Women in the Ruby Community

4 views
Skip to first unread message

Iros

unread,
Apr 25, 2009, 11:44:26 PM4/25/09
to Boston Ruby Group
Hello Fellow Rubyists,

I came across this great blog post today by Audrey Eschright:
http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/04/25/dear-fellow-rubyists/ about the
place of women in the Ruby community and figured that this is a great
forum to possibly get a discussion going about this very near and dear
to my heart topic (being a woman and all).

I've been working with Ruby on Rails on and off since 2005 and have
been developing in it full time for about a year. Of course, I
absolutely love the language and the openness of the community.
However, I can more than sympathize with the sentiments expressed by
Audrey.

We all know of at least several companies that really lead the way and
set a great example to the rest of the community. I follow their
blogs, tweets and so on. However, how many of them have women in their
ranks? Out of the few I can think of off the top of my head: none. I'm
sure there are exceptions to the rule out there but overall, I would
love to understand from perhaps an all-male company why it is that
they've never recruited a woman. Is it lack of talent, lack of
candidates or is it something else?

Do people feel that the things Audrey is saying are incorrect? By all
means, if people disagree with the comments made by her, I really want
to understand why. I think she's offering a great opportunity here at
the very least to discuss this issue.

Also, just as a side note: I completely agree that this is not a Ruby
only issue. I just think that we've exemplified the kind of openness
and communication in the community that might allow for at least some
honest progress in discussing why this is happening.

-- Irene

Tyler McMullen

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 3:27:50 AM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
We'd would be more than happy to hire a female programmer. And we'll
do so as soon as one applies. :) It's not fair at all to criticize
companies for not having female programmers. It's simply not
statistically likely...

Tyler

Iros

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 10:23:50 AM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
Oh by no means do I mean to criticize any size companies =)
I just think that they are more likely to be able to hire a female
programmer than a 2-3 person start-up. Being a larger company they
probably get more applications and thus are able to make a statement
like you have, that no women apply.




On Apr 26, 3:27 am, Tyler McMullen <tbmcmul...@gmail.com> wrote:
> We'd would be more than happy to hire a female programmer. And we'll  
> do so as soon as one applies. :)  It's not fair at all to criticize  
> companies for not having female programmers. It's simply not  
> statistically likely...
>
> Tyler
>
> On Apr 25, 2009, at 8:44 PM, Iros <imir...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
>
>
> > Hello Fellow Rubyists,
>
> > I came across this great blog post today by Audrey Eschright:
> >http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/04/25/dear-fellow-rubyists/about the

Wyatt Greene

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 10:56:51 AM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
Irene,

I'm glad you brought this up because this is a subject I care about,
too. Here are some of my experiences:

* When I was working in Virginia I was part of a Ruby on Rails team
that had about 10-12 developers. About a third of the developers were
women, and women were represented very well in upper management.
* I also taught Java at a high school for three years. My first year
I had four male students, my second year I had five male students, and
my third year I had eight male and two female students.
* When I moved to Boston and started coming to the Boston Ruby Group,
I was surprised by the fact that it was pretty much all male.

Perhaps the problem is similar to the problem of why there are so few
male elementary school teachers. I'm not sure of the underlying
causes. If Ruby programmers are 95% male because there aren't that
many women who want to be Ruby programmers, I don't necessarily see a
problem since I think gender is largely irrelevant. But if Ruby
programmers are 95% male because there are cultural pressures or
hiring practices that would drive away otherwise interested women,
that's a problem. I think Audrey's blog post raised some good
issues. That's certainly indicative of cultural pressures that may
drive away otherwise interested women.

Cheers,
Wyatt

ladyfox14

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 4:08:09 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
I have been doing Ruby on Rails on and off for about a year and a half
or so and it is wonderful. I have attended ruby meetings where there
are very few women in the audience. I attended railsconf last year
where I was one of about the 30- females there vs. the 1000+ men
running around.

I may be an exception but I enjoy working in a mostly male
environment. I crave the competition and want to be awesome. Not
just awesome as a girl but awesome on a world wide 'you just got beat'
scale.

As for women in the workplace, I want companies to always hire the
best people. For rails, that tends to be men. I support this. I
have not read or heard of many women whupping ass in the rails world
so why do I expect us to get hired if our level of technicality and
productivity is lesser than the other dev that is applying? And it
just happens that the other dev will probably be a male programmer.

