Tag Archives: stemwomen

Reading: Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful To Women?

I strongly recommend this article: Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful To Women?

If you find it too long, here are a few highlights:

  • The percentage of women in tech is falling.
  • “Workplace conditions, a lack of access to key creative roles, and a sense of feeling stalled in one’s career” are the main reasons women leave.
  • “The researchers found that telling participants that their company valued merit-based decisions only increased the likelihood of their giving higher bonuses to the men.” …in an experiment designed with exactly equal male and female employee performance.
  • Unconscious bias training is ineffective.
  • Intel has had substantial success in improving diversity since it linked bonuses to explicit diversity hiring goals.

And as a bonus, yet another reason to hate whiteboard coding: “It is, for example, a hallowed tradition that in job interviews, engineers are expected to stand up and code on whiteboards, a high-pressure situation that works to the disadvantage of those who feel out of place. Indeed, whiteboard sessions are rife with opportunities for biased judgment.” I have always disliked these because the situation is so far removed from how anyone actually performs the work they’re interviewing for (unless they’ll frequently be improvising presentations in front of investors or other audiences that want to judge them instead of collaborate with them). I only use whiteboards for collaborative design work in interviews—just like I would at work.



Is it latent sexism, or…?

Here’s a case where you can’t know whether the instance indicates latent sexism, even though you know the trend does.

We received an email in response to our last press release.  The press release listed our Community Manager as the contact person and attributed a quote to me, the CTO.  The email was received by a list containing me and the Community Manager.  Yet the email was addressed directly to our Chairman (we don’t have a CEO), using his name multiple times.  The Community Manager and I happen to be female and the Chairman male.

How much should I attribute to sexism and how much to a misguided desire to bypass the provided contact point and reach the top of the food chain, even though he’s called “Chairman” and not “CEO” because he only has a couple hours a week for this project?

These sorts of things happen to women in business all the time. And it’s because of the constant barrage of instances where you can’t feel comfortable calling it out (because there are other explanations of the actions) that it’s all the more important to call it out when you’re fairly sure of a sexist motivation.

#YesAllWomen and #notallmen

I haven’t really been paying a lot of attention to the #YesAllWomen thing, because I’ve experienced these things myself. I know what it’s about and I appreciate and agree with the “campaign”, if it can be called that. The #notallmen response to #YesAllWomen puts me in mind of a personal anecdote that may reveal to you why that response is missing the point (though I wouldn’t be surprised if a faction of women-supporters had made all men out to be horrible jerkwads…I’ll condone it as a response to a vicious faction). I really think that the fair-minded men should be totally on board with this campaign! We like those guys.  And there’s a fantastic way for them to participate in making their workplaces more fair-minded.

Once upon a time…

Two geeky ladies and two geeky dudes were having a friendly chat. We women had started to talk about what to wear at work, and how our clothing choices actually change coworker reactions (how much they listen to us, how much they talk down to us, etc), even when we’ve been working there for 6+ months. We’re in different professions, so while we were clicking on the commonalities, we were trying to narrow in on the differences in our personal experiences. We weren’t vehement, vicious, or bitter about any of it, just curiously considering “what makes this tick?” Thus we each shared several anecdotes or summaries about different types of situations and outfits.

The men listened to our discussion. One asked a few questions. At the end, the other man simply said “I don’t believe that.” In four words he rejected dozens of data points from two perspectives and 30 minutes of conversation. I suddenly found him far less interesting to hang out with.

Perhaps this man doesn’t treat female coworkers differently based on their attire. But apparently he is unwilling to accept data that contradict his mental model of how the world works. He definitely would not see it if someone ELSE treated female coworkers differently based on their attire. Would he be oblivious to others treating women differently simply because they are women? Maybe not, but a surprising number of men are.

How fair-minded men can help

The #YesAllWomen “campaign” is trying to make people see that this happening to all of us very frequently! And it’s important for men to realize that we’re not accusing every single man of treating us poorly because we are female; but we are accusing most of them of either not paying attention or not speaking up when others treat us poorly. It happens so often that people get used to it or just tired of it and we don’t always notice and speak up ourselves. It’s important to make the fair-minded men aware of it. Not only can they speak up in our presence and change how things work while we’re around, but some can speak up behind the scenes in meetings of all-male managers and improve how we’re treated in ways we can’t testify to directly.

