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

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

What do female weightlifters and female geeks have in common?

You might not think weightlifters and geeks have a huge overlap or much in common, but it turns out that because we both are interested in traditionally non-feminine things, we’re subject to the same ridiculous “OMG, you should stop what you’re doing or people won’t find you attractive!” comments from people who should mind their own businesses.

Weightlifter Zoe Smith writes a great little piece addressing some naysayers that I think will resonate with many readers here: Thanks (but no thanks…):

As Hannah pointed out earlier, we don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?! Cause you are clearly the kindest, most attractive type of man to grace the earth with your presence.

Oh but wait, you aren’t. This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.

Next time I need an example of a strong woman, I’m going to think of Zoe Smith!

(Note: Sorry, this was put together before the olympics and then not scheduled to go up for some reason, so it’s a bit past topical but I thought folk might enjoy the quote even if it is late.)

Failing at Geek Feminism

Now this post is just depressing:

I attended OSCON for the first time last year, and had some experiences that almost completely turned me off of the idea of attending this year. I was criticized to my face for wearing low necklines and skirts of a short-yet-modest length, and told that I was “sexualizing” the conference through my attire. I was lambasted for my honest answer (“I’m here with my boyfriend.”) when I was asked about my reasoning for attending, and even told that I should lie about why I was attending OSCON instead of “undermining” the feminist community. I started the conference last year with an eagerness to learn more about open source software, and I left the conference feeling unsure about whether or not I wanted to attend again in 2012.

As is this follow up:

I’d never cut it as a “geek feminist”. There are just too many rules I might want to break.

Besides, some people only consider me to be a woman “near tech” instead of a woman “in tech”. Apparently I’m a Carrie Bradshaw because I write about tech, which is probably why I’ve kept mostly silent on the topic of “geek feminism”.

The problem is that there are some really nice women and girls who are getting hurt by some members of a movement that is meant to be helpful.

Neither of these are my experiences, but I can definitely imagine this happening, and it really irritates me that it’s happening under this banner. Like anyone needs any more reasons to feel impostor syndrome.

I’ve been meaning to put together a post ways to let other people enjoy stuff that’s problematic and not being a jerky social justice warrior… but this is much worse than what I’d been seeing. Go read both posts: The Dark Side of Geek Feminism and Why I’m not a “Geek Feminist”.

If you’re doing this, cut it out.

If you see someone doing this, ask them to cut it out.

The idea with geek feminism here was to support women with geeky interests. Going out of your way to judge and bother other women doesn’t really help anyone, and certainly isn’t going to help interest anyone in further geekery. Fundamentally, you’re being as bad as the jerk who goes around declaring that some geek women aren’t geeky, and no one needs more of those dudes of any stripe. Calling people out has its place, but it’s not in the face of people who just aren’t geeky enough for thou. There’s a difference between hoping to see better representation of women at different levels of geekery on panels and in high profile spaces and just being a dick to attendees. Watch that you don’t cross that line.

Updates August 1–2: roundup of discussion [by Mary]

Note that some of these links may be triggery or upsetting, especially the Reddit threads. Additional discussion includes:

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing - Baltimore 2012 poster

Last day for Early Bird registration for the Grace Hopper Celebration

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing - Baltimore 2012 poster

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing – Baltimore 2012 poster

Today is the last day for early bird pricing for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing! It’s not the last day to sign up, but since tickets often sell out, it’s a good idea to get them ASAP anyhow!

This is a large conference filled with technical women, great science, and great fun. It’s a really different experience, going to a technical conference where the vast majority of attendees and speakers are female, and I’ve found that the quality of the talks is often a cut above the other conferences I attend because so many people here really care about communicating their research and their ideas to others. There’s lots of technical tracks, student and educator tracks, as well as career building opportunities and a great job fair where you just know the employers you meet are serious about hiring technical women!

I reminisced here about how I first decided to attend GHC, and this year I’ll be attending for my 4th straight year!

One of the cool things I’m doing this year is that I’ve joined the committee for our Open Source Day Hackathon. I’m going to be mentoring people working on infrastructure for Systers, a large online community for technical women, but there are a whole lot of really fascinating projects running that day. All of them are related to doing social good in the world, and we’re looking for technical help. There will be lots of knowledgeable helpers on hand, so it’s a great day to come out and try your hand at a new project or do your first hackathon! You can get more information about the organizations and sign up for open source day here. We had a lot of fun last year, and I’m looking forwards to this year!

So register for Grace Hopper then register for open source day and I’ll see you there!

Time Ladies: All 11 Doctors from Dr. Who, represented as women. Picture by Gladys @

Time Ladies: Adorable Gender-swapped Doctor Who

So. Darned. Cute.

Time Ladies: first 6 Doctors from Doctor who, represented as women by Gladys @

Time Ladies: Last 5 Doctors from Dr. Who, represented as women.  Picture by Gladys @

Time Ladies: Doctors from Dr. Who, represented as women. Picture by Gladys @

Picture via Gladys, whose artwork just took up some of my afternoon and I don’t mind a bit!

I should probably compile a post with some of the excellent gender swaps I’ve seen lately, but I know if I wait I might forget, and this is too cute risk forgetting.

So in preparation for a potential future post full of pictures… what’s the cutest gender swap you’ve seen lately?


Open thread: A video for the sexist gamer dudes

The line around 3:14 made me laugh, so I’m embedding this video right here:

The Border House blog has a transcript, if you are so inclined.

This is intended as an open thread, where you can talk not only about sexist gamer dudes “who still think that sandwich joke is funny” but also any older stories for which the comments are now closed, or you can bring up new stuff you think we should know about.


Two feminist comics: fighting for rights is awesome, throwing a fit over feminist frequency’s videos is not

For your viewing pleasure, here’s snippets of a couple of comics that were making the rounds:

Kate or Die! distills an argument that we’ve had a thousand times:

That’s just a single panel of a longer piece. View the rest here.

And Catiemonster summarizes what’s been going on over at Feminist Frequency:

And there’s more! With chainsaws! View the rest here.

Grace Hopper: Sorry I missed that. I was busy inventing the compiler.

Quick hit: WHO invented the internet?

I’m betting there’s some of you who’ll want to discuss this awful article that starts by claiming that MEN invented the internet. But rather than quote the irritating original article in this post, I’m going to quote part of this rebuttal from Xeni Jardin:

You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT.

Radia “Mother of the Internet” Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.

“Men are credited with inventing the internet.” There. Fixed it for you.

I ragequit this article like, 10 times, and couldn’t get past that awful opening line.

Read the rest of the rebuttal on BoingBoing, or read the original article.

So, uh, yeah. Here’s a post so you can have a comment thread on the topic that is moderated by feminists.

I AM FEMALE. Fe=Iron, Male=Man. Therefore, I AM IRONMAN.

Open Thread: I AM IRONMAN

I AM FEMALE.  Fe=Iron, Male=Man.  Therefore, I AM IRONMAN.

Text reads: I AM FEMALE. Fe=Iron, Male=Man. Therefore, I AM IRONMAN.

In honour of the superhero movie season starting up, I give you this image that’s been making the rounds.

This is an open thread, where you can feel free to talk about superheroes, hollywood interpretations thereof, older stories, share extra links, or anything else that’s on your mind.