In addition, if we are concerned with not having enough female rails
devs, then why are we segregating ourselves and having women rails
groups? You do not see men having 'male only rails groups.' That
would be silly. But then when we do it, is it not supposed to look
just as silly?

I was originally skeptical about the DevChicks group. I was worried
that they would try to brain wash me and make me believe that males
are the sign of the devil but a friend of mine convince me otherwise
and I have been meaning to attend one of their meetings ever since. I
am sorry I haven't yet. Truthfully, I have been extremely lazy.

On the other hand, there is a female rails group that does not want to
have male instructors. In my opinion, if you want to educate the
female population and make them into budding programmers, then you
need to have the best instructors. I don't have care if my instructor
is female, male or a wallaby that sings about how I should write code
but I want to make sure that I get the best teaching I can get and not
having male instructors limits what the future female rails dev
community can do.

Cristina
> >http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/04/25/dear-fellow-rubyists/about the

ladyfox14

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 4:18:03 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
Sorry-I spelled DevChix wrong.

David Berube

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 4:57:06 PM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
ladyfox14 wrote:
> I don't have care if my instructor
> is female, male or a wallaby that sings about how I should write code
> but I want to make sure that I get the best teaching I can get and not
> having male instructors limits what the future female rails dev
> community can do.
>
> Cristina

Personally, I do care - I'd love to attend a class taught by a singing
wallaby.

Take it easy,

--
David Berube
Berube Consulting
http://berubeconsulting.com
(603)-485-9622

Iros

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 6:03:37 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
> I crave the competition and want to be awesome.  Not
> just awesome as a girl but awesome on a world wide 'you just got beat'
> scale.

Agreed, no one should get brownie points for gender here. In the end
of the day your work is what matters. I don't think the argument here
is against that at all. It's more trying to understand why we have so
few women and whether the Rails culture is alienating to women.

> As for women in the workplace, I want companies to always hire the
> best people.  For rails, that tends to be men.  I support this.  I
> have not read or heard of many women whupping ass in the rails world
> so why do I expect us to get hired if our level of technicality and
> productivity is lesser than the other dev that is applying?  And it
> just happens that the other dev will probably be a male programmer.

Statistically speaking since there are more men in the rails
community, more of them will be whupping ass than women. However,
saying that "our level of technicality and productivity is lesser" in
a very generic way about the female population of Rails developers is
to me very unfair. There is more literature than I care to cite about
women's poor abilities to self promote in comparison to men, and I
highly recommend reading up about the topic. I highly doubt any woman,
regardless of her prowess would give a talk with the words "Pron Star"
in the title.

Also, consider the possibility that a male dev might get hired over an
equally qualified women into an all male company because he happens to
like the same sports team. Is it possible? I don't know, not directly
of course. But, I bet he would be a lot more comfortable during the
interview than the female candidate. I've walked into a company before
with sports posters on the wall and ESPN on TV, I felt out of place
and didn't really want to work there as soon as I saw that.

> In addition, if we are concerned with not having enough female rails
> devs, then why are we segregating ourselves and having women rails
> groups?  You do not see men having 'male only rails groups.'  That
> would be silly.  But then when we do it, is it not supposed to look
> just as silly?

I don't advocate for female/male dev groups. I think gender diversity
is important for good ideas to brew. However, consider that men don't
need to have a male only rails group because rails groups are
practically all male. I bet if there were 5 of them in a room of 50
women, they might want their own group too. Or not, can't speak for
men, but I do enjoy observing their extreme discomfort at baby
showers ;)

Ryan Angilly

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 7:26:07 PM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
On Sun, Apr 26, 2009 at 4:08 PM, ladyfox14 <crisa...@gmail.com> wrote:
As for women in the workplace, I want companies to always hire the
best people.  For rails, that tends to be men.  I support this.  I
have not read or heard of many women whupping ass in the rails world
so why do I expect us to get hired if our level of technicality and
productivity is lesser than the other dev that is applying?  And it
just happens that the other dev will probably be a male programmer.

In addition, if we are concerned with not having enough female rails
devs, then why are we segregating ourselves and having women rails
groups?  You do not see men having 'male only rails groups.'  That
would be silly.  But then when we do it, is it not supposed to look
just as silly?

