I spent last week in Antwerp, Belgium attending the Devoxx conference. It was an interesting experience, not the least of which was because I was there playing a trio of roles: developer, presenter, and evangelist.
In the developer role, I was looking for new technologies that we could make use of in current or future work. Interesting things I saw included Genymotion (a high speed android emulator) and the Dart programming language.
My presentation on parsing PDF in Java went well, although I went way too fast – it happens when you are both a little nervous and very passionate about your topic. Hopefully the talk will be up on parleys.com soon – at this writing, the channel page is empty.
What struck me the most was working the trade show floor. It’s always a bit of a challenge at developer conferences in that we, as developers, can be introverted and do not want to interact with other people. Very often, people who walked by were in an invisible cage doing their best to avoid eye contact. I found that I could sometimes break the barrier with a polite “Good morning/day/afternoon” and at least get some eye contact if even being able to start up a conversation.
What was especially striking, however, was that it was nearly impossible to get eye contact from women who were walking by. Mind you, the sample size wasn’t particularly large. There were more than 9 men for every woman in attendance. On the tradeshow floor there was a constantly updating twitter tag cloud and before every session was a twitter feed. In the feed, I caught this one: “No pretty girls @
#Devoxx” and there were more like that.
I would hope that this isn’t anything but the minority view. Presupposing that women in software engineering are there only to be eye candy is bad enough, the message is all but welcoming, and pronouncing it publicly creates a hostile environment.
Let’s examine a simple question to start with, “should we have a software engineering workforce that is diverse?” (and for the moment, let’s assume that ‘diverse’ means diverse in gender). I believe that the answer is trivially ‘yes’. Different points of view means different approaches to solving problems and that is very much a good thing.
Since the answer to ‘should we’ is yes, the next question is how?
I think it comes down to a few things:
- Remove hostility in the workplace. See this blog article for a particularly bad example and the creative solution (note, there is some graphic language).
- Call it out when it happens, don’t accept it as status quo.
- Not only understand, but embrace differences in communication.
- Interview women – if you’re not getting candidates, find out why and try to solve that (in our last bout of hiring, this was extremely frustrating as we were running thin on qualified candidates of any gender).
- Get your company to support those who encourage women in engineering early on.
- Start an internship program and help indoctrinate younger women into an engineering environment.
- Have an awesome workplace.
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