Tag Archives: meritocracy

Please mind the linkspam (25 June 2014)

  • Applications for MotherCoders Fall 2014 Opens! | Tina Lee at mothercoders (June 20): “We are committed to creating a more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy by on-ramping moms to careers in technology. Those who are interested in being considered for our Fall 2014 session must complete this survey by midnight on Sunday, July 13, 2014.”
  • ‘Cards Against Humanity’ Co-Creator Publicly Apologizes for Transphobic Card | Jessica Roy at Fusion (June 18): “”We were writing jokes for ourselves and we weren’t really thinking about how it would affect other people,” Temkin [a creator of the game] said. “But when you have something that starts to be part of pop culture, you can’t help but see how it makes people feel and feel some sense of responsibility for that.” [...] “We talk about the idea of ‘punching up, not punching down’ all the time,” Temkin said. “It’s something that we stand behind: making fun of those power structures, because they’re already powerful.””
  • Unicode Unveils 250 New Emoji, Gets Thumbs Down For Diversity | Eric Brown at International Business Times (June 17): “In the end, the problem rests on the shoulders of both Unicode and third parties. Third parties have the option of illustrating emoji however they wish, but universally stick to white as a default. Unicode, meanwhile, has the option of introducing more characters that would push Apple and Twitter to move beyond its majority-white character base. At this point, both need to take responsibility and introduce more inclusive emoji.”
  • Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of the super fibre Kevlar, dies at 90 | The Guardian (June 21): “Stephanie Kwolek, the American chemist who invented the super-strong fibre Kevlar used in bullet-proof vests, has died at age 90.”
  • Editor’s blog: I am sexist | Tom Bramwell at Eurogamer (Jun 19)[warning for discussion of violence against women] “It’s really hard to talk about sexism (in games or otherwise) when a large proportion of your audience hasn’t realised it is sexist, whether subtly or profoundly. [...] I don’t think they come from a place of actual misogyny. I think they are just a byproduct of the kind of casual ignorance I have personally embodied for pretty much all of my sexist life. [...]  I am writing this because I hope that if I stand up and admit that I am sexist, have always been sexist and will probably always have to rebel against this bit of programming in my head whenever it is triggered, one or two people will realise that they can relate to what I’m saying, and that will give them a bit of courage to try to do something about it as well.”
  • Should You Have a Baby in Graduate School? | sarah Kendzior at Vitae (June 16): “Pregnant graduate students pose a problem to an academic culture that values “fit” above all else. While pregnancy may feel to the pregnant like bodily subservience, it is often viewed in academia as an unwelcome declaration of autonomy.”
  • Lake Scene | Manfeels Park (June 18): [comic]
  • What the Internet’s Most Infamous Trolls Tell Us About Online Feminism | Fruzsina Eördögh at Motherbaord (June 20): “The 4chan ruse ended last Friday [...] but not before a silver lining had revealed itself: Feminists of color had very publicly become such an integral part of the feminist movement that trolls thought they were the vehicle to end all feminism online.”
  • Inside the Mirrortocracy | Carlos Bueno (June 2014): “We’ve created a make-believe cult of objective meritocracy, a pseudo-scientific mythos to obscure and reinforce the belief that only people who look and talk like us are worth noticing. After making such a show of burning down the bad old rules of business, the new ones we’ve created seem pretty similar.”
  • Major Ed-Tech Event Overhauls Code of Conduct After Troubling Accusations | Benjamin Herold at Education Week (June 19)[warning for discussion of harassment and rape] “The policy changes made by the International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, focus on explicitly outlining unacceptable and harassing behaviors, clearly delineating protocols for addressing such behaviors when they occur, and identifying specific consequences for violations. Such guidelines have been adopted in recent years by other conferences and events in the broader U.S. technology sector, where problems of sexism and sexual harassment have been widely reported and documented.” This article takes a perhaps sceptical tone at times, but is interesting as an examination of a particular field in the technology industry.

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Note: this linkspam title has been changed; we apologize for having missed the racist history of the song we used for the week’s punny title.

