As a woman in technology

With all the issues surrounding a lack of women in technology, I’ve felt compelled to share my opinion, but took a long time to think about how to frame my views the most sensitive way possible. This is my view only; certainly not representative of all women, or all deaf people for that matter. It is also not a criticism of any one employer, but rather the industry in general.

Let’s start out with a deliberately over-simplistic, over-general graph.

Simplistic view of how our choices cause effects.

Simplistic view of how our choices cause effects.

Different actions mix together for different effects. Make an effort to master coding and computer science, and I might pass an interview and get a job as a programmer.

Obviously, effects aren’t a sole function of an individual’s actions. A result doesn’t exist in a vacuum; if I am the only person on the planet, it doesn’t make a difference if I’m the best computer scientist ever or know nothing about computer science. A result is more or less the reaction of society from large, and a society will treat different individuals differently. Let’s try and put that factor as a “perception” node.

Societal perception of efforts (actions) influence outcomes (effects).

Societal perception of efforts (actions) influence outcomes (effects).

The lack of women in STEM has been credited to widespread discrimination. So, the assertion is that an individual’s biology influences perception.

Discrimination comes as a result of biology negatively and unnecessarily feeding into perception.

Discrimination comes as a result of biology negatively and unnecessarily feeding into perception.

The intention is to remove all traces of biology from society’s perception of efforts, which I laud.

Will the remedies being taken to reduce this discrimination improve the current situation?

Before I give my opinion on that, I must first make a controversial assertion: a person’s biology contributes to the choice of actions being taken. That’s true of me, anyway.

My opinion is that my biology has a factor in which actions I choose.

My opinion is that my biology has a factor in which actions I choose.

For instance, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m deaf and will be substantially inferior in musical instruments, so that doesn’t predispose me to start practicing in the first place. As a woman, there’s no getting around the fact that if I am going to contribute to the population, the burden will be on me and me alone to be sub-functional for an year or so during pregnancy.

With that being said:

I view part of the solution to discrimination is to embrace the edge from biology to action: “it’s OK to be deaf. It’s OK to be a woman and have a child.” Recognizing differences is a necessary step for a more egalitarian society. Doing so has one desired effect of weakening the edge from Biology to Perception:

If biology is less of a factor in perception, then discrimination is reduced.

If biology is less of a factor in perception, then discrimination is reduced.

Coming to my point: My concern is that some of the actual remedies are strengthening the directed edge between Biology to Action.

I feel like the reaction to “a woman’s performance is more impacted by reproducing than a man,” and other similar unequal outcomes, has been to enable more of the same decisions that lead to different actions being taken, strengthening the connection from Biology to Action and therefore resulting in more unequal outcomes.

For instance, nearly all support I have seen for the deaf across the industry have been in the form “use more sign language” with virtually no support for “communicate with us in the same language we all use, by using captionist services or speech therapists” if I so chose. Extending maternity leave is another trendy example; the scientific and tech industry moves at lightning speed, and that kind of leave of absence is sub-optimal for performance and careers.

Enabling biology-driven choices will magnify different outcomes between two biologically different groups.

Enabling biology-driven choices will magnify different outcomes between two biologically different groups.

If we are serious about achieving equal outcomes, wouldn’t we instead help it make easier for people to make decisions that lead to them making a choice to make the same actions as others, resulting in a more even distribution of the desired effects (more women in STEM or senior positions)?

For me, this would look a lot like paid nanny services, on-site daycare, part-time and telecommuting work options. Maternity leave was not something I wanted to take nor would extended maternity leave have been good for my career.

I have no doubt that a lot of maternity leave is what is important for many women — but I wonder how many women would have willingly returned to work much sooner, and possibly at cheaper cost to the company and far less opportunity cost, if they had an in-house nanny and were working 20 hours a week from home?

Similarly, on the deaf frontier: I’d love to see more services that aren’t quite so sign-language centric — companies conduct their businesses in English, and it’s nonsense that there is little precedent for a deaf person to access it in English without having to translate it all into another language filtered by an interpreter that is not a technical expert. I’d also love to see companies support intensive speech therapy sessions so I can speak better.

That’s what it takes for me to get on a more equal playing level; the solutions that have been offered make me less equal. I’d rather see this graph, with biology not having to distract the actions I choose as much.

Minimal influence of biology in life

Representation of a minimal influence of biology, resulting in more equal outcomes

As always, YMMV.

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