The “women in tech issue” made it to the big time this weekend with a long article in the New York Times. ((I’m personally a little disappointed with the article though I do think it’s a decent primer. I thought it let Pax Dickinson off relatively easy—his tweets were truly vile—and didn’t really capture the problem’s severity. Then again, that must have been hard when worst harassment—including many of Mr. Dickinson’s tweets—would be unprintable.)) I’d recommend you read it if you’re not familiar with the issue, as it covers some of the bigger incidents in the past year. To be clear, this issue isn’t new either as the “Timeline of Incidents” on the Geek Feminism Wiki attests.
There are clearly problems with sexism (and racism and classism and agism and…) in the tech world. While the large incidents like the one involving the sexist app mentioned by the New York Times or Julie Ann Horvath’s resignation at GitHub gain the most major media attention, many of the problems are subtle and nearly undetectable unless you run into them by chance. Take this experience by Sarah Mirk ((A fellow Grinnell alum and colleague from my days working on the college’s newspaper. Hi, Sarah!)) when she went to add one of her favorite photographers to Wikipedia only to discover that Wikipedia’s policy requiring “unbiased” citations can lead to the exclusion of those outside the mainsteam:
While Wikipedia is a great platform for knowledge, it builds on existing institutions. The fact that female artists are less likely to have their work reviewed in mainstream media and less likely to have their work shown in museums means it’s harder to add them to Wikipedia, too.
And that all leads me to the link that originally inspired this post (it’s been sitting in a draft for too long!). Anil Dash analyzed who he retweeted on Twitter:
I followed a nearly equal ratio of women and men, but retweeted men three times as often as I retweeted women. This, despite my knowing how underrepresented women’s voices are in the areas I obsess over, such as technology and policy and culture. I could do better.
This article takes you through a year of Dash only retweeting women—with no fanfare and very few exceptions—and gives another great example of how subtle biases and habits can really add up in the echo chamber of the internet and social media in particular.
At times, it can feel like we’re helpless to take on such deeply-set issues like sexism in tech, but that’s simply not the case. In another example of local and easy-to-take action, just last week, the Seattle WordCamp organizers held a session devoted to women interested in speaking at WordCamp in order to increase the number of women who apply to speak. ((They’re also looking to provide childcare, another need that disproportionately affects women.))
The little things matter. Take note, and take action.