Tag Archives: hiring

GF classifieds (January, February, and March 2015)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

GF classifieds (October, November, and December 2015)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

Libraries’ tech pipeline problem

This is cross-posted on Coral’s blog. There has been some discussion on Metafilter and on Twitter (link goes to a Storify of tweets).

“We’ve got a pipeline problem, so let’s build a better pipeline.” –Bess Sadler, Code4Lib 2014 Conference (the link goes to the video)

I’ve been thinking hard (for two years, judging by the draft date on this post) about how to grow as a programmer, when one is also a librarian. I’m talking not so much about teaching/learning the basics of coding, which is something a lot of people are working really hard on, but more about getting from “OK, I finished yet another Python/Rails/JavaScript/whatever workshop” or “OK, I’ve been through all of Code Academy/edX/whatever”—or from where I am, “OK, I can Do Interesting Things™ with code, but there are huge gaps in my tech knowledge and vocabulary”—to the point where one could get a full-time librarian-coder position.

I should add, right here: I’m no longer trying to get a librarian-coder position*. This post isn’t about me, although it is, of course, from my perspective and informed by my experiences. This post is about a field I love, which is currently shooting itself in the foot, which frustrates me.

Bess is right: libraries need 1) more developers and 2) more diversity among them. Libraries are hamstrung by expensive, insufficient vendor “solutions.” (I’m not hating on the vendors, here; libraries’ problems are complex, and fragmentation and a number of other issues make it difficult for vendors to provide really good solutions.) Libraries and librarians could be so much more effective if we had good software, with interoperable APIs, designed specifically to fill modern libraries’ needs.

Please, don’t get me wrong: I know some libraries are working on this. But they’re too few, and their developers’ demographics do not represent the demographics of libraries at large, let alone our patron bases. I argue that the dearth and the demographic skew will continue and probably worsen, unless we make a radical change to our hiring practices and training options for technical talent.

Building technical skills among librarians

The biggest issue I see is that we offer a fair number of very basic learn-to-code workshops, but we don’t offer a realistic path from there to writing code as a job. To put a finer point on it, we do not offer “junior developer” positions in libraries; we write job ads asking for unicorns, with expert- or near-expert-level skills in at least two areas (I’ve seen ones that wanted strong skills in development, user experience, and devops, for instance).

This is unfortunate, because developing real fluency with any skill, including coding, requires practicing it regularly. In the case of software development, there are things you can really only learn on the job, working with other developers (ask me about Git, sometime); only, nobody seems willing to hire for that. And, yes, I understand that there are lots of single-person teams in libraries—far more than there should be—but many open source software projects can fill in a lot of that group learning and mentoring experience, if a lone developer is allowed to participate in them on work time. (OSS is how I am planning to fill in those skills, myself.)

From what I can tell, if you’re a librarian who wants to learn to code, you generally have two really bad options: 1) learn in your spare time, somehow; or 2) quit libraries and work somewhere else until your skills are built up. I’ve been down both of those roads, and as a result I no longer have “be a [paid] librarian-developer” on my goals list.

Option one: Learn in your spare time

This option is clown shoes. It isn’t sustainable for anybody, really, but it’s especially not sustainable for people in caretaker roles (e.g. single parents), people with certain disabilities (who have less energy and free time to start with), people who need to work more than one job, etc.—that is, people from marginalized groups. Frankly, it’s oppressive, and it’s absolutely a contributing factor to libtech’s largely male, white, middle to upper-middle class, able-bodied demographics—in contrast to the demographics of the field at large (which is also most of those things, but certainly not predominantly male).

“I’ve never bought this ‘do it in your spare time’ stuff. And it turns out that doing it in your spare time is terribly discriminatory, because … a prominent aspect of oppression is that you have more to do in less spare time.” – Valerie Aurora, during her keynote interview for Code4Lib 2014 (the link goes to the video)

“It’s become the norm in many technology shops to expect that people will take care of skills upgrading on their own time. But that’s just not a sustainable model. Even people who adore late night, just-for-fun hacking sessions during the legendary ‘larval phase’ of discovering software development can come to feel differently in a later part of their lives.” – Bess Sadler, same talk as above

I tried to make it work, in my last library job, by taking one day off every other week** to work on my development skills. I did make some headway—a lot, arguably—but one day every two weeks is not enough to build real fluency, just as fiddling around alone did not help me build the skills that a project with a team would have. Not only do most people not have the privilege of dropping to 90% of their work time, but even if you do, that’s not an effective route to learning enough!

