Let’s talk about gender diversity, it’s not a taboo

When I was a little girl, I was more into things than people. I did not like barbies or dolls, but I was fascinated with barbie’s dog because it was battery-driven. I loved how it worked and moved around, and it had things you could stick to its tongue, like a bone or a newspaper. And it was cute.

Now, this led to me being excluded from most “hangouts” with girls as I grew up, as they mostly got interested in things like barbies, then later on boys and make-up. I wanted to pay more attention to crafts, lego and computers. My parents never told me I should spend my time on anything specifically, they simply supported me in developing naturally.

I don’t know what all of these girls chose as their careers as they grew up, as I did not need nor want to keep in touch with them. The few I know of are not in tech.

As a gadget nerd, I wear an Apple Watch. Among other things, it tracks my heartbeat. When I read the research that said that women are typically more interested in people than men, my heartbeat went up quite a lot. I became angry and upset and wanted to scream BULLSHIT. My thoughts went along these lines; “I am not more interested in people than things, so the research is false and obviously some stupid fu**”…

I stopped myself there. When I start swearing in my thoughts, I know that something is not right. I wondered why I got so upset. Wait a moment, I thought. This research is not talking about me; “women” are not me. We are all individuals. The research is generalising, and it is very scientific. So, why did I get so upset? I am one of the calmest people that my friends know. Looking at my childhood experiences, the research MAY have some ground. What do I know? Personally, I do not think we can measure it that easily, at least not on a biological level.

Social science is messy to begin with. I believe that, by the time we can measure these personality traits, there are already a lot of cultural influences. The science then gets more difficult. Since 1980, we have seen a decrease in women in tech, in the US and most parts of Europe. That is something that we cannot explain on a biological level.

Still, the research may be interesting not only in tech, but in all fields. I believe that it is worth spending time on that. That time should be spent without people like me becoming upset and angry because of our personal experiences. My emotional attachment to the research is irrational.

Let’s discuss this research purely from a scientific standpoint, and how we can make the research better. By having the research, we may or may not be able to explain parts of all career fields where we see a gender imbalance. Is it all cultural? Is part of it biological? We need to be able to discuss the research, to make the research better.

I know that this is a controversial topic. I personally know a lot of women who dropped out of tech because of sexism. Pointing to this research and saying dangerous things like “Look, it’s not because of sexism” makes me want to… Yeah, punch you. It IS because of sexism. The important thing to notice here, is that it is not only because of sexism. It is not even debatable that we experience shitheads in any field, and that it should be addressed appropriately.

Because of all these experiences that a lot of people, including me, have regarding these topics, we cannot easily approach the discussion that this science leads to. Any science needs to be approached with care, but the discussion of a controversial topic needs to be handled delicately.

How do we talk about gender diversity when people with experiences similar to mine get fired up so easily?

With carefully used wording and uttermost respect, we can discuss the research as the professional adults that we are. I will listen without getting upset if you point to this with a disclaimer that there are a lot of reasons why different genders may choose different fields. I will not get upset if you say that you want to discuss it with an open mind. A dream of mine is that we can all discuss these things with an open mind, because there might be something behind the research. What do I really know? I know myself, and the people around me. I have not done any research beyond my own experiences.

Pulling out any research will cause a strong reaction. I am asking everyone to be ready for this. If you feel a strong emotion when you read it, take a step back, consider your experiences, and — just like I did — ask yourself why before you comment.

We have different opinions. We should be open to them without violent and dangerous consequences.

What we do know is that, whatever research there might be now and whatever research there might be in the future:

  • We need to make our industry a better place for everyone. We share an interest and a common ground. When someone gets into this industry, it should not matter if they are “rare” or not. It should not be celebrated. It should not be shamed.
  • In tech, like in many other industries, we should be able to discuss gender diversity without hatred.
  • I consider myself LUCKY to be working at Liip where I almost never experience sexism. Many of my peers do on a daily basis. The way I feel at Liip should be the default for all tech companies.

I have a couple of dreams that I am working towards. I do not know how to make them all a reality. I know that being able to openly discuss gender diversity in a calm manner without being lynched is a key point to getting us there.

When voicing these dreams below, I mention male and female peers to make my message clear. I wish these dreams were true for everyone, regardless of gender.

  • I want myself, and my female peers, to be able to go anywhere and be seen as an equal peer rather than “the female programmer who stays in tech despite all the bullshit”.
  • I want myself, and my female peers, to be able to voice our experiences, opinions and feelings without being “marked” in any way.
  • I want my male peers to be able to write a post like this without being roasted, without being scared of being fired, and without being scared of being “marked” in any way.
  • I want my male peers to not be scared of talking to and helping minorities. I don’t want them to be dismissed as “inferior”.
  • I want my male peers to feel included when we discuss gender diversity. I do not want them to be ashamed for being who they are. I as a woman in tech already know how that feels. I do not wish that on anyone.
  • I want to be able to write a post like this without the anxiety that I currently feel.
  • I want myself, and others who have grown more and more angry over time to feel calm again. So that we can discuss these issues in a respectful manner. I want us to not have reasons to feel angry.

A dream is not, however, that everyone has the same opinions or dreams as I. Let us respect the fact that we are different. We have a lot of different opinions and backgrounds, that is ok! Let us celebrate that. Diversity is beautiful.

Diversity can only be celebrated if we respect each other. So let us do that. Let us recognise that calling each other names, and not being open to discussion, is not the same as respecting different opinions.

We should acknowledge that we have a problem. We should ALL work together to figure this out.

Let us use science and discuss it like cool headed scientists, no matter how controversial it may seem. Let us improve that science together. Let us take a step back before we react.

And most importantly, let us have fun in this industry together. Let us create things together, and be inviting to anyone who wants to create with us.

Let us discuss gender diversity in a respectful manner together.

[UPDATE 2017-08-18]

The idea with this blog post is to reach out to people who, in my experience, find it hardest right now to talk about diversity: The majority of men. The fact that in a day; I have received more private praise from men in tech to this post than I have received retweets, strengthens my belief.

We all know about the horrible experiences that we have as women in tech. I can write books about my own.

I don’t mean to be dismissing those experiences. I am trying to show a way to talk to each other past that, and open the discussion. Any ideas to solve one of the issues that we have right now — Talking about diversity together — would be very welcome.

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