Girl questions.
July 4, 2011 9:48 PM   Subscribe

“Sheryl is putting together a new-girls network inside Silicon Valley.” She neither flaunts nor hides her ambition, and she talks about her guilt at not being home more; she takes command in meetings, yet she’s comfortable describing Mark Zuckerberg as “my boss,” and as “the Steve Jobs of his generation.” She is emblematic, Gruenfeld thinks, of a post-feminist woman who believes that “when you blame someone else for keeping you back, you are accepting your powerlessness.”
posted by availablelight (95 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some critics, however, note that Sandberg is not exactly a typical working mother. She has a nanny at home and a staff at work. Google made her very rich; Facebook may make her a billionaire. If she and her husband are travelling or are stuck at their desks, there is someone else to feed their kids and read to them. A more sweeping critique is that it’s not enough for women to look inside. Marie Wilson, the founder of the White House Project, which promotes women for leadership positions, attended Sandberg’s TED speech and knows and admires her. But, Wilson says, “underneath Sheryl’s assessment is the belief that this is a meritocracy. It’s not.” Courage and confidence alone will not compensate when male leaders don’t give women opportunities. She adds, “Women are not dropping out to have a child. They’re dropping out because they have no opportunity.” And she doesn’t agree that new attitudes can close the gender gap. Wilson points to Norway, which requires that all public companies have at least forty per cent of each gender on their boards.

posted by availablelight at 9:51 PM on July 4, 2011 [26 favorites]


She got high grades in a class in which she did not speak nor raise her hand. How does this happen? The author of the piece spends a lot of time on her hair and appearance.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:58 PM on July 4, 2011


If Mark Zuckerberg is the Steve Jobs of his generation, it must be a pretty crappy generation. Give them time, I'm sure they can do better.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:02 PM on July 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


There are also, of course, still remnants of “Mad Men”-era sexism. Dina Kaplan, the co-founder of Blip.tv, says that when she met with angel investors to raise funds she dressed nicely, and in a meeting with a potential funder he told her, “Here’s what we do, Dina. We’re going to spend half the meeting with you pitching me, and half the meeting with me hitting on you!”
“I felt nauseous,” she says. “I tried to laugh it off. I asked, ‘Of all the things you’re working on, what most excites you?’ He said, ‘Seeing you naked tonight.’


I've seen Dina Kaplan at tech events in New York. Wow, I've seen and heard terrible things in the tech world, but wow. Wow.
posted by sweetkid at 10:02 PM on July 4, 2011 [16 favorites]


ideefixe: maybe it was a big class. Or maybe Summers cared more
about the written work the students were handing in than what they said in class. There are ways to do well quietly that aren't what you seem to have in mind.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:06 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


when you blame someone else for keeping you back, you are accepting your powerlessness.

Let me guess, she's white, from a privileged background, and still really rich. Yup.

Why do they let rich assholes speak like this on behalf of all those who are pissed on categorically?
posted by hal_c_on at 10:29 PM on July 4, 2011 [79 favorites]


Some critics, however, note that Sandberg is not exactly a typical working mother. She has a nanny at home and a staff at work. Google made her very rich; Facebook may make her a billionaire.

She's not a typical example. So forget her.

That being said, I've been programming computers professionally for quite some time -- since the 1980s. My anecdotal experience is that given two candidates, a man and a woman, about whom I know nothing, odds are, the man will be a better programmer than the woman. I hate saying that. I've known a few women who were really good programmers. But, I've known a lot more -- a *lot* more -- men who were good programmers. I think it comes down to some intrinsic bias -- not on my part -- but on the part of the programmer -- men are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than women tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason. And it's this interest which makes them good at it. It seems to me that it is far more common for a man to possess this interest than it is for a woman to possess it, for whatever reason, in my experience. Not saying it's good or bad to possess this interest -- arguably it is bad, from the point of view of "how happy will I be in my life?" -- just, from my experience, a higher proportion of men possess it than women do. I wish this weren't the case, as I don't want to try to defend such a position. I do think women can be every bit as good at programming computers as men. Mostly I think, from what I've seen, they just don't want to. And they're probably happier for not wanting to. But "wanting to" is a big part of what makes someone good at it, so if you don't "want to", then you will pretty much necessarily "suck at it." Anyway, it's interesting.

Of course, this has fuck-all to do with the sorts of people that end up being billionaires at facebook. The billionaires of facebook have people skills -- and they sure as hell are not spending their days coding bullshit for pennies like the rest of us computer nerds. When people make the big bucks, it's not because they're good at programming computers. It's because they're good at programming *people*.
posted by smcameron at 10:30 PM on July 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Huh, my partner has said that given a man and a woman with equivalent work experience, he assumes that the woman is a better programmer because the field is so biased against women that they have to be more motivated and more skilled to get the same opportunities.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:46 PM on July 4, 2011 [27 favorites]


@smcameron

I don't really accept your statement of men "having more interest in programming" naturally. I believe society is more accepting of a man going into programming than a woman going into programming would be. It's like the bias of pinks and blues -- society has made girls feel like it's their natural inclination to go toward pink, when it was historically never the case.

Personally, I've had my family and acquaintances question my choice of getting into computer programming. "Why not go into something more girly?" Luckily it was few and far between -- but personally I'm not one to let others stand in my way of doing something I like doing and find fulfilling.

I've talked to many women, and there have been quite a number of women you would never suspect that at one point were interested in programming but were pushed out because they realize it would be too difficult for them to excel in an industry where they were the exception rather than the norm. They were still successful, but as working in marketing, chefs, sciences, etc -- but they bowed out of what could have been a career in programming simply because they were not accepted in it. These are not your "geek girls," but actual commonplace women that were intelligent. What a shame.

Moreover, there is an additional argument that programming is already class-based. To have been programming since you were 5 required your family to have been able to afford a computer back then in the 70s or 80s, or at least in an area affluent enough to carry it in schools.

While admirable, Sheryl is still from a privileged background. I come from an immigrant family, probably what influenced my work ethic and drive to get through gender barriers to be both a programmer and a musician in industries where females account for like ~10%.

But I don't blame anyone for keeping me back. I just work hard in what I enjoy doing, feel that is right, and also become active diversity organizations to be more supportive of women that are either like me, or struggle with being the only girl in the room.
posted by xtine at 10:49 PM on July 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


men are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than women tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason.

This is one reason.

(As an aside - I'm in engineering school, and almost of the other women I've met in my degree have at least one parent who is an engineer/scientist and who allowed and ecouraged her to spend her childhood tinkering with chemistry sets or remote control cars or circuit boards, the way many parents only seem to encourage their boys to do.)
posted by jaynewould at 10:56 PM on July 4, 2011 [26 favorites]


There are also, of course, still remnants of “Mad Men”-era sexism. Dina Kaplan, the co-founder of Blip.tv, says that when she met with angel investors to raise funds she dressed nicely, and in a meeting with a potential funder he told her, “Here’s what we do, Dina. We’re going to spend half the meeting with you pitching me, and half the meeting with me hitting on you!”
“I felt nauseous,” she says. “I tried to laugh it off. I asked, ‘Of all the things you’re working on, what most excites you?’ He said, ‘Seeing you naked tonight.’


