A Fifty Year Wave of Change
Subject:   Disappointed
Date:   2007-09-05 06:53:23
From:   shelleyp
I was very pleased to see that improvements have been made in the other areas of science, but am aware of how little has improved for women in technology. You acknowledge such, but then go on to basically state the party line.

We have to make women be more interested.

We have to show women in these roles.

Women have to do such...

Women must...

There is little about altering the field to attract not only more women, but a more diverse population; a diverse population that can only improve the technologies and products resulting from the technologies.

I'm particularly disappointed with the following paragraph:

" However, being perceived as too aggressive for a key position is common for women in technology, though it would seldom block a male candidate. Most women in the early stages of technical careers have found some level of aggressiveness is necessary to survive and succeed. Every woman who I know in technology has experienced the following phenomenon many times: you are the only woman in a meeting and you make a suggestion. No one reacts. A few minutes later, a man suggests the same idea and everyone gets excited about what a great idea it is. While there are techniques for handling this phenomenon gracefully (e.g., ask a male friend attending the meeting to repeat your idea while acknowledging it as your idea), it's not surprising that successful technical women tend to speak strongly and defend their ideas. Most women who reach top positions in technology have had to learn how to soften their personality so as not to be seen as overly intimidating or polarizing. And, yes, being quieter and gentler is something I work on all the time."

Why on earth must we 'lie' and pretend to this warm and nurturing role, just to get the respect we deserve? We should be angry! We should be shouting from the mountaintops! At a minimum, we should be pointing out such hypocrisy every chance we get, as a unified whole; repeating such until we are heard.

I cannot believe you are promoting a stereotypical feminist behavior in order for women to 'get by'. I can't believe that you're letting your more vocal sisters down.

Full Threads Newest First

Showing messages 1 through 9 of 9.

  • Re: Disappointed
    2007-09-05 07:48:01  cwade [View]

    "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" -- American Proverb

    It's a temporary situation we're in today. Not to become a sloganeer, but "It's always darkest before the dawn" -- I don't think any one of us wants to tone down the delivery so closely connected to the feelings of near-violation and scandal that accompanies having the rug pulled from under us so many times. But to be truthful, gender aside, it's really difficult to tolerate opinions when they're being shoved down one's throat in a vitriolic fashion, no matter who we are.

    It just so happens that the status quo has it that men are regarded less as blowhards, and more as assertive, when exhibiting this behavior. And likewise, women are slandered and maligned more openly for that behavior, than they are rewarded, even though I'm sure many individuals of both genders silently loathe a male blowhard as much as publicly slander a female one.

    But I'll repeat it again, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," a scientifically proven hypothesis that, I think, can be a fitting analogy for our present social situation as women in technology. Not to mention, I feel pretty strongly (and personally) that, as a passionately opining human being, I usually benefit from dialing back my delivery somewhat, since it seems to inject a level of clarity and focus to an argument. Detachment, as a personal style, has worked tremendously for me as I've worked on it.

    -- Carol Wade
    • Re: Disappointed
      2007-09-06 00:19:05  chromatic | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      I wouldn't exactly call it detachment, but some of the most successful people I've known in the world of technology have a very laid back delivery. That seems to contribute greatly to their efficacy.
      • Andy Oram photo Re: Disappointed
        2007-09-06 07:14:49  Andy Oram | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

        chromatic, the "laid-back" delivery works for someone who is already recognized as a leader in some way. I think the women who report being ignored are behaving appropriately and not being treated appropriately in return. I remember a smart programmer from Poland telling me that the way meetings were conducted in a company I was in made it difficult for foreigners with a modest command of English to participate. Foreigners him needed a little extra time to formulate what they wanted to say, and by the time he did so the conversation had rushed on. (This may also be a Northeast Coast US phenomenon.) I think we all need to be open to everyone with ideas. As a lot of the business writers tell us in popular books, the idea that will propell your organization is likely to come from someone you don't expect.
        • Re: Disappointed
          2007-09-07 21:59:39  chromatic | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

          Andy, I'm certainly not suggesting that being laid back is appropriate for everyone. Your point that people who are already successful can speak softly and carry a lot of weight is a good one.
  • Disappointed
    2007-09-05 11:54:16  lauras [View]

    I by no means consider myself as particularly insightful or having all the answers for this kind of challenge, and I agree with your comment to some extent, but when you write:

    "We should be shouting from the mountaintops! At a minimum, we should be pointing out such hypocrisy every chance we get, as a unified whole; repeating such until we are heard."