Well played.  You took the words right out of my mouth.

Iros

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 8:13:48 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
Some really great ideas from Audrey in a follow up post as to how to
improve our community for women: http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/04/26/so-now-what/
I really hope that the organizers of Boston.rb and various other rails
events in Boston take note of this discussion.

ladyfox14

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 8:56:30 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group


On Apr 26, 3:03 pm, Iros <imir...@gmail.com> wrote:
> > I crave the competition and want to be awesome.  Not
> > just awesome as a girl but awesome on a world wide 'you just got beat'
> > scale.
>
> Agreed, no one should get brownie points for gender here. In the end
> of the day your work is what matters. I don't think the argument here
> is against that at all. It's more trying to understand why we have so
> few women and whether the Rails culture is alienating to women.
>
> > As for women in the workplace, I want companies to always hire the
> > best people.  For rails, that tends to be men.  I support this.  I
> > have not read or heard of many women whupping ass in the rails world
> > so why do I expect us to get hired if our level of technicality and
> > productivity is lesser than the other dev that is applying?  And it
> > just happens that the other dev will probably be a male programmer.
>
> Statistically speaking since there are more men in the rails
> community, more of them will be whupping ass than women. However,
> saying that "our level of technicality and productivity is lesser" in
> a very generic way about the female population of Rails developers is
> to me very unfair. There is more literature than I care to cite about
> women's poor abilities to self promote in comparison to men, and I
> highly recommend reading up about the topic. I highly doubt any woman,
> regardless of her prowess would give a talk with the words "Pron Star"
> in the title.


I don't expect more men to whup more ass nor do I expect more women to
whup ass. Whupping ass is a earned. Statistically, in a group of,
for example, 80 out of 100 women are doing amazing vs. in 1000 out of
3000 men are doing as well, then women would be doing better on
average even though there are more men.

On "our level of technicality and productivity is lesser": Give me a
list of well known female rails devs. I know several female rails
devs but I can only come up with two names that are in the qualifying
list. I wonder why. Shouldn't there be more female rails devs who
I should be looking up to? As for self promotion, if your product is
awesome enough, then your product will sell itself. And if you do
need to promote yourself, then if the guys can figure it out, then,
hell, we have no excuse. There is enough technology out there for us
to take advantage of.

As for the "Pron Star" title, I was not there during the presentation
so I cannot comment. Certain factors like whether or not I know the
presenter, how he presented it, etc affect my opinion. As far as
presentation titles go, I give him points for making an interesting
title because you always need a good title to lure in your audience
and if I have a presentation, I'll name mine "I do it better than
your girlfriend." I'm sure that will have an interesting turnout.


>
> Also, consider the possibility that a male dev might get hired over an
> equally qualified women into an all male company because he happens to
> like the same sports team. Is it possible? I don't know, not directly
> of course. But, I bet he would be a lot more comfortable during the
> interview than the female candidate. I've walked into a company before
> with sports posters on the wall and ESPN on TV, I felt out of place
> and didn't really want to work there as soon as I saw that.


If you are interviewing at a place that makes you uncomfortable, then
don't apply there. There are plenty of places that are really awesome
to work at. Also, even if the guys might be obsessed with something
like sports or pink unicorns, if they're cool enough, they'll try to
relate to you and that's what should matter. If you feel excluded,
then you can make an effort to learn whatever it is they are doing. I
mean, that's how I got into Rails and it is probably one of the best
things that has happened to me. And if you decide it isn't working
out or you just don't want to work at any of said companies, then
start your own company or just do contract work.


>
> > In addition, if we are concerned with not having enough female rails
> > devs, then why are we segregating ourselves and having women rails
> > groups?  You do not see men having 'male only rails groups.'  That
> > would be silly.  But then when we do it, is it not supposed to look
> > just as silly?
>
> I don't advocate for female/male dev groups. I think gender diversity
> is important for good ideas to brew. However, consider that men don't
> need to have a male only rails group because rails groups are
> practically all male. I bet if there were 5 of them in a room of 50
> women, they might want their own group too. Or not, can't speak for
> men, but I do enjoy observing their extreme discomfort at baby
> showers ;)


I could see how if there are 5 men in a group of 50 women, they would
want their own group but I've just never been a fan of exclusive
groups.

