[Womoz] Why so few women? Leave or don't join in the first place?

Delphine delphine at mozilla-europe.org
Wed Oct 14 13:06:48 CEST 2009


Thanks for sharing all this valuable feedback Tiffney.
I agree that a *big* reason that explains that there are so few women in 
open source is that young girls aren't all educated in the same way that 
boys are. And because of this, girls don't have such an easy access to 
computers and computer studies than guys.

About your experience at OSCON, it reminds me of an article that I read 
recently: http://girldeveloper.com/some-junk/nerd-gear-what-to-wear/
Not exactly the same thing, since this happens at a Microsoft conference 
and that this woman goes there dressed "normally" (so not especially in 
a very feminine way). But she did notice a difference from when she just 
dresses in a basic "geek" way at conferences: " So, was I treated 
differently? Well, to be honest I feel like less people came to talk to 
me. However, that wasn't exactly a scientific study, and I think I will 
do this a few more times before coming to a conclusion. "
So it seems that the way you dress might actually change something...
Comments to this article might interest you, as she has asked women and 
men what they think about all this 
(http://girldeveloper.com/some-junk/nerd-gear-what-to-wear/#comments)

Also, the kind of experiences you describe with men aren't that uncommon 
in open source I think.
I work almost only with guys (not talking solely about the office 
geographical workplace here) and I've experienced the same kind of 
things you talk about too. Although it's not so heavy that it seriously 
bothers me or becomes a nuisance either, I'm not blind. And when women 
say "oh no, they've never looked at me differently / I've never felt 
that at all"...well, I almost (sadly) want to reply that they probably 
just haven't noticed, and when you're with guys all day long as I am and 
hear what they say between them concerning these women... well, it's not 
very flattering or romantic (sadly too)

So I don't want to be making generalities here either, but I tend to 
agree that in open source more than in other fields, some guys are 
sometimes less "subtle", and that you get more undesired attention. 
Maybe this is just because they're so not used to being with women on a 
regular basis (since there are so few women in FLOSS)? But here again, I 
feel like this is assuming that guys in open source don't have a social 
life, and I'd hate to be saying that about all of them! (and it's not as 
if guys in other domains all have great and intense social activities 
outside of their work)

Just some thoughts I wanted to share, even though they're not all sorted 
out or anything...

Yeah, I again agree that it would be great to have a brainstorming 
session all together so we can talk over all our thoughts more  :)

