Author Archives: terriko

About terriko

Terri has a PhD in horribleness, assuming we can all agree that web security is kind of horrible. She stopped working on skynet (err, automated program repair and AI) before robots from the future came to kill her and got a job in open source, which at least sounds safer. Now, she gets paid to break things and tell people they're wrong, and maybe help fix things so that people won't agree so readily with the first sentence of this bio in the future. Terri writes/tweets under the name terriko, enjoys making things and mentoring others and has a plain ol' home page at http://terri.toybox.ca.

Open thread: Tell us about a women-in-computing recruiting gaffe!

So, this older maternity leave graphic from Thinkprogress has been making the rounds on Twitter…

Graphic shows a ring with the weeks of paid maternity leave for various countries, highlighting the fact that the United States lags behind at 0 weeks.   Full description of the numbers here: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/05/24/489973/paid-maternity-leave-us/

Graphic shows a ring with the weeks of paid maternity leave for various countries, highlighting the fact that the United States lags behind at 0 weeks. Full description of the numbers here: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/05/24/489973/paid-maternity-leave-us/

And it reminded me of a story…

Many years ago, I won an women in computing scholarship that helped support my PhD research. It was from a large US-based company who puts a lot of work into supporting women in computing, and I owe them great thanks, but I won’t name them because this story is a bit embarrassing to them. Even a group doing their best by women in computing can make a funny mis-step!

The setting: Their team had organized a scholars retreat at their office in a major US city, including a series of interesting talks from women at the company, including both technical and more social talks. It was an amazing trip, except for one moment: One of the ladies speaking to us started extolling the virtues of their generous 6-week maternity leave policy. At least, as you can see from the graphic above, it’s generous by US standards…

But we were a group of young women from Canada. The scholarship winners started looking at each other. Should we say something? Finally, one of the students put up her hand: “You should probably know that Canada has a 50 week maternity leave policy…”

What followed was a highly amusing few minutes where a whole lot of women at this tech company learned a fascinating new thing about parenting in Canada. And an adorably awkward recovery of “well, I guess maybe those of you planning to have kids soon will be excited to know about our new Canadian office!”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heard stuff like this at recruiting events, so tell me: what amusing (or not so amusing!) gaffes have you heard from companies eager to recruit more women?

And, as the subject says, this is an open thread, so feel free to add comments on any subject at all, including past posts, things we haven’t posted on, what you’ve been thinking or doing, etc as long as they follow our comment policy.

Let’s all build a hat rack: an interview with Leslie Hawthorn

An internationally known community manager, speaker and author, Leslie Hawthorn has spent the past decade creating, cultivating and enabling open source communities. She created the world’s first initiative to involve pre-university students in open source software development, launched Google’s #2 Developer Blog, received an O’Reilly Open Source Award in 2010 and gave a few great talks on many things open source. In August 2013, she joined Elasticsearch as Director of Developer Relations, where she leads community relations efforts.

I’ve known Leslie for years now, and she is forever inspiring me with her ability not only to find visionary ways to improve the world, but also to follow-through with the rabble-rousing, cat herding, paperwork, and everything else that’s needed to take ideas from “wouldn’t it be nice if?” to “this is how we’re going to do it.”  I really enjoyed her recent blog post, A Place to Hang Your Hat, and asked Leslie if she had a bit of time for an interview to tell Geek Feminism blog readers a bit more about the idea.

For people who haven’t read your blog post yet, can you give us the point of “let’s all build a hat rack” in a few sentences?

In open source software projects – and life in general – there are any number of contributions that are underappreciated or go unacknowledged. I’m very aware of how often that underappreciation or lack of acknowledgement is due to socialization around what labor is considered valuable vs. what is largely invisible – we are taught to value and celebrate the accomplishments of white men and minimize the impact of the labor of women, people of color, transpeople, differently abled people, etc.

The let’s all build a hat rack project is a call to acknowledge all the diverse contributors and contributions in our work lives and volunteer projects, with a special emphasis on acknowledging folks who are not like you first. You can do this easily by writing them a recommendation on LinkedIn – which they can decide to approve for inclusion on their profile – or just sending them a thank you note they can use later. Bonus points for sharing your appreciation on social media using hashtag #LABHR.

