Her slightly controversial take on tech and feminism
I’ve been studying computer science for 3 years now, have had 2 internships so far and finally landed my dream job in the bay area. I’ve witnessed the whole “Women in Tech” issue from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of unique situations, usually as a quiet keen observer. I’ve been one of those that’s never liked to associate themselves with any of the women in tech groups in university, and I’ve never quite analyzed why. I recently gave it a little thought, and this is what I’ve come up with.
The issue at hand is every problem that a female in tech has is lumped into a “Women in Tech” problem. This banner has been popularized but what many people fail to understand is not every woman agrees with everything being said under that banner.
There are some issues that I do fight for, sexual harassment being a big one. There is nothing more demoralizing than someone completely distancing you from your professional capabilities and reducing you to a sexual object in the workplace. And I completely and wholeheartedly agree that there are quite a few amazing women engineers out there, and the number is only getting higher everyday.
However, I’ve witnessed a sub-population of women that may take the easy way out by categorizing themselves as victims of being in a male dominated field without truly assessing the situation for what it is. This can be awfully frustrating because then all women are spoken for by that specific crowd. For instance, I recall a girl having issues because her manager repeatedly addressed the entire team as “guys” and her writing this massive blog post about it and associating it to an issue with “Women in Tech”. That came off to me as absolutely absurd because as a girl I tend to use “guys” to address a heterogeneous group more often than not. It seemed like a ridiculous non-issue to get all riled up about. Lumping Susan Fowler and that specific blogpost author together under the same banner just seems wrong.
In addition, as a student I notice that most of the women in CS conversations are about trying to get women more CS jobs by having women only career fairs and workshops rather than trying to figure out how to get more women genuinely interested in tech from a younger age. I’ve been a TA for over 7 semesters now and whenever I have female students come up to me and ask me how to do better in the class, the answer is often just to spend more time with the subject matter and ask more questions. However, they constantly allow themselves to be intimidated by the (very off putting) 4:1 (boys:girls) ratio in our CS school. The numbers can be scary, but most of the times at the end of the day, it depends on how good a student you are. The tech industry is as close to a meritocracy as it gets. Keeping your GPA aside, 90% of whether you will get a job depends on how well you can answer the interview questions. It seems like people are looking for the most minute things to get angry about and the downside is two fold, it pushes people away from supporting your cause, and will get people to stop taking what you say seriously.
So whenever women try to dissociate themselves from the “women in tech” banner, I reckon they’re trying to distance themselves from the sub-population that lumps their trivial issues with the real problems women face in the industry.
I don’t deny that there is a problem with Women and tech. But we’re going about it wrong. The solution isn’t to force companies to hire more women just to maintain ratios. That in fact could hurt us more as it perpetuates the stereotype that women hires are made to maintain numbers even if there is a compromise on quality. It really sucks when people take away the joy from a position that you’ve truly earned and reduce to the virtue of you being a girl. Company CEOs should make it a point to express support towards women in tech by boasting of a work environment where women will feel safe to speak out loud and innovate given that they meet the requirements to be hired, rather than just hiring to fill the quota and then turning a blind eye towards their needs. I feel like another simultaneous endeavor should be to have compulsory coding classes in high schools, workshops students can attend from a younger age and finally pick the major because it’s something that genuinely interests them. Detrimental phrases like “You’re a good programmer considering you’re a girl” should be a social taboo.
If you are a male reading this, I wouldn’t ask for a lot more than empathy. If you’re aware that there are many fewer women in your class/workplace, just be aware that you aren’t shunning them or being insensitive to what might affect them negatively. Don’t be patronizing or treat us like we’re weaker, but simply make sure you’re not creating an unfriendly work environment.
I also feel like if you’re a woman in tech, time spent learning a new technology or becoming mentally resilient is more empowering than spending time in a woman’s support group where you just reinforce your fears and expose yourself to the ideas of only a minority of the tech population. If you’re having trouble with a programming class, before associating your lack of coding skills with you being a female, see if you’ve done everything in your power to truly understand the subject. If you’re scared of joining the Machine Learning club at your school because of the lack of women there, be the first and get more women involved. The best way to fight the patriarchy in an industry is to be the best female role model that you can be.
The more trivial issues we associate to the “Women in Tech” banner, the scarier we make it look to prospective female students attempting to enter the field.
And that’s my 2 cents.
(Please free to call me out on anything that seems not well thought out or downright wrong, and do tell me why, I like to keep an open mind)