Le 13/10/09 23:49, tiffney at mozilla.com a écrit :
> Katarzyna,
>
> This is a great concept, and for my own part can contribute some anecdotal observations that may influence the questions you ask in a survey. I apologize for the length of the post but you really made me think!
>
> I think a major part of it in the United States (I cannot speak for elsewhere) begins much, much earlier. By the time women reach an age where they would be considering software, engineering, and open source, many of them have been on a path for some time that leave them without the skill set to ever enter this field in the first place. Years and years of preparatory work goes into the creation of a software engineer.Unless a girl is encouraged to study math and science from a very early age, she will not have the skill set required to have the interest or ability to succeed in a college computer science program. I suspect that the majority of "missing women" in software are due to this phenomenon.
>
> Many old-fashioned families want their daughters to go to college and earn degrees, but in the end expect them to drop out of the job market to be wives and mothers. Becoming a wife and mother is a perfectly wonderful life choice, but this does mean that a lot of traditionally-oriented women end up choosing liberal arts programs instead of engineering programs, because in the past studying to be an engineer meant you were studying for a career track position in an office -- away from home. Why bother investing four years in college for skills you'll never use? Liberal arts degrees, however, offered women more flexibility. The broader-based skill The phenomenon of "Mommy Blogging" shows that there are a lot of intelligent women out there with an interest to do something significant online. We need to get parents and academic organizations to wake up to the idea that nowadays working remotely and working part-time is a major part of software and open source. Even very tradition
>   al women could have careers in software because instead of "Mommy Blogging" they could start "Mommy Hacking." It's just going to take about 20 years of hard work on the part of open source projects to get a pattern of girls studying computer science, whether they intend to be career or family oriented.
>
> Another problem is that the majority of real-world community volunteer work is done by women. What woman has time to contribute as a software volunteer when she is already spending all of her time helping with the PTA and blood drives? Modern women are exhausted. They have to have careers and kids and homes. As Lukass said to me, "if you want women in open source, pay them." We're not going to get them spending their last few moments of spare time on open source software unless we actively consider this.
>
> Once women make it to software, there are a lot of intangible factors that can make the environment passively, if not actively, hostile. Here I am going to speak *only* from my own personal experience. I do not intend these observations to be general, but only representing me. I do not have a background in software. Mozilla is the first software company I have ever worked at. The advantage of this is that I see where Mozilla contrasts with the general environments I worked in before.
>
> There is a stereotype of software engineers having impaired social skills. I never worked at a software company before Mozilla, and I have noticed the stereotype to have an element of truth.
>
> An example that may seem almost silly is the phenomenon of guys staring. Compared to every other place I have worked, *including* when I worked as a lifeguard in high school, more guys stare at my chest more often here. It's not because these guys are creeps. They aren't leering, and I don't feel angry. I more feel like, "Seriously? Are you that socially impaired? My eyes are up here. Focus." These guys just aren't even aware of how much they do it. They are nice guys and would probably be totally embarrassed if I pointed it out to them. It's something all guys struggle with. But my personal view is that it's a bigger problem in software. That behavior could be very hostile to some women.
>
> Working in software is different because by virtue of your industry, you almost become a public figure just by working at Mozilla. People in non-software industries are less affected when their coworkers post information, videos, or photos of them online. ight now there are no social norms governing this behavior. People just post whatever they like. This can have a greater affect on women than men. There is a very blurry boundary between work life and personal life when you work in software. There is still a bit of a double standard for male and female behavior. When a guy gets wild, or drunk, or flirtatious, there is much less stigma than when a woman does. Maybe that's not how it should be but I have often still found it to be the case. Women are also far more likely to deal with the problems associated with abusive or stalking exes, and working in software can increase the risk of problems in this area.
>
> A final thing that may be controversial -- I have observed is a general trend among female software engineers to downplay their femininity. I am not certain about the causes for this. Engineers in general are often the butt of fashion jokes, and they do tend to live in t-shirts and old jeans because it's an industry where appearance has little to no effect on doing your job well (unlike law or business or public relations, where appearance makes a huge impact). So gender may be completely unrelated to this. But I have noticed that you can pick out which women work in engineering and which women work in non-technical positions at Mozilla based on how they dress. Engineering interns dressed like the guys. No makeup. No jewelry. No hair styling. They wore loose-fitting jeans and often wore mens' small t-shirts rather than "girly" style shirts. Walk over to marketing: bright colors, makeup, sometimes jeans and t-shirts, sometimes dresses and heels. There is much more of a normal
>   spectrum of style in non-engineering roles.
>
> Does this have to do with the personality types that are attracted to marketing vs. engineering? Or is there some other factor? Are there just too few female engineers at Mozilla to get a reliable sample? What would happen if a female software engineer showed up at Mozilla wearing a skirt and bracelets? Do female engineers avoid dressing in a feminine manner because it would make them stand out too much? Or do female engineers just happen to care less about haute coture than some other women? Would a talented female engineer with a more girly style feel that her coworkers were going to judge or reject her based on her appearance?
>
> Women are still so much of an oddity that men do stare, usually because they are surprised to see you. When I went to a few sessions at OSCON this year, I turned a few heads. I was wearing heels, a dress, and some jewelry -- nothing unusual for a regular office but at an open source convention it may as well be a clown costume. Most of the guys were looking at me with puzzlement -- not hostility, but definite puzzlement. One guy asked me if I was somebody's secretary, and if I had gotten lost looking for "him." What an assumption! I was there for the session. I wondered if they would have judged me as lacking the understanding for the technical discussion if I were wearing sloppy jeans and an old t-shirt that I had gotten for free from work. How can I feel welcome in an environment like that? I dressed as I prefer to, but it attracted extra attention and an unfair judgment.
>
> I think this question is worth investigating in a more methodical way, because if women do feel subtle pressure to avoid femininity, that would absolutely prevent them from feeling comfortable in open source. The only way to beat this will be to get more women in there, period, so that women in jeans and women in heels become equally common and not a notable event.
>
> Tiffney
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