Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why aren't there more women in IT?

This question pops up in several male-dominated industries, and is often written about in trade resources that, one would think, would have a pretty good idea as to why more women don't work in or stay in the industry. From reading these couple articles from TechRepublic, and the comments that follow, I have to wonder if any of these people have even met any women.

When the question of, "Why don't more women work in IT" comes up, often it's followed by myths of quotas being used to hire unqualified women and oppressing the poor white men, women choosing fields that allow them to have babies, and stereotypes about creativity and nurturing vs hard skills. Invariably, some people decide that maybe women just aren't as tech-savvy and so the industry will never be 50/50 and why are we trying to fix what ain't broken?

I feel like there's a big elephant in the room that no one is talking about. I acknowledge that, for some women, career planning has to happen hand-in-hand with family planning, because those are their two biggest priorities in their lives. And that a lot of women get pregnant without planning, and that can provide an unexpected hurdle in their career path. Yes, having babies is definitely something that affects many women's careers. This has been talked about at length in many conversations about the derth of women in IT.

But, here's the thing that I don't hear being talked about: to get women involved in IT; often you have to start with girls. Yes, I know, there are programs being started and rolled out that target girls to show them how awesome and fun and rewarding IT work can be. That's super, but that's not what I mean.

But, before those programs and seminars, before college, there is geek/nerd culture. There's World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty, and Fan Expo, and comics, and geeky cartoons, and millions more, and they're largely toxic towards women and minorities. Sure, you don't have to play video games or go to conventions or read webcomics, etc, to work in IT. But these often are our first exposures to the geek world. And if our first exposure has us cancelling our WoW account to get away from the rape threats, then that really doesn't bode terribly well for wanting to purposely work with geeks.

When you're a girl in elementary school and the geeks are the ones who are the most verbally vicious bullies, you're not necessarily gonna want to go out of your way to spend more time with them. When you're a young woman in high school and the geeks are the ones who are cyber bullying you and your friends and passing along the shit dredged up from 4chan, you may just wanna give them a wide berth. When you're a woman in college and the geeks are the ones who are harassing you, stalking you, and doing everything in their power to let you know they're the Nice GuysTM that terrible harpies like you never give a chance, it's quite possible you're not going to want to spend the rest of your career with them.

Now, this is me talking from personal experience. And, to be fair, Not All Geeks Are Like That. Enough of them are, though, and they don't tend to get told off. It's hard to challenge our peer groups, even if it's to ensure the safety of those within them.

When I was younger, I hung out with the geeks because I fit in with them more than any other group, and I fit in by making sure that I was the most vulgar, the most non-PC, and the most offensive. It was my tactic of not being "like other girls" (like millions of other girls have declared before me). After a while, I realized that this really wasn't working for me. And, it really wasn't working towards making my peer group safe for any other women.

This is the same idea with IT as an industry. There may be some women working towards the top of the ladder, but if they are there because they adapted to the misogynstic culture instead of working on changing it, then that doesn't pave the way for other women. If she got there by "not being like other women", that serves to cut the rings for those who would want to come behind her.

Culture matters. In a work environment, it can be the difference between loving a job and going on stress leave. It can be the difference between having a good, rewarding life, and going home crying again because, for the love of all things good and holy, can you seriously not go a day at work without hearing rape jokes and being sexually harassed?

The insidious thing is, more often than not, these things aren't terribly obvious. If someone calls me "darlin'", I'm not going to call HR. I'd be calling them every 5 minutes, and I really don't have that kind of time in the day. A few times I've stopped the person and told them not to call me that, but, again, sometimes the "darlin" flies out in the middle of a convo when I really don't have the time or energy to shut it down and nip it in the bud.

Then there's the sexist jokes that are trotted out. Even being the big, bad feminist that I am, it puts me in the uncomfortable position of not going along to get along. Usually I'll smile and make a joking remark about reporting the comment to HR with enough ambiguity that they're not sure if I'm serious and it tends to give them an out to laugh it off and hopefully think first in the future before making similar comments.