Recommendation on LinkedIn: Holly Ross is, quite simply, amazing. She has completely transformed the Drupal Association into a well-run organization that is able to respond proactively, rather than reactively, to fast-paced changes in the larger Drupal ecosystem. She deeply understands the importance of communicating “early and often,” and has brought an enormous amount of transparency to our organization. She’s also extremely savvy about the unique challenges in an enormous, globally diverse, and largely unpaid community of contributors, and conscientious about how to balance that with the needs of our staff and our sponsors. I’ve never seen her back down from a challenge, and every time I have the pleasure of working with her, we always get tons of stuff done, and have tons of fun in the process.

Today, in the further adventures of #LABHR, a LinkedIn recommendation for the indefatigable @drupalhross! pic.twitter.com/b2ynru6uAa

— webchick (@webchick) February 18, 2015

What inspired the project?

It came about for a few reasons, but first and foremost I want to acknowledge Deb Nicholson for inspiring the phrase “let’s all build a hat rack.” There’s more about Deb’s contributions to my thinking and the open source community in the post, so please check it out.

Beyond that, the project came about largely due to the intersection of two frustrations: the lack of understanding people have for everything I – and friends like Deb – have accomplished, and the seemingly unending cycle of horrible news in the tech industry. While it’s important to have a clear and candid dialog about sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia and other issues impacting the diversity of the technical community, that seems to be all I am reading lately. The news is usually sensationalistic and often depressing.

I wanted to give myself and everyone I know something uplifting and useful to read, to encourage all of us to show gratitude and appreciation, and to make that show of gratitude a useful way for contributors who are usually not acknowledged to get the credit they deserve. Not just because they deserve it, but because that public acknowledgement of their work helps with acquiring jobs, landing their next big project and feeling good about continued contributions.

What tips do you have for people struggling to find someone to recommend?

You know, I figured this project would be really easy until I started writing up recommendations. To my earlier point about being socialized to see some labor as invisible or less valuable, I had no trouble thinking up white dudes who had done things I appreciate. I had to push myself harder to think about the women in my life who have made significant contributions, even though they are numerous. I can imagine that some humans, specifically male humans, are having the same issues.

So, to get started, think about things /actions / projects that have meant a great deal to you. Was there a conference you attended where you had an “ah ha” moment? Were you able to solve a problem thanks to great support on a project’s web forum or in their IRC channel? Did you read a blog post that was filled with brilliance and inspired you to be better at your craft? Cool. Were there people involved who were not like you? Great! Not sure exactly what they did? I’d call that an excellent opportunity to find out more about their involvement, thank them for educating you and their contribution, and then use that information to write a recommendation.

I’m not going to lie to anyone – you’re may have to think hard about this at first and it will be uncomfortable. You have to internalize the fact that you’ve been taught to see some very amazing work as non-existent or, at best, mere window dressing. That’s OK, too. The first step toward progress is thinking through that discomfort, then finding the humans to thank at the end of it.

If you’re still having trouble thinking of someone, that’s OK. Talk to your friends or fellow project members for suggestions. Tell them you’re thinking about participating in the #LABHR project, but need help getting started. Friends can help you think of people you’ve missed celebrating, and they may also want to join the experiment and recommend people, too!

I’ve always been impressed with your gracious ways of thanking and recommending people, so I feel like you must have some insight into writing good recommendations. Are there any suggestions you have for people who want to write a great ones?

Keep it short and simple. One of the things that makes writing recommendations hard is that we’re trying to encapsulate so many good qualities into a few short sentences. You don’t have to write down everything wonderful about the person you’re recommending, just the 3-5 ways they’ve been most impactful in your project / company / life. In a pinch, concentrate on things employers want to hear about, as that will make your recommendation most useful.

What impact do you hope to have on people’s lives with LABHR?

I’d like this experiment to give the technical community a reason to express more gratitude for all contributions. I especially want to give white male allies a clear, actionable path to improving things for underrepresented groups. Writing a recommendation will take you about 15 minutes, but it can have immeasurable impact on someone’s future career prospects.

I’m really excited to say that I’ve seen 15 permanent recommendations go by and a whole lot of shout-outs under the #LABHR hashtag so far. I hope many more recommendations will come.

Want to see more inspirational LABHR entries? Check out the #LABHR hashtag on twitter and then write your own!

