Ruby and Women

by Gregory Brown

I usually try to shy away from opinion posts (on this blog and elsewhere). When I do make them, I usually ask a few people if they think I'm asking for trouble.

This post: I don't care if I am (but I hope I'm not).


47 Comments

Bob Shock
2007-05-05 09:09:27
How about a Ruby plugin framework for PhotoShop and other Adobe products?


A lot of women are employed in the graphics art fields. This could give them a gentle introduction to programming, and allow them to experiment with a tool they use every day.

Stephen Touset
2007-05-05 09:20:50
I just attended a local RUG meeting in Atlanta. Not only were there three or four women (out of around 40, but still...), but everyone seemed genuinely excited to have them there. Not patronizingly so, but just honest-to-goodness, "There's more than just guys here. Neat!"


If that's not an accepting community, I'm not sure what is.

Gregory
2007-05-05 09:26:29

How about a Ruby plugin framework for PhotoShop and other Adobe products?


A lot of women are employed in the graphics art fields. This could give them a gentle introduction to programming, and allow them to experiment with a tool they use every day.


Great idea Bob. It's not something that will work on its own, but I imagine appealing to fields where the balance is more even (or even tipped the other way) would help the situation.



I just attended a local RUG meeting in Atlanta. Not only were there three or four women (out of around 40, but still...), but everyone seemed genuinely excited to have them there. Not patronizingly so, but just honest-to-goodness, "There's more than just guys here. Neat!"


If that's not an accepting community, I'm not sure what is.


I think it is the outsider perception, rather than the actual acceptance that needs to be addressed.


I have to say I'm thrilled that GoRuCo had a higher-than-typical female attendance, and that our organizers panel wasn't all male.


I wonder how we could express this without it sounding like pandering... Maybe some blog posts that say "It was great to see that Foo Group was not an all male event tonight... We'd love to see more female Ruby hackers get involved..."


But I don't know how to do that right, or if it'd be effective.


Thanks both of you for sharing though.

Ted
2007-05-05 10:11:59
Depends where you look. The number of women rises sharply when you move into corporate development. The closer you move to a social environment the more women you'll find. The percentage of men rises as you move into the hobbyist development region and the computer science arena. You want more women? Change development from a one-person, work-in-a-corner, up-til-three-am endeavor to a social, pair-programming, consensus building activity.
Carla
2007-05-05 10:39:50
Just the fact that you've just put it out there helps, and takes a giant step.


Funny, I came across this while revamping the Ruby page for my employer's wiki--serendipity. :)


I think one good solution would be to act as if inclusivity were expected--no one wants to feel like a celebrated token (fill in the blank). Act as if of *course* we're out here, and it's just as cool to work with us as with The Guys, and other Guys will follow the lead...and more women will be comfortable to put their programs out there, socialize with male programmers, and make their voices heard. Don't act like one of the The Guys, and we won't feel like That Girl. Make sense? :)

Gregory
2007-05-05 11:16:45

I think one good solution would be to act as if inclusivity were expected--no one wants to feel like a celebrated token (fill in the blank). Act as if of *course* we're out here, and it's just as cool to work with us as with The Guys, and other Guys will follow the lead...and more women will be comfortable to put their programs out there, socialize with male programmers, and make their voices heard. Don't act like one of the The Guys, and we won't feel like That Girl. Make sense? :)


Totally. Thanks for your insight!

Rich Vázquez
2007-05-05 11:21:38
I think addressing this as a multi generational issue is important. Interface with groups like Latinitas, Girlstart and take advantage of packages like the following http://hacketyhack.net/


I'm starting early with my daughters, and if they don't take it up so be it. Bu they'll have been exposed and have had early success with technology.

Alyssa
2007-05-05 11:22:06
I am at a Intro Ruby 'Code Camp' as we speak. I am one of 2 women here out of 50. This is my first ever intro to Ruby and I like what I see.


I agree with Ted... social interaction may be a part of it. The loner geek stigma is one that isn't appealing to most women... even to other female programmers (but I speak from my perspective).


The problem is that we have to begin introducing these changes early within the learning process in order to undo the stigma. Grade school would be good.


The media has something to do with it as well... if the image of the programmer that is portrayed to millions was different we might see a change.

Michael Peters
2007-05-05 11:40:13
Not to disparage your efforts, but what do you think is the percentage of female readership of your blog? I'm guessing it's primarily male. Asking a bunch of geeky guys how to get girls is pretty much the definition of "barking up the wrong tree" :)


Like Carla says, "no one wants to feel like a celebrated token". I know I wouldn't want to be the target of someone's campaign to get me active in their community. I think the changes need to happen on a more basic level. Instead of thinking about how to attract women to a programming community, maybe we need to ask what we're doing that keeps them away.

bascule
2007-05-05 11:40:55
I was pretty disturbed when I went to RubyConf and they had plastered a handwritten "MEN" sign over the women's bathroom.


