To be a woman in tech is to know the thrill of participating in one of the most transformative revolutions humankind has known, to experience the crystalline satisfaction of finding an elegant solution to an algorithmic challenge, to want to throw the monitor out the window in frustration with a bug and, later, to do a happy dance in a chair while finally fixing it. To be a woman in tech is also to always and forever be faced with skepticism that I do and feel all those things authentically enough to truly belong. There is always a jury, and it’s always still out.
When men in tech listen to the experiences of women in tech, they can come to understand how this manifesto was throwing a match into dry brush in fire season.
Speaking for myself, it doesn’t matter to me how soothingly a man coos that I’m not like most women, when those coos are accompanied by misogyny against most women. I am a woman. I do not stop being one during the parts of the day when I am practicing my craft. There can be no realistic chance of individual comfort for me in an environment where others in my demographic categories (or, really, any protected demographic categories) are subjected to skepticism and condescension.
For example, we could look to the percentage of women majoring in computer science at highly selective colleges and universities. Women currently make up about 30 percent of the computer science majors at Stanford University, one key source of Google’s elite workforce. Harvey Mudd College, another elite program, has seen its numbers grow steadily for many years, and is currently at about 50 percent women in their computer science department.
Yet Google’s workforce is just 19 percent female. So even if we imagine for a moment that the manifesto is correct and there is some biological ceiling on the percentage of women who will be suited to work at Google — less than 50 percent of their workforce — isn’t it the case that Google, and tech generally, is almost certainly not yet hitting that ceiling?
In other words, it is clear that we are still operating in an environment where it is much more likely that women who are biologically able to work in tech are chased away from tech by sociological and other factors, than that biologically unsuited women are somehow brought in by overzealous diversity programs.
For today — given what women in tech have had to deal with over the past week — try pouring a cup of coffee for a female coder in your office, and asking her about the most interesting bug she’s seen lately.
Cynthia Lee is a lecturer in the computer science department at Stanford. She founded peerinstruction4cs.org to support educators in flipping their computer science classrooms using peer instruction. She has a PhD in high-performance computing.