LEGO “Research Institute” features women in science

LEGO made a nice little splash when they introduced a female scientist figure a little while ago, and they’ve chosen to produce a pretty neat set as a followup:

We’re very excited to release Ellen Kooijman’s Female Minifigure set, featuring 3 scientists, now entitled “Research Institute” as our next LEGO Ideas set. This awesome model is an inspiring set that offers a lot for kids as well as adults. The final design, pricing and availability are still being worked out, but it’s on track to be released August 2014. For more information, see the LEGO Ideas Blog.

"Research Institute" LEGO set, including three female scientists: the Astronomer, the Paleontologist, and the Chemist

“Research Institute” LEGO set, including three female scientists: the Astronomer, the Paleontologist, and the Chemist

Here’s a link to the LEGO ideas project. But what I found even more interesting is designer Ellen Kooijman’s blog post about the design of the set:

I had been building with LEGO bricks for 10 years since coming out of my Dark Age (LEGO-devoid period), but I had never shared any of my creations online. This project was going to be the first creation I ever shared with people other than my husband. The idea for the project came very naturally and the question how I came up with it always makes me smile. As a female scientist I had noticed two things about the available LEGO sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures. It seemed logical that I would suggest a small set of female minifigures in interesting professions to make our LEGO city communities more diverse.

As a geochemist I started with designs close to my own profession, a geologist and a chemist, and then expanded the series to include other sciences and other professions. Support rates in the first weeks after posting were slow, but at some point it started to pick up speed and many people left positive comments on the project, which encouraged me to expand and develop the project. I designed 12 little vignettes in total that consist of a minifigure with a 6×4 base plate and a corresponding setting to enhance the building experience and stimulate creativity. When designing the vignettes I tried to add things that would also make them attractive to people not necessarily interested in female figures. Especially the dinosaur skeleton turned out to be a real winner that is popular with a variety of people ranging from teenage boys, to parents, to AFOLs, etc. It is easy to imagine a different setting where the skeleton may come alive chasing the minifig or it could stimulate more building, for example a museum where it can be displayed.

Her other career women vignettes are also pretty awesome. I hope that some someday LEGO will consider producing those as well. Here’s a second science-y set to whet your appetites:

More scientist LEGO: Falconer with two birds, Geologist with compass and hammer in the field & Robotics Engineer designing a robot arm

More scientist LEGO: Falconer with two birds, Geologist with compass and hammer in the field & Robotics Engineer designing a robot arm

Visit the LEGO ideas page or the blog post about the sets to see the others!

The naming of things

This post originally appeared on Terri’s blog.

My former hackerspace, in fundraising for the new space, offered up a reward tier that let you name one of the rooms, which was a pretty fun perk. “My” room is going to be #16 on this map, the larger of the two electronics labs:

680_Haines_NW-Floorplans_numbered_mods_marked

Being the sort of person I am, I named it the “Pink Fluffy Unicorn Dancing on Rainbows Laboratory” thanks to this earwormy video. (Original song here, punk version here.)

They can call it PFUDOR labs for short or something. I actually proposed it as a joke when the campaign first was getting set up, but it got so many laughs that I decided it was actually kind of fun to have a name that really didn’t take itself too seriously.

A few days after I made the official declaration, I got an email from an adult male friend there, bemoaning my choice of names in a gentle, joking, but also a little bit sincere way.

He is a friend and I don’t want to mock his words in public, but I saw the email and thought THIS IS HOW I KNOW I HAVE CHOSEN THE RIGHT NAME. If this even a little hurts the manhood of even someone who knows me and my sense of humour, then you know that the anti-girly sentiment often prevalent in hacklabs is going to be rankled by this for as long as the space lasts. So now not only do I get to earworm my friends, but I run the risk of affronting people who haven’t quite dealt with their own minor misogyny? And maybe give the hacklab an excuse to fill a space with rainbows, with all the connotations thereof? That actually kind of sounds like a bigger social win than I was intending, but maybe, just maybe, it’ll combine with the already excellent people at Quelab to help keep the space as friendly and fun as it can be.