The only girl that I saw there was a recruiter for Microsoft who went up to ask Matz a question and started out with "I've never used Ruby but..."

Peter Cooper
2007-05-05 11:48:41
I'm just tired of hearing the same old "there is no issue", or "there is an issue but it's not up to us to deal with it" excuses.


Perhaps because it's true? I don't see any evidence that the Ruby community is biased towards males in any discriminatory way. I'd like to hear what Amy Hoy has to say about it though.


As a bona-fide "feminist" myself (in the 'equal rights for both genders' sense), I feel that as long as there's no discrimination, and that women are treated as equally as any other member of the community, there is no issue. Just because there are less females in the community doesn't mean that prospective females have been scared away. There are less men than women in nursing or childcare.. that's just how it is.


Some women find women-focused things insulting. Look at the latest post on Amy's blog for an example of that. Having special "women's" pages on Ruby sites would be more condescending than anything else IMHO, but some communities do try that type of "solution."


If genders are meant to be equal, then discrimination positive or negative is a bad step.. and I just don't see any discrimination in our community. Women are as respected and as welcome as men. Like race, it's just not an issue (I also feel we shouldn't be asking how we could get more black Ruby developers.. it's positive discrimination.. your color / race shouldn't matter!)

Gregory
2007-05-05 12:26:45
Quoting Peter Cooper:



If genders are meant to be equal, then discrimination positive or negative is a bad step.. and I just don't see any discrimination in our community. Women are as respected and as welcome as men. Like race, it's just not an issue (I also feel we shouldn't be asking how we could get more black Ruby developers.. it's positive discrimination.. your color / race shouldn't matter!)


It's not as simple as discrimination. I don't see much of it myself, but this kind of thing scares me:


Quoting Bascule:


I was pretty disturbed when I went to RubyConf and they had plastered a handwritten "MEN" sign over the women's bathroom.


The only girl that I saw there was a recruiter for Microsoft who went up to ask Matz a question and started out with "I've never used Ruby but..."


That same person(i forget her name) was also interrupted during her attempts to speak to the attendees with someone saying "Are you trying to ask us out on a date?"


That may seem tounge-in-cheek but I wonder how its received and can't possibly know, so I figured I'd ask.


Quoting Peter Cooper:


Some women find women-focused things insulting. Look at the latest post on Amy's blog for an example of that. Having special "women's" pages on Ruby sites would be more condescending than anything else IMHO, but some communities do try that type of "solution."


I agree here, I don't really find those solutions effective unless they are initiated, ran, and maintained by whoever the special interest group might be.



If genders are meant to be equal, then discrimination positive or negative is a bad step.. and I just don't see any discrimination in our community. Women are as respected and as welcome as men. Like race, it's just not an issue (I also feel we shouldn't be asking how we could get more black Ruby developers.. it's positive discrimination.. your color / race shouldn't matter!)


I understand your point here and pretty much feel that way ideally. I just feel like regardless of how egalitarian we might actually be, if we're perceived to be homogeneous from the outsider perspective, that perception may well perpetuate that stereotype.


But David Black made an interesting point about this on RubyTalk:



Also, it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something --
meaning, the idea that technical discourse is of interest only to men may result in a skewing of the population that then gets compounded over time.


I think he's probably right about that. I'm just wondering if there are ways we can identify and deal with things that might be slowing that change.


Still, it's a hard problem and it's worth talking about (if it interests you). I think ultimately it should be a non-issue, but at this point, the numbers simply point to 'something wrong' at conferences.

Gregory
2007-05-05 12:33:42
Quoting Michael Peters:

Not to disparage your efforts, but what do you think is the percentage of female readership of your blog? I'm guessing it's primarily male. Asking a bunch of geeky guys how to get girls is pretty much the definition of "barking up the wrong tree" :)


I really don't know. You're probably right, but I have no stats for that to know definitively. I guess that this is a Ruby platform, so it's only half of the wrong tree. :)



Like Carla says, "no one wants to feel like a celebrated token". I know I wouldn't want to be the target of someone's campaign to get me active in their community. I think the changes need to happen on a more basic level. Instead of thinking about how to attract women to a programming community, maybe we need to ask what we're doing that keeps them away


That's probably a more directly relevant question, you're right.
We don't need to (and shouldn't) be trying to "Sell Programming in Ruby" to target markets, be it by gender, race, etc.


Still, it is important to actively disengage stigmas when it is possible to do it. I'm hoping that the discussion here will help dig up some insight on ideas of how to do that, and I think so far it has.

Peter Cooper
2007-05-05 12:54:50
Still, it's a hard problem and it's worth talking about (if it interests you). I think ultimately it should be a non-issue, but at this point, the numbers simply point to 'something wrong' at conferences.


It certainly seems this way, but unfortunately I think there's a much bigger group involved than just coders here (let alone Ruby coders). There are a lot more men than women at general Internet or technology related conferences (or even gaming conferences) and it's often acknowledged there are about as many women on the net, or into gaming or technology, as men.


My guess is that most women have much bigger lives than us men (at least, all the women I know do!) and prefer to socialize separately from their technical or career related interests. A lot of men who enjoy technical conferences don't tend to enjoy non-technical socialization (picture the geek at the sports bar!).


Women IME tend to socialize a lot more in a general sense, and are very good at separating their hobbies from their socializing, so perhaps they don't really want to (or need to) use conferences as a social outlet? (Put it this way, no women I know ever discuss work when out, whereas us men often can't stop!)

Gregory
2007-05-05 13:04:23
Quoting Peter Cooper

It certainly seems this way, but unfortunately I think there's a much bigger group involved than just coders here (let alone Ruby coders). There are a lot more men than women at general Internet or technology related conferences (or even gaming conferences) and it's often acknowledged there are about as many women on the net, or into gaming or technology, as men.


This is definitely true. I guess I wanted to specifically think about Ruby because it is true that we won't be able to make the Big Difference in this community, but I am definitely interested in the small ones. I guess what I'm saying is that although we can't make revolutionary changes at the macro level, there are micro-level things I think would be nice. This community is known as a 'nice' programming community. How'd we do that? How can we be nice to everyone? Maybe we already are, but then, maybe we can find ways to make that clear to outsiders.



My guess is that most women have much bigger lives than us men (at least, all the women I know do!) and prefer to socialize separately from their technical or career related interests. A lot of men who enjoy technical conferences don't tend to enjoy non-technical socialization (picture the geek at the sports bar!).


Women IME tend to socialize a lot more in a general sense, and are very good at separating their hobbies from their socializing, so perhaps they don't really want to (or need to) use conferences as a social outlet? (Put it this way, no women I know ever discuss work when out, whereas us men often can't stop!)


These sociological observations are interesting for sure, and they may have some truth to them. I'm tremendously bad at putting faith into trends though...


What I'm really hoping for in this discussion here is not to come up with an answer, but just to get a bunch of thoughts out there, and then see if any common feelings resonate between members of our community.


I appreciate everyone's insight so far, and I think it's a good sign that most of this discussion has been thoughtful and kind. I'm not so sure that in certain other circles, that would be the case.

Aredridel
2007-05-06 08:02:35
I'm not sure which side of the fence I'm qualified to speak on (I'm actually transsexual), but there's something jarring about the gender ratios in general in the tech world; I've worked with one female techie (network admin) and one sort-of coder (very basic web app stuff), and that's it, in a 12-year career in the tech world.


If I go to a conference, I wonder if there will be any women. Often, I don't go.


People react to me, hearing that I'm a woman, rather strongly. "Really?!", and I get asked "Pics?" as if I have to prove it. I've definitely felt a pressure to be good at what I do, a small sort of competing, but it's been a positive influence on my code and life. It's nice to have the challenge.


I'm not sure how to solve it. I'd love to see more women (heck, it'd make the social atmosphere at conferences a lot nicer)


The only time I've seen a conference be equal was SXSW Interactive. I was seriously impressed.

Erik Abele
2007-05-06 08:44:29
There are several women-specific OSS groups already (Apache, Debian, Ubuntu, Gnome, KDE Women groups, LinuxChix, ...) so why not have a Ruby equivalent? Maybe that would be also a good time to try and finally connect all these groups a bit more... something like planet-oss-women.org - lol...


Btw, while it may seem a bit weird to have separate groups specific to women, all these groups don't intend to actually isolate contrbuting women; no, more to the contrary: to invite and encourage them to become more involved in the 'regular', male-dominated groups...


See e.g. http://wiki.apache.org/Women/ for some more details.

Gregory
2007-05-06 09:11:43
quoting Erik

There are several women-specific OSS groups already (Apache, Debian, Ubuntu, Gnome, KDE Women groups, LinuxChix, ...) so why not have a Ruby equivalent? Maybe that would be also a good time to try and finally connect all these groups a bit more... something like planet-oss-women.org - lol...


I think special interest advocacy groups are fine when they are established by people from those special interest areas. When these are set up by the majority, it becomes positive discrimination...


That having been said, If DevChix or another group wanted to start a Ruby-centric effort, I'd be happy to support them.

Steve R.
2007-05-06 11:37:52
If the community gets a reputation for being accepting, as per Stephen Touset post, the issue will resolve itself.
I think the answer is simple, and applies in most arenas, "Don't be a jerk." Extend that a little by always being courteous (to anyone, not just $MINORITY) and you have a recipe for success, in my experience.
Gregory
2007-05-06 11:47:32
Quoting Steve R:



If the community gets a reputation for being accepting, as per Stephen Touset post, the issue will resolve itself.
I think the answer is simple, and applies in most arenas, "Don't be a jerk." Extend that a little by always being courteous (to anyone, not just $MINORITY) and you have a recipe for success, in my experience.


You're probably right. I took a risk by posting this, and I wasn't sure how the discussion would go, but if you look at the overwhelmingly positive and thoughtful comment stream here, I think that alone will stand as an advertisement that we've got a friendly, open community.


You're right about it not being just relevant to $MINORITY, I picked a specific issue that was fresh on my mind, but the ultimate goal is to make it clear that we're accepting on the whole, and I think this has really helped in doing that.


Thanks for your feedback!

Audrey
2007-05-06 21:50:32
I'm involved with a couple of different technology and open source groups around town (Portland, OR), and our Ruby Brigade really has the least diverse group of people of the batch. In over a year of attending, I can think of exactly one other female who showed up for reasons other than being a girlfriend or wife who tagged along to be social (nice people, but they weren't there to talk code). Now, I find the group welcoming, so I don't think this is anything directly due to the members. But because Ruby is a relatively new language for most people outside of Japan, and because it doesn't have a high rate of adoption by large companies (unlike Perl, which is a common tool for sysadmins and web developers in a wide range of places), it hasn't really spread to the larger tech-user population yet. So the number of women involved is even smaller than that for other groups of programmers or open-source software users.


I don't have much in the way of advice on how to fix this, though, other than the obvious. Be friendly. Don't gawk. And don't just focus on "how many women went to RubyConf?" but think about the diversity of the group in a larger sense (how do different people use Ruby? how does it fit into our work and other tech needs?). In my experience, doing that will help increase the demographic diversity as well.

JEG2
2007-05-07 06:01:34
The only girl that I saw there was a recruiter for Microsoft who went up to ask Matz a question and started out with "I've never used Ruby but..."


Was her name Loni? I think it was something like that.


She wasn't the only female present. Thoughtworks had more than one female there, if memory serves. The DevChix held a lunch meeting there one day as well.

JEG2
2007-05-07 06:05:40
If genders are meant to be equal, then discrimination positive or negative is a bad step.


I'm not confident a hands-off policy is the same as "all our welcome." I agree that there comes a time when you want to stop singling people out and treat them as just part of the pack, but I think that comes after the ball is rolling a bit. I'm not sure us reaching out in this clearly unintegrated time would be such a bad thing.

bevier
2007-05-07 06:14:46
thanks for caring ;-)


Gregory Brown

So, how do we make Ruby the most broadly accepting language in terms of community?


great idea to "tap the hidden reservoir" ;-)


actually, it's not only about Ruby, it seems to be a characteristic of Open Source communities, as far as i've read, so if Ruby could become more than a "women-free zone", it might draw some crowds - but don't you fear, that others would leave?


Carla

I think one good solution would be to act as if inclusivity were expected


i guess, it's actually about "inclusivity"


recently i stumbled across an introduction like that: "i don't care about political correctness and will adress anyone as male. But certainly, women are included"


i'm an author - and i respect the power of words very, very deeply - and believe me, THAT is not an "including" sign


so start with the language. Imagine, how you, as male, would feel reading only texts like "The programmer and her work" or "The client and her problems"


Gregory Brown

If I walked into a room where 97% of the people were wearing red shirts, It'd make me uncomfortable.


how true! Think of any conference you visit, where only pin striped suits were around you!!


but joking aside - as far as i know, studies show, that women seem to be "outcome-oriented" regarding IT - and Ruby and Rails are synonyms for outcome-orientation, so maybe that could be used to invite women? Look at the usual discussions - details about Hashs and servers and variables and filters and whatever. Why not have some (ongoing, "findable") discussions about architectures and concepts and how easy it is to realize highly flexible structures in Ruby? Or why not start a Web2.0-project offering little pieces of working Rails, so that you can play with it and create (maybe stupid) mashups per Drag&Drop - and are "allowed" to check the code (you know, women are said to be curios ;-) )?


Btw, that would invite many more than just women, i guess! Because there is another "hidden reservoir", you could "tap" for Ruby: the "old hands", the cobol programmers, the RPG-programmers, the mainframe professionals. Open Source is (often) not their world, so they also feel like "not wearing red shirts" - but believe me, there are many very interested in learning the new way of life but deterred by the the difficulties of the sheer bulk and complexity - Rails could be magic for them ;-)

Ryan Leavengood
2007-05-07 07:09:34
There are several trends at work here which tend to reduce the number of women in the Ruby community and I'm not sure how much of that the community itself can fix.


Firstly, as Gregory mentioned in post itself, there is a general societal issue where women feel a stigma attached to being in technology. Heck even men do to some extent, you know the whole "lone and lonely programmer with bad hygiene hacking away in a cubicle, Mountain Dew at hand." For women it is worse though since it almost seems they are actively dissuaded from getting into technology or anything particularly science related. This is obviously not something the Ruby community can fix.


Then of course there is the general gender differences. For those women who do decide to go into technology, I think most of them see technology as a means to an end, whereas many men see it as an end in itself. For a lot of men tools are sometimes seen as toys as well, something fun to play with and possess just for its own sake. I certainly have quite a collection of tools for woodworking, etc, that I bought and yet haven't used very much. Women are more practical and pragmatic, and despite the popularity of Rails and as a result Ruby, most practical women programmers probably don't see the benefits yet. They wouldn't tend to "pick it up" just for the fun of it, like a lot men would. Personally I think this is why the open source community is mostly male, though that trend is slowly changing as open source projects become more practical and widely used. But again, not too much Ruby can do about this, besides becoming more useful and popular :)


Now what we all can do is be welcoming, but not in a condescending way. I heartily agree that to single out women, even from a positive point of view, is about as bad as discriminating against them. How about we try our best to not see gender at all, especially at live events like conferences and RUG meetings. I personally am sick of the stigma that programmers are social retards who start gawking and drooling when a women is in sight. So, how about we start with that: don't gawk and drool if you see a women at a Ruby-related event :)


As others have said, if any groups are formed for female Rubyists, it should be by female Rubyists, not by a bunch of guys hoping to actively attract more women into the community. I would hope that should such groups form, they would just provide a means for female Rubyists to socialize and meet, and not become some kind of "no boys allowed" club. The knife cuts both ways after all, and if we are truly going to become equals both sexes should have similar standards for how they treat the opposite sex.

Gregory
2007-05-07 07:34:44

I personally am sick of the stigma that programmers are social retards who start gawking and drooling when a women is in sight. So, how about we start with that: don't gawk and drool if you see a women at a Ruby-related event :)


Ha! I bet 95% of folks don't do this. Now if only we can do something about that surly 5%....

Carla
2007-05-07 07:56:09
Michael said,
Not to disparage your efforts, but what do you think is the percentage of female readership of your blog? I'm guessing it's primarily male. Asking a bunch of geeky guys how to get girls is pretty much the definition of "barking up the wrong tree" :)


Why would you guess that? Maybe such assumptions--not to pick on you at all, because I champion anyone who's honest enough to stand and just discuss people's differences in a direct, adult manner, without mistaking being tiptoe-y careful with being respectful--are part of the underlying problem.


Plus, it's not about "getting" girls. :D It's about making certain women attend conferences, co-mingle, and are heard and respected. If you get a date in the process, cool. ;)

Lori
2007-05-07 09:24:03
We have 2-3 women out at our Ruby user group every month (CRUserS - Calgary Ruby User Society), out of 10-30 attendees, but then, I helped found the group, so that may explain it.


Scheduling of meetings is sometimes an issue. Sometimes I think lunch meetings would work better for women than evening meetings, because women tend to have more rigid schedules, if there are kids involved.

amy (not hoy)
2007-05-07 20:25:30
I absolutely agree that more women will get into Ruby as it becomes more obvious how very useful it is. Women do, overall, have fewer hours available for 'hobbyist' pursuits, and we tend to shy away from technology for its own sake, even those of us who love to code. I describe this as "I'm not interested in installing Linux on my microwave just to see if I can." Still, one should not underestimate the appeal of a fun and enthusiastic culture. I've only been Ruby-ing for about a month (I'm cheating on Java), but I'm completely it love with the whole thing: both its amazing usefulness, and the funky culture. As I wrote on my blog,, how can you turn down an invitation to learn a programming language that comes from a couple of cartoon foxes? Why not be practical and fun too?


As far as how to attract more women into programming in general, I don't know. I ended up in software after falling in love with a heapsort from my husband's data structures class, and of course I think that everyone would want to program if only they could fall in love with a heapsort. I've never had a problem with being one of the few women in programming in general -- as many posters noted, most software guys are welcoming and grateful as can be for a little gender variety. I do remember once shopping at SoftPro and seeing fellow shoppers do actual double-takes when watching me pick up books about design patterns and EJBs, but they were perfectly respectful, so it didn't bother me. What has bothered me in the past is when men apologize to me for bringing up a technical topic and then address themselves only to my husband, on a topic that I may know as well or better than he does. Don't assume a woman is not interested in technology until she tells you she's not!


My impression, though, is that women who go into software are often those of us who are perfectly comfortable being in the minority, and even prefer it in some ways (not, of course, if we are being harassed and discriminated against, but that hasn't been my experience). But since I feel comfortable with the gender ratio, evangelizing to other women about the joys of software development is not my priority right now. I've been a stay-at-home-mom for a couple years now, and I don't feel a dearth of women in my life. So I have no need to socialize with other techie women, though I wouldn't turn down opportunities to do so.


Anyway, I suspect the community of actual users of Ruby is much larger than the community of visible Rubyists, and that there are probably more women than you think hiding in the shadows, failing to attend user group meetings scheduled during prime putting the kids to bed hours , and not really participating in blogs and forums again, through lack of time.


Tomorrow night my husband and I are going to our first Ruby meeting at Boston Ruby Group and I think I'll be bringing my (very easy and quiet) 4-month-old (we are leaving the four-year-old with his grandparents). I was a little unsure about attending with a baby in tow, but I'd be much less comfortable going if I had to leave her with someone and worry about her the whole time. So after tomorrow night I'll have more to say about whether the Ruby community is welcoming toward women, and all the things we come with (like nursing infants). As Lori wrote above, different meeting hours might attract more women. What about combination events for Rubyist families? -- interested grownups and kids can share Ruby stuff, and those not interested can barbecue lunch. Making events more social and family-friendly could also help convince more of the next generation of girls that software is not a lonely, isolated pursuit for misfit men.

Gregory
2007-05-07 20:37:09
Quoting Amy:



Tomorrow night my husband and I are going to our first Ruby meeting at Boston Ruby Group and I think I'll be bringing my (very easy and quiet) 4-month-old (we are leaving the four-year-old with his grandparents). I was a little unsure about attending with a baby in tow, but I'd be much less comfortable going if I had to leave her with someone and worry about her the whole time. So after tomorrow night I'll have more to say about whether the Ruby community is welcoming toward women


Thanks for your feedback Amy, it is helpful just to hear people's different takes on these things.


The Boston group is a great crowd, please tell them I said hello!


I will try to make it up there again soon...

chromatic
2007-05-07 23:03:54
Amy wrote:


Anyway, I suspect the community of actual users of Ruby is much larger than the community of visible Rubyists, and that there are probably more women than you think hiding in the shadows, failing to attend user group meetings scheduled during prime putting the kids to bed hours , and not really participating in blogs and forums again, through lack of time.


This is very insightful, and applies to many communities. Thank you for posting!

toyz
2007-05-08 16:11:34
Last year at JavaOne I looked around... About 40% of the participants were female. About 1/3 of them were asian and 1/3 middle eastern and 1/3 caucasian . I have my notes around here some place. With males... about 2/3 cacasion and 1/6 for asian and middle eastern. (just rough samples, but it was interesting)


All 4 of my bosses so far in my professional career have been women, one is a good coder. I think another submitter was right, in the corporate environment (the environment sending people to JavaOne) there is a good ratio.

Gregory Brown
2007-05-08 16:49:14

I think another submitter was right, in the corporate environment (the environment sending people to JavaOne) there is a good ratio.


That's good to know. I don't know what to make of it though, the corporate environment is not the typical Ruby environment, so I'm not sure how much that applies to our community. :-/

Yata Busai
2007-05-08 19:51:42
I bet guys that go at cooking/vacuum cleaner conferences feel the same way.


It's the equilibrium of things. Let it be.

Katje
2007-05-08 21:56:32
I'm not a Rudy Developer (although I have a massive interest in the language), but I do find it interesting that there are few women in the computer sciences. One thing I would suggest doing is reading "She's Such a Geek" edited by Annalee Newits and Charlie Anders. You can find it on Amazon. In the introduction they talk about attending conferences and being told that they are the only two women there, yet in the audience there were dozens of women.


So my question is, Are there really so few women programming? Or are they not "seen"?


I'm not trying to suggest that you people are ignoring women, but may-be they aren't being seen because people aren't looking for them.

Erwan
2007-05-09 05:22:37
I'm surprised none jumped at you for using the adverb broadly in your last sentence. In a perfect Monty Python world, your life would end at the foot of a cliff for being so sexist!


There were more girls around the facilities and demos at NeXT than anywhere else, as far as I remember. That's not only because the machines were sexy, but that helped. But there was also this guy in charge of demos, who always insisted to put as much art -art like Boticelli's, forget about mangakas, even Italian ones- in demos, press kits, material, manuals, etc. Somehow, building a database front-end on a virtual visit of the Louvre tended to attract a more seductive public than the usual Mid-Seizh Co ACME demo and its boring lists of names, portraits and facility pictures.


If you articulate tutorials and demos around simple-life, usual examples, chances are you'll rebuke most girls. Even for such things, they need to be seduced, so be BOLD -yet gallant. Be colourful. Be funny and inventive.


Professional psychological insight would be welcome here to teach us the ins and outs of female cognitive schemes. In case you haven't noticed yet, girls are much more interested in comparisons and metaphors than guys, most of the time. A typical female multidimensional approach will take into account more things than the average bloke imagines or admits. If you can't see how important it is to have an attractive example when it comes to just explain a principle, forget it. This smiling brunette who is genuinely interested in your demo can, and that's the point. So just do it.


I never found out how flowers are so important to girls, and here's the result: I'm a network administrator. Learn from that, guys. Use flowers.

Lane
2007-05-09 07:19:32
I bet guys that go at cooking/vacuum cleaner conferences feel the same way. It's the equilibrium of things. Let it be.


Now how could an adult female not feel thoroughly welcomed by such an expression? Perhaps the African American programmers here would do best to head back to their cotton-picking conferences, too.


I think it's worth considering that "the Ruby community" might not be the best scope to focus on at getting to this problem. At the very least, you'd want to compare the Ruby community with, say, that of Java, or of Linux, or whatever. Problem is, there's very active, empirical social research on this very kind of thing, and one clear conclusion is that gender disparity among IT workers has a fairly long history, one that spans the information technology industries (if not science and engineering in general). Looking at so narrow a community as that built around a single programming language might not reveal much (though it is an interesting idea).


As observed here, a gender disparity clearly exists, the only question is why (and maybe whether it should be reduced and how it could be). Mr. Busai apparently feels a gender disparity in interest and/or competence is simply innate, "built into the genes," "ordained by the Creator," or something similar. That's unfortunately all too common a perspective.


The vast literature on this subject would likely be useful in addressing the original, pragmatic question posed (How can we facilitate a shift in gender inclusion). For example, among the conclusions of this article in FirstMonday entitled A Gendered World: Students and Instructional Technologies:


Kantrowitz (1996) notes: "Focusing on the tool itself" is a male tendency and "focusing on the utility of the tool" is a female tendency. An education commission in the United States finds that although girls use new technologies as much as boys do, they are less interested in using the computer as a machine, and more interested in learning it as a tool of learning matters that interest them (Green, 2000). Women students seem to use technology in learning in a unique way, i.e., to build learning communities that allows them to eliminate barriers of isolation and competition in the learning process (Coy et al., 2001; Smith et al., 2001; Palloff and Pratt, 2001). These researchers argue that this form of learning experience adds a depth to their academic thinking and communication. In our survey, female, rather than male, students seem to be interested in technology for the reason that it helps them experience a different structure of learning -- cooperative and dialogic -- process and thereby enhance their learning of course materials.


By way of disclosure, I'm a cultural analyst of the geospatial and information sciences, and a male.

Gregory Brown
2007-05-09 07:29:58

Now how could an adult female not feel thoroughly welcomed by such an expression? Perhaps the African American programmers here would do best to head back to their cotton-picking conferences, too.


I was hoping the signal here would stay as high as the first 25+ comments, it's a shame that you bit on this flame bait. :-/



I think it's worth considering that "the Ruby community" might not be the best scope to focus on at getting to this problem. At the very least, you'd want to compare the Ruby community with, say, that of Java, or of Linux, or whatever. Problem is, there's very active, empirical social research on this very kind of thing, and one clear conclusion is that gender disparity among IT workers has a fairly long history, one that spans the information technology industries (if not science and engineering in general). Looking at so narrow a community as that built around a single programming language might not reveal much (though it is an interesting idea).


What you're saying here might be true, but I have to be honest. I don't know much about those other communities, this is the one I'm involved in and the one I'm interested in. We can certainly gain insight from other communities, as evinced by chromatic posting here, but you know, I think, if you don't start at home, theres no way you can change the world.

amy (not hoy)
2007-05-09 11:36:55
By the way, I did make it to the Boston Ruby Group last night, baby in tow. There were at least five women there (none of the others with an infant ;-).I got a few funny looks when I walked in, but it was noted that _why would have been happy to see a baby at the hackety hack talk, and she was blessedly quiet, so all went well. I even caught her writing some code later (warning: adorable baby pic at far end of link) .


Great bunch of people, very welcoming indeed, hope to make it back again soon.


It's very impressive that you posted about this and that it's gotten so much commentary and notice. Honestly, for me that's the most important thing the Ruby community can do: say "yeah, we're aware of a problem; we wish it were different; we want to be the most accepting programming community around; come check us out." You lead with the right attitude, and you make sure that people know that behaving badly about women (vacuum cleaner conferences indeed!) has been deprecated. And then you'll see, things will begin to change.

Cathy at Za
2007-05-11 15:16:43
Gregory, you nailed it with, "...it starts at a young age and the stigma is set in before we even have a chance to contest it."


I have been chewing on your comments since you posted last Saturday. I am currently in the trenches, watching as my little 5 yo techy girl learns step by step that most girls aren't interested in all-things-technical. I can see her little brain working through issues such as, "I would rather help my brother install his new video card (he may let me use the screwdriver!)" OR "Maybe I should go play in the kitchen like Cooking Momma does..." She was born a techy, wakes up in the morning asking if she can "please, please go to MALabs" (one of our computer component suppliers). The world seems to be training her out of her natural inclinations.


You know what we need? Better books. I can't find a single book that shows a technically gifted, scientifically orieneted girl as the main character. Anyone? Please?


If you can't find one, write one for people like me? O'Reilly needs to open up a kid's line sooner or later.

Just a guy
2007-05-13 00:22:27
Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe women on average don't want to go to these events, or aren't attracted to the idea. Maybe user groups are a typically male thing, and why should we expect everyone to go along with what we want?


Women are just as smart as men. If they want to go to an event, they can figure it out. If they feel awkward in a mostly-male event, they can start a female-only version.


To me, asking 'How can we get more women here', is like saying they somehow need our help to see the light.


The best thing you can do IMHO, is attract *people*. Treat the women with the same level of respect and attention as you would a man. Comments like 'Cool, there are girls here.' seems pretty juvenile, especially if it's actually said out loud.


And that goes for kids as well. I'm not sure why a child needs a techy-savy female character in a book, only because I've never really seen any sort of tech-savy character in a childs book. You take your kids, male of female, you love, protect, encourage and re-inforce them. You let them pick there interests and desires (within reason of course, no 'Knife Throwing For Dummies'). My son has played with dolls and my daughter had more monster trucks and construction vehicles than anyone. You let the childs nature take it's course.

Simona
2007-05-14 04:03:53
Hi!
We women ar more interested on creation, organisation, management, social relation, but not so much on technical fields. Mind that we also keep the house, rise children and let our partner the time and space to "play around" programming. That's why it's hard to find a woman spending whole day on linux kernel, developping a driver or hacking a network. I start programming at 12, I'm 29 now and I don't feel bored. I'm the only woman in a 20 males office in Milan, where the gap between genders is still high in the programming field. And the presure is very high because some time I have to show them that I'm as good as they are...
Charlene
2007-05-14 10:09:41
As a woman in IT, I don't have a problem with male/female ratio. I barely notice if I'm one of the few woman in the room at a technical conference or seminar. But that's me.


How to get more women into Ruby? That's another story. I don't use it because I have found that PHP works well for what I do, and coming up to speed in Ruby is more complicated than its worth. I have started to follow the tutorial for getting Ruby on Rails up and running, but have gotten stuck at one point or another, and a website deadline approaches. I get working on that deadline, and no longer remember where I was with Ruby when I've finished.


I do intend to take a technical college class on Ruby on Rails, and was planning on it next fall, but the timing of the class is not convenient to my work schedule, and I've discovered that another class I want to take, will take much more of my free time and so I'll have less time to put into the project the Ruby on Rails class will require so I can't take both at once. Maybe next Spring will be better, even though another class that I'll be taking next Spring will also take a lot of time, hopefully by then I'll be able to handle that class more efficiently.

Alys
2007-05-17 01:13:09
I'm a female programmer. I'm afraid my main reaction to your article is "there is no issue". :) I think it's nice of you to be concerned and to try to do something about it, and I didn't find your article at all offensive or patronising, but I'm not convinced there's a need for you to take any action. I've never felt uncomfortable at conferences, conventions, workplaces, or other places where there's far more men than women - why should I? If I did feel uncomfortable, it'd be because of my own internal self-confidence issues, not because an external source was making me feel bad. Women in our society (at least women who have a reasonable sense-of-self) will do what they want, regardless of how many other women are doing it. We'll be programers if we want, or haridressers if we prefer that. I've always felt rather irriated by most "women in the workplace" programmes - they imply that I need help to get where I want to be, and I certainly don't.


And anyway, no matter how "friendly" Ruby becomes to women, I'll still be a Perl programer. :)


2007-06-24 20:15:55
Ask females who use Ruby to present at your meetings. Listen to what they have to say. Value their contributions. It's that simple.


Andrew
2007-08-08 12:18:30
"some jerk might even say "HEY: WHERES YOUR RED SHIRT, MAN!", and I'd probably be made uncomfortable about that."


A valid concern by any means, but if you're talking about growing and diversifying the Ruby crowd, I suggest it's important to think about which factors of composition actually matter.


When someone walks into a room full of programmers, the question should be, "Hey, where's your Ruby?" not "Hey, where's your penis?"

Lauren Herda
2007-09-10 23:17:24
Most men, I think, are comfortable with being called a geek or an "outcast." There really aren't as many social ramifications for men when it comes to this. However, I think the worst enemy of female programmers (or computer hobbyists, even) is other women who might ostracize them for having such an interest. I think it has more to do with this than with how the programming community views women... I've rarely, if ever, seen male programmers ostracize female programmers... usually they seem excited to find that even girls take what they're interested in seriously (when many others might shun them for it).


While I wouldn't go so far as to say this isn't an issue worth worrying about, I don't think it's the Ruby community's fault. Of all the programming communities, I think Ruby's does a pretty good job of including women. That's not to say that more "incentives" or additional ways to expose women to Ruby wouldn't be helpful.


As a designer, I rather like the idea of finding ways to integrate Ruby into the creative process. Writing plugins for Photoshop with Ruby might be nice, but I think it would be rather neat to have a web design application that makes it easy to add functionality to an XHTML/CSS compliant design using Ruby, in the way that ActionScript makes Flash programming accessible.