experience, it doesn’t exist, and in talking about it I must be an unreliable narrator.

      This is *not at all* to say that young(-ish) white men can’t or don’t understand issues of privilege or discrimination or what-have-you. Many do. (One of the nice parts of the #1reasonwhy thread is the male contributors who are appalled at the things that women they love and respect have to put up with that they don’t.)


      1. You’re really successfully communicating “Sam, I don’t want to hear your input on this topic.” That may not be your intention though.


      2. I am, in fact, interested in your input. (See also: last paragraph of previous comment.) Of course I’m aware that you are a youngish white male; I’m also aware that you’re not a jerk.

        Not sure quite what to make of the irony in play — this is a hashtag where women are saying that people don’t want to hear their input *because they’re women*, and you appear to be unhappy that your input as a man might not be valued. I could read that in a lot of directions (some of which reflect worst on me); I’m just going to leave it there and clarify:

        “People I’ve found it unproductive to engage with on this topic” seem to be a subset of “young(-ish) white men”; the reverse is emphatically untrue.

        When people really miss the point of what people are talking about in #1reasonwhy and similar discussions, it seems to relate to the fact that they haven’t had these experiences themselves, not being part of the group of people subject to them. But that, again emphatically, doesn’t mean that people in different groups can’t understand one another’s experiences, or can’t have valuable insight to offer to one another.

        Set theory! Not all subset relationships are bijective. Set theory is awesome like that.


  2. Thank you for writing this post. It is true that there are many things we, as women in tech, end up thinking about that men don’t. It was (and is) common for me to be the only woman on a tech panel, or a library leadership panel (read: directors). I have had threats of many sorts because of my gender, unwanted attention because of my gender, and have definitely had to throw myself neck-deep into “insensitive sexist guy” culture if I wanted to participate, at all, in many forums or discussions. As more women enter tech, and library leadership, I think we’ll see this change slowly…but right now we’re in minority status and conscious of it every day.


    1. Yeah.

      And, I mean, I went to a school that was 75% male and I really liked it there. I’ve spent a lot of time in heavily male-dominated places and almost invariably been treated well there. *Even in libraries* a lot of my friends are male. Don’t know to what extent I’ve been lucky, to what extent I’m just comfortable hanging out with guys, and to what extent I just don’t give as much of a damn as a lot of women about being in that kind of minority, but —

      But why should that have to be the bar for participation, you know? How comfortable I am socializing with men or being in a gender minority, and how willing or able I am to deal with being aware of that minority status, has nothing to do with how much aptitude I have for technology (or how much aptitude you have for directorship, except insofar as that’s a job where you have to socialize with everybody). But if I don’t want to deal with it people will be all “oh obviously she wasn’t smart enough to handle code”. *headdesk*

      I’m convinced there are tons of people out there who have aptitude for this stuff, but aren’t applying that aptitude to *doing* it because they aren’t willing or able to get over these stupid, irrelevant boundaries. Which is broken. Hence in need of optimization.


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