To Linkspam And Beyond! (20 June 2014)

  • Tristan Walker: The tech world has implicit racial biases. Here’s how to overcome them. | Carmel Deamicis at PandoDaily (June 11): “”[...] This person is black, this person is white, I don’t discriminate, I’m meritocratic,” Walker says. “But no one ever talks about implicit bias. It’s rampant and real.””
  • We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome | Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve (June 16): “She’s something female characters so often aren’t in action/adventure films with male protagonists: She’s interesting. Too bad the story gives her absolutely nothing to do. [...] here’s a quick questionnaire for filmmakers who’ve created a female character [...] But now what? Screenwriters, producers, directors, consider this.”
  • Reimagining the Female Superhero |  Lindsey Morris at Girls Gone Geek (June 18): “Saturday I attended a panel at Special Edition: NYC, and from what I gathered it was one of the only panels that day that was even nearing maximum capacity. The totally stellar line-up of creators for the talk included Gail Simone, Amy Reeder, Marguerite Bennett, Emanuela Lupacchino and Jenny Frison – moderated by Ben Saunders. This panel and its participants were great in every respect, and it produced some great conversations. [This] is the entire discussion prior to Q&A.”
  • Gale Simone to writers: Keep the hell up | Shaula Evans at The Black Board (June 17): “When the idea of an Incredible Hulk reboot came up at a recent John August/ Craig Mazin Scriptntoes podcast, their guest screenwriter David S. Goyer (who is writing the first film that Wonder Woman will appear in) called She Hulk “a green porn star that only Hulk could f***”  [...] Comic book writer Gail Simone, whose notable works include Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, and Batgirl, responded on Twitter. I’ve archived her remarks here because she has some GREAT and on-point advice to writers in all media about the need to “keep the hell up” with our audiences and the changing world around us.”
  • Keynote: Composing a Functional Community | Katie Miller at Erlang Solutions (June 16): [Video] “We know the wonderful benefits of functional programming, but when it comes to sharing the lambda love we often do a poor job. In this presentation, Katie will draw on her experiences as a journalist, workshop instructor, functional programming student and women’s group founder to take you back to that time before you knew what jargon such as monad meant, and offer ideas and inspiration for helping people of all kinds and categories along the path to FP enlightenment. Be warned, content may challenge the status quo and your mind: be prepared for code in an unfamiliar syntax.”
  • Female leaders are missing in academia | Tanya Fitzgerald at The Conversation (June 18): “The persistent numerical imbalance of women and men at senior levels in universities does not appear to be cause for concentrated and wider concern. [...] we need to think beyond simply counting more women in by increasing their numbers. While numbers are important to create a critical mass, it is a change in attitude towards female leaders that is needed.”
  • Is Coding the New Literacy? | Tasneem Raja at Mother Jones (June 16): “What if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do. As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called “computational thinking”.”
  • Too Fat to Be a Scientist? | Rachel Fox at The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 17): [Warning for discussion of harassment] “I can’t stay in a field where it seems that I’m supposed to apologize for my appearance every day. Although there’s a growing movement to promote a more nuanced model of weight loss and metabolism, the mentality that everything comes down to a lack of self-control is still pervasive in the scientific community.”
  • Still ‘Searching for Safety Online’: collective strategies and discursive resistance to trolling and harassment in a feminist network | Frances Shaw (2013): [Warning for discussion of violent threats] “This paper examines the discursive responses that participants in a network of feminist blogs developed to handle trolling in their community.” This is an older link than we usually include, however it seems particularly relevant.
  • Silence is Complicity | Natalie Luhrs at The Radish. (Jun 16): [Warning for discussion of harassment and sexual abuse of children] “If you deliberately prey on vulnerable members of our community and continue to do so after you’ve been caught, I believe that you forfeit the right to be a part of our community.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

How to kill someone without pulling the trigger

This is a guest post by Taryn Fox. Taryn Fox interned in the summer 2012 GNOME Outreach Program for Women, working on JavaScript developer documentation. She blogs at jewelfox.dreamwidth.org about her gender transition, recovery from abuse, and alternative spirituality and neurology. She unfortunately does not live in Canada yet.

This post originally appeared on Taryn Fox’s blog in 2013.

Matthew Garrett’s recent post on depression touched a nerve, because I’ve been dealing with it for most of my life and it was especially bad all of last year. I’m trying to arrange to get help, but even that is extremely difficult right now.

I’m going to try to add some things to his post without going on for too long. Specifically, I’m going to address ideas we have and stuff we take for granted that makes the experience of being depressed much, much worse.

The “Just World” fallacy

This is a fancy name for the idea that people tend to get what they deserve. Here in the States, we call it “liberty” and “objectivism” and “reducing dependence on government.” In the Linux and Free Software communities, we call it “meritocracy.”

It’s an extremely convenient belief to have if you’re at the top of your pecking order. It tells you that you deserve to be there, because of how awesome you are. And it tells you not to worry about anybody beneath you, because if they’re deserving they’ll make it eventually. And if they’re not, well, don’t worry about it. It’s their fault, and helping them will just keep them dependent on you. Better to throw them out of the nest and watch their carcasses smear on the rocks, until you find one that can fly like you could.