So next up I’m going to be buying a friend’s pony patterns, a bunch of stuff from adafruit, some fabric, and I’ll be making a hilarious e-textile pony with glowing rainbow neopixels to go in the space. Because I am not very subtle. ;)

HANNA PEACOCK's #manicuremonday photo

Handy scientists nail #ManicureMonday

Geobiologist Dr. Hope Jahren decided to challenge scientists to take part in a hashtag mostly aimed at teenaged girls: Seventeen Mag’s weekly #ManicureMonday tag. What followed was a lot of fun: people showing off their hands doing science!

Mindy Weisberger has a great summary up, but here’s 25 of my favourite photos (embedded using storify, so may not be visible in feed readers):

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#manicuremonday

Science hands! Here’s 25 of my favourites for use in a GeekFeminism story.

  1. #1
  2. #2
  3. #3
  4. #4
  5. #5
  6. Cleaner shrimp from invert lab! Getting a manicure while doing science?#manicuremonday pic.twitter.com/V9Ku3QPwNY
  7. #6
  8. #7
  9. Oh look, it’s still #ManicureMonday for #science! Here’s me lovingly caressing my new telescope w/ un-manicured hand. pic.twitter.com/mTSwLt91DG
  10. #8
  11. #9
  12. #10
  13. #11
  14. #12
  15. #13
  16. #14
  17. #15
  18. #16
  19. Oh dear. As cool as this firefly’s bioluminescent bum is, I clearly need a #ManicureMonday pic.twitter.com/O3YSFXKmqn
  20. #17
  21. #18
  22. My friend needed a #ManicureMonday when he was measuring this yellow footed antechinus in NSW #WildOz pic.twitter.com/qbaREUMVWl
  23. #19
  24. #20
  25. #21
  26. #ManicureMonday has gone to bed, but not me! I’ll be up #Science-ing for a while yet. Banal fixits here I come. pic.twitter.com/hFptcKCEnu
  27. #22
  28. Today is #ManicureMonday for science! These hands are getting ready to tag a shark. pic.twitter.com/tqeezvUW34
  29. #23
  30. #24
  31. #25
  32. And finally, here’s my own entry:
  33. Computer scientist #ManicureMonday inspired by the #Science salamanicure. This is what I’m reading for work! pic.twitter.com/rqSsr2sZdI

What’s the worst shirt design you’ve seen for little girls?

First off, here’s yet another t-shirt design that’ll have geek feminists groaning: a shirt for little girls that include a list of skills with shopping, music and dancing checked off, but not math. “Well,” the text says, “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Here’s the image:

T-shirt for girls with the following text:  My Best Subjects: [x] Shopping [x] Music [x] Dancing [ ] Math (Well, Nobody's Perfect)

T-shirt for girls with the following text:
My Best Subjects:
[x] Shopping
[x] Music
[x] Dancing
[ ] Math
(Well, Nobody’s Perfect)

I’ve seen a lot of girls-don’t-do-math themed shirts over the years. (Since I’m an adult woman with a degree in mathematics, people sometimes send me links. I guess I seem like a person with not enough annoyance in her life?) I posted about a “too pretty to do math” shirt here, some years ago:

I'm too pretty to do math (t-shirt)

I’m too pretty to do math (t-shirt)

But I’m sure I haven’t seen them all. So, let’s hear it, dear readers: what’s the worst t-shirt design you’ve seen aimed at little girls?

opw-poster-USLetter-2013-JuneSeptember

Upcoming open source opportunities: Google Summer of Code and the Outreach Program for Women

Right now, there are two big initiatives going on for those interested in getting involved in Free and Open Source Software:

banner-gsoc2013

Google Summer of Code (deadline: May 3)

Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is a global program that offers students stipends to write code for open source projects. Students work from home, paired up with at least one mentor who can guide them through the process of collaborating with their project’s community. There are a huge number of projects suggestions available, and many projects also accept new ideas from students if you think you’ve got an idea that would be great.

The stipend is $5,000 (USD) for approximately 40h/week of work from June 17 to September 23, so this is a pretty decent short-term job.

The deadline to apply is May 3rd, but if you’re interested it’s worth getting involved now because it takes time to find an organization you want to work with, meet the developers, and get help from them in producing a really terrific application.