And there's the callers that ask me to transfer them to the IT department when I answer the phone. I am the IT department. No, this isn't an opportunity now to make another sexist joke. Oh, for the love of....

Really, what I go through in a day in a male-dominated industry doesn't look from the outside like anything at all. But it's death by a thousand papercuts. These comments, these reactions, these attitudes, these stares and rumours all add up to a toxic environment that is not welcoming to women.

Here's the thing about changing work cultures - just having people sign a sheet about sexual harassment, doesn't mean they understand it. Just having a print-out in the kitchen about workplace violence doesn't mean that anyone can recognize it when it happens. Just having a policy in place doesn't mean that the workers feel empowered to use it or know when they can or should use it.

We need to do a lot more to make work and society at large more of a safe space for people. The lack of women IT field is just one symptom of a big problem.

Why aren't more women in IT? Why don't we acknowledge that there are a lot of spaces that are still hostile to women and not gloss things over with more sexist tropes and stereotypes?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Because that's not how technology works

It's been a little while since I've ranted about IT stuff, so I'm just gonna make this entry short and sweet.

You know how in that little-known film, Hackers (it's ok if you've never seen it, I'm pretty sure it's not terribly popular), they have these great visual representation of the file systems and servers that the protagonists go through with their h@x0ring wizardry?

Tron: The Better Version Because of Angelina Jolie

Ye-ah... I hate to be a party pooper, but that's not actually what those look like.

I'm sorry. I put content or trigger warnings on my other posts - I should've put this under a spoiler or something.

And you know how in shows like CSI they can take pictures from security cameras and blow them up and use fancy algorithms to catch a clear glimpse of the killer's face? Those don't work exactly like that, either. 

If you start off with a low-resolution photo like this:

If you zoom in directly on the person's face, you're not going to get a school-photo-quality shot. You're going to end up with something more like this:

That's the guy, officer! He's the one stealing all my mushrooms and squishing my turtles!

Why does that happen? Because if the photo is taken at low resolution, then there isn't enough information in the image file to clear it up any more. It's like me telling you that my social insurance number has a 5 in it. Good luck extrapolating the rest with woefully incomplete information.

This sort of scenario comes up a lot when you work in IT. Users who have little to no idea how the technology they use works, see tv shows and movies, and assume that some of that movie magic can happen in the workplace, too.

Now, I admit, technology is advancing and Apple is doing a lot to rock people's expectations and imaginations. So, something that isn't possible today could be possible tomorrow. If you're using that new technology, and not trying to apply new expectations to software released before today's software developers were born.

Hmmm... where is the touch screen... touch screen...

If you're not technologically savvy and want to ask your IT support people if it's possible to automate your Outlook to do your taxes and take your dog out for a walk, it's worth a shot. But kindly believe them and don't treat it as a personal failing of theirs when they politely say "No. Not at all. Please stop asking. And no, you can't get your wife to fax your lunch to you."

Please and thank you.

Monday, 17 September 2012

But I'm just trying to be helpful!

Do you remember when you were little and you were so eager to help out your parent(s)/ caregivers with chores? Do you remember that your very good, and kind-hearted intentions weren't always terribly productive?

The thing is, sometimes we try to help with things that we're not entirely qualified to help with. Sometimes the results are good, and sometimes notsogood.

It's not that we don't mean well, but if we don't have the proper knowledge and experience to draw from, then it's possible to do more harm than good.

This is definitely the case when it comes to rape prevention advice. Often people with the best of intentions will perpetuate harmful, victim-blaming rape myths that do nothing to actively protect anyone and just create a more toxic environment for survivors of sexual violence.

When advice such as "don't dress like sluts if you don't want to get raped" gets passed on, the advice-giver may very well have good intentions. They may believe what they are saying, because so many other people are saying it, and because of the way our media portrays victims of sexual violence. Or, they may not entirely believe it, but they really don't like sluts and so even if their advice isn't sound, they can at least say they weren't supporting people being "slutty" (in whatever form that happens to take).

The problem is, passing on these myths prevents rape survivors from accessing justice and let rapists walk. That is not hyperbole, that is demonstrable fact. Passing on rape myths harms rape victims and helps rapists.