This mindset stigmatizes being weak or in need of help. It turns being a newb, at life or at Linux, into something to be ashamed of. And when you have this mindset yourself, and are weak or injured, you’re ashamed of everything. You have a desperate need to please others and show that your life is worthwhile. You’re afraid to admit failure, to yourself or to anyone else, because you know that you’ll be destroyed and it’ll be your fault.

Preordained winners and losers

If you aren’t so conscientious, of course, none of that matters. Of course you’ll get the help you need. Of course you deserve it. Ayn Rand herself went on Social Security. My parents have no qualms about getting cheques from the government, via dad’s military retirement. But I sold off almost all my possessions to keep from needing to apply for “food stamps,” which are one of the only reliable social welfare programs here for people who aren’t senior citizens. I didn’t want to be a burden.

And that’s what these beliefs are all about. They take people who care about others, who want to help others, who want to be part of a team and community and work together to do something awesome, and very often make them into nervous, self-loathing wrecks. At their best and most productive, they may have impostor syndrome and depression, may fail to promote themselves and their projects, and may put up with crap no one should. At their worse, they may want to kill themselves, like I almost did a few years ago after being thrown out of the house.

The fact that my parents let me back in an hour or so later didn’t change anything. There was no apology. The status quo, in which this event wasn’t even surprising and I just needed to live with it, did not change. And my family laughed and joked with each other later that day, without saying a word about what’d happened, as I went catatonic right there on the couch. I knew now that I was worthless, and no matter how much reassurance or encouragement I get from others that “fact” is still the core of my being.

I guess what I’m trying to say is,

The idea of “meritocracy” causes depression and kills people

And so whenever I see people glorify it, I know right away that to the degree that they take this belief seriously I’m looking at a good ol’ boys’ network with preordained winners and losers. Where people they like and consider worthwhile get rewarded and get away with anything, and people they dislike get blamed for their “failures” and punished.

This is why there’s historically been so much hostility towards Apple, and towards everything in GNOME and Free Software and politics that tries to make stuff easier for newbs or bring new people into the fold. The people complaining have decided who’s a “real” hacker or gamer or contributor or American, and who’s undeserving of the label. They want the undeserving to run off somewhere that they don’t have to see them, and they close their eyes so they don’t see the smeared carcasses on the rocks.

When you grow up with this mindset and then realize that you’re undeserving, you want to die.

I guess that’s all.

Nobody puts Linkspam in the corner (4 Oct 2013)

  • Smell Ya Later, Nerds | BETABEAT: “”Silicon Valley isn’t a meritocracy when I’m the only girl at a Bitcoin meetup and my opinion is dismissed as “cute,” and it isn’t a meritocracy when women founders struggle with fundraising because investors think their wombs are ticking time bombs, and it isn’t a meritocracy when people of color and the poor find it more difficult to succeed in tech. Once we get that through our skulls, maybe we can move forward and things can get better.”
  • Joblint | rowanmanning on github: A Node.js module to “Test tech job specs for issues with sexism, culture, expectations, and recruiter fails.”
  • Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic | Tenure, She Wrote: “There is a plethora of research on the causes of hostile environments for women in academia, and on why we have an underrepresentation of women in many fields. There are support groups for women, societies entirely devoted to women academics (broadly and field-specific), workshops for women in academia, and countless articles and blogs devoted to the topic. These initiatives are important, but here’s the thing: gender equality has to be a collaborative venture.”
  • Top 4 Tips from TransH4CK 2013 | TRANSH4CK CLOTHESR4CK: “TransH4CK was uncharted territory, both for the transgender and hackathon communities. [...] For allies who say they want an inclusive environment—a claim most often associated in tech with including more women, but which extends beyond that— their actions need to demonstrate care for trans employees.”
  • dating tips for the feminist man | Nora Samaran on The Media Co-op: “Social justice is intersectional; we can’t just fix our economic relationships without fixing our personal and cultural ones. [...] Actively taking on the identity of a feminist man means you are equally responsible to do your own research and actively notice these things.”
  • No More “Allies” | Black Girl Dangerous: “So, henceforth, I will no longer use the term “ally” to describe anyone. Instead, I’ll use the phrase “currently operating in solidarity with.” Or something. I mean, yeah, it’s clunky as hell. But it gets at something that the label of “ally” just doesn’t. And that’s this: actions count; labels don’t.”
  • Economic Statecraft, Women, and the Federal Reserve | The Baseline Scenario: “With skills at such a premium, we should perhaps expect countries to put as many resources as possible into bringing everyone as much education as possible. But this is not in fact what we see, particularly with regard to girls and women in many places. [...] the “root causes” of economic growth include creating opportunities for meaningful participation – with property rights and a fair legal system – by a broad cross-section of society.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Photograph of two hands, one holding a magnifying glass, the other a soldering iron (by Paul Downey)

Re-post: Hiring based on hobbies: effective or exclusive?

