Thank you everyone who stopped by to read my post yesterday. I think most people got the point that I wasn’t talking about just one presentation—but the cultural pattern it (and how people respond to it) reveals.
Sexism is endemic in the tech industry. This can mean that people who aren’t trying to act in a sexist way sometimes do, because they aren’t stepping so far outside the cultural norm that they realize how their comments or actions will seem. I’ve seen a pattern in past controversies where the offending person is called out, people argue back and forth over whether the behavior is inappropriate, the person apologizes, and that’s the end of the story. Maybe people drag it back out later to say, “yes, remember that thing that happened?” but I don’t see that as change. I see it as acceptance.
Commenters on the previous post rightly pointed out that these problems exist elsewhere, in other technologies. This is absolutely true, but I don’t work with Django, I work with Ruby and Rails. For better or worse, this is my community. And wouldn’t it be awesome if we could be a model for the rest of our industry? That doesn’t happen by accident, it’s something we can work toward.
For the general “why aren’t there more women in tech?” and “how do I encourage more women in tech?” questions, Google is your friend. This is not a wild, unexplored area of inquiry. There’s actually a lot of research on the subject, and if you’re interested enough to leave comments on my blog, you should be interested enough to do a little reading. For bonus points (one commenter said, “WTF is a “gendered identity”?”), you can read up on gender. Also, Yay Genderform, because it’s amazing and geeky.
So what can the Ruby community do to address these issues?
I want us to do a better job of reaching out to the rank and file female Ruby programmers, who do this for a living but don’t present at conferences or write well-linked blog posts. There are more of us out there than you think, and we need to get over “rare unicorn” mentality that makes it impossible to have a normal conversation. If you don’t know any women working with Ruby, this is a great time to start. We’re on Twitter, we have blogs. Don’t assume that because you’re not working with or friends with one of us, we don’t exist.
I want us to call bullshit on the ego-laden drama that often passes for tech discussion. Don’t link. Don’t comment. This isn’t helping anyone write better code, it’s a distraction.
I want conference organizers to make an effort to recruit women to speak. Some of the regional conferences do, but there’s so much room for improvement, especially at national-level events. Reach out to groups like DevChix and ask, “Does anyone want to be on a panel about git vs. svn?” or “What are you working with that we’re not addressing in these talks?”. Check out the listings on GeekSpeakr. Women are often shyer to put themselves out there and claim expertise, and may need more mentoring to know how to get involved. Recruiting for diversity of all sorts is smart; we want to bring in up-and-coming topics and ensure that we don’t see the same faces doing the same talks every single time.
Don’t assume that more women would participate if only we wanted to. That idea is deeply flawed and assumes a level playing field, which we don’t have (see above re: sexism, endemic).
I want project leaders to mentor women toward becoming contributors. Open source projects always need more people (I know, I run one). Is there a friendly way to find out how to contribute a patch or documentation? Are you looking for women who use your code in their work? Provide entry points to go from user to co-creator.
I want us to have fun. I started in the Portland Ruby Brigade around the same time Topher Cyll was collecting ideas for his Practical Ruby Projects book, and I was completely drawn in by the fun, interesting, experimental nature of what people were doing. As I got braver about asking questions and getting to know the other people in the group, I realized, “I can do this too.” There are some great things happening in Ruby, both technologically and culturally. Let’s work on making that accessible to everyone.