Monday, June 18, 2007

Barriers for Women in Tech Communities

At DevChix, Gloria has a thought-provoking article about the barriers that women face in technology fields and the role of women-only and women-friendly groups can play in building community. She points out that interactions in women-friendly groups is different than in male-dominated spaces.

Destructive criticism is the best way to keep a site predominantly male. It implies that there is no concern about whether a person can learn from a response or not, or whether they would find offense. It is an outward display of ego, a territorial “pissing rite” in which most women do not and will not participate.

Of course many men are also put off by that kind of behavior and are often welcomed into women's groups, as long as they don't appear to be there for the "wrong reasons." The wrong reasons (discussed in more detail in the article) being thouse that conflict with the groups' primary function as a safe space for women to exchange ideas.

Awareness of and accountability for behavior in women’s groups means a lot more than just safety from sexual harassment, or discrimination. It means that if one is treated unfairly or harshly in any manner that a person finds offensive, the entire community will hear your claim. They will give you advice, opinions, and will collectively decide if action should be taken.

Gloria speaks from her own experience as a woman within the tech community.
I have experimented with this myself using a male pseudonym to post articles, and being told that the articles are informative, useful, great. Six months later I republish the exact same article, using a different title and a female pseudonym, and suddenly the article is horrible, technically incorrect, useless. It’s a fascinating study. I would love to see some prominent male techs publish under female pseudonyms, and watch the responses.
She concludes with a list of ways that communities and technology workplaces can be made more woman-friendly. Go read the entire article for all of her suggestions. Co-blogger Dianne follows up with a post that asks "Is there a hierarchy in online communities?" Don't skip the comments sections where there are some interesting discussions going on.

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