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 November 12, 2012.

“When I’m interviewing a candidate, I ask them what they do in their free time.” It’s not unusual for me to hear this from people who are in a position to influence hiring for software jobs. Often, though not always, these people are male. The implication is that the interviewer prefers candidates who have sufficiently interesting hobbies (according to the interviewer’s sense of what’s interesting), and won’t give preference to (or will weight negatively) those candidates who either don’t have hobbies, or who the interviewer judges to do boring hobbies.

As far as I can tell, hiring based on hobbies has two major possible implications for software jobs. One is that it’s easier for people who hack on open-source code in their free time to get a software job. I guess the idea there is that if you want to choose a good worker, you pick someone whose hobby is doing more work. Mary Gardiner previously addressed the issue of leisure-time open-source hacking as a job qualification, in “Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?” on this very blog.

The other possible implication is that “interesting” hobbies don’t necessary have to involve programming, but you do have to have a hobby and it does have to be interesting to your interviewer, which probably means it has to be something that wouldn’t be a surprising interest for a hetero white cis male software engineer. From hanging around many such people and observing what they find “cool”, I can surmise that ideally this would involve fooling around with robots or circuits or wires. It should involve building things and tinkering for the sake of tinkering. Cooking, crafting, and other hobbies that have a practical application — that involve skill and art, but aren’t practiced just to impress other hackers — probably aren’t going to count for a whole lot of status points.

You’ll be disadvantaged on both counts, of course, if your spare time gets spent taking care of your family or doing the household work that women in relationships with men are often disproportionally saddled with (see Arlie Hochschild Russell’s book The Second Shift for more on that.) Or if you can’t afford to do hobbies that require more materials than a pencil and paper. You also may be disadvantaged if you have a disability: for example, if you don’t have the physical coordination to mess around with wires. Closer to my experience, you may be disadvantaged if you’re someone who has mental illness. As someone who’s been living with clinical depression for 20 years, a lot of the time it’s all I can do to put in my eight hours in a day and then get home, feed the cats, and throw together something to eat. Energy and motivation are not evenly distributed across the population.

Because status hierarchies in geek circles are frequently about who has the assets (in both time or money) to do the coolest projects in their spare time, I often feel excluded when other people talk about what they do in their free time, and guilty because I don’t have enough executive function to do much after work besides recharge so I can do more work the next day. I love my work, but like lots of kinds of work, it’s a source of stress for me. I imagine the same is true for most or all people who do software: I doubt there’s anyone who never experiences stress as part of their job. What’s not universal is how people deal with stress, and how much time off a person needs to recharge from it. Whether or not someone gets pleasure from hacking in their free time is affected by their social placement: the amount of time doing non-work-like activities someone needs before they can return to demanding intellectual work is affected by their physical and mental health; how many worries they have about money, relationships, and other non-work-related stressors; how many microaggressions they face as part of an average working day; whether they were brought up with self-esteem and a sense that they have the ability to recover from failure, or had to learn those things on their own as an adult; and many other factors. Few of those factors have to do with an individual’s level of dedication to their work; many are implied by where someone finds themself placed within a variety of intersecting social structures.

Recently, someone online said to me that he hires based on hobbies because he wants to hire interesting people. I’ve seen other people imply that there’s something even morally suspect about somebody working an engineering job just for the money, and that someone who doesn’t do the same stuff in their free time is obviously just in it for the money. Of course, that’s classist. It’s easier to feel like you’re motivated by the sheer love of your work if you don’t really need the money.

But besides, if you decide someone isn’t worth hiring because they don’t have “interesting” hobbies, what you’re really saying is that people who didn’t come from an affluent background aren’t interesting. That people with child care or home responsibilities aren’t interesting. That disabled people aren’t interesting. That people who have depression or anxiety aren’t interesting. That people who might spend their free time on political activism that they don’t feel comfortable mentioning to a stranger with power over them aren’t interesting. That people who, for another reason, just don’t have access to hacker spaces and don’t fit into hobbyist subcultures aren’t interesting.