Men are usually dragged to baby showers. If it was more of a baby
meetup group and men volunteered to show up, then they probably
wouldn't be as uncomfortable. :)

Tom Dyer

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 8:57:12 PM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
My reading of the Audry's post was about feeling uncomfortable, at
least, at a talk where a sub theme was porn. Totally understandable.

I can understand why many women could feel uncomfortable or out of
place in many dev teams or groups. My experience has been that most
teams are dominated by a male culture. Basically, because most teams
are mostly men. I mean, part of the fun and silliness that develops
within all male teams can get pretty raunchy. And I really don't think
there is anything wrong with this as long as one is aware of the room.
And I definitely wouldn't bring this into a public talk.

I wonder what would be the reaction in a room full of guys if a women
did a talk with a sub theme/background of male porn? Guessing most
would initially think it'd be kind of funny because of it's novelty.
But, after awhile I think it would at least be annoying and
distracting from the content.

Agree that men would probably want their own group if they were so
consistently outnumbered.

I think having women groups is just fine. And if helps women in the
community, great.
--
Tom Dyer

"government has twin moral missions: protection and empowerment.
Protection includes not just military and police protection, but
protections for the environment, consumers, workers, pensioners,
disaster victims, and investors" - George Lakoff,
http://tinyurl.com/byvzgf

Wyatt Greene

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 9:29:35 PM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com

I think the problem is real. In general, I don't think male
programmers intentionally marginalize female programmers. I think
there may be ways that we unintentionally marginalize female
programmers. I'm interested in learning more about what the tech
world looks like from a woman's point of view, what are men's "blind
spots" that cause them to accidentally marginalize women, and what are
some specific actions that male-dominated groups and male-dominated
companies can take to ensure fairness.

I'm also interested in the causes of the large imbalance of women/men
in technology-related jobs. Having been a teacher, my guess is that
most women take the tech/no-tech path at a very early age: middle
school or earlier.

Iros

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 9:41:18 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
> I know several female rails devs but I can only come up with two names that
> are in the qualifying list. I wonder why.

> as for self promotion, if your product is
> awesome enough, then your product will sell itself. And if you do
> need to promote yourself, then if the guys can figure it out, then,
> hell, we have no excuse. There is enough technology out there for us
> to take advantage of.

A great product can go a long way but unless someone slaps all over
their blog that they are the dev behind it, twitter about it all the
time etc, no one will know. Going back to my original argument, women
don't self promote well not because they don't have the tools or
aren't aware of them... There are many reasons such as: feeling that
they don't have enough ownership of a project, feeling modest about
their accomplishments, worrying that their ideas aren't worthy etc...
Like I mentioned, it's really worth learning about the topic even if
you are completely comfortable as a woman dev in the field. I'm not
someone who battles with those issues all the time but I've
encountered more than my share.

There are plenty of rails projects out there that are doing great that
you probably don't know about. That we all don't know about. For
example, have you heard of Ravelry.com? Probably not unless you're a
knitter. It so happens that there are some great women who are devs on
the project and it has a huge amount of participation, but it's a
nitch. Just because they don't shout off the top of roof tops doesn't
make their accomplishments lesser than those of other projects that do
more self promotion than actual development. Also, I've never heard
about them from any Rails blog or any famous figure in the Rails
community. Same goes for plenty of other projects. I'm not even going
to get into companies that really restrict their developers from
bragging around about their work. The reality for rails is that it's
growing and being adopted by a lot of larger companies (I should know,
I work in one). In many medium to large companies, the intellectual
property agreements are quite restrictive but that doesn't say
anything about the quality of their staff.

I'm not saying that we don't have the tools, or that we should be held
to another standard. But lets look at the facts: There are far far far
less women in this field in general. That on its own is a problem. I
happen to be part of the Rails community so this is my context for the
discussion. To say that the problem is that we should basically suck
it up and "fit in" to the best of our abilities with an environment
that was entirely created by men and tailored to their preferences
(not on purpose, it's just what happens when you get a majority of a
particular gender to build a community) is really not the right
approach here. Clearly, this is an issue because enough people are
talking about it and feeling like it's a personal issue for them, both
men and women. I think brushing it off as a non-issue really just
underlines the problem even more for me.

