Want Women in Tech? Change the Culture
I write for TWiB not just out of a love for sharing cool science stuff, but also to promote diversity within the sciences. It’s critical to understand that simply improving numbers of women and minorities within the space isn’t enough. The culture itself needs to be changed so that elements such as misogyny and racism are not acceptable by anyone. Making a welcoming culture is a huge step in attracting underrepresented groups into a situation that they previously saw as hostile.
In the tech space, events known as “hackathons” are quite popular. A hackathon requires collaboration from teams of folks to develop a solution to a stated problem, usually involving software or hardware. The results are presented to an audience by the collaborators themselves, and the best projects are declared winners and sometimes given prizes. Since a hackathon can show both technical aptitude as well as the ability to explain and demo your solution to an audience, it serves as an important space that needs to be culturally sensitive so that all feel welcome to contribute their brainpower.
A hackathon during an ongoing conference entitled TechCrunch Disrupt allowed several offensive presentations to pass its supposed screening process, including a joke app called TitStare that allowed its users to inconspicuously stare at women’s breasts. There were several other offensive presentations involving jokes about masturbation, shrinkage, etc. All of this, by the way, was in front of an audience that included young children. TechCrunch did apologize after facing heat, but it was the usual half-hearted, empty apology that only comes after being barraged by social media influencers.
You’d think that hackathons and similar events would attract women and minorities because as long as you have great ideas and you can present well, you should be fine, right? It’s true, as long as the culture welcomes them as people as well as tech resources. Putting on the greatest demo in the world suddenly seems low on the totem pole when being demeaned for your race or gender. General human decency should never come at the expense of a supposed joke in a professional setting.
Sadly, this culture has existed for a very long time, as seen is a recent documentary about women in the chemistry industry. This is why it’s important to have schools that take diversity seriously, and to celebrate initiatives like International Women’s Day.
We all need to stand up against this crap, and it needs to be a united effort–not one limited to women. Any jokes that disparage women and the contributions that they’ve made to society harm us all. Having groups that don’t represent the true diversity of America harms us all.
Check out the Storify below for a great discussion on the Disrupt issue and its aftermath.