And, here, you might think of the coding bootcamps (at more than $10k per) or the (free, but you have to live in NYC) Recurse Center (which sits on my bucket list, unvisited), but, again: most people can’t afford to take three months away from work, like that. And the Recurse Center isn’t so much a school (hence the name change away from “Hacker School”) as it is a place to get away from the pressures of daily life and just code; realistically, you have to be at a certain level to get in. My point, though, is that the people for whom these are realistic options tend to be among the least marginalized in other ways. So, I argue that they are not solutions and not something we should expect people to do.

Option two: go work in tech

If you can’t get the training you need within libraries or in your spare time, it kind of makes sense to go find a job with some tech company, work there for a few years, build up your skills, and then come back. I thought so, anyway. It turns out, this plan was clown shoes, too.

Every woman I’ve talked to who has taken this approach has had a terrible experience. (I also know of a few women who’ve tried this approach and haven’t reported back, at least to me. So my data is incomplete, here. Still, tech’s horror stories are numerous, so go with me here.) I have a theory that library vendors are a safer bet and may be open to hiring newer developers than libraries currently are, but I don’t have enough data (or anecdata) to back it up, so I’m going to talk about tech-tech.

Frankly, if we expect members of any marginalized group to go work in tech in order to build up the skills necessary for a librarian-developer job, we are throwing them to the wolves. In tech, even able-bodied straight cisgender middle class white women are a badly marginalized group, and heaven help you if you’re on any other axis of oppression.

And, sure, yeah. Not all tech. I’ll agree that there are non-terrible jobs for people from marginalized groups in tech, but you have to be skilled enough to get to be that choosy, which people in the scenario we’re discussing are not. I think my story is a pretty good illustration of how even a promising-looking tech job can still turn out horrible. (TLDR: I found a company that could talk about basic inclusivity and diversity in a knowledgeable way and seemed to want to build a healthy culture. It did not have a healthy culture.)

We just can’t outsource that skill-building period to non-library tech. It isn’t right. We stand to lose good people that way.

We need to develop our own techies—I’m talking code, here, because it’s what I know, but most of my argument expands to all of libtech and possibly even to library leadership—or continue offering our patrons sub-par software built within vendor silos and patched together by a small, privileged subset of our field. I don’t have to tell you what that looks like; we live with it, already.

What to do?

I’m going to focus on what you, as an individual organization, or leader within an organization, can do to help; I acknowledge that there are some systemic issues at play, beyond what my relatively small suggestions can reach, and I hope this post gets people talking and thinking about them (and not just to wave their hands and sigh and complain that “there isn’t enough money,” because doomsaying is boring and not helpful).

First of all, when you’re looking at adding to the tech talent in your organization, look within your organization. Is there a cataloger who knows some scripting and might want to learn more? (Ask around! Find out!) What about your web content manager, UX person, etc.? (Offer!) You’ll probably be tempted to look at men, first, because society has programmed us all in evil ways (seriously), so acknowledge that impulse and look harder. The same goes for race and disability and having the MLIS, which is too often a stand-in for socioeconomic class; actively resist those biases (and we all have those biases).

If you need tech talent and can’t grow it from within your organization, sit down and figure out what you really need, on day one, versus what might be nice to have, but could realistically wait. Don’t put a single nice-to-have on your requirements list, and don’t you dare lose sight of what is and isn’t necessary when evaluating candidates.

Recruit in diverse and non-traditional spaces for tech folks — dashing off an email to Code4Lib is not good enough (although, sure, do that too; they’re nice folks). LibTechWomen is an obvious choice, as are the Spectrum Scholars, but you might also look at the cataloging listservs or the UX listservs, just to name two options. Maybe see who tweets about #libtechgender and #critlib (and possibly #lismicroaggressions?), and invite those folks to apply and to share your linted job opening with their networks.

