Before I start, I should give a little introduction about myself. I hope this helps you understand my point of view. I’m a 22 years old woman from Italy with a Bachelor’s degree in Informatics who is currently working in Sweden as a Full Stack Developer. I started programming about four years ago when I enrolled in University.
An Attempt To Improve Diversity
Recently I was on Twitter and I read a tweet from UIKonf, a conference for iOS developers taking place in Berlin, announcing that for this year’s edition they are going to have an all-female lineup of speakers. Here is what they say on their website:
We want to do our part in supporting women in our industry and showcase some of the great women speakers out there. This is our way of raising awareness for the diversity problem while at the same time a celebration of all the women who follow their passion, muster up the courage to go on stage, and hold great talks despite the headwind they’re facing in our industry.
What the conference decided to do is to select speakers according to their gender, instead of basing their decision on meritocracy. Knowledge and experience are put in second place to help a cause. In the conference organiser’s view, trying to bring more women into tech could potentially reduce the gap between men and women in the field.
Judging from the replies to that tweet, there were generally two kinds of reactions. Some people were supportive towards the conference decision, saying that this will help with inclusion and diversity of underrepresented groups. Others were criticising it, claiming it is now excluding everyone else.
There were a couple of replies that caught my attention, because they were expressing what I felt the moment I saw the conference announcement. Both of them were wondering if the conference decision didn’t actually go against the aim of equality and inclusion, expressing that a lineup made up on skills or topics would have made more sense.
Here is why I disagree with this approach of having these targeted experiences for women. I personally find it diminishing to be invited to a conference, hired at a company, and generally being treated differently because of my gender. This is something I cannot control, unlike my education, my experience or my attitude towards other people. If what everybody is looking for is to be considered the same as anyone else, shouldn’t we look at these values that any human being can actually influence? I don’t want to be prioritised because I am a woman. I want to be selected based on my knowledge, what I am able to do, and what I can contribute to what I want to take part in.
My Personal Experience In The Field
What is the point of spending resources in inviting more women in tech, if the environment is not sustainable enough to retain them in the long run? I have read countless stories about women and people from other underrepresented groups having a hard time at their workplace. I have not been in the field for long, but in my short time therein I have had some bad encounters with men who wanted me to feel inferior because of my gender. I have had to prove myself many times to show people that I had the right to be where I was, whereas men at the same skill level didn’t have to: everyone simply assumed that they knew what they were doing.
During my time in university, I experienced classmates pointing out that I was getting good grades because of my appearance. Others told me I was passing my courses because my boyfriend, who was attending the same program, was helping me. On the starting day of my first tech internship, the CEO told everybody that he was happy to see a woman join the team. I questioned myself all the time when I was there – did they merely hire me because I am a woman?
What happened to me is nothing compared to what other women have to go through. Various researches have been done regarding the differences between men and women in tech: how much they earn, how much their opinions are valued, and how long it takes to progress in their careers. The work environment is not optimal and welcoming, and we have data to prove it. Women are leaving the field more than men do. So what do we want to achieve by just inviting minorities to work in tech if they will end up leaving because of the hostile environment?
Let’s imagine for a moment that I am working at a company where I experience harassment by my colleagues because of my gender. In order to help improve the situation, the company prioritises their hirings based on gender. Why would the men that are harassing me stop doing it, just because they are surrounded by women? Wouldn’t they think that those women got their job without having to prove themselves? Wouldn’t they think that the newly hired women don’t deserve to be where they are because of this? I know I am just assuming their behaviour, but I find it hard to believe that such men will magically become nicer people because they are surrounded by more women.
This is why I don’t feel like supporting this movement. I think it is going against what we are fighting for. I hope you don’t misunderstand me: there is so much we can do to make it better for everybody, and we have to try different approaches. But we need to be careful with what we are doing: some actions can do more harm than good. My wish is that everybody, regardless of gender, colour of the skin, sexuality, and any other characteristics, can feel at home in the tech field, without having to feel excluded because of something they cannot control, but also without feeling merely included for the same reason.
Being a developer is one of the best jobs in the world, and there is space for everyone. We need people with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas. They can bring so much more than just improving the diversity statistics of a company. I don’t want us to mainly focus on bringing minorities into the field, but on making the environment so good that they will never want to leave. I don’t want us to focus on diversity either. That is not the primary goal. I want us to focus on equality. If we can reach equality, diversity will come by itself.
I have had huge discussions with many people, and some of them told me that this is a longterm goal. We will not be able to see any concrete improvements soon, but our grandkids will. If this is really the case, why are we not focusing on fixing the problem at the root? I believe shifting our focus to promoting engineering to kids in schools could give amazing results, much faster and much more effectively than simply targeting minorities. We need to show our children and teenagers that tech is not only for men. Everybody has the same chances of becoming a software engineer as anybody else, and nobody is privileged.
I didn’t get into tech until I enrolled in university because I was always told that this field is only for men. When I was in middle school, my parents begged me to not join the high school I wanted because I would have been the only girl there. They were scared I could feel alone and discriminated. That’s why I was reluctant to join my university. But I am so glad I did, because I have met awesome people, of any gender, and I have worked with them in a field that has a lot to offer.
If girls grew up learning computer science, they would see its beauty, and would consider it when making their decision when thinking about their future. If boys grew up studying engineering alongside women, they would finally see their potential and would treat them as equals. I strongly believe in this solution: we could achieve our goal, diversity in tech. And for once, we could stop begging women to join the field because we just want to improve the ratio.
There are numerous things we can do to improve the situation for everybody. We need to dare trying different strategies, but also be critical of the current ones. Everything has pros and cons. I believe having opportunities targeted for underrepresented groups that exclude other ones does more harm than good. We should make it so who people that are working in tech want to stay. Let’s concentrate on shaping young minds, on showing that this field is not just for men. It’s for everybody.
The Systems Holding Back Women In Tech, Tracey Welson-Rossman, May 10, 2018, Forbes
Women in Tech: What’s the Real Status?, Laura Garnett, Mar 21, 2016, Inc.
Cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.