This past Saturday was international women’s day (IWD). A day that should make us men in the software industry think about why so few women study CS and why so many of those who did, never establish a career in the industry. What do we men do wrong, when women don’t feel welcome?
I won’t even mention the obvious things as sexist jargon and inappropriate conference “entertainment”. I will focus on something far more important that keeps women from advancing in our industry: mediocre men.
Yes, you read it right. I think that the situation for women in our industry has very little to do with the women. They are mostly competent but yet humble and wants to learn more. Look at a star such as Kelly Sommers. While being one of the most brilliant developers on the net, she’s also a relentless learner that asks question when there’s something she doesn’t know.
Would a man do that? Yes; some men do, but many don’t. I’ve met so many men that can’t confess that they don’t know something. Instead they are spending hours or days researching. Or in many cases spending hours or days looking busy researching, just to prove how “hard” the problem is and then hope someone will decide that it’s too hard to be worth solving. Most women ask for help when they are stuck. That’s a strength. But it is often perceived in the male dominated industry as a weakness.
How have we let it become so bad?
And what can we do about it?
Meritocracy and Code Reviews
While discussion IWD with my wife and daughter earlier to day we talked about a study on board members and the effect of affirmative action on women. The most surprising finding of that study was the effect on mediocre men. When competent women take place in the board, the competent men are unaffected. But the mediocre men can now longer hide with the other men; they are replaced. Sometimes by women. But often with more competent men. So for any male developer that’s truly competent it’s not a threat with more women getting involved. It’s an advantage.
I think that there is one practice in our industry that clearly helps in building a true meritocracy where the quality of the code is the only thing that matters: Code Reviews. With code reviews the more humble developers (most women typically fall into this category) that write great code gets recognition. The bragging developers that talks about how great code they write (mostly men) but in reality produce crappy code gets their code exposed, making it obvious that they are just talking and not producing.
We don’t need to do anything special to boost women. We need to take care of the men that are bragging without producing. Take care of the men who are talking without knowing what they are talking about. To those men any competent woman is a threat. They are the ones holding the women back. And to be honest, getting rid of those men would be an advantage for everyone.
Pushing Women out of Coding
Another thing I’ve noticed is that women are often pushed into non-coding activities. Not because they are bad coders. But because they are good at building and keeping relations with customers and other people.
Or rather; many male developers get away with bad interpersonal skills.
Why do we accept that? Why do we accept all those men that are not able to behave as adult people in the workplace? Why do we excuse men that can’t take responsibility for the relation with a customer? Why do we expect women to always be able to and ready to do that?
IWD – Focus on the mediocre men
In our industry, the focus of the international women’s day should not be the women, because they are not the problem.
The focus should be on the mediocre, bragging men blocking the way for competent people – both women and men.