Don’t use whiteboard interviews! They are useless and unnecessarily intimidating! They screen for “confidence,” not technical ability. Pair-programming exercises, with actual taking turns and pairing, are a good alternative. Talking through scenarios is also a good alternative.

Don’t give candidates technology vocabulary tests. Not only is it nearly useless as an evaluation tool (and a little insulting); it actively discriminates against people without formal CS education (or, cough, people with CS minors from more than a decade ago). You want to know that they can approach a problem in an organized manner, not that they can define a term that’s easily Googled.

Do some reading about impostor syndrome, stereotype threat, and responsible tech hiring. Model View Culture’s a good place to start; here is their hiring issue.

(I have a whole slew of comments about hiring, and I’ll make those—and probably repeat the list above—in another post.)

Once you have someone in a position, or (better) you’re growing someone into a position, be sure to set reasonable expectations and deadlines. There will be some training time for any tech person; you want this, because something built with enough forethought and research will be better than something hurriedly duct-taped (figuratively, you hope) together.

Give people access to mentorship, in whatever form you can. If you can’t give them access to a team within your organization, give them dedicated time to contribute to relevant OSS projects. Send them to—just to name two really inclusive and helpful conferences/communities—Code4Lib (which has regional meetings, too) and/or Open Source Bridge.

 

So… that’s what I’ve got. What have I missed? What else should we be doing to help fix this gap?

 

* In truth, as excited as I am about starting my own business, I wouldn’t turn down an interview for a librarian-coder position local to Pittsburgh, but 1) it doesn’t feel like the wind is blowing that way, here, and 2) I’m in the midst of a whole slew of posts that may make me unemployable, anyway ;) (back to the text)

** To be fair, I did get to do some development on the clock, there. Unfortunately, because I wore so many hats, and other hats grew more quickly, it was not a large part of my work. Still, I got most of my PHP experience there, and I’m glad I had the opportunity. (back to the text)

 

GF classifieds (July, August, and September 2015)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

GF classifieds (April, May, and June 2015)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

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.

GF classifieds (January, February, and March 2015)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds – now quarterly! If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

GF classifieds (October, November, and December 2014)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds – now quarterly! If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

I take it wearing cat ears wouldn’t help?

Moskowitz

A Twitter friend of mine linked to a cute post that Asana — a startup that makes collaboration software — has on their web site. It’s a joke proposal for furnishing the office with kittens. This is a nice type of humor because it doesn’t rely on making fun of anyone. I would have appreciated it, if not for one thing.

Back in June 2013, I got a recruiter email from Asana. I was already considering leaving my job at the time, and it seemed like the company was doing something pretty cool. I asked whether they offered trans-inclusive benefits. The recruiter looked into it for me, and came back with the following answer:

“We researched this and went back and forth with the insurance company and our insurance broker. It appears we probably do not have the coverage you are looking for. Sorry about that. I would have liked to be able to talk.”

So that was it. I would have considered the job otherwise, but not if I was clearly going to be a second-class employee. There was nothing particularly unusual about this interaction. As trans people, we’re not a protected class under US law, so it’s okay for insurance companies to deny us medically necessary care as long as it’s care that only a trans person would need. This isn’t because insurance executives actively hate us or something like that — no, it’s because of something worse. They know that because the American public considers us subhuman, they can get away with cutting costs by denying us health care — just because we happen to be in a politically unpopular group. To me, that’s worse than being actively hated.

Is this the fault of a small tech startup? No, of course not. But at the same time, many companies — big and small — have found ways to be fair and just in how they provide benefits to employees. Generally, this just means negotiating a deal with an insurance broker to add a rider for trans-related care. It should be the default, but in the meantime, negotiating that deal is the right thing to do. Engineering is supposed to be about solving problems, not reassigning blame so as to accumulate more of them.

Negotiating a better insurance plan is also the smart thing to do, because at a time when it seems widely accepted that there’s a shortage of tech talent, turning somebody away because a doctor assigned them an incorrect sex category at birth makes no sense; being trans has no bearing on anybody’s ability to write software. And even when you are not actively discriminating against trans people, saying (explicitly or tacitly) “it’s not worth our time to treat trans employees the same way as everybody else” is effectively equivalent to active discrimination.