    ...I'm left wondering "to whom"? Shouting at whom? Pointing out hypocrisy to whom?

    The missing element in this discussion, to me, seems to be management. Management sets the tone. Management establishes the company values. When women are ignored or have men parachuted in to take over their projects, that's not on men as a gender -- it's on management. And maybe I'm just too cynical on this point, but if management already isn't listening, then is shouting going to do any good?

    Being aggressive, developing a thick skin, standing up when you're disrespected -- these are the kinds of things that are needed in life to some degree, but all the more so in tech, it seems -- especially in the corporate world. And yet who's fault is that? I say it's management's. And not just male managers, because women managers can be just as culpable.

    And yet there's that cliche that holds so much truth: Be careful whom you choose to be your enemy, for you will become (him). Is a frontal assault against management values in the corporate tech world really the best approach? Maybe.

    What I like about this article is that it is more about the kinds of gradual change that happens when the entire culture changes, when the management culture changes. That's where the problematic attitudes breed, isn't it?

    Being a Buddhist in spirit and one who tries to follow the Dharma, my job is on what I can do, not what others must do. (At least that's the ideal.) Leading by example. Doing it my way as a way to show others. And yes, even starting a company, a company that embodies these values and succeeds because of them -- these are things that I feel do make a difference.

    It's not revolutionary. It's not going to change things overnight. But I feel that in some way it's just inevitable. Things will change because the tide is against the status quo.

    (FWIW, I'm not pollyanna when it comes to enrollment figures in schools. I've been reading your blog for some years now, Shelley, and your thoughts on the problems with CS education are spot-on, imho. I look forward to your posting this month!)
    • Disappointed
      2007-09-05 13:10:01  Shelley Powers | O'Reilly Author [View]

      First of all, excuse the typos in my comments. I've never been especially good at writing in small boxes. For instance, it should be feminine, and not feminist in my last sentence.

      Laura, I hope my essay won't disappoint. It's much smaller than these two previous, and most would probably think it a rant.

      Shouting to who...I'm not sure anymore. Management? Somewhat, especially if women are not getting the same recognition for their work as the men. I'd say it goes beyond management, though, and focuses more on society as a whole than any individual group of people.

      I want to shout at the women who don't see a problem because they're successful and they can't see beyond themselves. I want to shout at the women who don't stand up for themselves, and each other. I want to shout with the women who do.

      I also want to shout with the men who say, "Hey, wait a sec...something is wrong here..."

      I also want to shout at the techs who assume their audience is all male; who put on conferences and care little if there are few women.

      All these fields where women have made strides, yet in the IT field, our numbers are shrinking, not growing. That makes me want to shout--at everyone. Shout, grab by the collar, shake people about. When I hear that all we need is to show the IT field in a positive light on TV or in movies, makes me want to shout most of all, because we really don't get it.

      It's not that women or the perceptions of IT are 'broke'. It's the field that's broke.

      Let's see how many Tiny Edit Box typos enter this time ;-)

  • Disappointed
    2007-09-06 15:57:13  MariaKlawe [View]

    I appreciate the comments you made. It seems my essay wasn't clear enough about how I feel about the situation that women in technology face. I completely agree with you we need to change things about computer science to make it attractive to more diverse populations, rather than change the people (females, African Americans, etc.) who are currently not attracted to studying or working in computing. And I agree with your point that more diversity yields much better results whether it's in learning environments or product design and development.

    Like you and many others I am angry that women in leadership roles are treated differently than men are. As someone who is naturally vocal and aggressive about my ideas it has often annoyed me that I'm criticized for behaviors that males use all the time. On the other hand, I have gradually realized that learning to be a better listener has made me a more effective leader and manager. In the paragraph that disappointed you so much, I was trying to describe the current state of reality and make the point that women still face much unfairness. It was provided as example to illustrate my earlier claim that not everything is rosy for women in technology.
  • Disappointed
    2007-09-09 10:30:48  webmaven [View]

    ObNitPick: in the last para, I think you meant 'feminine' instead of 'feminist'.
    • Disappointed
      2007-09-09 10:32:55  webmaven [View]

      Oops. Stupid 'Newest First' default.