I guess if the investors don't pony up the cash, it's not because they're sexist douchebags - it's because you "accepted your powerlessness" by refusing to sleep with one (or all?) of them.
posted by rtha at 10:58 PM on July 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


young rope-rider: that's been my experience, as well.
posted by phooky at 10:58 PM on July 4, 2011


hey xtine I dont' think smscameron actually said "naturally". the term used was intrinsically. Which I thouht was a bit more ambiguous.

I had assumed smscameron was suggesting it was due to unquantifiable biases (likely to be societal), but that that is a whole other feild of research
posted by mary8nne at 11:26 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do think women can be every bit as good at programming computers as men. Mostly I think, from what I've seen, they just don't want to.

In the 60s, programming was thought of as a female profession, a low paid clerical position like typing or filing. Cosmopolitan published profiles of the job and "real men" worked on hardware engineering. At a certain point, people realized that software was actually quite important, so they got rid of all the women and stereotyped it as a male thing. Aptitude tests were created, and the answers distributed via all-male organizations like fraternities and Elk's lodges. Personality tests for the positions favored candidates who said they were disinterested in people.

So it's a bit funny to read analyses of the problem as if it is a subtle thing, rooted in unconscious biases and gendered expectations and such. But no, it was quite overt. They basically just kicked out all the women from the field and promoted it as a male occupation.

Source
posted by AlsoMike at 11:33 PM on July 4, 2011 [116 favorites]


As a female engineer, I see my gender as a kink in my armor - a small kink compared to those associated with the lack of early childhood exposure, family wealth and connections....in short, privilege.

Any one of these factors stacks the odds against you, not only in terms of lack of sponsorship and benefits of in-crowd networks, but also because they may make you a bigger target for scapegoating, gossip, and bullying.

There are a lot of people who like to pull the ladder up behind them, and it's easier to do to someone they see as an outsider.
posted by pistachio at 11:34 PM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've known a lot more -- a *lot* more -- men who were good programmers.

Don't you mean: "I've known a lot more -- a *lot* more -- men who were good programmers full stop - so the odds of finding a good one are comparably higher."

Post feminism. *retch* *pause* *retch again*

Post feminism means you've effectively given up and settled for the current horrid chauvinism in the world as somehow fair enough. It's a depressing admission that you've written off 3/4 of the world as un-helpable, and it inevitably comes from bourgeois westerners that have decided on behalf of all women that if you're born rich, and in the west, and lucky, that's good enough. It also implies that there was a feminism some time that got posted. When and where this matriarchal wonderland existed, I'm unaware, and the connotation that - perhaps - it's existing right now is literally sick-making. Fuck these elitist dogs and the millions of exploited people they walk on every day to enjoy their so-called equality.
posted by smoke at 11:39 PM on July 4, 2011 [52 favorites]


Wouldn't it be nice if people could look at this issue as a complex problem with many causes?

Instead, this thread seems like evidence of peoples' incessant desire to choose a side, as is the typical American sociopolitical wont.

It isn't just asshat men who are misogynists, and it isn't just weeping wallflower women who aren't ambitious. The situation has many causes, and it needs to be approached differently in each field and each workplace.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:46 PM on July 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


men are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than women tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason.

As an exercise, you should really print out the comment you just wrote, seal it in an envelope, and open it in 50 years.

If there aren't more women than men enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs by then, I'll personally wheel myself to your nursing home and buy you a prune juice.
posted by auto-correct at 11:56 PM on July 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've known a few women who were really good programmers. But, I've known a lot more -- a *lot* more -- men who were good programmers. I think it comes down to some intrinsic bias -- not on my part -- but on the part of the programmer -- men are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than women tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason.

vs.

Huh, my partner has said that given a man and a woman with equivalent work experience, he assumes that the woman is a better programmer because the field is so biased against women that they have to be more motivated and more skilled to get the same opportunities.

Speaking from the trenches of the games industry, where a studio of 100 is lucky to have a single female programmer (yet somehow I've met quite a few): my experience has been that male programmers tend to fall all over the map in regards to how passionate/skilled they are at it, whereas female programmers are very, very polarized. I can't think of any who weren't in either the top 20 or bottom 20 programmers I've met of either gender. In particular, two female graphics programmers I know can more than hold their own against the ranks of autistic male shut-ins the field is dominated by. Outside the industry, there was also a defense contracting low-level FPGA programmer who was probably the smartest woman I've ever met - genuinely terrifying and cut through any condescension like a knife. Finally, I've never met Corrinne Yu, but her reputation speaks for itself.

You meet a fair number of guys who are great programmers, not the best but extremely solid for whom programming is just their 9-to-5 plus maybe a couple hours in the evening. I'm sure there are female programmers out there who fall in the middle like that, but I've never met any.
posted by Ryvar at 12:04 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


How do you feel about this comment:

[Caucasians and Asians] are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than [Hispanics and African Americans] tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason.

posted by availablelight at 12:06 AM on July 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: How do you feel about this comment:
posted by hal_c_on at 12:14 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I feel like that's a comment made for rhetorical effect, unsupported by any kind of personal experience, and therefore not particularly useful.
posted by flabdablet at 12:24 AM on July 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Is programming like being into cars or bikes, another male-dominated activity?

I've met a few women into cars, but, my god, it's a male hobby. I lament that, and I can't really accept that it's just intrinsic, that females just don't like fooling around with cars. What I can accept is that it must be hard to become interested when growing up all you hear is "that's boy stuff" and then if you get past that you're in a super-macho, sexist boyzone where when you're not being thought of as a piece of meat you're a threat to Jim-Bob's manliness if you're good, and evidence "girls don't get it" if you aren't.

Who wants to fuck around in that slime pit? If programming is even a bit like that, it's little wonder there are few women in the field.
posted by maxwelton at 12:27 AM on July 5, 2011 [21 favorites]


(I should note I'm a "programmer," but only in a web-stuff way, and I've only ever free-lanced.)
posted by maxwelton at 12:29 AM on July 5, 2011


I'm sure there are female programmers out there who fall in the middle like that, but I've never met any.

The sample size is too small; It is wrong to draw from it any conclusions at all about "female programmers".
posted by three blind mice at 12:31 AM on July 5, 2011


If Mark Zuckerberg is the Steve Jobs of his generation, it must be a pretty crappy generation. Give them time, I'm sure they can do better.

She may not be complimenting Zuckerberg; she might be insulting Jobs instead.

Also, it's worth noting that for some purposes (say, establishing examples of a success narrative and arcs of upward mobility), it may be the two are the same.
posted by weston at 12:45 AM on July 5, 2011


If Mark Zuckerberg is the Steve Jobs of his generation, it must be a pretty crappy generation. Give them time, I'm sure they can do better.

All Zuckerberg did was allow my generation to easily communicate and hang out with each other. If only he'd brought us shinier MP3 player then he could be a real hero!
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:50 AM on July 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Zuckerberg says he’s grateful that Sandberg “handles things I don’t want to,” such as advertising strategy, hiring and firing, management, and dealing with political issues. “All that stuff that in other companies I might have to do. And she’s much better at that.”

