Diversity Semantics

How Not to write about the semantic web

How not to attract new semantic web readers, especially among the women. Write the following:

I just thought that this is a smart strategy to make video tutorials about the Semantic Web more appealing to female* or otherwise not so super-tech-savvy* audiences: Just put a Lolcat in it!

Though the author wrote that she matches the “stereotype”, which I guess means women who aren’t tech and like LOLcats, by the time I followed the asterisks, I’d already passed from astonishment to loathing. FYI, I wrote the first book on RDF, babes.

A reference to females was unnecessary. Surprising, too, from the same company featuring an interview with Corinna Bath, author of the thesis, “Towards a De-Gendered Design of Information Technologies”.

Diversity Semantics


noticed a correlation between my last two posts on the lack of women at Ajax Experience and the seeming lack of RDF or semantic web applications. Both are based on perennial questions: Where are the women in technology? Where are the semantic web applications?

Next time I’m asked either, I think I’ll answer that the women in technology are off building RDF-based semantic web applications. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

The women in technology are off building RDF-based semantic web applications. It works better than answering yes, there are women in technology but we’re still not as visible as we should be, and yes there are semantic web and RDF-based applications, but they’re still not as visible as they could be—both of which evidently don’t play well in the dominant technical culture, because the same damn questions keep getting asked, again and again.

Diversity People Technology

Being nice: To those intimidated and silenced

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I’ve been told in comments associated with a post in the O’Reilly Women in Tech series that I’ve ‘intimidated and silenced’ others, presumably because of my wicked, evil communication skills and general, overall not niceness.

Well, huh.

Do let me know if you’ve felt ‘intimidated or silenced’ by me in the past, and I’ll be sure to send you a warm glass of milk and a cookie.

Here, here’s a fluffy kitten to hold.

I am kitten hear me squeek

(image derived from photo by fieldsbh. Creative Commons)

Diversity Technology

Being Nice

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

O’Reilly has been running a series this month titled, Women in Technology. I contributed one of the earlier essays, titled So, What?.

I had ambivalent feelings about participating, not the least of which I wasn’t sure that grouping essays by a bunch of women together for publication during the same month was necessarily a ‘good thing’ for women. It becomes a little too much, “Powderpuff O’Reilly”, a little too easy to tune out. By lack of response from most of the regular O’Reilly writers, and readers, too, this concern has been born out, but it’s been interesting to see who has participated, and what they’ve written.

I don’t agree with all that’s written, and I have more than a suspicion that most of the other participants don’t agree with me, which is good because it just confirms my own decision not to write on this topic again–at least not in this environment or these pages. Especially when I read a post about one of the essays I disagreed with most strongly.

Flock of gulls

Carmelyne wrote:

Why does everyone argue negatively? The people who made comments argued negatively with the author. I can understand then why Amy didn’t like Articles about Women in Tech…Who needs that negativity? As Naruto would put it: “I like my positive chakra”. I don’t dwell any more on the negative side of being one of the few females in a male dominated environment/career.

This is not to pick on Carmelyne, who has a nicely designed site with a fun sense of color and pattern, in addition to a valid viewpoint: why dwell on the negative? Wanting to focus on the positive is understandable. What surprised me, though, is how much Carmelyne’s writing sounded like something else I had read, this time a comment by Tantek Celik in a post by Robert Scoble.

…thanks to all the social web technologies at our disposal, perhaps for the first time in history, people that are capable, humble, and nice can find each other in such numbers as to prioritize and focus their energies on each other rather than the emotional vampires that would otherwise sap them and drag them and their projects, companies etc. down with them.

Dave Rogers also made a small note on this general movement to niceness, but then moves on to discussions of Heroes (opinions of which, I agree with) and music because, really, what more is there to say?

Birds flying

Which leads me back to not writing on “women in technology”. I always felt I had to write on this topic: to point out the conferences where women were missing, the all male publications, the exclusively male panels–not to mention the lack of opportunities for women, as well as acknowledgment of what we’ve accomplished.

It’s not with disappointment but relief that I realized that such writings in this environment don’t work, haven’t worked, and are unlikely to work in the future. There are a hundred other things I’d rather write on, and now I no longer feel like I’m betraying womankind, and my own sense of responsibility, by doing so.

