Mediocrity and Unfair Expectations, or, Gender Bias in Judging Women

After a coding camp once — an experience where I was teaching JavaScript engineers (that happened to be women) how to code in native iOS, a new acquaintance complained to me that one of the women in the audience “called herself an iPhone developer, when she had only coded one app.” Exasperated, and distracted by how I was going to find my car in the cold, I yelled/encouraged her to develop her own app, and then she too could call herself an iPhone developer. Because, it only takes $100 buying a developer license (literally, a license to develop!), posting one app, then, heck, posting a build on your phone, not even in the store, to technically be a “iPhone developer.” Her point was to discredit this woman’s comments during my talk, which I welcomed, and learned from. Was it about the bitterness of someone else’s success? I encouraged her to study, and she did, and now she is an iPhone developer.

Not unrelated (I’ll get to the connection later…) The head of the Fed, Janet Yellen, who happens to be a woman, was not selected as by the Economist as a leading economist, when, she actually does lead the economy. Again, pretty high expectations.

The connection: At the end of the the aforesaid talk I gave, I was talking with some developers and got on my soapbox: I wish there were more mediocre women developers. When women are as mediocre as men, well, then we are in a post-sexist world. I’m tired of being judged against a rule stick made by the few (very few) women pioneers in Computer Science, who, granted, had to be pretty damn amazing to get there. When I’m in a leadership position, people think I’m a million times better than the schlubby guy that was there before me. Guess what, I can be about as mediocre as that guy.

The irony is that most times I’m under-estimated. When my team won the finals round at AngelHack, (2012) many people (cough, men, and some women) didn’t believe that I’d actually coded the app. Next time you attempt to judge a woman on her skills, for God’s sake just take the skills into account. Don’t look at her and think “Oh, it was so hard to be in this field,” or “You must have aced all of your math classes because you had such obstacles, being a woman,” “You must not have gotten all the resources I did, being a woman,” and the barbaric but still spoken: “Your boyfriend must have helped you.” Instead, ask her some technical questions, see if you like the answer, and leave it at that.

I believe this stems from an inability to do the hard work when we are evaluating others: just on the basis of the skills required. Not on what they’re wearing, how they sound, or the dreaded and racist/sexist/-isty “culture fit.” Latest studies show that diversity makes for more discomfort and, more innovation (source: this, and this).

Don’t expect her to do more than the job requires, or less. Do question yourself. Don’t assume you’re not sexist. Guess what, we all are — men, women and myself— when we color our judgment.