There are 177 accepted mentoring organizations, but let me take a minute to plug the two I’m involved with:

  1. I’m the org admin for the Python Software Foundation this year. As well as sponsoring development on the Python programming language itself, we’re an umbrella organization for a large number of projects that use Python, including my own favourite open source project GNU Mailman, a variety of scientific tools, development toolkits, and more. The whole list is here. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of the mentors in person at PyCon this year, and I’m really excited to be working with them, and I think you will be too!
  2. I’m also involved with Systers, which as you may know is an organization for technical women. As one might expect, working with Systers is a great opportunity to work with technical women on an open source project! More information can be found on their wiki.

I know lots of other folk here are involved with GSoC: please feel free to advertise your projects in the comments!

Outreach program for Women (deadline: May 1)

If you’re a woman who’s interested in getting involved in open source, you may also want to check out the Outreach Program for Women which is similar to GSoC but not limited to students:

Outreach Program for Women (OPW) internships were inspired in many ways by Google Summer of Code and by how few women applied for it in the past. This was reflective of a generally low number of women participating in the FOSS development.

By having a program targeted specifically towards women, we found that we reached talented and passionate participants, who were uncertain about how to start otherwise. We hope this effort will help many women learn how exciting, varied and valuable work on FOSS projects can be and how inclusive the community really is. This program is a welcoming link that will connect you with people working on individual projects in various FOSS organizations and guide you through your first contribution.

Here’s the poster:
opw-poster-USLetter-2013-JuneSeptember

Not a student or a woman but want to get involved?

For those of you who are experienced open source contributors:

Many projects are still signing up mentors for GSoC. I usually tell people that this is a 0-10h/week volunteer job (although you do get a t-shirt!) where you get a chance to work with a protégé for the summer and show them the ropes. It can be very busy at times (especially right now when students are just starting and have lots of questions) but it’s very rewarding. Even if your project isn’t one of the ones participating this year, you can still help other projects by doing things like hanging out on IRC to help students set up their development environments.

For those of you not in open source but would like to be:

While these programs are only open to students and women, now is actually a pretty decent time to get involved with a new project because mentors are available to answer questions and students are asking lots of the questions so you don’t have to. Go join a mailing list or irc channel and see if you can follow along!

For everyone:

Please advertise these programs to students and women who might not otherwise see them! Put up posters where minorities not usually represented in open source will see them, help encourage people who might be too nervous to submit an application, and help connect these folk directly to projects whenever you can.

Got questions?

Feel free to ask in the comments below. I believe we have plenty of folk here involved with both programs who’d be happy to help you get involved!

Group of male-type and female-type body symbols, 8 male, 2 female

Re-post: How do you look for jobs in an industry known for biases against women?

During December and January, Geek Feminism is republishing some of our 2012 posts for the benefit of new and existing readers. This post originally appeared on October 11, 2012.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines: “Study shows scientists are biased against women.” Specifically, the study shows that when offered resumes that were identical except for the name on the top, scientists of all genders tended to be more willing to offer jobs (and more money) to the male candidate, indicating that they felt “him” more qualified.

I personally like this write-up from the Scientific American Blog best because it doesn’t pull any punches on what this means:

Whenever the subject of women in science comes up, there are people fiercely committed to the idea that sexism does not exist. They will point to everything and anything else to explain differences while becoming angry and condescending if you even suggest that discrimination could be a factor. But these people are wrong. This data shows they are wrong. And if you encounter them, you can now use this study to inform them they’re wrong. You can say that a study found that absolutely all other factors held equal, females are discriminated against in science. Sexism exists. It’s real. Certainly, you cannot and should not argue it’s everything. But no longer can you argue it’s nothing.

We are not talking about equality of outcomes here; this result shows bias thwarts equality of opportunity.

As a woman who plans to be on the job market next fall after my postdoc finishes, probably interviewing with the same type of academic scientist highlighted in the study, this is incredibly disheartening news. I console myself by thinking “Well, at least with all this publicity, more folk will be aware of such biases during my job hunt” but it’s meager compensation for this reminder that the deck could easily be stacked against me regardless of my personal qualifications.

So this leads me to the question: How do you look for jobs in an industry known for biases against women? (Or people of colour, or LBGT folk, or people over the age of 25, or…)

Avoiding bias is hard, and completely avoiding it is likely impossible unless you get very lucky. But are there strategies that might help? Here’s a few I’ve thought of:

1. Aim for organizations that are aware of the biases in the industry

It’s very hard to overcome biases unless you are made aware of them, so it makes sense to target companies (or banks, or academic institutions, etc.) that have made that crucial first step. But how do you find these organizations?

