RE: [Scientific American] Gender Gap in Computer Science continue

Dusseault ("Lisa)
Thu, 6 Aug 1998 14:14:53 -0700

John M. Klassa [] wrote:
>The insinuation is that things like computer games, long hours and the
>"antisocial image of the hacker" have tended to steer women to other
>areas. So be it... The computer culture that exists today is what it
>is; to change it in order to bring other people into the ranks is silly.

Unless (1) you're a computer science department and want to attract the
top students, in which case you might feel that it is worthwhile to try to
counter high-school girls' reasons for not considering CS.

Or, (2) unless you're a software/hardware company that wants to attract
the top employees, in which case you might feel that you could get more
female employees by convincing them you have a welcoming environment
for women. Since salaries in this business are rising and rising, even
with NAFTA letting people like me in, that indicates a shortage.
Shortages of resources, including people, raise prices in the industry
as a whole.

Or, (3) unless you're a person already within that culture, who feels
uncomfortable within that culture.

None of those are silly reasons to try to change local computer culture
or global computer culture. If you don't care to change computer
culture that's fine, but those of us who do would like to proceed.

>It's like deciding that all-male schools should be required to admit
>females. It's like females deciding that they need to serve in
>traditionally male roles in combat, on ships, wherever. If women want
>to participate in those settings, then let them embrace the culture that
>exists rather than seeking to change it.

No. The first two groups I named above are probably more male than
female, and may want to change the culture. Many women I know who are
already in the culture do embrace it. It's the women who reject the
whole discipline, maybe unconsciously sometime in high school, we're
trying to affect here before they reject the discipline. Some woman
who has already decided that computer science is "just for geeks and
therefore not for her" is not going to try to either embrace or change
the computer culture.

Also, I reject the argument above because women may wish to perform a
role -- such as being captain of a vessel, or writing code -- without
also wanting the culture that goes along with it. Would you recommend
to a male that wanted to be a ballet dancer that he embrace
unquestioningly the culture of this female-dominated field? Perhaps
embrace bulemia, anorexia?

>I saw a piece on television about this ritual that the navy has... When
>you cross the equator for the first time, you go through this hazing
>ceremony where you're made to dress in embarrassing clothes, you get
>smacked in the butt with pieces of hose and you're made to do things you
>ordinarily wouldn't. The emphasis in the story was on several women who
>took part and then felt themselves to be humiliated and offended.

During frosh week, many engineering students undergo a hazing ritual to
get handed a hard hat. I was sprayed with purple dye while running down
a gauntlet of older engineering students, then I had to crawl under ropes
through a mud pit, then kneel at the end and say something ritually mildly
humuliating to get the hard hat. Rituals like these promote camaraderie,
a sense that we're all in it together, so many organizations have some
kind of hazing or ceremony to create that sense.

It's probably related to how men bond -- by fighting side by side against
a common enemy. It's also probably related to a need by the hierarchy
to promote themselves as leaders. These factors don't apply equally
to women: women bond by sharing personal stories.

So what? If you are involved in an organization, and you wish to help
create a bond among new members of the organization, you should:
- Have a hazing or ceremony and encourage everybody to participate
BUT don't make the hazing or ceremony too distasteful to the women,
otherwise the goal is lost.
- Also at some point early on, have everybody introduce themselves
to each other and say something personal (I use this in workshops with
girls when I ask them a question such as what their favourite book is).

If your goal is to exclude women from the organization through a hazing
ritual which the men accept but the women (due to different socializing
and psychological factors) find repulsive, then that's a different goal
altogether. You can try to claim that some organizations, perhaps the
navy, would be better off without women, but since I'm not sure that's
what you're claiming I'll leave that point alone.

>To me, in the situation I just relayed, it comes down to this... If
>you want to join the navy, then you need to embrace its traditions and
>customs. The hazing ceremony that goes with crossing the equator is
>many years old. It's what's done. It's traditional. If you don't like
>it, don't join the navy -- and don't try to change the navy to suit you.

Tradition... it's what keeps us on the roof.

I'm sure you also follow the traditional religion of your ancestors,
cook your food in the traditional style of your ancestors, eating only
the traditional ingredients of your ancestors. I'm sure you choose your
wife (or have her chosen for you) in the tradition of your ancestors,
avoid sex at certain times according to their traditions, perform
rituals and perhaps operations at the birth of your children according
to their traditions. I'm sure you wear the traditional garb of your
ancestors and use their traditional tools...

Okay, okay, sarcasm completely overdone. Tradition is not a good reason
for anything except to regard changes with caution.

I reserve the right to challenge something I don't like even if it's a
tradition. You reserve the right to defend that tradition because you
like it, or for other valid reasons.

>Same thing with computer work... Either you like it (the way it is),
>or you don't. If you do, fine... Do it. If you don't, don't try to
>change it.

A venerable tradition in this case ... of 50 years.

>Wouldn't it be silly if short people decided that the NBA is acting in a
>discriminatory fashion, since only "tall" people get hired. Suddenly,
>there's a short-person's lobby that's calling for the net to be lowered
>to 5'5", in order to accommodate those who feel threatened by the higher
>net. It's ludicrous.

What is this an analogy to? Who is claiming that either

- women are naturally unsuited to CS
- women are asking for the nature of the work to be changed so that they
can do it?

As I understand it, this analogy is poor. Discrimination in job hiring
can be related to qualifications that affect how well the job is done.
For CS -- intelligence, analytical skill, other skills. For basketball,
height. If you want to argue that being a woman makes a person less
able to do a job in CS, as a short person is less able to compete in
basketball, then your analogy might hold but you should make that
assumption clear.

Next, I believe the article in questions was much more about how women
are choosing not to enter CS, not that schools or companies are
discriminating. From the evidence of my university and my employer,
both would love to get more women to apply to be able to accept
applications more selectively and get a higher class of entrant in
general. Many of these institutions, both private and public, are
now discussing how to overcome women's bias against CS.

Unless your employer is encouraging you to change in order to create
a better atmosphere in order to attract women, nobody is asking you
to do anything, so shut up. Otherwise, take it up with your
employer, not us.

Unless you wish to argue that these institutions should NOT be able
to encourage women to apply, then shut up and let us do our work.

Lisa Lippert,
Member of Microsoft "Hoppers",
Member of "Expanding your Horizons",
Female engineer