This series has been remarkably freeing for me.

Birds not

Diversity Technology

So What?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine. Part of the O’Reilly Women in Tech series.

A few weeks back, the book Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think hit the streets. What a terrific concept: get several prominent programmers to write about their own unique perspective on programming and donate the money to a good cause (Amnesty International). It was, and still is, a good idea and book. What problem could I possibly have with it?

A quick look at the Table of Contents gives you a hint: of the 38 programmers who contributed to the book, only one was a woman. Just one woman. Even by today’s standards with few women staying in the field—and even fewer entering—the ratio of men to women in this book, frankly, sucks.

A discussion arose about the lack of women authors in this book, which included the fact that some of the women who were invited to contribute declined. There were the usual statements, the usual questions asked: “Give us lists of relevant women,” “Who should we have invited?” Yada, yada, yada, business as usual.

However, there were several comments that I found disquieting because they reflected other discussions we’ve had in the last year about the issue of the declining numbers of women in technology. The wording used has differed, but the views basically reduced down to, “So what?”

There is only one woman who contributed to the book. So what?

There are no women presenting at the conference. So what?

No women are listed among these top designers/developers/experts. So what?

Before this last year—regardless of the situation and the participants, regardless of the reasons people give for the growing lack of diversity in the tech field, regardless of solutions offered—one thing all participants in these discussions seemed to agree on was that this lack of women was not a good thing. Lately, though, I’m seeing a disinterest in the whole issue; an increasingly vocal opinion that it just really doesn’t matter.

I never lack for opinion, but this one has me stumped. Here we are in 2007, in an era where the numbers of women in “non-traditional” professions have been increasing, sometimes even past the 50 percent mark. No longer do women have to stay at home or choose only “soft” professions. We now have more choices, and the only limits we seemingly face are those we bring with us. Women serve in the military and die in action, lead major corporations, argue cases in the Supreme Court, and are anything from rocket scientists to neurosurgeons.

Yet in the IT fields, our numbers are dwindling. Significantly. We all have ideas why this is occurring, but nothing concrete that we can point at and say, “There, that’s why!” It’s a true puzzle. What’s more puzzling, though, is how many in the technology field just don’t care. They don’t see that a field that is becoming increasingly only male is a problem.

Is it a problem? Probably not, if only men use the gadgets, only men use the software, only men are impacted by the applications, and so on. Yet, we know that women typically use software as much or more than men. Women use the Internet, as much or more than men. Women buy and use the gadgets. What’s happening is that all the population is using an increasing number of applications that are architected, designed, developed, quality tested, and documented by only half the population. Less than half, because the tech industry lacks diversity when it comes to race, too.

Maybe I’m just being a woman and all, but I look at this and I think to myself: are we really creating the best software? Are we really designing the best gadgets, the most useful web sites, the superior applications? How can we be, if more than half the population has no input in any aspect of the development and design process?

So, so what.

I’ve long felt that the IT field is one of the few where the participants are focused on the tools, rather than the tasks. I believe that integrating IT into the engineering field as a complete and separate discipline was a huge mistake—not the least of which is that engineering is the only other discipline where the numbers of women are dropping (big hint, there).

Our field would be better if it were integrated with the librarian sciences, psychology, business, English, art—associated with tasks and topics, rather than grouped around the tools and processes. This makes even more sense when you realize that many people who enter the field do so with no degrees or with degrees in completely unrelated disciplines. It’s not unusual to hear from both sexes that they drifted into development or design because of a growing interest that was unrelated to their initial course of study. Imagine how much stronger the IT field would be if we bring in all these diverse viewpoints right from the start.

My recommendation? Break up the computer science programs, split the participants into specialized fields within other disciplines, and stop spending all our time on talking about Ruby and how cool it is. See? There’s a solution, and all it requires is basically ripping apart the entire field and rearranging the chunks.

Whatever solutions we arrive at to increase the number of women in technology, none are going to work if there isn’t general consensus that the lack of diversity is a problem. That we all, at a minimum, agree that the computer field, as it is now, is broken. That we need to find solutions. More importantly that we all have to buy into the solutions, because whatever we come up with is going to impact on all of us, including those who say, “So what?”