You can’t wait a generation for change

One of the kinds of comments I keep running into goes like this: “The reason women aren’t in technology in large numbers is that they don’t have enough encouragement early on. If we help them get interested in grade school and high school, eventually we’ll have gender parity in the working world.” And on top of that, any other attempts to encourage diversity among existing adults get the blanket label of affirmative-action quota programs (even if all that’s been suggested is to find a way to acknowledge the presence of women in your field in a manner that does not make them feel like the subject of a scavenger hunt).

The problem with this is that it completely neglects the people who have the skills and the interest to be working in this field, but have chosen to do something else (even a support or management role rather than programming) because they don’t feel welcome. Encouraging young girls to play with computers is not going to fix the lack of an inclusive professional environment to move into. And I think the declining diversity that occurs as we go through the educational and career process is a strong indication that this particular problem exists. Do you really want to encourage more women to enroll in first-year CS classes just so even more of us can leave?

This doesn’t mean that I’m not in favor of technology initiatives for all children. I mostly talk about gender because I’m a white female and this is what I know, but I really am interested in more diversity in all directions. I actually think that everyone should know at least a little about how to program, create web pages, etc. This is an important kind of literacy in the modern world. Except that’s a different problem than what it’s like to work in the tech industry right now.

I also don’t think we should equate technological literacy with who graduates from CS programs, but I hope I covered that enough in the previous post.

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