A few days ago, Neil McAllister of Fatal Exception covered the age and gender disparity in the software development world, and it sounds strikingly similar to stories about the science research world, video gaming communities, the various atheist communities online, and hell, even the “Brony” community. Apparently, a sort of generalized culture has emerged within a number of software development companies where programmers act like fraternity brothers, and pretty well the only ones who can get and stay in their positions are young males willing to binge-drink. Everyone else experiences the sort of chilly climate we’ve discussed in those aforementioned, more proximate cultures.
Some say the problem is our education system. Schools and colleges should be doing more to encourage girls and young women to explore computing. Right now that’s not happening. Overall enrollment in university computer science programs is up 10 percent from last year, but enrollment among women is down.
Others say companies should provide the encouragement. Some companies already are; Etsy, for example, is offering $50,000 in grants to send women to its Hacker School training program in New York City this summer.
That’s admirable, but it falls short of addressing the real problem, which is that software development isn’t just failing to attract women. It’s actively pushing them away. Worse, they’re not the only ones.
Actively pushing women away? Go on! How could that possibly be?
“As the woman, I’ve been the only person in the group asked to put together a potluck,” writes Katie Cunningham, a Python developer at Cox Media Group. “I’ve been the only one asked to take notes in a meeting, even if I’m the one who’s presenting. I once had a boss who wanted to turn me into a personal assistant so badly, it ended up in a meeting with HR.”
Just as harmful, she says, were the casual jokes and comments from her male coworkers. If she didn’t shrug them off with a smile, she was told she had a bad attitude. Cunningham says the subtle sexism she encountered as a programmer was so discouraging that she once considered leaving the field for good. “I almost prefer outright sexism, because at least that you can point out,” she writes.
Oh, surely she’s just crazy. And surely the REAL problem, the one we should be focusing on, is that men who aren’t young and binge-drinking are assigned a lower priority as well.
Sorry, I just had to get that out of the way before someone tried to derail the conversation. Preemptive derailing. Really, men who aren’t willing to binge drink are making a personal choice. Men who are too old, or men with breasts and/or vaginae (e.g. women), are being excluded unfairly. But I think of the two exclusion zones, the one covering everyone who identifies as a woman is slightly more prevalent.
And it’s not like this culture is harmless to the people who are steeped in it – imagine these guys’ livers. Imagine these guys’ self-perpetuating senses of baseless entitlement. Hell, imagine their code, from multiple hangovers!
So the problem here isn’t that these people are being targeted, the problem is that a fraternity “boys will be boys” culture was inculcated in the software development world and it was left unchecked. You’ve got a case where the memes that make up toxic masculinity are running rampant, and nobody’s actually doing anything to stop it. Fascinating from a memetic spread point of view, but horrifying from an egalitarian one. A culture that prides itself on being as close to a true meritocracy as any, and yet it’s treating women and more mature men like outsiders rather than including them in the process and letting their code speak for itself.
Sound at all familiar? It’s kinda why I bring this shit up over and over again.