Lastly for the sake of the argument, I'm not for exclusive all-women,
all-men or all-wallaby groups, although I may very much like to see
the later have a Rails meetup. =)

Wyatt Greene

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 10:20:16 PM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
The concept of women not being good self-promoters is a new concept to
me, so thanks for sharing. If I were a manager, what would I do with
that information? This is where it gets tricky. The idea of thinking
of women as not good self-promoters, however true it may be, may lead
me to treat the women that I manage differently. It's kind of a
catch-22. (The way I would resolve that dilemma is to realize that
some people (regardless of gender) may not be as good at self-
promoting and to help those members of my team get the recognition
they deserve.) So I really would like to learn more about the world
of women programmers, but I think we also have to be careful that in
the process we don't start creating stereotypes or prejudices. But I
still think we should have the conversation, so thanks again, Irene,
for bringing it up.

Amy Newell

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 11:05:44 PM4/26/09
to Boston Ruby Group
Boston rubyists,

Some of you (especially those who've gotten to experience my fuming in
person ) -- may already know how I feel about that slideshow and
particularly about DHH's response to it, as I have not been quiet on
twitter ( @amynewell ) about it, and I wrote a long comment on
ultrasaurus: http://www.ultrasaurus.com/sarahblog/2009/04/gender-and-sex-at-gogaruco/#comments

nevertheless, as a card-carrying female member of the boston ruby
group (wait, we don't have cards? can we at least get a barcode or
something?), I guess I'd better say something on this thread as well.
But I've kind of used up all my energy talking about it elsewhere, so
this'll be short (um, short-ish.):

First, my experience at Boston.rb has been nothing but terrific. I
don't always make it to the meetings these days, because I'm super-
duper busy, but no one's ever made me feel the least bit icky or
uncomfortable about being a woman.

Second, it's unfortunate that some very important people in the rails-
merb ecosystem continue to be willfully clueless. That presentation
was fracking offensive for all kinds of reasons that one would think
no longer needed detailed discussion/enumeration. The various
apologies, justifications, sidetrackings, attacks, and frankly
misogynist crap that followed on some of the discussion threads were
gross and disappointing and more depressing than the presentation
itself. But there were an awful lot of thoughtful and encouraging
responses as well, and every one of them made me feel a little bit
better about the whole thing, because they reminded me how many great
people are out there in the ruby community.

Finally, not that it isn't important, but 'how to get more women into
tech or reasons why there aren't more or checklist of things to do to
increase #s of women in boston ruby group' seems to me to be a totally
different topic than the one at hand, which is not 'how to get more
women into ruby' but simply 'how not to drive the women who are
already in ruby AWAY.' Those of us who are already working in a male-
heavy profession like programming have a pretty high tolerance for,
well, men. But that tolerance is not boundless. that presentation and
DHH's approval of it shocked me, and it pissed me off, and it made me
think "wow, I am really glad I'm not going to railsconf." If I saw
anything even remotely like that at Boston.rb, which I haven't, I
wouldn't stop programming ruby, but I sure as hell wouldn't be back.

Amy

Tom Dyer

unread,
Apr 26, 2009, 11:10:02 PM4/26/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
It's definitely true that some people are better self-promoters than
others. And I have noticed that women can have a tendency to not be as
aggressive as self-promoters. Believe there are all kinds of cultural
reasons for this.

But, as a good manager, and just a good student of human behavior, we
do need to be aware of this behavior and how it could be more
prevalent in people from different backgrounds and with different
experiences. We shouldn't only grease the squeaky wheels.

Wyatt , could agree with you more about opening oneself up to
alternative views and discovering one's blind spots. And do appreciate
Irene's courage to tackle want can be a controversial topic.

Iros

unread,
Apr 27, 2009, 8:10:52 AM4/27/09
to Boston Ruby Group
Thanks for the encouraging responses everyone! I have to agree with
Amy that besides the occasional "Damn, am I the only woman in the room
again?" feeling, I've really enjoyed coming to the Boston.rb meetings
and will continue doing so.

