Diversity Weblogging

Taking it personally

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The conversation (yes, that one) continued over at Scoble’s, until it looks like the thread was shut down. The comment I last tried to make was (re-created from memory so it may be spotty):

Tyme, it’s easy to manipulate the criteria io a meeting until you have exactly the audience you want, or to justify the audience you end up with. “Criteria” is a nebulous thing — and perhaps Microsoft needs to look at its ‘criteria’ for events from now on.

As for your statement, “As you can see from the discussions most women aren’t like me…heck, they don’t have a clue how many women are online and assumed they weren’t there.” You know all women online and what they think, do you?

Thomas, that’s why I didn’t want to follow Scoble’s challenge of who I wouldn’t invite. Then it becomes less a discussion about a subject, and more a discussion on personalities. Leaving that aside, I didn’t pick you — I questioned why you were there if no journalists were included. That’s when Scoble said that no journalists other than those unlike yourself, which seems to be a rather ‘limited’ and specialized criteria.

As for Mena Trott being the only woman in the area having ‘merit’, again without understanding what the criteria is, this assumption can’t help but come across as offensive. I doubt this is what Microsoft intended.

Microsoft, not Scoble. I wasn’t responding to Scoble the person, I was responding to Scoble, the evangelist and employee of Microsoft when I made my original comment–does Microsoft want women to use Longhorn? But Scoble took my comment personally. You (Thomas) took my comment personally. People thought this whole conversation was funny–black bean soup. Then the issue of quotas and ‘lowering standards’ (not to mention women not having the right ‘qualifications’ or enough ‘merit’) was brought up and I took this personally–still do, to be honest. And so on.

A chance for a good dialog on this issue and perhaps making an important point to a major company like Microsoft was lost because all god’s children took it personally.

As an aside to this topic, and perhaps worthy of separate discussion, if you’re going to write as both an employee and a private individual in the same weblog, you need to consider before responding whether a question or challenge is directed to you, the person, or to you, the company representative. Because though we may limit our challenges to each other based on personal decisions, corporate decisions are, in my opinion, fair game.

For instance, questioning the criteria a Microsoft employee uses to form an invitation only event is not the same thing as accusing Robert Scoble of being a sexist. By responding to challenges personally, Scoble makes it awkward to respond to any of the actions he takes as a Microsoft employee. This, in turn, makes it difficult to have a conversation with the company, and isn’t that the whole reason people are pushing corporations to have weblogs?

Still, not taking things personally–difficult to do when it comes to explosive and sensitive topics such as sexism and other forms of bias. This makes it that much more difficult to issue challenges to corporate or organizational behavior, particularly in this environment when there is a thin assumption that we’re all personally associated somehow. Yet I don’t know how we can be expected to make changes in the world out there when we can’t even effect changes within this shared environment because we’re too busy taking everything personally.

Not taking things personally–guilty as charged. I failed in this aspiration after reading some of the comments associated with this particular discussion.

Bob Wyman of PubSub writes:

On women at dinner: 33% of the Microsoft contingent at the SF Jim Allchin dinner was female. It wasn’t a complete stag party… Robert has made the point a number of times that at least one woman (Mena Trott) was invited. Can’t we find something more interesting to bash Microsoft about?

[Remember: Software was invented by a woman (Ada Lovelace), the term “bug” and COBOL were both primarily because of a woman (Grace Hopper). The first programmers at UPenn, etc. during WWII were women. The world of software has always had more women than most other technical fields. Until recently, the world’s second largest computer company was run by a woman. If you’re looking for sex discrimination, look in some other field. There are only slim pickings here…]

To assume that there is ‘no problem’ with diversity when it comes to gender in the computer science or engineering fields is to totally disregard a given fact: look at the speaker list of any major computer or technology conference being held this year, and if you can find at least 25% women, the event is an exception to the rule.

Rather than increasing in diversity the last two decades, the engineering and computer fields have bucked the trends in every other profession by demonstrating a decline of women entering into, or staying within, the field.

