23 May

Women of the web

Yet again the subject of women in our industry has reared its head and yet again I find myself basically fuming. Why exactly do we keep rehashing this discussion? Can’t we just get over it, already?

Okay, first things first – I realise there’s a wider discussion about women in any industry, and specifically in stereotypically male orientated ones, such as science, engineering and technology. I happen to work within a specific sector of all these – web development – and therefore I realise I’m only qualified to really comment on this one area, and that’s fine. I only want to comment on that one, this time.

The Guardian published “Geek Goddesses” today suggesting that there aren’t more women in the field because of a lack of female role-models:

Young women show huge interest and aptitude in these fields, out-performing the boys in chemistry, maths, biology, physics and technology at A-level. But while 90% of 11-16-year-old girls think technology is cool, 73% would not choose it as a career because of its lack of female role models.

Is this suggesting that 73% of women need a role model in order to pursue a career? What the hell? I’m sorry – I thought that people chose careers based on aptitude and interest rather than a lack of people to follow or look up to. And let’s just pretend for a minute that that factoid is correct – do people need to have role models of the same gender (which this article also suggests)?

I find that some articles paint web development as an inherently sexist industry. I must have missed a memo detailing how and when this occurs, because that’s such complete and utter nonsense as far as I’m concerned. I find it hard to think of an industry that in my experience has been nothing but completely open, inviting, easy to join and easy to work within.

I have spent the best part of the last 3 years attending, or being involved with organising, all kinds of geek events – Geek Dinners (not the “Girl” variety), Pub Standards, @media, d.construct, SxSW, WSG… the list goes on – not once have I ever seen a women being ignored or belittled because the men in the room think she’s “not in the know”. I don’t know what events Sarah Blow is hanging out at, but, quite frankly, they’re not the right ones if she’s being treated as she claims to have been in the article.

Articles like this can only do damage to our industry by describing it incorrectly in a bad light – why on earth would anyone want to be involved in an industry that is made out to be bigoted, let alone the women this is aimed at?

If you think you’re being subjugated, creating a little club just for you not only drives home the idea that yes, you do indeed need to be treated with kid gloves, it lets any discriminatory behaviour off the hook by walking away from it.

22 thoughts on “Women of the web

  1. Well said! If there is one thing about our industry it is that we are so open about everything we know.

    I cannot speak for other industries but I have worked with both men and women who do what I do and respect them all on the merits of what they do.

    It’s such a shame that calling out role models etc is necessary in order for folk to progress, I don’t believe that it is.

    Society is flawed in general because of this, if proper values and respect were taught instead of you have to strive to be like this person or that person then the world would be a better place.

    Anyway, rant over, just thought I would say a few words, I’m now off to my err… Non Bigot Brunch?

  2. As an ignorant outsider I always assumed Web-Dev would be free of most of these ‘stereotypical male environment’ problems anyway, because…. well it’s a new job.

    I mean sexism will always be about in one way or another, and you’re right to separate the wider picture from this work discussion.

    But the field of work you’re in, I would have thought, would have escaped this because of its infancy.

    Men have been carpenters for years, and a stereotypical miner is a big dirty ape-man. Okay. But the internet? The world wide web?

    Even if you go back to the first e-mail as being the birth of the internet, sexism in the workplace was fighting its last major battle, and losing. I can’t imagine any line of work that came about after the 80’s to have any gender stereotyping.

    Reading that guardian article might have made me think “oh, maybe I was being naive and optimistic”, but as you said, it might have also made me think “man, looks like all of these tech-heads are all philistines deep down” or even “man, chicks always fucking bitch about sexism, the best way to sort that out is to NOT HIRE THEM”.

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  4. Ok, I’m too afraid to leave it at that.

    My driving force is to be better at what I do tomorrow than I am today, it’s not gender specific.

    There are people I respect and look up to in this industry, male and female. I don’t look at successful females and think “They’re really good at what they do, such a same they’re of a DIFFERENT GENDER making it IMPOSSIBLE for me to aspire to be like them”

    My experience is the same as Frances’, I don’t see any ‘boys only’ signs in places I’ve worked or events I’ve attended.

  5. I’ve seen the same as what Ms Blow has encountered before. It happens a lot at Microsoft events and also at tech events where guys get into the mind set of ego’s ruling the roost.

    It’s the ego’s and the related way that they react to people that makes others seem alienated. There may be no physical signs saying no women but there are implied actions based around women being ignored and pushed aside at technical events.