Zuckerberg is going to lose his company retire from active management to pursue outside interests if he's running things this way...

Sandberg joined the company in late 2001. Her title was business-unit general manager, even though there was no business unit. At the time, Google had four people working on AdWords, a program for selling the small text ads that appear next to related search results. Sandberg volunteered to oversee sales and operations for the project.

So... how much is she actually worth? She must be close to a billionaire already... and her position depends on a whole host of people working 80 hrs a week: who's taking care of them and their kids?
posted by ennui.bz at 1:02 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


So all you have to do is pull yourself up with your bra straps?
posted by fullerine at 1:10 AM on July 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


LiB: Zuckerberg created a website that was, in some ways, superior to MySpace, but it was hardly the only way for young people to easily communicate and hang out. Whereas Jobs founded a company that created the Mac, the Newton, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and a whole range of software.

Even if you hate all of it, he and Apple have been far more influential than Facebook so far. Maybe Zuckerberg will do the same in time, but it's far, far too early to tell right now. At least people pay for Apple's stuff.
posted by adrianhon at 1:30 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


[Caucasians and Asians] are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than [Hispanics and African Americans] tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason.

Yeah, I feel that's fairly accurate, except for the weasel-word-y "just." Because everything that matters lies within that "just."

For example, I was recently reading Malcom Gladwell's absolutely awesome book Outliers (plug: read this book!) and he addresses one particular cultural stereotype that sounds awfully familiar to this: the stereotype that Asian children tend to be better at math than their Western counterparts. This is a statement that is "racist" until you go and test and verify the results, at which point most people wave the reasons off with the very ambiguous "cultural differences". But that's a cop-out. Why are there cultural differences? Well, one reason he mentions is that language gives them a jump-start. In Chinese, for instance, the number system is comprised of very short monosyllabic words, thus the average length of numbers a Chinese person can remember is longer than their Western counterpart (IIRC it's ten for Chinese versus seven for Americans).

Furthermore, Western number systems are filled with localized idiosyncrasies. Numbers like thirty-three go tens multiplier, single digits. But the teens are reversed: sixteen (six + ten) and teens below fifteen don't follow any rule (eleven? twelve? madness!) Compare this with Asian languages, which tend to follow extraordinarily straight-forward linguistic structures.

When I traveled throughout Southeast Asia, one of the things I would do was memorize a small set of basic phrases, and the numbers. Because if you know the numbers, you can barter in the native language, which saves you face (important when negotiating) because you're not just assuming the person you're talking to will understand English. In bahasa Indonesia (the language of Indonesia), here's one through ten:
  1. satu
  2. dua
  3. tiga
  4. empat
  5. lima
  6. enam
  7. tujuh
  8. delapan
  9. sembilan
  10. sepuluh
The number for twelve and thirteen: dua belas, tiga belas.
Twenty-two and twenty three: dua puluh dua, dua puluh tiga.
Two-hundred thirty-two, two-hundred thirty-three: dua ratus tiga puluh dua, dua ratus tiga puluh tiga.
Notice a pattern?

Turns out, the only numbers you need to memorize are one through ten, and the tens multiplier. Teens = belas. Tens = puluh. Hundreds = ratus, Thousands = ribu. And so on. So with a vocabulary of a mere fifteen words, you can count from one to a billion. How do you say 2,932,472? Dua juta sembilan ratus ribu tiga puluh ribu dua ribu empat ratus tujuh puluh dua. Not too shabby.

For a child, this offers up enormous advantages early on. And addition becomes much simpler: twenty-one plus fifty-five requires some translation to discover a pattern. Compare this with bahasa: 21 = dua puluh satu = two tens one. 55 = lima puluh lima = five tens five. Add up the tens place, add up the ones place. All your numbers line up easily. Gladwell gave the figure that by age 5, Chinese children were already a year ahead of their Western counterparts in math skills. Those early advantages translate to huge advantages when they are compounded over time.

I could go on and on about this, but the point is, we need to get rid of this pithy, knee-jerk "RACIST!" reaction whenever someone brings up verifiable differences in performance if we're to learn anything about the actual causes so we might actually learn something. It's not helpful, and it flies in the face of the scientific method. It's only purpose is to shut down conversation, and frankly I'm fucking sick of it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:08 AM on July 5, 2011 [64 favorites]


learn</u>
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:12 AM on July 5, 2011


My field of work isn't IT. But it's a field of work where programming skill can be an important skill (science). I know a pile of women programmers, many of who are brilliant. It doesn't even cross my mind that..."Wow, she's a chick, and she programs!". Nothing wrong with women and programming. But there appears to be a problem with the wider IT industry, it seems...
posted by Jimbob at 2:13 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient:

The same holds true for Polynesian languages, but they're not particularly known for performing at maths.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:40 AM on July 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


the ranks of autistic male shut-ins the field is dominated by
really

fucking really
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:57 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


If Mark Zuckerberg is the Steve Jobs of his generation, it must be a pretty crappy generation. Give them time, I'm sure they can do better.
Jobs and Zuckerberg are both assholes.
Why do they let rich assholes speak like this on behalf of all those who are pissed on categorically?
Because they don't care. Literally, they're concern is other rich people, not the working classes or the middle class. It's not even a concern for them.
All Zuckerberg did was allow my generation to easily communicate and hang out with each other. If only he'd brought us shinier MP3 player then he could be a real hero!
What? He "allowed" it, as if it wouldn't be possible without his Randian superhuman ability or something? Zuckerberg happened to be in the right place at the right time and a pretty good programmer. But he wasn't even the first person to come out with a product. Kids were communicating and organizing on the internet long before facebook. If it's true that you wouldn't be able to "handle it" without FB then I would have to say "your generation" must be mildly mentally handicapt.
Whereas Jobs founded a company that created the Mac, the Newton, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and a whole range of software.
The Apple II is actually more impressive, especially when you consider they started from basically nothing and built the first PC. The iOS crap isn't really that innovative.
But that's a cop-out. Why are there cultural differences? Well, one reason he mentions is that language gives them a jump-start. In Chinese, for instance, the number system is comprised of very short monosyllabic words, thus the average length of numbers a Chinese person can remember is longer than their Western counterpart (IIRC it's ten for Chinese versus seven for Americans).
Eh, that sounds like bullshit. How many languages have English-style fucked up number words? I would bet that lots of Chinese parents teach their kids math stuff early on as well.
posted by delmoi at 3:02 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's odd that everyone wants to talk about the lack of female representation in deeply techie computer engineering jobs here. Both Sandberg and the sexist "Mad Men" portrayed are coming out of a Finance background. That's where the real power is in Silicon Valley, it seems to me, and it's the corporate ladder she's encouraging women to climb. Girls vs. boys hacking assembly language is irrelevant -- the hard-core "geeks" are inconsequential at the levels discussed in this article.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:05 AM on July 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


Ideefixe: The author of the piece spends a lot of time on her hair and appearance.

