Digging Beneath the Surface: That Amanda Blum Article on Adria Richards is Not What It Seems by Gayle Laakmann McDowell
“An article by Amanda Blum portrays Adria Richards, who has been subjected to the wrath of the internet, in a pretty damning light. Amanda describes Adria as “a bully who uses these instances to her personal gain, driving traffic to her blog.” She cites two interactions with Adria which, admittedly, look pretty bad. Adria comes off as someone with a pattern of exposing falsely perceived sexism in the worst possibly way. When you dig beneath the surface, you find that Amanda’s stories aren’t nearly so bad as they seem. In fact, Adria comes off as, on the whole, quite reasonable — despite the initial bully depiction.”
I Have a Few Things to Say About Adria by Sarah Milstein
“I host conferences that are prominent in the tech sector, and I’ve had Adria Richards speak at two of them. I could write a book about what went down last week, but none of us is in the mood for that, so I’m going to highlight just a few angles that have been overlooked or underplayed in this episode. (Incredibly, there are such angles.)”
My experiences in tech: Death by 1000 paper cuts by Julie P.
“The cuts started early. I’m discouraged and humiliated in math classes throughout my school years to the point where I still get anxious doing math in front of others despite being good at it in private. A high school teacher tells me that I shouldn’t go to college for engineering, but instead something nurturing (you know, what women are good for).”
For better or worse, the first thing I thought upon reading Adria Richards’ blog post about the now-notorious PyCon incident was, “wait a second, I thought a tech conference was exactly the place for dongle and fork jokes!” The off-color comments that compelled Richards to speak out remind…
Happy birthday to cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova! In 1963, she became the 1st woman to fly in space
The research results were obvious: women job seekers were more interested in male-dominated jobs when advertisements were unbiased, making reference to both men and women as candidates. In other words, women and men, for example, may equally like and desire an engineering job, but highly masculine wording used in the job posting reduces women’s appeal of the job because it signals that women do not fit or belong in that job. In this way, qualified male and female applicants are opting out of jobs that they could perform well.
The authors hypothesize that to women, masculine-themed words alerts them to the possibility that they will not fit or do not belong. To test this hypothesis, the researchers used 96 randomly selected job seekers to read different job descriptions, each constructed with masculine-themed words or feminine-themed words. For example, the masculinity worded advertisement for a registered nurse stated “We are determined to deliver superior medical treatment tailored to each individualpatient,” whereas the femininely worded advertisement for the same registered nurse position stated, “We are committed to providing top quality health care that is sympathetic to the needs of our patients.” After reading each job description, the job seekers rated each on job appeal and sense of belongingness.
Example of feminine and masculine-themed words used in a engineering job description:
Engineer Company Description:
- Feminine: We are a community of engineers who have effective relationshipswith many satisfied clients. We are committed to understanding the engineer sector intimately.
- Masculine: We are a dominant engineering firm that boasts many leadingclients. We are determined to stand apart from the competition.
- Feminine: Proficient oral and written communications skills. Collaborates well in a team environment. Sensitive to clients’ needs, can develop warmclient relationships.
- Masculine: Strong communication and influencing skills. Ability to perform individually in a competitive environment. Superior ability to satisfycustomers and manage company’s association with them.
- Feminine: Provide general support to project team in a mannercomplimentary to the company. Help clients with construction activities.
- Masculine: Direct project groups to manage project progress and ensureaccurate task control. Determine compliance with client’s objectives.
Not surprisingly, the results showed that women found that jobs with masculinity worded job descriptions less appealing, compared with the same types of jobs which used feminine wording across all job types — whether they were male or female dominated occupations — even though these gender words composed a small fraction of the total words in the job advertisement.
You seem completely ignorant to the fact that if many women behave in a “positive” fashion, it’s partially because the social costs of being anything else are much, much higher than they are for men. Women who are critical, opinionated etc are still “crazy” or “bitchy” or whatever. Meanwhile, women have socialized to not make too much noise, be nice, make other people feel better about themselves — to enormous professional cost, I would argue, even if they are inherent goods for society. The successful women you write about are clearly threading that needle, and it’s working for them — but the way you described them clearly implied that it made them unserious (“to many male observers”, etc).
The word “culture” has become a signifier of superficial company assets rather than an ongoing practice of examination and self-reflection. Culture is not about the furniture in your office. It is not about how much time you have to spend on feel-good projects. It is not about catered food, expensive social outings, internal chat tools, your ability to travel all over the world, or your never-ending self-congratulation. Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly. The critique of startup culture that came in large part from the agile movement has been replaced by sanitized, pompous, dishonest slogans.
The problem is that while the outputs (better communication, better self-care, a stronger team) are valued in their way, they aren’t valued in visible ways that afford women prestige. The parallels with women’s un(der)paid & often-invisible labour in the domestic sphere are perhaps too obvious to warrant spelling out, but I’ll go ahead anyway: Because we live in a culture that undervalues emotional and domestic labour, a significant portion of “women’s work” (like childcare, food preparation, housekeeping, elder care, and social planning) is uncompensated. And as a result, if you want your company to have someone on staff to ensure everyone is happy, well fed, and comfortable, you will likely hire an “office mom”; that person is overwhelmingly likely to be female; and she is almost certainly underpaid (and afforded less prestige & power) compared to her technical colleagues. I’ve long engaged in a hobby where, whenever I visit a tech company’s website, I head straight to their “Team” page, and scan for the women. More often than not, I have to scroll past four or more men before I see a woman – and very frequently, her title places her in one of the “people” roles: human resources, communications, project or client management, user experience, customer service, or office administration. (One could almost – if one were feeling cheeky – rename these roles employee empathy, customer empathy, team empathy, user empathy, and boss empathy: all of them require deep skills in emotional intelligence, verbal and written communications, and putting oneself in the shoes of others.)
Phillip Lenssen: Can you give some examples of misogyny or racism?
Aaron Swartz: If you talk to any woman in the tech community, it won’t be long before they start telling you stories about disgusting, sexist things guys have said to them. It freaks them out; and rightly so. As a result, the only women you see in tech are those who are willing to put up with all the abuse. I really noticed this when I was at foo camp once, Tim O’Reilly’s exclusive gathering for the elite of the tech community. The executive guys there, when they thought nobody else was around, talked about how they always held important business meetings at strip clubs and the deficiencies of programmers from various countries. Meanwhile, foo camp itself had a session on discrimination in which it was explained to us that the real problem was not racism or sexism, but simply the fact that people like to hang out with others who are like themselves. The denial about this in the tech community is so great that sometimes I despair of it ever getting fixed. And I should be clear, it’s not that there are just some bad people out there who are being prejudiced and offensive. Many of these people that I’m thinking of are some of my best friends in the community. It’s an institutional problem, not a personal one.
Diversity? That’s for racists. You might think with more black people or more women, we might get more and different ideas about tech and design. Well, you’re wrong. Andy Rutledge stands for a world where you’ll get all the ideas you’d ever need if you let people show up. And if it’s only white guys?
Then obviously, they’re the ones with the best ideas. I guess you could say otherwise, but then you’d be Hitler.