So when I saw that “kittens” link, this is what I thought about. Somebody at Asana had enough time to write a cute, silly blog post — that nevertheless must have taken some effort — on the clock. And there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But at a company with more than 50 employees, nonetheless, nobody has time to spend a few hours executing a simple, well-documented procedure to make sure that they are treating all employees as equally welcome. So that says something about their priorities.

When I made this observation on Twitter a few hours ago, it didn’t take much time before Asana’s co-founder Dustin Moskowitz was in my Twitter mentions explaining to me that Asana doesn’t have any trans employees (how does he know that, exactly?) but if they ever did, they would be sure to make their health insurance coverage fair after that person got hired.

Even more mind-bogglingly, he defended this choice by saying that many HR processes work this way, using pregnancy leave as another example. This is like saying “we are only going to install men’s restrooms in our office, and wait until a woman gets hired before installing a women’s room. Too bad if she needs to take a bathroom break while we’re interviewing her.” Lazy evaluation can be a great feature in a programming language, but it’s a terrible way for a company to ensure it’s meeting minimal standards about equity and inclusion right from the beginning.

Right now, I’m thinking about the free labor that I’m expected to perform by virtue of my membership in a marginalized group. If I actually did apply to Asana and was hired, I’d be expected to out myself to, potentially, people outside HR, just so I could get something every other employee takes for granted: health benefits. As it is, Moskowitz attempted to deflect criticism by asking me if I knew which insurance brokers were willing to negotiate trans-inclusive riders. Is that my job? And anyway, I reported the problem directly to Asana over a year ago — if they had acted on my feedback (as a job candidate who would have considered working there if not for this), the whole conversation would never had had to happen! How much more work do I have to do for free? In the time Moskowitz spent writing defensive tweets, he could have instead called up Blue Shield and gotten a price quote for a trans-inclusive rider. It took me less than five minutes on Google to find that Blue Shield has been offering such riders since 2012. Moskowitz never claimed that cost was an issue in deciding not to provide equal care for trans employees, so what’s the problem, exactly? Is this a good way to do public relations?

I don’t mean to single out Asana here. There are many companies that fail to provide this basic health coverage to their employees. But today, there was only one whose co-founder chose to spend his time arguing with me instead of fixing the problem. Is that a good way to do business? While Moskowitz eventually replied to me saying that he recognized he’d been wrong and would look into it more, still, I’m tired. I’m tired of the knee-jerk reaction to constructive feedback about how to stop marginalizing people that amounts to, “when you do more work for us for free, we’ll stop marginalizing you.” Again, no startup founder made the decision that insurance companies shouldn’t treat trans people equally by default. But by expecting trans people to take the lead in working around that decision, they reveal their own complicity with it.

What it amounts to when a startup co-founder says, “fix the problem for me, being fair isn’t important enough to me for me to do it myself” is attempting to convince users that a problem those users are having isn’t really hindering them, in lieu of just solving the problem. I think engineers can do better than that. If you want to build reliable software, you do the research on tools for static analysis, debugging, and testing; you don’t ask your customers to tell you what the best test framework is. Likewise, if you want to show that you treat people equally — that you try to be like a meritocracy, even if that abstraction is unrealizable — then you take the lead. I think business people call this “being proactive”. And when proactiveness is selectively applied so that no work ever gets done to move a company closer towards fairness unless the people being treated unfairly do all the heavy lifting — well, we notice. There is nothing complicated about what trans people are asking for. We want to be treated like everybody else. Apology or not, Moskowitz’s reaction to criticism today confirmed what we already knew: for many of the companies that employ us, treating us fairly is just too hard and takes up too much time that could be spent writing proposals about kittens.

Edited to add, October 19, 2014: I wanted to note that Dustin Moskowitz actually took the time to email me on September 11 (I just didn’t read it until now) to say that he had researched the issue and found out that Asana already had a level of trans-inclusive coverage comparable to Yelp (see their entry on the MicroActivism wiki). I’m glad they do, and hope that the lesson to other startup folks who see this post is to know the level of benefits you offer up front, before a potential hire asks; as well as familiarizing yourself with your state or locality’s laws about what types of coverage must be provided.

GF classifieds (August and September 2014)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. Sorry we missed July! If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!