    A word of advice if you want to see this in action go to a DevWeek event. I can guaruntee as a female you will be ignored the entire week… ask a question at a talk (you’ll be lucky to get to ask… and get a sensible response)

    Go to a TechEd event… the same happens there… or a .net user group… again wierd reactions and exclusions going on there too…

    I’m not in webdev so have no idea if that’s different but .net programming is very male dominated by type 1 men!

  6. @ageek – Thanks. if there’s a problem with “DevWeek” events or .net development communities, it’s still no reason to tar an entire industry as basically sexist. I am a young, female, geek and spend a majority of me free time at development related things and haven’t any evidence of what you have seen.

  7. Must admit, I didn’t much sexism at barcamplondon. Talks held by the female members were well attended. They certainly weren’t ignored when they asked questions in other talks.

  8. I’m surprised that you count barcamp events as technical. They seemed full of fluff at the last London one I went to with relatively little technical content and a lot on social media and web stuff. Little on the technical know how a lot on the what each tech is…

    I do wonder whether there is a difference between web dev, desktop dev & server dev and the way they interact with women… coz it seems that social web people like yourselves seem to see a different side to the industry than I do… But I’m not about to give up my technical expertise for it. I quite like doing the highly complex algorithms and so on.

    I also see it as a bit of a shame that you diss someone who’s been trying to make the industry better and more inviting. What are you doing to improve it for others? At least they’ve made a move to make the industry just a little bit better and inviting for others.

  9. @a geek: The main point is that you, er, I mean Sarah Blow, is actually making this worse rather than better.

    You are / she is misguided, inexperienced, unrealistic, and, frankly, essentially, wrong on so many counts. If things need to be improved, these actions are completely the wrong way to go about getting things changed.

    Climbing back down to the real world, gaining a (much) better understanding and appreciation for the industry and being more realistic because of it, would stand arguments about equality in better stead and gain more attention (and action, if required) than a poorly written, sensationalist article that would have found a better home in a bad student newspaper than The Guardian.

  10. @a geek:

    I like how you’re saying that men dismiss women in the industry and this is awful.

    Then you say “web stuff” isn’t technical.

    I did a JavaScript presentation at barcamp.
    I also attended presentations on IE bugs (hosted by a female), Google app engine (building an app using it & django), code reviewing, and html5 (hosted by a female).

    These are technical and “web stuff”.

    Your hypocrisy astounds me. If you’re wanting to rid the world of ignorance, arrogance, stereotyping & snap judgements… I’d start closer to home.

  11. OK let me verify what I actually meant by web stuff… how to do web design rather than what technologies are good to use for that sort of thing. Django, php, rails etc yes ok definitely technical. I see design as a different skill to development. Maybe that is wrong and maybe it’s not, we are all entitled to our own opinion right!

    I think I should have clarified that earlier. I’m not Sarah, I’m a guy, Andy… I’m 29 and a .net developer for a large corporate and I’m not going to say more than that! I would have expected better from other men and I’m actually quite shocked at the assumptions that “another geek” made there!

    I happened to fall across this site when I was looking at some stuff over on Technorati… Who knows how I fell across it but I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t got involved in the conversation.

    In terms of action required and what people could do positively to improve things:
    – Not over react to points of view.
    – Treat people as you expect to be treated yourselves
    – Don’t make assumptions on gender based on who converses where online.

    For those of you interested in other conversations with the C9 guys about women and technology then you might find this forum conversation interesting:
    http://channel9.msdn.com/forums/Coffeehouse/261632-Microsoft-not-doing-enough-to-encourge-females/

  12. Thanks “Andy.”

    I don’t see any overreactions here. The overreactions are in the initial Guardian article and Sarah Blow’s statements and actions. I (and I guess others here) actually really care about the issues and there’s a reason these issues are being raised – it’s because there are those who believe the things being said and the way they’re being said are not only unhelpful but destructive.

    You say don’t make gender assumptions, but you explicitly assume I’m a man! My gender actually has no relevance to what I said, by the way.

    My assumption that you were Sarah Blow actually had nothing to do with gender – it was based on the points you raised and the style in which you raised them.

    You (similarly to Sarah Blow, funnily enough) don’t seem to appreciate the web side (or any other sides) of the industry at all. If your/her experience is in the .net world, then, to start (and by that I mean I still believe the points are OTT), relate your points directly to that. Not IT, not technology, not the whole universe.