Thomas Hawk in comments suggested this could be solved if we would …just do something positive:

You want to fix the situation? Encourage your daughters to go into computer science. I know I’ve got two of my own and I will. Or how about this, donate some of your time to teaching young girls about computers and getting them excited about the prospects of working in the technology business someday. I’ve donated hundreds of hours of my own personal time this year to help provide private school scholarships and other positive recreational programs for disadvantaged, mostly black or minority, inner city youth here in the Bay Area. Now that is doing something positive.

The assumption here is that issuing challenges to organizations that show a regretable lack of diversity is not …doing something positive. If we followed this logic to its natural conclusion, we would assume that women still would not have the vote, blacks would still have to take tests before voting in certain states in the South, and the American worker would still be making $1.95 an hour for 16 hour days.

Challenging the status quo has been an accepted practice for bringing about change since governments stopped arbitrarily hanging people who disagreed with them. If an organization, such as Microsoft, is concerned about how others perceive it, it will pay attention to such challenges. Hopefully the company will then respond in a positive manner, and everyone benefits: women (and minorities) from being included; the organization from getting more diverse viewpoints.

After all, it does no good to bring more ‘young girls’ into a field where the women currently in it have less access to opportunities: whether these be for jobs, visibility as presenters at professional conferences, or networking with the movers and shakers in the industry.

As to making these challenges, well that is where I lost much of my resolve not to take anything personally in this discussion.

Nicole Simon writes in Scoble’s comments and in her weblog that yes she’s a women but not one of those:

The article and comments over at Scoble’s blog really got me angry. Why is it that every time I read or hear a woman demanding to be included just because she is a woman, I want to hold up a sign saying “I don’t belong to them”?!

Then I would suggest, Nicole that you give up the right to vote because it was that kind of woman that got your the vote. If you get pregnant with an unwanted child, it is that kind of woman that made abortion legal, so that you don’t have to go to a butcher with a kitchen knife. If you want equal access to sport, it is those kind of women who helped bring it about–not to mention equal access to the job you most likely have right at this moment. Oh, and you can also own property and do your own thing at 18 because of those kind of women

To return to Scoble’s comment thread, no one demanded to be included because they were a woman, but the issue was raised: what was the criteria for being included in this event? If it was, as Scoble claims, for those who originated software companies that promote weblogging, then why include two people from Firefox? If it wasn’t intended for jouranalists, why include someone from ITConversations?

Could it have been that Scoble off-handedly picked people he thought were influential, and by the choices he made, generated an indirect public statement that aside from Mena Trott, there were no influential women webloggers in the Silicon Valley area? How can this be, when there are several respected and, we hope, influential women in the area?

This, then, goes beyond this particular meeting and into the whole issue of visibility–of women of technology and women webloggers, both. Without accusing Scoble of personal bias (note this, please — no one is accusing Scoble of personal bias), there are consequences attached to exclusionary practices, whether they are intentional or accidental.

I liked what Mobile Jones wrote on just this:

While I don’t think this is a discussion about intentional discrimination, the reality is that discrimination needn’t be intentional to occur. The fish analogy is a good one, but I enjoyed reading about the difference between stumbling over or kicking a dog in “It’s not the thought that counts”. Intentionally kicking the dog or accidentally stumbling over the dog doesn’t matter from the pup’s point of view – both hurt. Fascinating read….

(The read Mobile mentions is Deborah Hellman’s It’s Not the Thought that Counts, which examines the relevance of ‘intent’ in regards to applying the Constitutionally guaranteed Equal Protection.)

Whether intential or not, being kicked hurts. When women are deliberately excluded, we have the law; when women are unintentially excluded, we have public pressure. So I guess, Nicole, I will continue being one of those women.

According to Chuqui at Teal Sunglasses, though, my being one of those women is ‘hurting’ the cause rather than helping:

So why is it blogdom (and Shelley is guilty of falling into this trap, also) seem to insist on defining success for women and women bloggers as acting like the guys? Women make rotten guys. If they try to compete as women would, guys write them off as weak. If they try to act like the guys do, they get written off as bitches. Men have stacked the deck, and women know this. It’s one reason why women rarely go head to head with guys on guy terms; they know the deck is stacked. So why try?

