[kde-community] FOSDEM Organisation

Alex Merry alex.merry at kde.org
Mon Dec 8 22:02:35 GMT 2014

On Saturday 06 December 2014 18:22:45 Pau Garcia i Quiles wrote:
> People are overreacting with these CoC's (or lack of). For some reason, and
> it's not discrimination of any kind, women are by far not interested in
> technology and engineering. In the same way they are by far more interested
> in Nursery, Medicine, Psychology, Marketing & Advertising, etc than men. Is
> there a CoC about men for Nursery or Midwife conventions? I don't think so.

OK, to start with, potential attendees saying they are unwilling to attend 
unless there's a CoC should be reason enough to make one and enforce it. I 
mean, it's a (relatively) easy win, right?

Unless you actually *want* the sort of people who would violate a typical CoC 
at your conference, the only argument I have heard against them is that they 
suggest a history of problems that the CoC is needed to correct. But you can't 
deny that such a history exists - maybe not at FOSDEM (I couldn't say one way 
or the other), but at tech conferences in general. A CoC may acknowledge such 
a history (and I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing), but it also says 
that it will not be tolerated *here*.

The advantage a clear and explicit CoC (such as [0]) has over a vague 
"harassment will not be tolerated" statement, is that it allows you to be 
absolutely clear that "this incident *was* harassment" and that it is worth 
dealing with. The tendency for all parties to downplay incidents of harassment 
is well documented (eg: [1]), but even if the victim feels an incident is "not 
worth reporting", that doesn't mean it won't put them off returning the 
following year.

> For some reason, and it's not discrimination of any kind, women are by far
> not interested in technology and engineering.

So, this sort of things crops up with worrying regularity in tech circles, and 
I think is worth addressing directly.

Oddly enough, 50 years ago the situation was reversed, in the sense that 
computer programming was dominated by women, and largely considered "women's 
work" ("Programming requires a lot of patience, persistence and a capacity for 
detail and those are traits that many girls have", wrote I. J. Seligsohn in 
1967[2]). But then us men decided that this programming lark was rather fun, 
and muscled in on the territory. Suddenly, it's a man's job, dominated by men, 
and - by bizarre coincidence - women are suddenly "not interested" in it.

Of course, the gender ratio in applications to degree-level courses and to 
jobs alike are massively skewed in favour of men. And if you want to get some 
idea of why (although the factors are undoubtably complex, because it's 
incredibly rare for anything to have a single, clear cause), one can look at a 
Stanford University study done on advanced maths, science and engineering 
(MSE) students[3]: they were each shown one of two videos for an "MSE summer 
leadership conference". One depicted a fairly accurate gender ratio in MSE 
degrees of 3 men for every women. The other depicted a 50-50 split. Women who 
saw the 3-1 ratio video expressed considerably less interest in attending than 
those who saw the 50-50 video.

The take-away from this and other similar studies is that when you make women 
feel like they don't belong, such as with male-dominated or all-male speaker 
lists, they will (as a group) take that on board and be less likely to want to 
attend or submit talk proposals. And this doesn't apply only to women, of 
course: race and sexuality are among the ways lines can be drawn between who 
"belongs" and who doesn't (and don't forget, of course, that "If a maintenance 
programmer can't quote entire Monty Python movies from memory, he or she has 
no business being a programmer."[4]).

As Valorie said, if you want more female talk submissions, you have to make 
the first move - invite experienced female speakers, find out why they won't 
attend if they aren't willing to come, implement any changes arising from that 
and create a roster that says to women "you belong here: you can be part of 
this". Let's be clear: you're not going to suddenly bring about gender 
equality in computing by doing this, but it's a step in the right direction.


[0]: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy
[1]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15018720
[2]: I. J. Seligsohn, Your Career in Computer Programming, Simon & Schuster, 
[3]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17894605
[4]: https://www.thc.org/root/phun/unmaintain.html

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