We’ve been talking a lot about women in engineering lately here at Mutually Human; Samuel recently wrote a post on the subject. I want to write down, clearly, what I think about the situation, and expose myself to correction if I’ve missed the point.
I think we don’t need to change the content of science and engineering. We don’t need to make pink chemistry sets or bunsen burner high heels (that would be awesome, though). The tech community doesn’t need to attract more women; it needs to stop exhausting them once they’re here.
We need to end the narrative that says “there are no women in tech,” and even the one that says “we need women in tech”. They’re already here. (To the women reading this article: hi there!) Women have always been in tech: Hypatia of Alexandria, Ada Lovelace, Hertha Marks Ayrton, Thelma Estrin, every Colossus engineer, Grace Hopper…
How many people have walked away from technology because they got tired of fighting to stay? Tired of reciting the litany, “Yes I can do this, I’m very good at it actually, yes I belong in this class, no I’m not here to meet boys, yes I am your boss…” Who wouldn’t get tired of mounting an endless defense? But something must meet the constant offense of a community that insists that there are no women in tech.
Getting into tech is like climbing a hill. It’s hard work. But the addition of negative social pressure makes the slope that much steeper. How easy — how sane — it would be to stop scaling a social cliff and go stroll somewhere you’re welcomed as a comrade? We can measure exhausted young women walking away from tech: it’s called the “Shrinking Pipeline” and it is a steep funnel, starting with the number of women who express interest in technology in high school, and shrinking constantly through the process of higher education. (The shrinking pipeline was named almost a decade ago, in a paper by Tracy Camp, a brilliant professor at Colorado School of Mines).
50.3% of the Science and Engineering bachelor degrees conferred in 2009 were awarded to women. That’s 252,816 new engineers and scientists who happen to be women. We don’t have to do anything extra to attract women to science. Science is cool!
25% percent of the computing workforce in 2011 were women. Why not 50%? Because the “no women in computer science” narrative has made technology an exhausting place to be a woman.
We need to publish and enforce codes of conduct, for our spaces and our conferences — because the narrative is ingrained. It’s instinctive, so we must be reminded explicitly to reject it. It’s as though we’re house-training a dog: we have to rule our behavior and our language with an iron fist until we’ve replaced our bad habits with good ones. It is a happy discipline that makes our world more welcoming!
We all need to see every person, regardless of their physical person or personal background — as someone to hire and to be hired by, to hear speak about their work, to take and to teach courses. Changing our perspective takes active work.
And who’s been saying this for years? All you tens of thousands of women who have decided to fight the fight, no matter how tiring. You women who work with computers because computers are cool. The call to end bullshit misogyny isn’t coming from people on the outside looking in: like in every bad horror story, the call is coming from inside the house.