Diversity Technology

Women evidently don’t code

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

If you’re an older woman in tech you’re faced with a double whammy. In the last post, we discover we’re too old to ‘hack the web’. However, we’re also not considered much of a programmer, either. Or at least, that’s what I read from the table of contents and authors for the new O’Reilly book, “Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think.”

Out of 39 authors, only one is woman, and she’s a co-author of one chapter.

Way to set a real high standard, there, O’Reilly. What can I say? When O’Reilly raises the bar on diversity, the call goes out for Limbo!

Disclaimer I have written several books for O’Reilly, and am currently working on a new one.


The organizer of the book stated (in comments, email, and post) that he contacted 15 women to write an article for the book, and only one responded affirmatively. He contacted 130 men, and 37 accepted–giving an acceptance rate for men was about 25% (I show 28%), and for women, about 6%. I would imagine since the invitations were based on how ‘well known’ and ‘popular’ the person is, the list of women invited would include the same women who are always invited to participate in these events. This probably accounts somewhat for the lack of time to be involved in a project–I don’t know, the names of the women were not divulged.

I am disappointed that more of the women didn’t participate. I’m even more disappointed if none of those who could not participate didn’t bother to recommend others in their place–heavily disappointed in this one. But I’m also disappointed that O’Reilly didn’t work with the book organizer to attempt to contact other people who might have helped the organizer determine other good candidates.

The number of men invited was 130, women 15. This means the invitation rate for women was 11% that of men, which is a small pool on which to depend. If we look at the topmost 10-11 percent of men invited (based on the same criteria of popularity as applied to women), would we still have the same 25% acceptance rate? Hard to say, because again, we don’t have all the data to extrapolate true knowledge.

I do know this: even doubling the number of women invited may have driven out 2 or 3 additional women. Not many women, true, but at least the lack of women wouldn’t be so painfully obvious. The acceptance ratio might even have been higher, if the pool of available women is extended beyond the same criteria used in every other event of this nature.

The result of this small additional effort would be that not only would women in technology have felt we achieved some fair representation in the book, the work would also have provided a more diverse point of view, and thus been a richer book. But what was it that was written in comments to this post?

While they could make an awesome book, of course, with a more diverse quality of authors, but that is not their priority; it is a waste of time, in my mind, to spend time trying to find someone of a certain gender or race, when one could get a similar result without all that effort.

The organizer of the book accepts full responsibility, but I’m not letting O’Reilly off the hook. The company knows that this is an issue that arises time and again, and should have been sensitive to such and worked with the organizer. Now, what we have is a reaffirmation–yet another reaffirmation–that whether women in tech are represented or not just isn’t that important; that working towards such is ‘not worth all that effort’.

You know what’s sadly ironic about this? The author royalties (not company profits) from the book go to Amnesty International, an organization I strongly support primarily because it is one of the few that won’t compromise when it comes to fighting for the rights of women.

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