Really? Would you count the occurrences of these being mentioned?
posted by Anything at 3:14 AM on July 5, 2011


Civil_Disobedient, your point about differences in cultures with relation to numbers is really interesting, but I don't see what it has to do with the topic of men and women. I get that availablelight's comment used race to highlight that we shouldn't make sweeping judgements and you're contesting that sometimes there are underlying facts that support sweeping judgements, but what does that have to do with women? Do you mean that there is some underlying reason why women aren't generally excellent programmers?
posted by ukdanae at 3:51 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anything--did you read the piece?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:18 AM on July 5, 2011


The same holds true for Polynesian languages, but they're not particularly known for performing at maths.

There are other reasons as well, I simply used one to illustrate a point. I'm not going to quote the entire book.

Eh, that sounds like bullshit. How many languages have English-style fucked up number words? I would bet that lots of Chinese parents teach their kids math stuff early on as well.

Eh, that sounds like a throw-away one-liner meant to be dismissisive without even bothering to take the effort to put forward anything substantial. Yeah, lots of Chinese parents teach their kids math stuff early on. That doesn't explain anything. Why are there these cultural traditions?

I get that availablelight's comment used race to highlight that we shouldn't make sweeping judgements and you're contesting that sometimes there are underlying facts that support sweeping judgements, but what does that have to do with women?

Because both statements are empirically measureable, and yet both are immediately dismissed without any introspection because of a knee-jerk fear that we might be offending someone.

Do you mean that there is some underlying reason why women aren't generally excellent programmers?

No, I think there are a myriad of cultural reasons why women don't typically enter the profession, which is a very different question than if they're "generally excellent programmers." Most programmers, male or female, aren't "generally excellent." In my own experience as a software developer and architect, the women I have worked with have ranged in talent from not-terribly good worker-bees that are only really good at fixing bugs all the way to exceptionally good developers with firm understandings of the theoretical underpinnings of their code. In other words, the whole spectrum.

The only common trait I've noticed with regards to patterns of "good developers/bad developers" is if the developer has a math background. That's the one characteristic that will perk my ears up, because advanced mathematics is hard. Generally speaking, math majors make good software developers. The inverse is most assuredly not true. One of the very best developers I've met was a woman with a Masters degree in math and had previously worked in the Chinese space program. But at the same time, I see five times as many men applying for programming positions at my company than women. That's not an assumption or an interpretation or an opinion. It's a simple statement of fact.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do you mean that there is some underlying reason why women aren't generally excellent programmers?

It's the other way around: excellent programmers aren't generally women. To become an excellent programmer, a person must have a number of specific characteristics: be a highly systematized thinker, have a good memory, high intelligence, sufficient time spent with relatively free-rein access to computers, the emotional desire to program, education and career opportunities, a few other things. The male brain has a physiological bias towards systematized thinking, and the female brain towards empathetic thinking. This is a difference on the order of "men are taller than women". It is generally, but not necessarily individually, true. Exceptions exist. However, the more people we consider, the more generality swamps individuality. If we took perhaps a thousand people, all with good memories and high intelligence, and at least a basic interest in programming, and spent a year teaching those people the necessary skills, it would be systematic thinking that made the difference in performance.

The next step is more important. After having spent a year learning programming, each of them reassesses his or her performance and interest. The major determinant of whether we're any good at something, whatever it is, is whether we practice it; and that is determined primarily by whether we enjoy it. Those who enjoy programming more, practice it more. They may seek employment that requires them to program, which gives them practice (though not necessarily stretching their skills) for several hours a day. One of the things about being a systematized thinker, is that one enjoys systematizing. Those who enjoy programming less will slack off more, will work on less challenging problems, will change careers, will agitate to get into management or sales or admin or whatever.

So over time, those people who initially really liked programming, and kept that, become even better programmers. Those who don't like it, or only like it enough to do a bit of it, become better at a slower rate. The curve stretches out. Out of our original thousand programmers, the ones who hated it and gave it up stayed about the same in their skill level. Everyone who did it at all, increased at least a little. But the really good ones (and this is true of every area of human endeavor that can be improved by practice) not only started off better, they improved their skills by much more.

Most of those people, the top hundred out of the initial thousand, were highly systematized thinkers. There may be some who are just that highly intelligent or have so good a memory that they don't really need to be systematized, they will just create or recall programs that work for most situations. (And these could be men or women.) But of the highly systematized thinkers, the majority (not all) will be men. Thus, the majority of the majority of excellent programmers will be men, just starting from one relevant factor that varies with gender.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:29 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, as others have said the workplace, even the programming workplace, is not a true meritocracy, and in any system where two factors correlate noticably, people possessing one will be assumed to have the other unless proven otherwise; that's just the way people (and probably other forms of life) think.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:35 AM on July 5, 2011


I'm not going to quote the entire book.

Please don't. If I want to read just-so stories I'll read Aesop.
posted by atrazine at 5:08 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


The male brain has a physiological bias towards systematized thinking, and the female brain towards empathetic thinking.

Baron-Cohen's test for "systematizing" (there used to be a Guardian link, but it appears to be gone) is heavily weighted toward questions about the test-taker's interest in math, science, engineering, and technology (as well as football scores, cars, and stereos.) So saying that women are inferior in technology fields because they are worse at "systematizing" is essentially saying that they are inferior in technology fields because they are inferior in technology fields. "Systematizing" is not some abstract concept that could apply to anything but just happens to make one better at programming.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:08 AM on July 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


May well be to do with the work environment as much as anything. At my workplace, if you look at the technical line alone there are more people called James than there are women. Given that I see a lot of women being shown round the office as part of their interview, and given that you don't reach the interview without already having shown considerable aptitude, I strongly suspect that a lot of women are offered places and don't take them up because the entire office is filled with men.

That's not to say that there's any explicit chauvinism or laddishness going on - I suspect that if anyone starting leering or making inappropriate comments they'd get one chance to sort it out before they got thrown out, it's that kind of company - but I can definitely imagine women being unwilling to go into an atmosphere that screams "THIS IS A PLACE OF MEN" by virtue of the number of men in it.
posted by ZsigE at 5:18 AM on July 5, 2011


Just to be clear, I guess I should have said above that scoring low on Baron-Cohen's SQ test is evidence, if it's evidence of anything, which I doubt, of less interest in certain aspects of science and technology.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:28 AM on July 5, 2011


Goodness, setting Psychology Today as the bar for proving something is awfully low. They are probably the biggest boosters of bad evo psych/genetic determinism going, and the fact they unironically publish established cretins like Satoishi Kanazawa should rule them of of any serious discussing regarding men being like this and women being like that.
posted by smoke at 5:34 AM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Huh, my partner has said that given a man and a woman with equivalent work experience, he assumes that the woman is a better programmer because the field is so biased against women that they have to be more motivated and more skilled to get the same opportunities.

This. Oh, my god, this. A woman with 15 years or more in the industry will be someone you will want to hire - this goes double if she's a minority. The deck is that stacked against her, and she still wins? Get her onboard. You won't regret it.

