Feature Fridays: Women in Computing
Something that I am asked a lot is why there are specific groups for Women in Computing or Latinxs in Computing. The misconception is often that certain groups are getting an unfair advantage by having extra access to mentorship opportunities, talks, hackathons, etc.
The truth of the matter is that the goal of groups like WiC (Women in Computing) is to make the technology industry more equitable - not just equal.
One of the best images that depicts the difference between equity and equality is this one:
Though I don't entirely like this image (because a lot of people like to complain that they are watching the game without paying...) the point is still made:
Equality is sameness and Equity is fairness.
Though the United States population is approximately 50.8% female, the tech-industry is lacking in a similar representation, often with a 70% : 30% ratio of male : female employees, and not only counting engineers .
This is an issue for a couple reasons:
- Research is showing that "diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth" 
- Diverse teams provide insight into a diverse market
So we might agree that we don't currently have representative teams and having diverse teams could yield better products, but does that still justify "special" groups?
One of my favorite things ever written about "silent technical privilege" is this letter published in Slate in 2014 and originally written on Professor Philip Guo's blog:
Fun Fact: Professor Guo is now a CogSci professor at UCSD!!
The truth of the matter is, each person, wether you are considered a minority of any kind, goes through difficulties and you should never feel ashamed for guidance, help, advice, support, or community that you come across.
Schools and companies will NOT take people who are unqualified, so if you get in - it's because YOU DESERVE IT.
Some people, because of their ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, citizenship, language, sexual orientation, etc, get more support. My white, male, cisgender, straight husband who has two parents with PhDs in the sciences didn't have as much to handle when going through K-16 and going through grad school as I did; a latina, female, cisgender, straight person who has a single mother from South America who started her AA when I was 2 and is now a 4th grade teacher. I had to work in high school to pay for my IB tests to be competitive in getting into UCSD where I had to work 3 jobs while taking a full-load of classes and trying to keep my grades up enough to be competitive in industry and/or grad school. While my husband was playing volleyball and working hard in school, I was trying to balance guiding my younger sister through high school, working, paying bills, working hard in school, and trying to stay physically and mentally healthy - both of which I have problems with (diagnosed with asthma, OCD, ADHD, fibromyalgia, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, nightmares, and depression). Though we both were at UCSD - and though we had "equal" opportunities - our experiences were not equitable.
To make them more equitable, I relied on a community of other women, latinx, and low SES students who understood my situation and helped me work through the hard days. I relied on a community of people who were different from me to give me opportunities and understand that I couldn't spend as much time on the assignments as they could, but didn't let me just "get by". I had to work much harder than my husband did to get to where he is. And that doesn't mean I deserve it more, it doesn't mean he deserves it less. It's just a fact that I had to work harder in an "equal" environment.
So when there was an opportunity for a "Women's only event with Google", I jumped on it. I didn't have the time or money to attend anything that wasn't on campus, in the evening. And if I did have the chance and the room was severely mixed, I was often overlooked because my male-counterparts were more confident in those settings (see Philip's post). I needed a smaller setting to be able to talk to those recruiters, not because I needed something "easier", but because I needed an equitable opportunity.
The moral of my story is: don't assume people are getting off easy. I know that "straight-cisgendered-affluent-white-men" (SCAWN) don't all have it easy, but it is important to recognize efforts by larger institutions to help as many people as possible with the little resources they have. The likelihood of finding a women in computing who isn't experiencing equity is higher than finding a SCAWN who isn't experiencing equity - so if we can only have one event sometimes we have to choose the largest population we can help.
Life, society, community - it's complex - don't assume: Ask, Experience, Inquire, and Support.
In the words of Ellen
Be kind to one another
In the words of me
YOU DESERVE WHAT YOU HAVE - I PROMISE