Check who they sponsor: I blogged about why I was so happy to be kicking off my job hunt at the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and a large reason is that those organizations were demonstrating a financial and social commitment to getting more women applicants. Check the list of sponsors for events and organizations that are known to attract people like you. For example, if you’re seeking to avoid bias against women in technology you might want to look at the sponsors not only of the Grace Hopper Celebration but also the Ada Initiative, the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology the National Centre for Women in Technology, and maybe even the BlogHer conference, among others.

Ask around: Mailing lists like Systers or Linuxchix often allow discreet postings to ask about companies (you may prefer to anonymize yourself to do the asking!), plus you can ask folk in person at conferences. You can also do some web searching to that effect: sometimes people do report bad and good incidents and name company names, and sites like GlassDoor may give you other insight into company culture. For example, at least a websearch could help you be wary of this racist game development shop that recently made the news

Check their online presence: I don’t personally assume that not having any women featured on your jobs site is necessarily a sign of much more than poor choice of clip art, but sometimes you can get a lot of insight into company culture and potential biases by seeing what image they strive to project to the world.

Check where they’re located: The location of a company will probably affect some of the subconscious biases. I haven’t read any detailed studies about this (please feel free to link them in the comments) but it seems likely that a company which is situated in an area just full of people like you is may be likely to exhibit biases. (This doesn’t always work, though — I live in predominantly hispanic New Mexico, but the clash of our proximity to the Mexican border and the cultural attitudes of the USA towards immigration leaves me hearing some appallingly racist things when I’m out in public.)

2. Don’t let the risk of bias scare you away from good jobs

What if you’re interested in smaller companies and there’s little to no way to get information about them short of setting up an interview? What if the organization you’ve always dreamed of has a bad rep? Should you steer clear?

That’s really a decision you have to make yourself based on the information you’ve gathered and your own tolerance levels, but by and large if you think the job is something you’d like to do, you should try anyhow. You can always hope that you’ll be so perfect for the job that you’ll blow away all biases!

3. Be a chameleon?

I hate hate hate giving this advice. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to admit that I am a half-white, half-asian woman who sometimes spends some effort to “pass” as white because doing so greatly limits the amount of racism that I encounter on a regular basis. If it makes you more comfortable and gets you to the interview stage where you can rock their socks off, maybe being J. Smith instead of Jane Smith on your resume is a viable strategy. There was a widely reported study that showed that traditionally African-American names on resumes garnered fewer callbacks, so there’s clearly reason to believe that disguising yourself might give you a stronger chance.

The idealist in me thinks this is awful, but the practical scientist in me figures that this is just another tool to limit the bias to which you expose yourself.

4. Be prepared to handle bias

You’re not going to be able to diffuse every possible situation, but just like it’s worth preparing well for technical interview questions, it’s worth preparing yourself for things that might go wrong in the interview. Don’t be broadsided if there’s an off-colour comment when you have lunch with the team, or if someone asks an inappropriate question — being able to handle mishaps smoothly and without blowing up will tend to make you look better, and while there are shades of tone argument involved here, I think it is true that an interview is one way that an organization is evaluating you under pressure. Handling everything, even stuff you shouldn’t have to handle, with calm professional restrain will likely make you look good. The people you deal with may have absolutely no idea of their biases and will make you out as the bad guy if you point them out, and it’s up to you whether you’re willing to work with them as an employee or you’d like to just avoid the situation all together. (And do remember that you can sometimes quietly put in a word with the recruiter or hiring manager if you turn a job down.)

Also, please don’t let the “I must be professional” over-ride your own gut instincts — a job is not worth sexual assault or other abuse and should also prepare yourself to walk away if the interview environment seems unsafe to you. I’ve never had an interview that bad myself, but I’ve seen quite a range of highly inexperienced interviewers and heard some horror stories from other women. Please be safe.

It’s really hard to strike a balance between being prepared for bias and going in combative, expecting bias and maybe seeing it where it isn’t happening. I don’t have any great suggestions there except that you should use your judgement.

