Computing

Ladies or lads – what’s the difference?

I was once invited to the pub by a department colleague, and when I arrived only the two of us plus another male colleague had arrived, although others were no doubt on their way. The other guy (sad to be stereotypical but he was a PE teacher) then proceeded to have a conversation with my friend about a game of football they’d just had, followed by some locker room anecdotes. Now this was a conversation I could contribute absolutely nothing to. I didn’t want to ask stupid questions about football, I had no locker room jollies to share (!), and if I tried to change the subject I’d probably be frowned at for spoiling their fun.

Can it really be true that hordes of women are put off entering tech industries because men might *shock horror* have a conversation about football?!

Well, sadly yes.

I have to admit I’m slightly jealous of the lads club. It is often said that women like to collaborate and include everyone, whereas men like to compete and be better than each other. I actually think that the female version of inclusion is somewhat Orwellian – “everybody’s included, but some are more included than others” – and I often find I can’t be bothered to sift through the nuances to figure out where I rank. At least in the lads club no one is pretending they aren’t trying to get one over on you, so you know where you stand! However, even if I chose to act like ‘one of the lads’ (which I don’t), I could never ever be a member of the lads club because my being in it would change its very nature.

Women in tech groups

So after reading Neil Brown’s post and this slightly bizarre post yesterday I started thinking about the proliferation of women only groups relating to tech. I have really enjoyed participating in these groups and meeting lots of lovely ladies, and I think they are very worthwhile. On the other hand, surely separating off women into their own little girly group isn’t going to do any favours when it comes to integration in the workplace? Ladies, imagine how you’d feel if there was a “men in tech” group? Surely this is the equivalent of making our own lads club? Perhaps we should be aiming for a culture of “include everybody” and not “look at us, we’re in a minority, be nice!”?

I’m not sure if I was just lucky, but I found university one of the most welcoming and accepting environments I’ve ever been in. Big hugs to the University of Bath CS dept! This article that Neil linked to about the disadvantages of being a woman in CS is frankly terrifying and enough to put anyone off ever thinking about studying it. With the exception of point #10 (which admittedly was a bit scary), none of the things on that list have happened to me and I can’t help wondering if part of the problem is a big perception issue. If you expect people to behave in a certain way, you will perceive their behaviour to be meeting your expectations. I never experienced anything short of respect, inclusion and kind behaviour from any of the guys on my course, possibly because I didn’t expect anything else. I also feel sure that should anyone have behaved badly, someone else would have jumped in with a “dude, not cool”. I don’t remember actually ever caring about whether someone was male or female when working on a project with them because it was irrelevant.

Did anyone actually stop to think that men might be a little bit scared about how to work well with women? I’d be the first person to admit that a comment from a guy which would make me laugh on one day might send me into a flaming rage on another day, with little rhyme or reason. Don’t even mention the time when one of the techies ate my biscuits. (MY BISCUITS!!!) I’d imagine that’s probably terrifying. Of a straw poll at YRS, all guys present said they would have no idea what to do if I burst into tears. I even joke that a particular male friend “segfaults” if I mention anything remotely emotional.

Perhaps the way forward on inclusion is providing more opportunities for working together  informally instead of separating apart, offering more chance to interact in a friendly way on techy projects without being in the high risk environment of work. There’s no better feeling than being a valued part of a team, and if the dynamic really works, people stop caring about irrelevant things such as gender.

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