Friday, December 15, 2006

Why (Most) Men Don't Get It

My posts on the subject of women in IT seem to continue to be drawing controversy, primarily from men who clearly don't "get" what women want from computing.  On Richard Jones's original post, numerous women pointed out the same thing that I did: for most women, "computing" is all about doing something with computers, not achieving mastery of computers themselves.  One woman commented that the entire paradigm of computer science education was in fact based on male concepts of computing.

A few women griped about the porn situation, although the same women also sometimes dismissed it as a symptom rather than a cause, if they mentioned it at all.

But here's the thing: none of the guys are really asking how to get more women in IT.  They're asking, "how can we get more women in IT without actually changing anything, except maybe being more careful not to offend women."

This is a case of not really understanding what women want, and therefore working on the assumption that they are basically like men, only more sensitive.  Thus, the presumed fix is to avoid offending women, rather than rethinking how things like organizational structure, hiring, and education happen.

I'm not going to repeat what all I had to say in my previous post, or try to dig into this topic in more detail, since a some people seem to have already decided my opinions are evil and not to be trusted.

But I do urge you to read the comments on Jones' original post, specifically the ones that come from women.

I mean, really read them.  Don't just man-read them, by skimming through to spot the parts that support your position on the subject.  Don't dismiss what they're saying about what IT needs, because it's not in man-speak.  Assume that when a woman says that porn is a symptom, but the real problem is systemic and it's the male paradigm of computing that's the real problem, she actually means it.  Assume that when another one says that women want to do other things with computers, it's not just an idle comment, but an insightful point about the subject, with deep relevance to how women's most important needs can be met through change in the IT field.

In other words, when several "real women" in IT showed up to comment on this subject, a lot of you seem to have ignored their comments quite as thoroughly as you attacked mine.  Attacking me isn't a problem, but ignoring the women is.  If you want more women in IT, the first step is to listen to them, and not just to the parts that fit your preconceptions.

Speaking as a man, I know this is a tough thing to do.  My wife and I have been together for almost 16 years now and we still occasionally discover we're speaking different languages when we think we're being crystal clear to each other.  Nonetheless, if you won't listen to me trying to explain what to do about this in man-speak, then for heaven's sake go study what's already been said in woman-speak.

--PJE

P.S. My main reason for not enabling comments on these posts is to avoid being distracted at work by the email notices of new comments.  By leaving the comments to other people's sites, I can control when I choose to observe and comment, and I don't feel like I have to address all the dumb or off-topic comments that may occur, and just focus on answering what I perceive as the relatively sincere ones.  As an added bonus, it lowers the instant gratification factor for flamage.  If somebody has to post on their own blog or hunt down my email address, they're more likely to produce a thoughtful comment that's worth reading.  So far it seems to have worked well, so I'm sticking to it for this post as well.

This should also be my last post on this topic; hopefully my next "PJE On Programming" (POP?) post will be about something less controversial, like CD duplicator automation with Python.  Although it will probably be a while before I write about that, actually, since I've got a bunch of self-improvement articles planned for my main blog that are likely to occupy most of my posting time in the next month.

So, my most likely next POP will be about Zope's status as the red-headed stepchild of the Python community.  That article is already written, in the form of a Foreword for the new edition of Web Component Development with Zope 3.  (Amazon currently lists me as the author of the foreword, but doesn't let you browse the current edition to read it, and I told Philipp I'd post it as an article around the time of the book's US debut, to help publicity.)  Hopefully it will be less controversial than these "Women in IT" articles, although perhaps not by much.  ;-)