I'm also glad that I could shed light on the issue of self promotion.
I think the key from a management perspective is to judge one's work
and estimate what the appropriate promotion of it would be, regardless
of who is doing it. Then, if that person is not getting the kind of
exposure they should, creating opportunities for that person to do so
and encouraging. This is what my first manager did for me and without
it I would probably gotten nowhere.

Carlisia Campos

unread,
Apr 28, 2009, 12:36:52 PM4/28/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
A couple of observations of mine, maybe a bit late in the discussion.

More forward inclined people are actually pretty excited when they
find a female prospective hire. However, by default, they are also
usually nervous that a female will crumble at the first male banter.
And I don't know if it is totally a gender specific issue: maybe it is
due to a tendency we have to judge people by appearance. For example,
I would suppose a small built, soft spoken guy would get the same
concern. I am a woman, petit, and soft spoken, so I get a triple wham
in that department.

Then you get hired, and guys walk on egg shells around you. I've had
people pop up in my office multiple times a day to ask if all was all
right (read: if I any of the 25+- guys in the department was treating
me all right). Until I told him I wasn't made of butter and wasn't
gonna melt, worry not. Gosh. I have to say, most people are not like
that, but the ones who are really stand out, and really could benefit
themselves and everyone around them if they were more more gender
aware. I just cringe when I see the guy is burning so much neurons
trying to find the "right" words to use when addressing me. It all
goes away with time, but also creates an artificial environment where
I feel I have to disclose a lot more about me to make the person at
ease than I normally would like to. So in the beginning, instead of
focusing 100% on the new job, I am doing a lot of ego stroking all
around to assure guys feel conformable around me, and don't think of
me like their mother or their ex-girlfriend from hell. But it is also
a way to tell who the most inexperienced guys are, in their profession
or in life. I find that the more experienced and/or married guys don't
really even let me know they notice I am a woman, no doubt because
they've had their share of exposure to women.

When I interview people (read, guys), I usually ask who the best
female programmer they ever worked with was. It is amazing how many of
them answer they never even worked with one. I hope the question at
least gets them thinking that there is such a thing as great women
programmers and, guess what, you will be working next to one if you
pass the interview process. ;) I think the Ruby/Rails community in
specific is so relatively new that most programmers are younger, and
haven't been around enough to work with the few women there are. So
maybe in our community this is really a bigger problem.

I also wanted to mention I back up Amy in all her comments. People, it
is offensive to portray women as a product to be consumed, and that is
exactly what that guy did with those slides in a public conference.
Seriously, who still does crap like this in this day and age? I would
hardly few proud to be associated with a group that stands up for
something like that. Hopefully we won't see more of it.

And lastly, I totally support women going out and forming their own
groups. I would like to hear more from other women who have actually
participated in these women only groups and have a different opinion,
maybe in a different thread, so as to educate myself further; but so
far from my own meeting up in these groups and participating in the
mailing list of devchix, I think it is terrific. It is energizing and
I think it can help keep women excited about going back to the main
groups and participating in the community. It is only a different
venue for additional technical discussions (no, we don't trade
recipes, just like at the massively male dominated bostonrb group the
guys don't spend time talking about sports). I also see it as a
friendly venue for new women to checkout what it is all about. Not
that I think women inherently need friendly venues, but because
newcomers are usually younger or inexperienced in participating in
these types of venues and they, both girls and boys, can benefit by
starting out in a place where there is one shared identity.

-=-carl...@gmail.com

Wyatt Greene

unread,
Apr 28, 2009, 2:58:07 PM4/28/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
Thanks for sharing, Carlisia. I got a lot out of reading this.

Your experiences reminded me of a recent blog post I've read: "Women
in Tech: Stop making us into three-headed monkeys". http://www.trendpreneur.com/startups/women-in-tech-stop-making-us-into-three-headed-monkeys/
What I'm hearing is that it's uncomfortable and not helpful to be
treated as "special". I think this actually extends to the general
idea of prejudice. People want to be seen and judged according to the
unique individual that they are and not merely based on the group they
happen to be a part of. I remember some years ago trying to rent a
car, but they wouldn't rent it to me because I happened to be 23, and
they didn't rent cars to anyone younger than 25. I had driven over
100,000 miles without causing a single accident and without getting a
single ticket and I wanted that to count for something!