If you are sincere about wanting to help reduce instances of rape and reduce the risk of rape in your community, please be more picky about the advice you pass on. Here are some tangible, practical tips you can put into practice yourself and pass along that will make a positive difference.

Now, please go forth with actual safety advice that helps.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

3 Day Novel Contest 2012 - Failing like a boss

It may have seemed a bit anti-climactic for me to have been posting a half-dozen times leading up to and during the 3 Day Novel Contest, and then radio silence, aside from an article I wrote on the Monday about "What can I do, right now today, to help stop sexual violence". 

Truth is, I didn't finish. Well, I mean, I finished that blog post that provided a lot of resources and practical and tangible things people can do to help reduce sexual violence in their communities that didn't rely on victim-blaming and falling back on old, tired tropes that don't work. So, you know, I did stuff, just not what I'd hoped and intended to accomplish.

And I'm cool with it. I failed and survived. No t-shirt for this failure, just some insight in what I need to do or not do next year.

So what happened? What got in the way?

It didn't start out terribly well. On Friday night just before 11pm, as I was counting down the minutes until midnight when the contest officially started, the cat I was kitty-sitting for a friend decided to play Superman off our 8th-floor balcony. He wasn't harmed, but that scared the ever-loving shit out of me, caused me to hop in the bottle early to calm my nerves, and I was in bed before midnight.

The Saturday went ok, but my progress wasn't stellar. Partly because of the shock of the night before, and partly because I knew I couldn't drink too much or stay up too late that night since I had to be up before 6am and walk to work by 7am on Sunday morning. So I went to bed early, with a decent head-start, and got to work on time on Sunday. I completed the scheduled project at work, was home for a couple hours and was able to do a bit more writing before heading back to work for 3pm.

This is where things went downhill again. I was supposed to be at work for an hour. I was there for 8. This wasn't a matter of me not planning my time well - it was an issue of me having to stay on site with another technician for 8 hours while they fixed something that our company doesn't fix in-house.

So, I got home after 11pm, happy I would be getting paid lots of overtime, but pissed that my second day was a complete bust.

My partner had come home early, too. She got in on Sunday night around 8pm, so she was able to come to work to keep me company and then give me a ride home.

And then she arranged for us to have brunch with friends at 10:30am. And then she invited them to stay over for a BBQ in the afternoon.

 I wrote a blog post and threw in the towel.

So, next year I'll be leaving town and staying in a cottage with a friend who also writes and wants to take on the contest, with her partner there to take mine out fishing allllll day and keep her away from the cottage and out of my hair.

The thing is, I'm ok with what happened this year. It was annoying and aggravating that I didn't finish what I had set out to do, but one thing I've learned is that it's ok to fail. This isn't a new lesson, by any means. I've taken this lesson to heart for a good number of years, now, to the point I'm a pro at the fail-and-recover.

Because it's ok to put myself out there, even publicly, take a chance and fall flat on my face. I fail at things all the time. And I usually get much better at them as a result.

Take my cooking, for example. The FABulous kitchen may still be dead and buried despite my intentions to resurrect it, but I have been cooking like a boss. We've been having friends over for BBQs at least once a week, at which time I've taken the opportunity to make all sorts of different veggie concoctions and combinations wrapped in foil, in casserole dishes, in pan, and right on the grill. I just don't have photographic evidence to show for it. Or for the stuff I've burned-to-death or that tasted like ass and caused me to order pizza. I mean, that doesn't happen terribly often any more because I've made enough bad food to know generally what's gonna work together. But it still happens

Long story short, with taking chances on success I take on chances of failure. And I'm not ashamed of it or feel like I need to apologize for it. My energy is better spent moving past it and finding lolcats to highlight the hilarity and absurdity of my lost weekend of suck.

Monday, 3 September 2012

What can I do, right now today, to help stop sexual violence

It is frustrating to live in a society where sexual violence is commonplace, and feel helpless to stop it. Many people are so disgusted and frightened for themselves and those they care about, that they do not have the patience to wait for our culture to right itself. It is from this frustration, impatience, and usually from a sincere worry for women's safety, that people often will try to pass along rape prevention measures that may or may not be useful.