Look at it another way - classical musicians require the same combination of "systematized thinking" and creativity required by programming, and women flourish in the field. This is because the arts have done a better job of reigning in sexism and gender prejudice. Not a great job, or even a good job - it's just that things are so bad in the tech field.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:41 AM on July 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


If men spoke Indonesian and women spoke English (which seems to be the case over in those discussions of the atheist controversy), that would be a great explanation of male/female differences in programming employment. That isn't the case, and so I am reluctant to buy it for other examples of different participation in that field, such as between Asian and African American. Instead, I find it far more likely that the same kinds of cultural pushes and pulls that underlie gender differences also underlie racial and national differences.

Huh, my partner has said that given a man and a woman with equivalent work experience, he assumes that the woman is a better programmer because the field is so biased against women that they have to be more motivated and more skilled to get the same opportunities.

This is true-ish in a lot of male-dominated fields that are hostile to women and/or underrepresented minorities. There are so many barriers in place for them, that anyone who can surmount them will often turn out to be exceptionally good. I say "true-ish" because of course there are other paths to success other than being highly competent -- that person might just be charming or well-connected, or might even be a dishonest cheater who never learned anything along the way. You need to very, very careful about these kinds of stereotyping and assumptions, because even if they hold true as general patterns, they will tell you nothing about the individual person standing in front of you.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


> The male brain has a physiological bias towards systematized thinking, and the female brain towards empathetic thinking.

Statements like that are popular in the media. Neurology is a hot topic now. But statements about gender and the brain in the media mostly consist of commonly accepted stereotypes plus a lot of hand-waving about 'science.' Neurologists' understanding of individual and gender deferences in brain structure and lateralisation aren't actually at point where it's possible to make generalizations like this. (To extent this sort of thing is understood, you get things like "higher rates of dyslexia among males may be due to interactions between individual differences in lateralization and gender differences in lateralization of language processing," not broad conceptual generalizations like "more systematic.")

I'm skeptical about the current prevalence of men in programming having anything to do with innate ability. (It's possible, but I'm skeptical,) A lot of programmers in the 50's and 60's were women. (I haven't seen good figures for the time period, but I get the impression that over half of programmers during this period were female.) In the mid 60's, some universities starting offering degrees in CS, and companies hiring programmers starting requiring new hires to have them. And most universities at this time were not coed.

It's possible that there is a difference between skills required in the different time periods, but seems likely that peculiarities of the higher education system at the time and changes in hiring practices converted programming into a mostly male profession, and it's stuck.
posted by nangar at 6:29 AM on July 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


I do think women can be every bit as good at programming computers as men. Mostly I think, from what I've seen, they just don't want to.

Having worked with programmers, I wouldn't blame women for not wanting to. It's definitely a macho boys club. What few women I saw working as programmers were regularly pigeonholed and treated like secretaries. And the constant sexist banter and jokes between the boys would be, I think, pretty toxic to have to listen to day-after-day.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:36 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't conflate "women in tech" with "women in executive positions" with "women in programming." None of those profiled in the article are software engineers or CTOs. Are the gender ratios in oil & gas, finance, or manufacturing any more egalitarian? At the top level, Silicon Valley businesses are just businesses.

What few women I saw working as programmers were regularly pigeonholed and treated like secretaries.

This has not been my experience ever, but I've only worked at web companies. Web companies are typically loaded with women: project managers, graphic designers, UX/UI designers, and always a non-trivial fraction of female programmers. It's not an issue of how "male programmers" intrinsically act; it's about the corporate culture.
posted by nev at 6:53 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Turns out, the only numbers you need to memorize are one through ten, and the tens multiplier

Doesn't always work perfectly, of course.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:56 AM on July 5, 2011


To some extent, I agree that men tend to think systematically and that women tend to think in an empathetic way, with some exceptions of course. However, to imply that systematic thinking is all that's necessary for good programming seems a bit of an oversight.

I am a female programmer. I've noticed that, in general, my male coworkers do tend to be more interested in the technical details of the discipline than I am. I'm interested in the technology too, but also how the user is affected. As a result, their work is more elegant, but my work is better documented and easier to understand and use. In an ideal world, we'd want to combine these two mindsets.

We need both male and female programmers, to get the best of both worlds. It's a shame that more women aren't interested in the field, and I hope more will be encouraged to do so!
posted by moutonoir at 6:57 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having worked with programmers, I wouldn't blame women for not wanting to. It's definitely a macho boys club. What few women I saw working as programmers were regularly pigeonholed and treated like secretaries. And the constant sexist banter and jokes between the boys would be, I think, pretty toxic to have to listen to day-after-day.

It's absolutely hi-LAR-ious to me that there's this field, see, where you have to have tons and tons of uninterrupted time plus computer access to become any good at it, plus it's full of creepy guys who either hit on you or dismiss you, plus it requires skills that get women labeled freaks and bitches and it requires a certain neglect of things like managing-others'-feelings that women are strongly, strongly socialized to do....and everyone is all "oh, inherent differences between men and women make women unlikely to be great programmers! Because of neurology!"*

Perhaps we could answer the "are men inherently better programmers than women, and if so by how much?" question by getting rid of the existing barriers to women programmers and waiting a couple of generations.**

*Also a bit humorous that any visible difference in the brain is assumed always and absolutely to be cause and not result.

**And I'm still not sure - even if only 1 in 10 good programmers were to be female - how this would justify generalized creepiness. "Oh, most women aren't any good at this, so we get to keep all the barriers to women programmers in place, plus continue being creepy, so you should totally stop complaining because creating barriers and workplace creepiness are manly and we're all men here"?

(Also, I find it sad when programmer guys are creepy since for quite a while I only knew nice ones and the creepy sexism reads as wildly uncharacteristic.)
posted by Frowner at 7:15 AM on July 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: the best restatement of anecdotal evidence as opinion wins.

I've got you all beat. I've never met a female programmer. Therefore, females are not programmers.
posted by hellslinger at 7:15 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


The story about the names for numbers could also be told as "A regular number system only prepares children to deal with regular systems. They don't get experience in dealing with more complicated systems, with fiddly details. This leaves them less prepared to deal with the real world, where things are complicated and fiddly".

That's the story you would tell to support Western children being better at math than their Chinese counterparts.

I like Malcolm Gladwell. I find the subjects he decides to study interesting. I am perpetually disappointed in the explanations he comes up with, and expect to see his picture in the dictionary next to the definition of "just-so story".
posted by benito.strauss at 7:17 AM on July 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Old Man McKay: Instead, this thread seems like evidence of peoples' incessant desire to choose a side, as is the typical American sociopolitical wont.

How is this the typical American socipolitical wont, as opposed to, say, the typical Western wont, or the typical human wont?

Slap*Happy: A woman with 15 years or more in the industry will be someone you will want to hire - this goes double if she's a minority.

If this is a sign that people (women or men) with 15 years or more of experience (who aren't already at the level of management that Sandberg's at) are more likely to be hired than to be told to take a hike, that's great news.