More generally, there are some good coping resources and examples of bias to be found on the Geek Feminism Wiki if you want to be prepared. If you have any other suggestions of great resources or specific pages within the wiki you’d like to highlight for job-seekers, please leave comments below!


So… that’s my list thus far of tips for job hunting in a biased industry, but I’m only just starting to gear up for my latest job hunt. Lots of you have more or different experiences: what would you suggest to make the job hunt more pleasant?

PS – Since I know someone will ask: I’m currently looking for a job as a computer security researcher, open to working in academia, industry, government, wherever as long as it’s interesting. I’m not particularly looking for a job writing (although most readers here know me mostly by my writing!) although if anyone at Boing Boing is interested, I would happily make an exception for you ’cause you’re awesome.

Group of male-type and female-type body symbols, 8 male, 2 female

How do you look for jobs in an industry known for biases against women?

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines: “Study shows scientists are biased against women.” Specifically, the study shows that when offered resumes that were identical except for the name on the top, scientists of all genders tended to be more willing to offer jobs (and more money) to the male candidate, indicating that they felt “him” more qualified.

I personally like this write-up from the Scientific American Blog best because it doesn’t pull any punches on what this means:

Whenever the subject of women in science comes up, there are people fiercely committed to the idea that sexism does not exist. They will point to everything and anything else to explain differences while becoming angry and condescending if you even suggest that discrimination could be a factor. But these people are wrong. This data shows they are wrong. And if you encounter them, you can now use this study to inform them they’re wrong. You can say that a study found that absolutely all other factors held equal, females are discriminated against in science. Sexism exists. It’s real. Certainly, you cannot and should not argue it’s everything. But no longer can you argue it’s nothing.

We are not talking about equality of outcomes here; this result shows bias thwarts equality of opportunity.

As a woman who plans to be on the job market next fall after my postdoc finishes, probably interviewing with the same type of academic scientist highlighted in the study, this is incredibly disheartening news. I console myself by thinking “Well, at least with all this publicity, more folk will be aware of such biases during my job hunt” but it’s meager compensation for this reminder that the deck could easily be stacked against me regardless of my personal qualifications.

So this leads me to the question: How do you look for jobs in an industry known for biases against women? (Or people of colour, or LBGT folk, or people over the age of 25, or…)

Avoiding bias is hard, and completely avoiding it is likely impossible unless you get very lucky. But are there strategies that might help? Here’s a few I’ve thought of:

1. Aim for organizations that are aware of the biases in the industry

It’s very hard to overcome biases unless you are made aware of them, so it makes sense to target companies (or banks, or academic institutions, etc.) that have made that crucial first step. But how do you find these organizations?

Check who they sponsor: I blogged about why I was so happy to be kicking off my job hunt at the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and a large reason is that those organizations were demonstrating a financial and social commitment to getting more women applicants. Check the list of sponsors for events and organizations that are known to attract people like you. For example, if you’re seeking to avoid bias against women in technology you might want to look at the sponsors not only of the Grace Hopper Celebration but also the Ada Initiative, the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology the National Centre for Women in Technology, and maybe even the BlogHer conference, among others.

Ask around: Mailing lists like Systers or Linuxchix often allow discreet postings to ask about companies (you may prefer to anonymize yourself to do the asking!), plus you can ask folk in person at conferences. You can also do some web searching to that effect: sometimes people do report bad and good incidents and name company names, and sites like GlassDoor may give you other insight into company culture. For example, at least a websearch could help you be wary of this racist game development shop that recently made the news

Check their online presence: I don’t personally assume that not having any women featured on your jobs site is necessarily a sign of much more than poor choice of clip art, but sometimes you can get a lot of insight into company culture and potential biases by seeing what image they strive to project to the world.

Check where they’re located: The location of a company will probably affect some of the subconscious biases. I haven’t read any detailed studies about this (please feel free to link them in the comments) but it seems likely that a company which is situated in an area just full of people like you is may be likely to exhibit biases. (This doesn’t always work, though — I live in predominantly hispanic New Mexico, but the clash of our proximity to the Mexican border and the cultural attitudes of the USA towards immigration leaves me hearing some appallingly racist things when I’m out in public.)

2. Don’t let the risk of bias scare you away from good jobs

What if you’re interested in smaller companies and there’s little to no way to get information about them short of setting up an interview? What if the organization you’ve always dreamed of has a bad rep? Should you steer clear?