    You’re right – we’re all entitled to our opinions – and mine (and many others) is that the Guardian article, and many of the fundamental points Sarah Blow is preaching, are doing more harm than good.

  13. My apologies if I’ve offended you in any way. If you are in fact female then I’m more shocked than anything that you would find people trying to better the tech environment for other women as destructive. I guess women work in mysterious ways that I will never understand.

    If you were to better the tech community how would you do it? I think maybe that’s the question that should be put forward. Like you I disagree with some of what was written in the guardian. I’m not saying that groups for women are right or wrong, or that there aren’t technical women out there. You see them all over the industry. And as you rightly say you can be technical and work in web dev etc. And yes I have mis-represented the tech industry a little by assuming all but meaning .net dev. Thank you for pointing it out. I won’t make the same mistake again! (I think I’ve been royally told off for that!)

    What is it that you see as damaging and what would you want to see that is positive… From what I can see Sarah has been doing something that builds a community where there wasn’t one. But maybe I’m missing something since I’m a guy.

    Also have you let her know that you see what she is doing as destructive? Have you suggested to her what you think she should be conveying to the general public? Maybe a more adult approach should be taken to this and for someone to tell her what is being talked about in the public domain. I don’t know her so I don’t think it would be my place to bring this forward as I don’t know if you even know one another. But what about it? Forget public arguments over this one female. Why not talk to her? Or figure out some positive way of turning these things around?

  14. Again the fundamental point is being missed here. Trying to improve the working environment for women when that environment is hostile to women is not a bad thing at all; I don’t think anybody here is arguing that. However, the *way* that somebody goes about trying to improve that situation is absolutely critical. Sarah’s general tone and approach has, if anything, come across as deeply divisive and more likely to perpetuate the gender rift.

    If women in IT want to be treated as equals to their male peers, why would she vilify these same men? Why set up a regular event which shuts men out? This type of behaviour appears designed to draw attention to itself through controversy rather than addressing the underlying issue: that everyone should treat each other alike, and gender should be irrelevant. That is what is destructive.

    Also, whilst you have stated that you are a guy, called Andy, your language and tone in your original post are very much from the perspective of a woman; either that or you’re exceedingly empathetic; an extremely unusual trait in a developer (usually they’re more likely to be practically Aspergian). That being the case, is it any wonder that people muse as to your true identity?

    Your comments about web development being non-technical are also hopelessly uninformed; to suggest that this (very deep and still evolving) field is only technical when you’re writing something in a programming language is quite simply wrong.

  15. Wait a minute – women who ignore and ostracise ‘geeky’ guys during their early years and instead date the jocks through high school, then complain when the exact same guys they wouldn’t talk to are now returning the favour? ;-)

    Ok – I’ll admit that is a fairly inflammatory way of putting it, but the sentiment is true: ‘Geeky’ guys are often the ones who miss out on the early social interaction with girls during their formative years because of prejudice and peer pressure. Why should it be that guys who now have no social skills when it comes to dealing with women are seen as aloof, sexist, ignorant, etc. when the reality is they’re probably just inept at talking to girls?

    I’m not making excuses for the sexism or misogyny that I’m sure some of my fellow techies exhibit, nor am I trying to say everybody who works in IT is socially inept. However, i’ve seen firsthand how ‘geeks’ are treated by their peers and how they’re portrayed by the media – is it any wonder that these people grow up with some warped views when it comes to social interaction with women?

  16. wow….i just absolutely agreed with every single thing you have written. isn’t that a turn up for the books!

  17. we started the female business magazine for female internet heroes 2 months ago in order to give women who are in the internet industry and who not alle are technical oriented some visibility. check out thenextwomen.com

  18. Frances raises some very good points… and I agree that the way Sarah goes about things can be seen as making things worse rather than better.

    As I woman who has had two careers in very male-dominated environments (electronic engineering and web development), I have to say I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of ghetto-ising women. I’m fortunate to always have been treated equally by my peers.

    I have attended one Girl Geek Dinner. It started off OK, but fairly quickly degenerated into a “let’s bash blokes” whining session. So I left, hoofed it round the corner to Pub Standards (I’m a regular there too) and have never been back since.

    I’m with Frances on the side of attending the mainstream Geek events (where I’ve never felt out of place or belittled) and think that’s a much better way of getting more women involved.

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