ZsigE: That's not to say that there's any explicit chauvinism or laddishness going on - I suspect that if anyone starting leering or making inappropriate comments they'd get one chance to sort it out before they got thrown out, it's that kind of company - but I can definitely imagine women being unwilling to go into an atmosphere that screams "THIS IS A PLACE OF MEN" by virtue of the number of men in it.

Thorzdad: Having worked with programmers, I wouldn't blame women for not wanting to. It's definitely a macho boys club. What few women I saw working as programmers were regularly pigeonholed and treated like secretaries. And the constant sexist banter and jokes between the boys would be, I think, pretty toxic to have to listen to day-after-day.

Aren't a good number of workplaces, not just IT offices, atmospheres that scream "THIS IS A PLACE OF MEN"? I mean, just because more men work in a given field, or just because yuck, why would women want to work in an office full of joke-telling sexist programmers, are not by themselves reasons to offer up as explanations for why more women aren't in a field. Historically there are few fields that do not fall into the category of "the entire office is filled with men," yet women broke into those fields and started to level them, often overcoming great resistance from the men who were already there. The fact that a field is already dominated by one gender is not an explanatory principle in and of itself, nor should it be offered as one, nor should it be a justification for ongoing gender exclusion. Those women of whom ZsigE speaks who were being interviewed -- were they made to feel welcome or not, regardless of whether the office was dominated by men? The "macho boys club" of which Thorzdad speaks -- isn't it the case that in any reasonable workplace (let alone any workplace, in the US anyway, that wanted to comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) that kind of climate would be discouraged, if not forbidden? Not to say that it's not the way the "real world" works, but using "we're a macho boys club" as an excuse is -- well, not an excuse.

On preview, what moutonoir said.

aeschenkarnos: The male brain has a physiological bias towards systematized thinking, and the female brain towards empathetic thinking.

I'm skeptical of this blanket assertion and would ideally like to see more than a Psychology Today article to back it up. I realize that there are different biases of ability of different brains as to logical versus multivariant thinking, but whether those differences can be strictly coded to gender in the way that you suggest doesn't account for nature versus nurture -- you use the word "physiologically" and seem to ignore all the multiple sociopsychological factors that might account for why fewer women are programmers.
posted by blucevalo at 7:22 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, and in 1910, scientists were saying that male cells were katabolic (active, energy-spending, innovative!) and female cells were anabolic (passive, energy-conserving, repetitive!) and THAT'S totally why men were suited to doing manly stuff like science and engineering and women were only suited to doing laundry and having babies.

Yeah, the solely physiological explanation of sociological realities was just as stupid then as it is now.
posted by headspace at 7:39 AM on July 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


"men are just far more likely to be very *interested* in programming computers than women tend to be, on average -- for whatever reason."

As a social scientist, I think it's pretty okay to make an observation like this, and agree that sometimes the conversations about differences get shut down early because people are afraid to note them. I do, however, think that that any observations like this really have to be considered to have a number of underlying causes, to be pretty culturally influenced, and to be quite malleable over a short period of time given changes in the culture. If we consider making a change in the status quo beneficial, we really need (good) data on exactly what's behind the effect before we can hope to change it.

Re: the brain explanations -- it's entirely possible that you get some differences in how men and women's brains work due to biological or evolutionary differences. It's also possible that these are a result of cultural roles, differential treatments during our early years, etc. Again, I think it's valid to say, hmmm, I wonder if this might be one of the reasons why something happens, and then try to look objectively across a number of studies, but in the end it's probably unlikely that any one thing contributes solely to an outcome like choice of occupation.
posted by bizzyb at 7:58 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am a woman. I have worked on the web since 1995. I became an independent consultant in October 2008, and have been non-stop busy.

If I have been a victim of sexism, it's news to me.

More data: I am white. I was raised by a single mother. We were extremely poor, frequently on welfare. I am the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college. My mother didn't want me to go to college, so I had to fight to do it.

In my book, this woman is awesome. Good for her.
posted by gsh at 8:03 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Did you guys even read the article? All we get out of it is an argument about whether women have brains suitable for software development?

Anybody get to the part that talked about mentorship, or asking to work on the best projects or negotiating wages and promotions or retaining developers and the brain drain? Basically the stuff that's not really industry specific?
posted by captaincrouton at 8:03 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Did you guys even read the article? All we get out of it is an argument about whether women have brains suitable for software development?

Yeah, I don't get that. She's not even a programmer, this article has nothing to do with programming.
posted by jayder at 8:13 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


smcameron:My anecdotal experience is that given two candidates, a man and a woman, about whom I know nothing, odds are, the man will be a better programmer than the woman. I hate saying that.

My snark runneth over.
Meanwhile there's this.
And this.
And this
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:15 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't get that. She's not even a programmer, this article has nothing to do with programming.

It all started with scameron's comment at the beginning of the thread, which went into detail about his anecdotal experience about men versus women being better at programming. But scameron said at the end of the comment that "this has fuck-all to do with the sorts of people that end up being billionaires at facebook."
posted by blucevalo at 8:39 AM on July 5, 2011


smcameron, sorry
posted by blucevalo at 8:40 AM on July 5, 2011


If this is a sign that people (women or men) with 15 years or more of experience (who aren't already at the level of management that Sandberg's at) are more likely to be hired than to be told to take a hike, that's great news.

When you need something where there was once nothing, call in the cowboys. When you need to fix the cowboy mistakes and solidify a product into something that will keep making money for decades, you call in the old hands.

The sexy, high-profile, big operation programmers are selected for being young and dumb - the project has the architecture figured out, they just need to hire someone to churn it out in as little time as possible.

The rock-solid, day-to-day, meat-and-potatoes programming, small shops and niche industries and code base maintenance - that's where the old dudes wind up. You need to know what you're doing, or you'll drown in bugs.

One can't really exist without the other, except in the gaming industry, which is profoundly broken.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:44 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I have been a victim of sexism, it's news to me.

Does this mean you think that other women haven't been victims of sexism? To my knowledge, I have not been discriminated against in the workforce because I'm female, but I am aware that it has happened, and does happen, to other women. To men, too.
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on July 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Having come from an academic background (tenure-track English faculty at a liberal arts school in the Midwest) into the world of pixel-pushing in the Bay Area, my anecdatum is about the chauvinistic, xenophobic, rah-rah culture of software developers in San Francisco.

I'm sure male programmers are good people but, goddammit, they have two century’s worth of cultural finishing left to do given the passage of the 19th Amendment. I frequently hear stereotypically masculinist generalizations about women, municipal workers (i.e. blacks), and politics. Im my experience if the male geek-driven conversation is not about some useless piece of mass media culture (always sans critical framing and analysis), it’s about sports. I shit you not: fantasy football, hockey, ping poing. Whatever.

Most (not all) of the male programmers I know regularly talk about things that do not matter to me as a empathic, liberal, and systematic thinker. (How’s that for anecdatum?)

I hate to think how I’d feel about the culture were I a woman.
posted by mistersquid at 9:03 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


ping poing

I love ping poing!
posted by Nomyte at 9:11 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I have been a victim of sexism, it's news to me.

Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer.
posted by straight at 9:42 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was an interesting interview on Spark | CBC Radio last weekend sort of about this topic. They interview Penelope Trunk ("founder of three startups") about women in startups and why life in this field is more difficult for women. Frankly, I think the reason Ms. Trunk has a difficult life is because she's pathologically unable to deal with reality, but that's just me.

But they follow that with interviews with some other folks whose ideas are probably more relevant. And useful.
posted by sneebler at 9:59 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't believe the women saying, "I've never been the victim of sexism in the computer industry" are denying that it happens. They're denying that it's as systemic and pervasive as some people in this thread have asserted.
posted by nev at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poet_Lariat, these examples have nothing to do with smcameron's point (which is not to say that I agree with it). Individuals do not dispove generalities. I can come up with the names of female runners who could smoke everyone here, but that doesn't change the fact that, given a man and a woman and knowing nothing else, I'd be happy betting big that the guy would be a faster runner.

The fact that the same names keep coming up over and over again when we talk about female programmers (i.e. Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper) should indicate that there is a problem.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wilson points to Norway, which requires that all public companies have at least forty per cent of each gender on their boards.

So what happens if you have a three-person board? (Or can boards not be that small?)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:38 AM on July 5, 2011


I don't believe the women saying, "I've never been the victim of sexism in the computer industry" are denying that it happens. They're denying that it's as systemic and pervasive as some people in this thread have asserted.

So let's say, for the sake of argument, that one in four women in the computer industry is a victim of sexism. Does that make it okay, because those women have managed to get past it?
posted by madcaptenor at 10:43 AM on July 5, 2011


I don't know if I was actually the only girl in my high school programming class, in 1998. I do know that it was at least 90% male. I do remember that that the tone of the class was dominated by a few loud guys, one of whom liked to yell out "WHO'S YOUR DADDY?" when he solved a particular problem. I never took another programming class.

I wish I had been less intimidated and insecure back then. But what nerdy sixteen-year-old girl isn't too intimidated and insecure?
posted by Jeanne at 10:45 AM on July 5, 2011


So let's say, for the sake of argument, that one in four women in the computer industry is a victim of sexism. Does that make it okay, because those women have managed to get past it?

No.
posted by nev at 10:49 AM on July 5, 2011


From a female engineer in the high-tech industry, who loves her job, who hopes some day to escape the day-to-day engineering aspect and be a close-to-billionaire CTO or VP Engineering or some fun thing like that...

This woman seems pretty awesome. I'd like to be friends with her.

Also, to hit on a few points here:

Just because she's not a programmer doesn't mean she's not a "woman in tech." Non-engineering women often have an even harder time in this industry because they're perceived as being incapable of understanding what the engineering and programming people do, so how could they possibly run the business? (And yet somehow, hiring a man for that position out of a non-tech firm doesn't seem to be an issue...) Chances are she does have a pretty good understanding of How Software is Made, what's possible, what's not, etc... she may not be able to write code, but she probably understands what you do every day. So I wouldn't dismiss her story just because she's not the one at the keyboard.

Secondly, I hear all the time "well, women are probably better off/happier NOT being in IT/technology/software/engineering/science, it sucks!" Well, good for you that you hate your job. I fucking LOVE my job. It is awesome. I get paid better than my non-engineering female friends. I travel a ton to fun places. I meet cool people. There is lots of growth in my industry. There are definitely bad days at work, but I generally work on new and exciting things and I love it. It is so awesome that it makes up for the skeevy men who think every handshake at a conference is an opportunity to hit on me, or being condescended to in meetings, or having clients un-subtly probe me for details on my education and experience to help themselves feel like I'm competent when they don't do the same to the male coworker next to me. Imagine how fucking awesome my job would be if I DIDN'T have to deal with that! I'd want every woman (and man!) to have a chance at that kind of job satisfaction.
posted by olinerd at 11:05 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anybody get to the part that talked about mentorship, or asking to work on the best projects or negotiating wages and promotions or retaining developers and the brain drain?

Well, I enjoyed the last part.
posted by brain_drain at 11:23 AM on July 5, 2011


This Cheryl Sandberg's women's group is great. Like, cheering-in-my-seat awesome. Regardless of the issue of privilege, she's bringing attention to women in business and tech and working to, you know, improve networking and focusing on industry topics rather than just women's topics (sexism, mentoring female students, increasing awareness of women, etc.). There's a lot of women's groups in male-dominated fields that just rehash the same issues of sexism in a series of anecdotes and blame attribution but do little to advance each others' careers - which can be really demoralizing when there's so little focus on success stories. I can certainly empathize with her decision to ignore topics on sexism in favor of going to the meat (making them better at their jobs!), even if I don't entirely agree with her.

By the way, if we're sharing anecdotes of sexism or lack of sexism in the male-dominated workplace, something in that article struck a cord: bringing up the discussion of maternity leave at their company women's leadership seminars. I'm a woman working in game development, so out of my 150-person company I can count the number of women on two hands. I absolutely love my job, and the worst sexism I've run into from my peers is being mistaken as the wife/girlfriend. However...

At my last company, there was no written rules on parental leave but several new fathers on the way and everyone was too intimidated to bring it up. So, I did it for them - I think some felt the request would be better received from a woman because it was a 'woman's issue', but I did it because I'm just not easily intimidated. When I asked for a written policy during my yearly review, I was mocked and trivialized and, when I wouldn't back down, I was lied to ("yes, we'll make sure to have one added soon") to shut down the conversation. Note, I don't even want kids, and the concern was largely from the men at the company, yet I can see this attitude would disproportionately affect women and drive them out of the field. That's just one example of something that's not immediately obvious and I could go my whole career without running into if I chose not to care about the issue, but was entirely demoralizing up close.

Anyway, I guess my point is that I can see how Cheryl and other women - and many men - may not see the barriers to women because sometimes you can just get through without being confronted by them so personally. To use the article's example, if they didn't have a woman stressing out about how much maternity leave she should take, then their internal women's group would not have brought it up. Sometimes the sexism really is invisible from an individual's perspective, and it's not just a case of willful ignorance or trying to defend the status quo.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:10 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


A third of upper-middle managers are now women—“the marzipan layer”—she notes. This number has increased in recent years, but the women aren’t rising to the top. She believes that Sandberg is insufficiently aware of this problem because she has benefitted from sponsors: “Sandberg, to her great credit, had Larry Summers. She has had sponsors in her life who were very powerful, who went to bat for her. That’s very rare for a woman.”

THIS is really crucial. (also, luck has a lot to do with success past a certain point)

Her TED talk is good, I think - for 15 minutes. It's simplistic, but certainly encourages women to be a bit more confident, which is part of the issue. And it's excellent that she's actually out there encouraging other women. It's sadly common for successful women to avoid helping junior women at all. (likely the fatigue from being asked to speak on every panel and be mentors to everyone).

Sheryl has been amazingly lucky (her resume reads like a series of charmed events) and she's probably very likeable and non-threatening while also being genius smart. That's how I can imagine she was wooed by everyone from Larry Summers to Zuckerberg.