Another area where I see a lot of prejudice is with the elderly. Once
you're in your 80's or 90's, your age is your most salient
characteristic. It's the first thing people notice and it's a
characteristic that people can't help but describe you with. It's
also assumed that once you are in your 80's or 90's you're
incompetent, so when someone elderly accomplishes something everyone
is surprised and it makes the news. I feel like our society is still
in the Jim Crow era when it comes to the elderly (just watch how they
are portrayed in the movies). I'm really not looking forward to being
old! But I digress...

So being the inquisitive person that I am, I did some research as to
what makes us prone to prejudice. I'll share some of what I've found
in hopes that it adds value to the topic of women programmers.

First of all, everyone is prejudiced--it's only a matter of in what
ways and to what degree. Prejudice is a side-effect of our wetware.
Our brain is very good at heuristics--mental shortcuts--and when you
apply these mental shortcuts to people you get into the realm of
prejudice.

Secondly, humans are extremely social and love to be in groups. We
have a deep need for belonging and connectedness. Once you organize
people into random groups, they will start viewing members of their
own group as superior to other groups. We love groups and we find
security in strengthening group boundaries. There have been
interesting studies about "minimal groups". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimal_groups_paradigm

So we divide people into the "ingroup" and the "outgroup". In our
current context, the "ingroup" are male programmers and the "outgroup"
are female programmers. "With respect to prejudice, the implication
of this research is that differences within groups will tend to be
minimized and differences between groups will tend to be exaggerated."
-- http://www.understandingprejudice.org/apa/english/page5.htm So
this means that if the discussion goes to whether women are better at
math than men (implying better programming), the discussion would
center around the difference between the national average of math
scores between women and men (however small this gap may be) and would
neglect the wide variation of math skills from individual to individual.

Another amazing aspect of this is that our preconceived notions can be
so strong that they trump the information that's right in front of
us. From http://www.understandingprejudice.org/apa/english/page5.htm

"In one study, for example, participants were unable to break free of
gender stereotypes even when encouraged to do so (Nelson, Biernat, &
Manis, 1990). In this experiment, people were asked to judge the
height of various men and women from a series of photographs. Each
photograph showed only one person, and participants were told:

"In this booklet, the men and women are actually of equal height. We
have taken care to match the heights of the men and women pictured.
That is, for every woman of a particular height, somewhere in the
booklet there is also a man of that same height. Therefore, in order
to make as accurate a height judgment as possible, try to judge each
photograph as an individual case; do not rely on the person's sex. (p.
669)

"Despite these instructions and a $50 cash prize for the person who
made the most accurate judgments, people perceived the males to be, on
average, a few inches taller than the females. In other words, they
were either unable or unwilling to disregard the categories "male" and
"female," and the perception of men as taller than women prevailed.

Another cause of prejudice is the "outgroup homogeneity bias." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outgroup_homogeneity_bias
This means that we notice more variations between members of our
ingroup and members of the outgroup appear to be more similar to each
other.

Yet another cause of prejudice is low self-esteem. http://www.understandingprejudice.org/apa/english/page8.htm

I could go on--there is a lot of research about prejudice in
psychology--but you get the point.

So what to do? The article I've been citing actually has a nice list
of practical things to do to decrease prejudice: http://www.understandingprejudice.org/apa/english/page22.htm

As far as what guy programmers can do, I think some things that are
helpful are:

* Listen with empathy.
* Don't assume you're not prejudiced. Realize that every human is
prejudiced. Get to know your prejudices so that they don't get the
best of you.
* Don't assume the problem of gender discrimination is not real.
* Heck, don't assume anything! You're a programmer--make your
judgments objectively and based on data. :)
* Don't construct a mental model of "this is what a women programmer
is like" and then map that onto the women programmers that you know.
Treat people as unique individuals.

Cheers,
Wyatt

Chris Maxwell

unread,
Apr 28, 2009, 3:23:43 PM4/28/09
to boston-r...@googlegroups.com
That was great Wyatt. It has helped crystallize for me why it
sometimes bothers me when people I meet first ask the question, "what
are you?" before they get to know me. I'm not ashamed of who I am,
what I am, so why would it bother me the gazilianth time I am asked?

"People want to be seen and judged according to the unique individual
that they are and not merely based on the group they happen to be a
part of."

Thanks for the write up and research.

Chris
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages