After over 40 years of government driven efforts to bring more women into tech, little change has been made. I have a fundamental belief that we are approaching this effort all wrong. My argument is that the core problem is that the tech market isn’t attractive to women, and why would it be? It has a history of abusing women. And recently it has gotten much worse with technology not only being a segment that is hostile to women but the developer of tools that are used as weapons against women. This isn’t just unacceptable as behavioral issue it is incredibly stupid if we want to create a segment that has a bend of men and women in it more successfully matching the demographics that the industry serves.
Well this week Intel [Disclosure: Intel is a client of the author], Recode, Vox Media and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation banded together to launch the Hack Harassment Pledge at the code conference. Now, personally, I don’t think this should have been necessary because we are talking about our wives, sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. Unfortunately, it was necessary because too many of us guys didn’t make that connection and behaved in a reprehensible manner.
Let’s talk about making tech not only a better place for women to work, but more of a tool to help protect groups under attack -- and not a tool used to hurt them.
Tolerance to change
At the heart of this problem is a racial problem tied to intolerance for change and disruption. We tend to like things the way there are, stratify into privileged groups, and attack those who disrupt the status quo. This results in behavior that puts people who differ from the established norms at risk. Be it sex, sexual orientation, skin color, religion, or political preference -- any minority represents a risk to the status quo and the result can range from social isolation to violence targeting this minority.
Historically, because this required physical presence, law enforcement was somewhat effective at mitigating this problem, but with the advent of advanced communications technologies and social networks the capability to do harm has massively exceeded the capabilities of the most powerful law enforcement agencies and most have not only not been funded to step up to this problem, their budgets have been dramatically cut over the years making it difficult for them to even do their old jobs let alone deal with these new threats.
At the heart of this is that people that should stand up and be counted, those of influence and power, largely haven’t and the resulting perceived tolerance for this bad behavior has allowed it to proliferate. Perhaps the most egregious was Gamergate, where a woman, and her defenders, were threatened with rape and extreme physical harm for daring to object to being abused.
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