You might counter that a person’s hobbies are relevant to their level of commitment to or interest in their work, and thus it’s justifiable for an employer to ask about them. However, this sounds essentially similar to the idea that women are to be looked at with extra suspicion during hiring, involving the assumption that women are cis and have relationships with cis men, and that cis women who have relationships with cis men will take time off from work to have babies. Statistically, there might be some truth to this — by the way, I’m not sure what evidence there is behind the assertion that people who do software or engineering in their spare time make better software engineers than people who play music or sail boats or bake muffins. Even so, it’s illegal (at least in the US, and possibly elsewhere) to use gender and marital status as bases for discrimination. People with some types of disabilities or chronic illnesses might sporadically be less productive at work, but it’s still illegal to ask about health conditions. Obviously, I’m not suggesting we should legislate against asking about hobbies as part of the interview process. It’s impossible to ban every type of question that might be used in a discriminatory way. It’s up to individual hiring managers to be ethical and mindful about whether they’re asking a question to evaluate a candidate’s abilities directly, or to make sure the candidate is sufficiently similar on a personal level to the manager’s mental ideal of what a programmer is supposed to be. I happen to think evaluating people on their skills rather than whether they fit the profile for a particular social clique is a better way to identify good workers.

A less cerebral “hobby” that may also be compulsory, as Ryan Funduk wrote about, is drinking. As he points out, when work-related social events revolve around alcohol, this excludes people who can’t or don’t want to drink as well as many women, who might enjoy drinking but don’t feel comfortable being in groups of drunk men (especially not when pretending that alcohol erases responsibility for sexual assault is a staple of rape culture). I haven’t personally experienced this much, since I’ve spent more time in academia than industry, but it’s something to discuss in the comments.

Have you ever found that your hobbies were an asset when getting hired? Or have you felt the need not to mention a hobby because it seemed like more of a liability? Have you felt pressure to do extra unpaid work just to be a competitive candidate for software jobs? Or to take up recreational pursuits you didn’t really like just to increase your level of cultural fit in your workplace?

Photograph of two hands, one holding a magnifying glass, the other a soldering iron (by Paul Downey)

Hiring based on hobbies: effective or exclusive?

“When I’m interviewing a candidate, I ask them what they do in their free time.” It’s not unusual for me to hear this from people who are in a position to influence hiring for software jobs. Often, though not always, these people are male. The implication is that the interviewer prefers candidates who have sufficiently interesting hobbies (according to the interviewer’s sense of what’s interesting), and won’t give preference to (or will weight negatively) those candidates who either don’t have hobbies, or who the interviewer judges to do boring hobbies.

As far as I can tell, hiring based on hobbies has two major possible implications for software jobs. One is that it’s easier for people who hack on open-source code in their free time to get a software job. I guess the idea there is that if you want to choose a good worker, you pick someone whose hobby is doing more work. Mary Gardiner previously addressed the issue of leisure-time open-source hacking as a job qualification, in “Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?” on this very blog.

The other possible implication is that “interesting” hobbies don’t necessary have to involve programming, but you do have to have a hobby and it does have to be interesting to your interviewer, which probably means it has to be something that wouldn’t be a surprising interest for a hetero white cis male software engineer. From hanging around many such people and observing what they find “cool”, I can surmise that ideally this would involve fooling around with robots or circuits or wires. It should involve building things and tinkering for the sake of tinkering. Cooking, crafting, and other hobbies that have a practical application — that involve skill and art, but aren’t practiced just to impress other hackers — probably aren’t going to count for a whole lot of status points.

You’ll be disadvantaged on both counts, of course, if your spare time gets spent taking care of your family or doing the household work that women in relationships with men are often disproportionally saddled with (see Arlie Hochschild Russell’s book The Second Shift for more on that.) Or if you can’t afford to do hobbies that require more materials than a pencil and paper. You also may be disadvantaged if you have a disability: for example, if you don’t have the physical coordination to mess around with wires. Closer to my experience, you may be disadvantaged if you’re someone who has mental illness. As someone who’s been living with clinical depression for 20 years, a lot of the time it’s all I can do to put in my eight hours in a day and then get home, feed the cats, and throw together something to eat. Energy and motivation are not evenly distributed across the population.