That’s really a decision you have to make yourself based on the information you’ve gathered and your own tolerance levels, but by and large if you think the job is something you’d like to do, you should try anyhow. You can always hope that you’ll be so perfect for the job that you’ll blow away all biases!

3. Be a chameleon?

I hate hate hate giving this advice. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to admit that I am a half-white, half-asian woman who sometimes spends some effort to “pass” as white because doing so greatly limits the amount of racism that I encounter on a regular basis. If it makes you more comfortable and gets you to the interview stage where you can rock their socks off, maybe being J. Smith instead of Jane Smith on your resume is a viable strategy. There was a widely reported study that showed that traditionally African-American names on resumes garnered fewer callbacks, so there’s clearly reason to believe that disguising yourself might give you a stronger chance.

The idealist in me thinks this is awful, but the practical scientist in me figures that this is just another tool to limit the bias to which you expose yourself.

4. Be prepared to handle bias

You’re not going to be able to diffuse every possible situation, but just like it’s worth preparing well for technical interview questions, it’s worth preparing yourself for things that might go wrong in the interview. Don’t be broadsided if there’s an off-colour comment when you have lunch with the team, or if someone asks an inappropriate question — being able to handle mishaps smoothly and without blowing up will tend to make you look better, and while there are shades of tone argument involved here, I think it is true that an interview is one way that an organization is evaluating you under pressure. Handling everything, even stuff you shouldn’t have to handle, with calm professional restrain will likely make you look good. The people you deal with may have absolutely no idea of their biases and will make you out as the bad guy if you point them out, and it’s up to you whether you’re willing to work with them as an employee or you’d like to just avoid the situation all together. (And do remember that you can sometimes quietly put in a word with the recruiter or hiring manager if you turn a job down.)

Also, please don’t let the “I must be professional” over-ride your own gut instincts — a job is not worth sexual assault or other abuse and should also prepare yourself to walk away if the interview environment seems unsafe to you. I’ve never had an interview that bad myself, but I’ve seen quite a range of highly inexperienced interviewers and heard some horror stories from other women. Please be safe.

It’s really hard to strike a balance between being prepared for bias and going in combative, expecting bias and maybe seeing it where it isn’t happening. I don’t have any great suggestions there except that you should use your judgement.

More generally, there are some good coping resources and examples of bias to be found on the Geek Feminism Wiki if you want to be prepared. If you have any other suggestions of great resources or specific pages within the wiki you’d like to highlight for job-seekers, please leave comments below!


So… that’s my list thus far of tips for job hunting in a biased industry, but I’m only just starting to gear up for my latest job hunt. Lots of you have more or different experiences: what would you suggest to make the job hunt more pleasant?

PS – Since I know someone will ask: I’m currently looking for a job as a computer security researcher, open to working in academia, industry, government, wherever as long as it’s interesting. I’m not particularly looking for a job writing (although most readers here know me mostly by my writing!) although if anyone at Boing Boing is interested, I would happily make an exception for you ’cause you’re awesome.

Quick hit: “A quantitative analysis of gender bias in quantitative biology meetings”

Plenty of us have scanned down the list of speakers at a conference and wondered why there appeared to be so few women, but when Jonathan Eisen saw the numbers at Q-BIO, he started by taking note: “Q-Bio conference in Hawaii, bring your surfboard & your Y chromosome b/c they don’t take a XX” [1]:

That is a 25:1 ratio. Pathetic. Embarrassing. The sponsors – UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences and BioCircuits Institute, San Diego Center for Systems Biology, the University of Hawaii and the Office of Naval Research – should all be ashamed.

He notes in a previous post that the ratio of men and women in biology is close to 1:1, so a ratio so far off that suggests something could use some work. But for Q-BIO, he’s taken it a step further and submitted a very appropriate abstract.

UPDATE – I have now submitted an abstract to the meeting. The abstract I submitted is available here and posted below

The probability of having one out of twenty six participants at a scientific meeting be female
A quantitative analysis of gender bias in quantitative biology meetings
Jonathan A. Eisen
University of California, Davis

(Note – new title suggested by John Hogenesch)

The title alone made me laugh. You can read the full abstract at his blog, including equations and graphs!

[1] See Tim’s comment below