For example, most people seem to express relief and concern when passing along the chain letter "Through A Rapists' Eyes", for they finally have something that seems concrete and relatively easy to follow. Unfortunately, it's largely comprised of rape myths (eg. - there's no proven correlation between clothing or hairstyles and who rapists tend to target), and self-defense tips based on stranger-in-the-alley tropes that may or may not serve any use should someone be targeted.

Much of the safety advice that is given out is aimed at potential victims (quite often young women), that seems solid and constructive, but that largely ignores the social and societal context in which the violence happens, and also fails to take into consideration the practical realities of women's lives.

Fortunately, there are steps that we can start working on right now, today, to help reduce the instances of sexual violence.

We can make sure that we always get enthusiastic consent from our partner(s), that we respect their boundaries, and that we take full responsibility for our actions with/ against others. Rape is not just an act committed by strange, mentally-ill men against women. We all need to ensure we ourselves do not commit any form of sexual violence, regardless of our gender expression, of how long we've been with our partner, whether we've had sexual relations with them before, whether we mean it "as a joke", whether we've had a bad day and are looking for a pick-me-up, regardless of how turned on or sexy we're feeling. It is all of our responsibility to ensure we do not commit acts of sexual violence.

We can join in public protests and events that give support and solidarity to survivors and let perpetrators know the community is ready to have them held accountable:
We can do our part not to give rapists a social license to operate:
We can do our part not make rape jokes so that we make our culture safer for survivors and less amenable to rapists:
We can talk about and teach people about enthusiastic consent:
We can believe people when they report, and prioritize them above their abusers:
We can understand the many different forms rape takes:
We can challenge victim-blaming:
We can hold abusers accountable for the crimes they've committed, rather than let them off because their rapes weren't "rapey" enough:
We can also support women in asserting and maintaining their boundaries:
We can be more picky about the rape prevention measures we pass on:
We can learn about rape myths to make sure we're not perpetuating them:
A big part of stopping rape is ensuring that rapists are held accountable for their actions and not allowed to rape again. This can be accomplished through different ways. It can happen through the legal system if the victim chooses to report and is believed by police and the case is successfully tried and the judge enforces a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crime. It can happen by removing the supports in place for perpetrators to revictimize survivors or attack new victims (silence and rallying around the perpetrator and alienating the victim can have this effect). It can happen by empowering the survivor by letting them know they're not at fault and the crimes committed against them, whether by a stranger, a partner, a trusted authority figure, or a family member, etc, won't be disregarded, at the very least not by their support circle.

These might not have the same emotional impact of telling women to always carry handguns or mace, and some of them deal with rape after-the-fact. Sexual violence is an insidious crime that can be committed a million different ways by a million different sorts of perpetrators, which is why there's no neat and tidy cure-all for it. However, these are all very important steps I hope everyone will try to endeavour to take part in, because they can make a real, tangible, and immediate difference in people's lives.

If there are any other tips you'd like to pass on, please leave them in the comments and I'll add them.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

3 Day Novel Contest is under way!

And instead of hunkering down and contributing more to the 689 words I've written so far, I'm dilly dallying online like a punk.

I was going to start last night at midnight, but I wound up crashing at 11:45pm, instead. I think I had kept myself so excited and ramped up right up until that moment, that I'd used up all my energy trying to stop myself from exploding.

At least I'm awake and out of the apartment. I was about to make some budgie cacciatore, since Oliver decided to start blasting around 6am and hadn't stopped by the time I left at 8:30. On the plus side, I did a headcount and there are still 5 cats (4 of ours and one we're kitty-sitting).

Now I'm hunkered down in the Study Room of our apartment building, with my sexy new work laptop (an HP ProBook 4430s, instead of the clunky HP Compaq 6710b I've been lugging around since last year). I've got free coffee I filled up in the office when I got the keys for this room, some water, grapes, a peach, Pringles, and I finished a mug of oatmeal already.

Yup. Nothing else I need to do but write.

Nothing else.

Doot dee doo...

Dag nabbit.