Because status hierarchies in geek circles are frequently about who has the assets (in both time or money) to do the coolest projects in their spare time, I often feel excluded when other people talk about what they do in their free time, and guilty because I don’t have enough executive function to do much after work besides recharge so I can do more work the next day. I love my work, but like lots of kinds of work, it’s a source of stress for me. I imagine the same is true for most or all people who do software: I doubt there’s anyone who never experiences stress as part of their job. What’s not universal is how people deal with stress, and how much time off a person needs to recharge from it. Whether or not someone gets pleasure from hacking in their free time is affected by their social placement: the amount of time doing non-work-like activities someone needs before they can return to demanding intellectual work is affected by their physical and mental health; how many worries they have about money, relationships, and other non-work-related stressors; how many microaggressions they face as part of an average working day; whether they were brought up with self-esteem and a sense that they have the ability to recover from failure, or had to learn those things on their own as an adult; and many other factors. Few of those factors have to do with an individual’s level of dedication to their work; many are implied by where someone finds themself placed within a variety of intersecting social structures.

Recently, someone online said to me that he hires based on hobbies because he wants to hire interesting people. I’ve seen other people imply that there’s something even morally suspect about somebody working an engineering job just for the money, and that someone who doesn’t do the same stuff in their free time is obviously just in it for the money. Of course, that’s classist. It’s easier to feel like you’re motivated by the sheer love of your work if you don’t really need the money.

But besides, if you decide someone isn’t worth hiring because they don’t have “interesting” hobbies, what you’re really saying is that people who didn’t come from an affluent background aren’t interesting. That people with child care or home responsibilities aren’t interesting. That disabled people aren’t interesting. That people who have depression or anxiety aren’t interesting. That people who might spend their free time on political activism that they don’t feel comfortable mentioning to a stranger with power over them aren’t interesting. That people who, for another reason, just don’t have access to hacker spaces and don’t fit into hobbyist subcultures aren’t interesting.

You might counter that a person’s hobbies are relevant to their level of commitment to or interest in their work, and thus it’s justifiable for an employer to ask about them. However, this sounds essentially similar to the idea that women are to be looked at with extra suspicion during hiring, involving the assumption that women are cis and have relationships with cis men, and that cis women who have relationships with cis men will take time off from work to have babies. Statistically, there might be some truth to this — by the way, I’m not sure what evidence there is behind the assertion that people who do software or engineering in their spare time make better software engineers than people who play music or sail boats or bake muffins. Even so, it’s illegal (at least in the US, and possibly elsewhere) to use gender and marital status as bases for discrimination. People with some types of disabilities or chronic illnesses might sporadically be less productive at work, but it’s still illegal to ask about health conditions. Obviously, I’m not suggesting we should legislate against asking about hobbies as part of the interview process. It’s impossible to ban every type of question that might be used in a discriminatory way. It’s up to individual hiring managers to be ethical and mindful about whether they’re asking a question to evaluate a candidate’s abilities directly, or to make sure the candidate is sufficiently similar on a personal level to the manager’s mental ideal of what a programmer is supposed to be. I happen to think evaluating people on their skills rather than whether they fit the profile for a particular social clique is a better way to identify good workers.

A less cerebral “hobby” that may also be compulsory, as Ryan Funduk wrote about, is drinking. As he points out, when work-related social events revolve around alcohol, this excludes people who can’t or don’t want to drink as well as many women, who might enjoy drinking but don’t feel comfortable being in groups of drunk men (especially not when pretending that alcohol erases responsibility for sexual assault is a staple of rape culture). I haven’t personally experienced this much, since I’ve spent more time in academia than industry, but it’s something to discuss in the comments.

Have you ever found that your hobbies were an asset when getting hired? Or have you felt the need not to mention a hobby because it seemed like more of a liability? Have you felt pressure to do extra unpaid work just to be a competitive candidate for software jobs? Or to take up recreational pursuits you didn’t really like just to increase your level of cultural fit in your workplace?

Photograph looking up several floors of outdoor stairs

you keep using that word

This is a guest post by Garann Means. This post originally appeared on her blog.

I keep seeing the word “meritocracy” pop up, mostly in discussions that seem to have stemmed from Faruk Ateş’ “A primer on sexism in the tech industry”. Do yourself a favor, don’t go googling. It’s the same shit:
“Sexism isn’t real because I’m a woman and no one did the sexism to me!”
“Women resent being treated as women instead of being evaluated solely on their capabilities!”
“You’re a sexist!”
“Some people called me a sexist after my sexist blog post and it hurt my little feelings and I’m leaving the internet!”
“You GUYS, remember this is supposed to be a meritocracy.”

Except no. No it fucking isn’t. Because a meritocracy is not a real thing. It is a joke.

