Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In response to Jono Bacon's post on (sexual) discrimination in open source and technology in general, I'd like to add some more concrete points.

So what puts women off technology?
A partial list:

  1. Aggressiveness
  2. Being viewed as a sex object
  3. Not being taken seriously

The technology field has a rather individualistic and meritocratic culture, which is necessary and good. But whether males are born or socialized with a desire to revert to chest-thumping behaviour during conflicts, such behaviours seem to often carry over into our technical discussions (totally unrelated to hunting for the tribe's dinner).

Perhaps its a sub-conscious matter of establishing an geeky alpha-male status -- I don't know. What I do know is that women have no such need or desire to be the subject of that aggression, and such displays are most likely to give offense and nothing more.

We all have a professional and personal duty to ensure only the best technology gets selected, so no one is going to tell you you cannot argue your point based on your unbiased evidence. What we should do however, is take a good hard look at how we argue our points.

Before you write your next flame, consider how it will be interpreted: as the reasoning of a well balanced adult, or the testosterone fueled temper-tantrum of an under-socialised adolescent?

Being viewed as a sex object

This one should be easy, but I guess it isn't.

How would you feel if you arrived for the latest symposium with a head full of new ideas you're burning to share with all your intellectual peers, but when you arrive you find everyone only wants to talk about your clothes and stare at your crotch?

Women are human beings first, talented professionals next, and females somewhere down the line -- wherever they want to put that designation according to their way. And if anyone dares beat me over the head with the tired line about "why do they wear skirts if they don't want to be looked at", I may become cross.

They do want to be look at as a woman, but long before that they want to be looked at as a complete human and peer first. If you do well enough treating them as respected peers to start with, you'll find they are far more receptive to being treated as a women later -- but thats a priviledge you earn, they're not objects.

That means its only ok to ask women professionals for their address or pictures if thats the same way you treat your male colleagues.

Not being taken seriously

Read the above for one reason why. The rest comes from the belief that women somehow don't do the same amount of work to get where they are.

Its just not true, any more than its true for men. I went completed my computer science degree with my now wife, and there was not one single advantage she had that any other student didn't. Period.

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