Welcome!

Web 2.0 Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Natalie Lerner, Dana Gardner

Blog Feed Post

Why I’m a Feminist

By

Some people may find this an odd topic for the first post for what is ostensibly a technology blog, but they’re probably wrong. How women are perceived and treated in the technology industry is vital to its long-term health.

I’ll be honest, for much of my life I was turned off by the label feminist. I found it too easy to buy into the opposition marketing that being pro-women was somehow anti-men. The technical term for this idea is bunk, but that doesn’t stop it from being a widely held belief. What eventually led to my acceptance of that term as positive in its own right and in particular a label that applied to me was remembering that life, in most cases, is not a zero sum game. Helping women become valued members of a community does not somehow diminish my ability to be a part of that community. if anything, it enhances it.

There was recently a fire-storm on Twitter over some comments made by Paul Graham that were at least partially taken out of context. The controversy surrounding the quotes and the swift reaction to them on Twitter is interesting in itself, but I’m more interested in some of theother comments that Mr. Graham made during his conversation with the reporter.

First of all, I’d like to look at these as exemplars of opinions that I think are too widely held, and not necessarily as strongly held convictions of Mr. Graham. I take him at his word when he says that he did not believe these comments would be used for an interview-style post and that if he had, he would have spent more time ensuring that they fully reflect his beliefs.

Here is one of Mr. Graham’s quotes (emphasis added by me):

For one thing the number of women is increasing. I think there were a dozen startups with female founders in this batch. It might have been as much as a quarter. I don’t know the exact number. Someone could go and count.

That’s something I’ll probably be asking Jessica [Livingston] more eventually, but yeah.

She’ll have to go count too. There’s a couple of reasons why there are not as many female founders. There’s two questions, “Do we have some problem specifically? This you could identify by looking at the pool of YC startups versus some other comparable pool. I noticed that Andreessen Horowitz, for example, has a page on their site with their seed portfolio which are presumably all companies of similar stages, or at least the time they invested.

I happened to notice because about a quarter of them were from YC, that means three quarters of them are not, it would be interesting to go and see. If you want a pool of startups at similar stages and qualities, it would be interesting to look at that other 75 percent. If you want to know some demographic questions about founders, see what the founders are like at those other startups.

While it’s commendable that the number of YC-funded startups with female founders is increasing, I’d like to call attention to the last statement. This demonstrates a common flaw when organizations want to see how well they’re doing at attracting women. The problem with the proposed analysis is that it assumes that the best benchmark is how well other VC firms are funding women founded startups. This is flawed because you’re still limiting your analysis to the existing pool of founders/startups. The more interesting question is are there ways we could be encouraging more women to start companies who might otherwise have self-selected out of being a founder.

This is important because it demonstrates a flaw in much of the logical thinking about sexism. It seems logical to assume that if you’re not actively trying to prevent women from starting companies then sexism isn’t a factor. The problem is that many of the effects of sexism are not caused by conscious action. I’d like to think that the relatively lower percentages of women in STEM fields are not caused by people actively discouraging women to enter those fields. However, sexism is still prevalent in the form of unconscious biases. In particular, stereotypes are self-reinforcing.

If you are put into a position where you are made to identify with a group that is stereotypically less able to perform a certain task, then your performance on that task actually decreases. The converse is also true, that you can improve someone’s performance on a task by getting them to identify with a group that is stereotypically better at that task. None of this is the result of someone consciously saying, “well, I guess I’ll perform worse on this math test because I’m a women”, but that is the effective result.

One of the reasons I’m a feminist is that I believe it is not enough to simply accept the status quo. In order to make the world a more equal place to live, we have to actively fight against not just conscious acts but unconscious biases. Once you start to recognize that these biases exist, it gives you the opportunity to look for creative solutions to the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields.

Here is another quote from Mr. Graham (emphasis added by me):

You can tell what the pool of potential startup founders looks like. There’s a bunch of ways you can do it. You can go on Google and search for audience photos of PyCon, for example, which is this big Python conference.

That’s a self selected group of people. Anybody who wants to apply can go to that thing. They’re not discriminating for or against anyone. If you want to see what a cross section of programmers looks like, just go look at that or any other conference, doesn’t have to be PyCon specifically.

Or you could look at commits in open source projects. Once again self selected, these people don’t even meet in person. It’s all by email, no one can be intimidated by or feel like an outcast for something like that.

This quote has two examples of insidious thoughts that seem logical, but are built on flawed premises. The first is the assumption that simply not actively discouraging participation by women is enough for all of the potentially interested women to join in on an event. This is massively flawed for two reasons:

  1. Just because the organizers are not actively trying to discourage women, it’s very easy for their event to be less than welcoming. For example, most conferences have a number of social events where alcohol flows freely. Is it really surprising to think that women would be intimidated by such events, especially when they are clearly in the minority of participants?
  2. Potentially more insidious is the notion that just putting something out there makes it equally accessible to all groups. Sarah Milstein has a great post on this, specifically about attracting speakers from underrepresented groups to a conference, but the same ideas apply for attendees as well.

The second thing brought up by the quote is the notion that you can’t feel intimidated or outcast by e-mail or other electronic means of communication. This is just patently ridiculous and demonstrates an inability to empathize with other people. It’s well-documented how nasty comments can get on some online forums. In particular, threats of rape and death are far too prevalent to think that they could just be shrugged off.

Rather than focus only on the aggregate of documented cases, I thought I’d share some of my own experiences. Prior to joining Cloudera I had worked a lot with Apache Hadoop and other open source software, but I had not contributed directly to any projects. This was mostly driven by the difficulty in getting permission to share my work from my previous employer. Unsurprisingly, I was very excited to contribute once I got to Cloudera. I quickly learned that not all open source communities are equally inviting to new participants. While I found my patches eagerly accepted by the Apache HBase community, similar efforts to contribute to Hadoop itself were met with what I would describe as curt responses. It was easy to interpret the reactions as if I was bothering community members by my attempts to join in. Now, not everyone in the community reacted that way and I was able to overcome my feelings to still contribute, however, it was not at all what I would call an inviting experience.

If I had not been working for Cloudera, a recognized leader in the Hadoop space, I may not have felt bold enough to go through the process. It’s never easy to put oneself in a vulnerable position, but that’s exactly what you need to do to work in the open source world. You have to put your code out there and not just accept, but also invite criticism. It takes a lot of effort to not view the criticism as being levied against you, but as an attempt by the community to ensure a consistently high quality product. Some communities get this so right by not just working with new participants, but by going out of their way to be thrilled that you’re trying to participate at all. Taking that extra step goes a long way towards attracting more participation. The point is: being welcoming is a lot more than just not actively trying to discourage participation.

Ultimately, my reasons for being a feminist are pretty selfish. I find technology benefits from a wide-variety of views and opinions. The more people we bring into the STEM fields, the wider the variety and the more work I’m able to learn from and build upon. The reason why being a feminist requires direct action on my part is that even in the absence of explicit discouragement, the under-representation of women in STEM fields is not something that can just fix itself due to the unconscious biases that permeate our society.

I’m proud to call myself a feminist and you should be too.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...