The word meritocracy comes from a political satire. It was never meant to be something we should aspire to. It was the opposite, actually, a warning about how we rationalize what we believe we’ve “earned”. If that sentence doesn’t seem to you applicable to the tech industry and our cyclical discussions about sexism, racism, and even occasionally classism, go get yourself another cup of coffee.

There’s some dumb bullshit in one of the current crop of reaction posts waxing poetic about “hacker culture,” and its freedom of speech and lack of PC dogma. Hacker culture was a bunch of white dudes. Hacker culture is a great example of a meritocracy. Some of the most privileged of the privileged got together and formed a community around the idea that they were smarter than everyone else. They created an arbitrary set of metrics for membership and according to their metrics, they triumphed. This was the first time in the history of the world white men had experienced the elation of peer recognition.

A meritocracy is not a system for locating and rewarding the best of the best. If it were, the “best of the best” in almost every goddamned industry or group on the planet would not be a clump of white men. I’m having trouble finding good stats on this, but white men are something like 8% of the world’s population. When you go to a fucking conference and you look around at all the white dudes, do you really honestly think, “Wow! What a bizarre fucking statistical anomaly it is that basically everyone with the special magic gift of computer programming happened to be born into a teeny tiny little demographic sliver of the population”? Of course you don’t. You don’t think about it. You focus on telling yourself that you’re supposed to be there, because you’re so fucking smart, and if other people were as smart or, if you prefer, they were “technically inclined,” they could be there just as easily.

A meritocracy is a system for centralizing authority in the hands of those who already have it, and ensuring that authority is only distributed to others like them or those who aren’t but are willing to play by their rules.

Somebody on twitter told me that when the computer industry was overwhelmingly female, it was due to merit. I think that makes a really good counterpoint to this meritocracy bullshit. Because no, it was not due to merit. Merit didn’t fucking enter into it. Most of those women had no experience in the industry and – even if we accept the lol-worthy premise that merit can be objectively measured – there was no way to evaluate their merit as computer scientists. That’s not to say we shouldn’t use that as a template. We absolutely should. Those women had jobs and were happy to have them. They worked hard. Those who stood out did so because they had demonstrated that their work was good (through their work, not through their savvy) and because standing out and advancing the field was necessary to their work. I would rather work with a roomful of those women than with the arrogant, privileged brats our industry too often recognizes “merit” in these days.

If we met the utopian ideal we toss around in blog posts, we’d still have lots of middle-aged women in this field. We’d have black people. We’d have Asian people – not a smattering, but a majority, cause the world is mostly Asian people. We’d have an even ratio of men and women. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned after sixteen years in this career, it’s that if a middle-class white boy who literally never had a job before getting a sweet internship at some cutting edge technology company can eventually, through practice, become a passable computer programmer, anyone can do it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after thirty-three years of being alive, it’s that if you see middle-class white boys flocking in droves to a particular career path, it’s a pretty fucking easy job and you should try and get yourself one like that.

I guess that’s a little mean. Sorry, middle-class white boys. I’m not calling you dumb. I’m calling you soft. I’m calling myself soft, also, and everyone else who works in this field. What a meritocracy really protects us from is challenge. If we don’t even allow most people through the gates, we don’t have to worry that we might pale in comparison to them (pun intended). There will always be a place for us in an industry we keep others out of. That’s why we should seek out diversity – because the lack of it makes us weak.

If you give a shit about this industry’s goals beyond making yourself look smart and cool, for fuck’s sake, stop calling it a meritocracy.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

A long time ago in a linkspam far, far away… (10th December, 2011)

  • The Wikimedia Foundation’s paid 12 month Community Fellowship positions are open for application until January 15. This time the proposals are encouraged to focus on improving editor retention and increasing participation across Wikimedia Projects, a perfect focus for people interested in increasing women’s participation.
  • Tired of outlandish requests on your time to review every half-baked project a man thinks of? Try the wiki’s new Free feminist consulting form letter (at least for a laugh).
  • The Problems With Geek Girl Con – And Some Solutions: For the last few years, I’ve artfully dodged involvement in a number of geek feminist movements and events because of my severe allergic reaction to second-wave feminism.
  • Inspirations in science: It’s very, very personal. On the public television channel, though, I found the real magic. Sesame Street, only a year younger than I. Electric Company. And Jane Goodall.
  • Jailbreak the Patriarchy: Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped.
  • She’s Just an Attention Whore: The conversation was going well until my friend (who I always considered a pretty not sexist guy) said this: There are two types of female gamers: ones who actually like games, and ones who are just trying to get attention.
  • Racism And Meritocracy: What accounts for the decidedly non-diverse results in places like Silicon Valley? We have two competing theories. One is that deliberate racisms keeps people out. Another is that white men are simply the ones that show up, because of some combination of aptitude and effort… The problem with both of these theories is that the math just doesn’t work.
  • Lynn Margulis, Renowned Evolutionary Biologist and Author at UMass Amherst, Dead at 73: Margulis was best known for her theory of symbiogenesis, which challenges central tenets of neo-Darwinism.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Death before linkspam (3rd April, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Re-post: Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?