Soraya Chemaly wrote a great article about a month ago about the 10 words every girl should learn:

“Stop interrupting me.”

“I just said that.”

“No explanation needed.”

Let’s turn these same phrases into ammo for the men who notice someone else (male or female) treating a woman as inferior at work.  But let’s pretend you don’t want to sound terse and unfriendly; after all, that particular instance of maltreatment may just be the speaker having a bad day.  And you want to help out without damaging your own career.

If she is interrupted, interrupt back:

“Excuse me, but I’d like to hear the rest of what she had to say before we move on.”

If someone repeats her idea later as though it is brand new:

“It sounds like you and [her name] are on the same page!”

If someone is going through an eye-rolling explanation for a woman you know to be well-informed on that point:

“Pardon me, but I know she’s well-informed in this area.  We could save some time by skipping the explanation.”

Women in Tech

I’ve come across a lot of articles recently on women in STEM fields.  I thought I would share some of them with you guys, along with some thoughts and observations of my own.


Another article showing the gender gap is smaller than we’re commonly led to believe.  As with all such articles, it only addresses the average salary per gender.  I’d be interested to see more about the standard deviation of salary by gender.  Personally, my performance reviews have always been stellar, yet I have never been paid above the average salary for my position and region.  A huge number of my friends are also high performers in the tech industry.  But the men are paid well above the average salary, and the women…not so.  But all of my data are anecdotal.  I’d be curious to see data on a better sampling.


Advice on what to wear.  I’ve recently become very interested in this issue.  It is unfortunate, but I have noticed that even when I am a known quantity among my coworkers, my knowledge and opinions are treated differently when I dress differently.  Generally:

  • If I dress in a way that makes me look younger, some people tend to forget that I have a decade and a half of experience backing me.
  • If I dress “cute”, a small but significant subset of people will essentially pat me on the head and move on as though I didn’t say anything of value….and then repeat exactly what I said within 5 minutes as though they just came up with it.  I also get inappropriate comments and once a guy who wound up with an obsessional delusion.  Whee.
  • If I dress “sexy” I am viewed as a woman with power, to be heard, but my technical skills are less respected.  And, I get a lot of looks, but fewer inappropriate comments to my face.  Judging by lunchroom chatter I’ve overheard, “sexy” women are comment on behind their backs instead, probably because they’re more intimidating.
  • If I dress in a geeky shirt and casual pants (jeans, corduroy, etc), my technical skills are unquestioned, but I am viewed as a powerless minion.
  • And then we have all my quirky personal preferences and predilections.  The most difficult one for me is finding something stylish and respectable that I can still run around and climb things in….because I will.  It just happens.


One woman’s explanation of why she left STEM.  My favorite part of this piece is not the story itself, but the detailing of what kinds of reactions were unhelpful and what were helpful.  Even if you have your own agenda that’s affected by what this woman does, there are good and bad ways to express that.  As always, the best way is to listen, think, express your understanding, and then express your own feelings, not as though they are a universal truth or a moral obligation, but as an “I” statement.  “I am sad that you wish to leave because I feel that the field is better with you in it, but I understand why you might want to leave.”


Another woman’s perspective on being surrounded by men.  While this perspective is foreign to my personality, I think it’s a very important one that a large number of women in tech experience.  Being different is hard for most people regardless of their gender.  Even when they’re being nice, a group of men may unconsciously view a woman as an outsider and act differently in her company merely because she is female.  They may even consider it a sign of respect, but it may make her uncomfortable all the same.

I admit that I am a weirdo and have a lot more trouble with the opposite problem: being assumed to belong to a group merely because of some superficial characteristic like having the same gender.  I have often shown up at a new tech venue and had women come up to me breaking the ice by pointing out that they are also women.  My inner response the first umpteen times was, “….and that is relevant to me how???”  But I have since come to understand this need that other people have to belong to a group is similar to my desire to connect with individuals, and I try to be less confused and more welcoming, attempting to find something in common that matters to both of us.  And while I’m not a proper extrovert, I make a mental note to try to help her find commonalities with some of the male coworkers/students/conference-goers/whatever.  I haven’t figured out how to fix the overall cultural issues surrounding gender in my field, but I can do my best to help the individuals around me to interact with each other in a less divisive way.