Certainly it's important for women to understand how to work the system. The problem of women in upper management is probably is a complex interaction of women's own "imposter syndrome" issues, a boy's club atmosphere at most companies, and the fact that the corporate ladder is far from a meritocracy, and has nothing to do with being fair. I just think it's sad that so many women in power I have interacted with are really unpleasant people. I can't even speculate about why without making some wild generalizations, but maybe men feel like they can be more generous with power because they are more supported (or more confident)? Or it's just a sample size problem, certainly some men in power are horrendous.
posted by rainydayfilms at 12:31 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


They interview Penelope Trunk ("founder of three startups") about women in startups and why life in this field is more difficult for women. Frankly, I think the reason Ms. Trunk has a difficult life is because she's pathologically unable to deal with reality, but that's just me.

Previously on the blue.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:36 PM on July 5, 2011


I am a female programmer. I've noticed that, in general, my male coworkers do tend to be more interested in the technical details of the discipline than I am. I'm interested in the technology too, but also how the user is affected. As a result, their work is more elegant, but my work is better documented and easier to understand and use. In an ideal world, we'd want to combine these two mindsets.

We need both male and female programmers, to get the best of both worlds. It's a shame that more women aren't interested in the field, and I hope more will be encouraged to do so!


I appreciate what you're trying to do here but please don't. Perpetuating the idea that women are good for tech because they understand people better is just not helpful. Frankly, the more that kind of thing gets repeated, the less respect we all get. We are good for tech on our own individual merits, and I for one don't want to be assumed to be in my position because of my empathy over my technical skills.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:18 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


> average length of numbers a Chinese person can remember is longer than their Western counterpart

That's Cantonese, right? So what about math whizzes with Mandarin as their cradle tongue? American Born Chinese math whizzes?
posted by morganw at 5:20 PM on July 5, 2011


Just because she's not a programmer doesn't mean she's not a "woman in tech." Non-engineering women often have an even harder time in this industry because they're perceived as being incapable of understanding what the engineering and programming people do, so how could they possibly run the business? (And yet somehow, hiring a man for that position out of a non-tech firm doesn't seem to be an issue...) Chances are she does have a pretty good understanding of How Software is Made, what's possible, what's not, etc... she may not be able to write code, but she probably understands what you do every day. So I wouldn't dismiss her story just because she's not the one at the keyboard.

So much word. This has happened to me. Many times. (I'm a project manager, can code a little (very, very little) ), but have been around so many project builds at this point that I absolutely know what the dev team does every day.
posted by sweetkid at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2011


I wish I had been less intimidated and insecure back then. But what nerdy sixteen-year-old girl isn't too intimidated and insecure?

It's also possible for nerdy sixteen-year-old boys to be intimidated and insecure. (I'm not saying that was me.)

This culture is offputting to some
males, too. This isn't a female-only issue. I know nobody said it was, but I just want to explicitly point this out. The tech culture is probably turning off people of both genders who could do something awesome.

(it's probably turning off more women than men, though.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:33 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm one of those people that writes software and, as someone upthread was talking about, studied math. If you think there are few women in college computer science courses, you should drop by a math department sometime. Which I think is a telling observation, namely: to be even half-assed as a programmer (i.e., able to solve the FizzBuzz problem), you have to have a pretty good handle on math. To be good, you have to have a lot of practice thinking in terms of math concepts like scale, symbolic reference, etc.

How do you get good at math? Like anything else, practice (I don't buy that female brains are somehow unable to be good at math; I know some women who are astoundingly good at it, much better than most computer science students of either gender). Practice that starts early on in life. Practice you are less likely to get (or at least, get as much of) if your culture tells you that you shouldn't like it or be any good at it. Math is hard Barbie ring a bell? Or how about the fact that a childhood spent playing baseball is more likely to result in a mind that's good at spatial reasoning than a childhood spent playing house (to be horribly overgeneral/stereotypical about "boy games" versus "girl games")?

In addition to studying computer science, I've taught it too. I can remember one female student who was studying CS and didn't belong (I once overheard her saying she was in CS because her mom's astrologer told her mom it'd be a good idea [no, I'm not making that up, sadly]). I'm fairly sure she skated by because she was pretty so other (male) students would fall over one another to end up in a group assignment with her, which was the majority of the type of work done and self-organized by students. She's the only female student I can remember thinking didn't belong, and there were so many male students I was sure would wash out that I can't even recall specific details of any of them anymore. Which, to my mind, indicates that most female students in computer science probably had to fight harder to get there -- by the time they get to college courses, they've already had to work past enough bias that there's no question they belong.
posted by axiom at 7:37 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone who says there are differences between the "male brain" and the "female brain": please read Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine.
posted by wayland at 10:08 PM on July 5, 2011


I don't really think you can say Sheryl Sandburg is all that great of a person. I mean, she's a higher up at face-book which is a company with a history of screwing with people's privacy and so on.
posted by delmoi at 3:45 AM on July 6, 2011


Oh I was going to say, I wonder what would happen if you started a tech company specifically designed to attract and recruit women. Presumably if you had a majority female workforce the 'boys club' atmosphere wouldn't be so prevalent. You of course couldn't favor women over men in hiring, but depending on how your recruitment worked it could work. You might save money
A woman with 15 years or more in the industry will be someone you will want to hire
A lot of people in the fast-paced startup world won't hire someone with 15 years experience period.
There was an interesting interview on Spark | CBC Radio last weekend sort of about this topic.
My god, the intro to that was unbearably twee.
posted by delmoi at 3:54 AM on July 6, 2011


I'm going to keep this short because I have a major deadline, but a lot of the issues being discussed here regarding female programmers has already been studied in-depth and published in the well-written book Unlocking the Clubhouse. The authors of this book studied female undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon University's computer science program over five years. What's more, they even identify possible solutions to the problems.

Basically, the five problems and solutions they identified are (I'm cribbing these points from this blog post due to lack of time): As an aside and partial digression, nationally, 14% of CS BS receipients are women, with 21% at CMU. I'm also a faculty in CMU's school of computer science, and these stats are from info the dean of my dept sent out, so I don't have a reference.

Lastly, I really want to echo Civil_Disobedient's point about using empirical methods. I don't feel that a lot of the discussion here regarding female programmers is really productive, and is generating a lot more heat than light.
posted by jasonhong at 6:44 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'll just chime in to say that the hands-down best coder I've ever known was a woman. I saw her a few weeks ago, and 10+ years after I last worked with her she was still plugging away coding Java and C# for web apps, strenuously resisting any attempts to shunt her into management.

Most of the women I've ever known who'd ever been coders ended up doing something else (usually project management). I'm not going to dig for links, but that's been discussed before. As far as I can tell, it had nothing to do with coding ability, and everything to do with a perception that they weren't threatening. Coders hate to be managed by someone they find threatening.
posted by lodurr at 10:22 AM on July 6, 2011


Zuckerberg is going to ...retire from active management to pursue outside interests if he's running things this way...

Which will be the best thing that ever happens to Facebook.

Seriously, this Zuckerbergian culture of arrogance-reinforced-paranoia is what holds them back from dominating. They need someone who's not afraid of a little openness.
posted by lodurr at 10:25 AM on July 6, 2011


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