Besides, I think if you sit and talk to most women, they have different goals and values than the guys do, and definitely different than the ones the guys want to have them have.

And that’s something being lost in this discussion: too many people (including Shelley) thinking that women have to act and think like guys to be successes. there are lots of women around the blogosphere doing really great things and writing really good blogs. By saying they have to geek and act like geeks, or play in the same sandboxes as the guys do, ignores the strengths they bring to the blogosphere.

One of the issues that kept the Scoble thread alive for so long is there was a lot of debate about the criteria that Scoble used to select people. It seemed, at least to me that this kept changing as each new challenge arose. This is frustrating for those, like myself, who are trying to understand what the ‘rules’ are.

For instance, if you talk to the male political webloggers, you’ll find them saying that the reason they think women don’t get the attention is that women are not willing to step into the political fray; that we’re too adverse to confrontation. Their advice is that we need to be able to just jump in and hold our own, or we’re never really going to get the respect.

Yet what Chuqui is saying, and I’ve heard this from other guys (and women, too), is that if you do issue challenges, or pursue a discussion aggressively, get angry, fight back, or get into a person’s face in some form, you’re a bitch. Worse, that doing so somehow makes you ‘unwomanly’.

Come on, people: when are we women going to finally be able to kick off our Mary Janes? Rules. I know this is a game, but the rules keep changing. How can women hope to compete for respect (or eyeballs), when you all keep changing the rules? Or worse, define a different set of rules, just for us? Us “womanly” us?

I’m reminded of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s comment, Well-behaved women seldom make history. I would hate to think that weblogging proves the exception to this historical precedent, and the only women who are heard, or recognized, here are those who never rock the boat. This implies, then, that we have to wait politely to be given recognition, and this just tweaks my butt.

I was going to write this last night, but it’s so hot and I got a little fed up, so instead I put together a playlist and burned a CD that I call, “The Ladies for the Ladies”. Music always picks me and gives me hope, so this playlist is for the people I’m proud to call my “sisters”–regardless of their sex. In the meantime, my poor cat (cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, her, her, her, her, she, she, she, she) is collapsed on the floor and its time to finally turn on the AC.

Ride Amanda Marshall Desmond Child & Eric Bazilian Tuesday’s Child

World On Fire Sarah McLachlan Pierre Marchand Afterglow

Son of a Preacher Man Dusty Springfield Love Songs

Don’t Tell Me Avril Lavigne Evan Taubenfeld/Avril Lavigne Under My Skin

The Cat in the Window The Bird in the Sky Petula Clark Bonner & Gordon The Ultimate Petula Clark

I Believe In You Sinéad O’Connor Bob Dylan A Very Special Christmas 2

Seven Years Norah Jones Come Away With Me

This Ole House Bette Midler Hamblen, Stuart 1908-1989 Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook

Breathe (2AM) Anna Nalick Breathe (2AM) – Single

Sisters Betty and Rosemary Clooney

I Will Survive (Single) Gloria Gaynor 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Gloria Gaynor

Queen of the Night Whitney Houston The Bodyguard

The Lady Is a Tramp Lena Horne Lena Horne at MGM: Ain’ It the Truth Soundtrack

Puttin’ on the Ritz (1958) Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook

Fujiyama Mama The Wanda Jackson Show Live and Still Kickin’

Dancing in the Street (Stereo) (Single) Martha Reeves & The Vandellas 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas

Rich Girl (Radio Edit No. 1) Gwen Stefani & Eve Andre R. Young, Chantal Kreviazuk, G. Stefani, J. Bock, K. DioGuardi, M. Batson, M. Elizondo & S. HARNICK Rich Girl – Single Alternative

9 to 5 Dolly Parton Dolly Parton Dolly Parton: Greatest Hits

Hit Me With Your Best Shot Pat Benatar E. Schwartz Best Shots

Cell Block Tango Chicago, the movie soundtrack

Respect Aretha Franklin Aretha’s Gold R&B/Soul

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