A few good reads

U.S. Citizen

Campaign finance reform bill is a step in the right direction: http://ofby.us/about-the-bill/


Health and Lifestyle

Identical twin doctors pit sugar vs fat to increase our understanding of which is worse Moving?

There’s a service that can help you relocate.

Google is putting together a Fitness API for Android


Women in Tech

What it’s like to be a woman at a Bitcoin meetup.


Cognitive Science

Kickstarter for a biofeedback game to train you to be calm in the face of fear, called Nevermind.



The correct way to do email introductions.

Grace Hopper talk options.

A friend suggested I propose a talk at Grace Hopper this year.  She was thinking I could do a sort of introduction to data visualization (which I already outlined for my Analytics department shortly before I left).  I feel like there are more suitable women for giving a lecture on that, but maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit.  I’m sure “not giving yourself enough credit” is a common theme at Grace Hopper!

Here are some topic ideas, one educational, one personal-inspirational, and one idea-inspirational.  What do you guys think I should talk about?

Introduction to Data Visualization (Data Science track)
I’ve been paid to work on the programmatic visualization of abstract data since 2005 (doing it for personal use since…1999?), so I can give people some solid advice, but I’m not always up on the latest research.  Most of the time in industry, though, the latest sexy thing is not useful.  This is almost as true in data visualization as it is in machine learning (Seriously…the regression model or equivalent is the best choice at least 90% of the time.)  So I’m sure I can cover all the crucial pieces for an intro course.  The upside of this option is that I’ve got an outline lying around somewhere from a lecture I was going to give at my previous job.

Straight From Lower-middle Management to Tech Founder (Career track)
This would be a my personal story with observations, anecdotes and advice.  I can’t guarantee it will be a complete success story, but it’s been a very interesting process for me, and puts my previous experiences in a different light where my gender probably made more difference than I thought.  Quite relevant for the conference.

Social Analytics: So Much More We Can Do (Career or Data Science track)
Many of you know I’ve been thinking about personal social analytics for a long time, and I spent a lot of time thinking about social analytics for the dating sites I worked on at my previous company.  I can talk about the popularity of social media and the minimal analytics they provide, and of course mention Klout and its strengths and weaknesses.  And I can talk about Google Analytics and CRMs.  And then, I can talk about what isn’t on the market.

My open source project only got so far before I put it on hold in favor of other work, but I’ve been brainstorming a lot of possibilities for analyzing personal conversation history in the last decade and a half.  These ideas have all been feasible during that time, and they’re getting faster to compute and easier to scale all the time.  So why isn’t anyone making it happen?  In my experience, social media users have been very excited with any level of navel-gazing: finding the list of people who follow them that they don’t follow, or the other way around (drama!); seeing who talks to them the most on a given platform; etc.  There is a market that would pay just for increased analytical power! And they’d definitely pay to have all of their communications data integrated into one location for analysis or even plain review.

And a lot more can be done with the same data.  Merely extend it with some labels and charts and BAM! Social productivity tool.  New target market.  Extend that with some very basic recommendation capabilities and BAM! Customer management tool.  Another target market.  If I thought of all this at least a decade ago, straight from college and before I ever heard of social analytics, others must have too.  Why isn’t the market filled with options?

sudo make me a proper social analytics platform!

A few good reads

Information Visualization

Stephen Few discusses how to turn a new discipline into a proper science in To Err Is Academic.

Bokeh, a promising Python InfoVis library.

Robert Kosara discusses the difficulty for non-entrenched people interested in visualization to find out what’s currently going on in the field.  He brainstorms a new kind of blog for Visualization research, which could be applied to any research field.



I guess Lamarck wasn’t entirely wrong….



Interesting discussion of lack of women presenting STEM channels.

A discussion of differences in male and female small business owners’ hiring practices.


Data Science

Data scientist gift guide from FlowingData.

Data science surpasses statistician on Google Trends