So you organized an outreach event or program for a marginalized group that you care about and you’re really excited about doing your part to improve diversity in your field. You’re all pumped about your work, but then you start receiving negative comments that accuse you of being sexist/racist/etc. for putting so much focus on your chosen minority group rather than providing resources for the whole group. In my case, this usually takes the form of complaints about sexism and inequality in the outreach programs that I organize for women in tech — why aren’t there similar scholarships and conferences for men? Why aren’t there men’s-only tech events?
I don’t know when it became uncool to be sincere. I used to think it was a problem with kids these days, but it seems to occur among people of all ages. I have a hard time defining the exact attitude that I’m so bothered by, but it’s… it’s the embarrassment and shame that is somehow associated with hard work, sincerity, and failing at something you tried so hard for.
In an ideal world, you would be perfectly prepared for technical interviews before having to go through them and you would know exactly what to say. For most people (myself included), however, that first interview is a complete mystery — you have no idea what to say or do or expect. I wanted to compile my personal list of preparation reminders so that I have a semi-permanent reference for people who ask me for advice!
The trivialization of women’s interests throughout history and what we can learn for the future
In the 1920s, flight attending was a predominately male profession. Passengers were fearful of this new mode of transportation; having an all white, male staff reassured them of the safety of commercial airlines. These men were perceived as capable, competent members of the crew, right alongside the pilot in importance. It was only after World War II, when women took over the job as men left for war, that flight attendants lost their respect, instead becoming sexualized and trivialized.
One of my favorite outreach activities at Stanford is being a Project Motivation panelist for ethnic/socioeconomic minority high school students. As a panelist, I talk about what it was like for me to go to a low performing high school, what they can do to get into a good college, and what doubts I had about going to a competitive university. Participating in these types of panels requires a different form of empathy and understanding that isn’t as necessary in regular college admissions panels.
There is a particular moment that keeps ringing in my mind when I think about college admissions and the way we talk to minority students.
I was answering the usual questions students tend to want to hear about: my high school preparation, financial aid, and leaving my hometown. One student asked about how to set himself apart from other students in his personal statement.
Another panelist gave the spiel everyone has heard at least once in their lives: just follow your passions, find something you’re truly dedicated to, start a charity, build something cool, etc. He glowed as he talked about making movies with his friends, then going on to do film studies at Stanford.
I could feel the tension building behind each student’s eyes.
In my natural state, I am a sloth. Setting aside basic human needs, I would nearly always choose curling up in a warm bed over having to deal with the outside world. The outside world is loud and unpredictable and kind of smells weird. My bed is soft and warm and comfortable.
On my way home from work, I was thinking about why I bother to do anything. Sure, I enjoy things like learning and eating tasty food, but school is stressful and buying food requires interacting with people. Why do I get so worked up over my grades and other little things when none of it will really matter, anyway? I could be okay with living a life of minimal effort. I could avoid anything that requires exertion.
I reached the stairwell of my apartment building. It was pretty dark out, but I could still see the steps. I only had to walk up two flights of stairs. I mindlessly wondered whether I should turn the light on for such a short distance.
Why do I ever choose anything but bed?
What’s the point of turning on the light when it’ll take less than a minute to get inside? It might disturb my neighbors. It stays on for a set amount of time, so it’ll stay on after I get inside. I don’t like the dark, but I can get upstairs just the same either way. It’s a waste of electricity. It seems like a bother for such a short distance. The end result won’t change and it’s really the most insignificant thing in the world. It doesn’t matter.
Why do I do anything?
I turned on the light.
Let’s leave imagined gender differences, evolutionary psychology, and the idea that “women just aren’t as interested” out of the discussion.
Earlier this week, Dave Winer wrote a blog post about why he thinks there are so few women programmers. He suggests that it dates back to our roots as hunter-gatherers:
Programming is a very modal activity. To be any good at it you have to focus. And be very patient. I imagine it’s a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.
The Internet has been in an uproar about this and several people have written excellent responses to his post. I’ve included some links in the further reading section, which you should check out if you’re interested in the debate surrounding whether women are naturally inclined towards or against programming. I don’t have much to add to that conversation that hasn’t already been said.
How a guy blindly following bad advice unwittingly led to harassment, manipulation, and me questioning my safety.
It began innocently enough: A classmate read my first Medium post and messaged me on Facebook to discuss it. It soon devolved into a debate about the women’s rights movement as a whole, rather than just the aspects I had discussed in my post. This debate spanned several days. I felt as though we were having the same argument over and over, and he eventually said he believed the women’s rights movement was “overblown” and that the glass ceiling was not really an issue.
I originally posted this on Medium. You should go there to get the full effect and sweet header photo. I’ve reproduced it here just for my own archiving purposes.
Think of a woman in the tech industry you admire. Describe her. If you’re thinking of someone particularly memorable, you might say, “She’s amazing! She’s an awesome software engineer, always has interesting things to say, and is really pretty.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m fascinated with these women because they reject all the stereotypes to which I’ve grown accustomed. They’re perfect.