In anticipation of a December/January slowdown, I’m reposting some of my writing from earlier in 2010, for the benefit of new (and nostalgic!) readers. This piece originally appeared on the 9th April 2010.

Code Anthem’s Don’t Judge a Developer by Open Source (via Meg in the Open Thread) argues that companies that rely on Open Source coding contributions as a hiring criterion are both demanding a lot of their hiree’s free time and are sexist:

Open source is a culture. There are plenty of smart and passionate developers out there who are not part of that culture. And certainly there are plenty of dumb and curmudgeonly developers out there participating in open source…. There are there smarter ways to spend your time. The stereotypical open source developer works for a bumbling corporate during the day, doing dull work (but necessary to make money) and then comes home to work on his passion, OpenOKHRWUJ Framework…

Requiring open source contributions is sexist… Open source is dominated by men even more so than the programming community as a whole… it’s irresponsible to require your new hire developers to come from a male-oriented pool. Alas… “Underrepresentation breeds underrepresentation”.

I have a comment in moderation there in which I say that I think the stereotype is incorrect: that Open Source developers in my experience are either university students or other young people with a lot of free time, or they’re paid Open Source developers. (I know hobbyist Open Source coders with unrelated dev or other full-time jobs too, yes, but not nearly so many and their contributions are for obvious reasons usually not as significant. If nothing else, this group has a really high incidence of typing injuries.)

But that’s a side-note: I think the core point of the post stands. Open Source is very male-dominated, is known for being unpleasantly sexist, and is also a subculture whose norms (even where neutral as regards sexism) don’t fit everyone. Requiring these norms feeds right into the problem talked about in Being Inclusive vs Not Being Exclusive:

People who come from underprivileged minorities are usually very experienced in the art of being excluded. Sometimes it’s overt – “we don’t like your kind” – but many times it’s subtle. They’re told that they’re “not quite right”, or they “don’t have the right look”, or “don’t have the right experience”, or just aren’t told anything. At the same time, they are surrounded by all sorts of imagery and communique about how they don’t quite belong, about how they have to change themselves to fit in, about how they are undesirable. They do not see a lot of examples they can relate to; even the ones that come close tend to stick out for being “Exotic”, being a token. They already have a lot of barriers against them and are already of the mind that they’ll more likely be rejected than accepted.

If you insist on a lot of experience in a particular male-dominated sub-culture as a prerequisite for a job, that reads as “we prefer [a subset of] men, basically, or at least people willing to work hard to minimise all the ways in which they aren’t [part of the subset of] men” even if you didn’t intend it to and even if you didn’t want it to.

Code Anthem isn’t, as far as I can tell, thinking about Open Source paid jobs in that post, but they of course have this problem magnified. It seems vastly reasonable on the face of it: hiring existing Open Source contributors, ideally people from your very own community, means you hire people who are well-versed in the particular mode of development you do, in particular, the use of text-based mediums for communicating among a distributed team. Since Open Source (or more to the point Free Software) projects are at least sometimes associated with particular non-commercial goals and philosophies agreement with those seems desirable. But since most long-term Open Source developers need to be paid for it, it strongly feeds into this cycle of long-term Open Source developers continuing to be male and of a particular kind of culture, and continuing to overtly or subtly signal that that’s who is welcome in Open Source development.

Possible other posts of interest:

  • Terri’s Want more women in open source? Try paying them.
  • Dorothea Salo’s Sexism and group formation:

    A woman can be an honorary guy, sure, with all the perquisites and privileges pertaining to that status—as long as she never lets anything disturb the guy façade.

    It’s good to be an honorary guy, don’t get me wrong. Guys are fun to be around. Guys know stuff. Guys help out other guys. Guys trust other guys. And in my experience, they don’t treat honorary guys any differently from how they treat regular guys. It’s really great to be an honorary guy.

    The only problem is that part of the way that guys distinguish themselves from not-guys is by contrasting themselves with women.