Tag Archives: diversity

Several small snowflake-type papercraft pieces made from gold wrapping paper

Some posts from the last year on inclusion

A sort of topic-specific collection of links from about the last year, broadly talking about inclusion in communities, online and off, especially in geek(y) spaces.

What kind of discourses and conversations do we want to encourage and have?

  • Nalo Hopkinson’s WisCon 2016 Guest of Honor speech: “There are many people who do good in this field, who perform small and large actions of kindness and welcome every day. I’d like to encourage more of that.” In this speech Hopkinson announced the Lemonade Award.
  • “Looking back on a decade in online fandom social justice: unexpurgated version”, by sqbr: “And just because I’m avoiding someone socially doesn’t mean I should ignore what they have to say, and won’t end up facing complex ethical choices involving them. My approach right now is to discuss it with people I trust. Figuring out who those people are, and learning to make myself vulnerable in front of them, has been part of the journey.”
  • “On conversations”, by Katherine Daniels: “I would love for these people who have had so many opportunities already given to them to think about what they are taking away from our collective conversations by continuing to dominate them, and to maybe take a step back and suggest someone else for that opportunity to speak instead.”
  • “Towards a More Welcoming War” by Mary Anne Mohanraj (originally published in WisCon Chronicles 9: Intersections and Alliances, Aqueduct Press, 2015): “This is where I start thinking about what makes an effective community intervention. This is where I wish I knew some people well enough to pick up a phone.”
  • “The chemistry of discourse”, by Abi Sutherland: “What we really need for free speech is a varied ecosystem of different moderators, different regimes, different conversations. How do those spaces relate to one another when Twitter, Reddit, and the chans flatten the subcultural walls between them?”
  • “Hot Allostatic Load”, by porpentine, in The New Inquiry: “This is about disposability from a trans feminine perspective, through the lens of an artistic career. It’s about being human trash….Call-out Culture as Ritual Disposability”
  • “The Ethics of Mob Justice”, by Sady Doyle, in In These Times: “But, again, there’s no eliminating the existence of Internet shaming, even if you wanted to—and if you did, you’d eliminate a lot of healthy dialogue and teachable moments right along with it. At best, progressive people who recognize the necessity of some healthy shame can only alter the forms shaming takes.”

How do we reduce online harassment?

  • “Paths: a YA comic about online harassment”, by Mikki Kendall: “‘It’s not that big of a deal. She’ll get over it.’ ‘Even if she does, that doesn’t make this okay. What’s wrong with you?'”
  • “On a technicality”, by Eevee: “There’s a human tendency to measure peace as though it were the inverse of volume: the louder people get, the less peaceful it is. We then try to optimize for the least arguing.”
  • “Moderating Harassment in Twitter with Blockbots”, by ethnographer R. Stuart Geiger, on the Berkeley Institute for Data Science site: “In the paper, I analyze blockbot projects as counterpublics…I found a substantial amount of collective sensemaking in these groups, which can be seen in the intense debates that sometimes take place over defining standards of blockworthyness…..I also think it is important distinguish between the right to speak and the right to be heard, particularly in privately owned social networking sites.”
  • “The Real Name Fallacy”, by J. Nathan Matias, on The Coral Project site: “People often say that online behavior would improve if every comment system forced people to use their real names….Yet the balance of experimental evidence over the past thirty years suggests that this is not the case. Not only would removing anonymity fail to consistently improve online community behavior – forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment….designers need to commit to testing the outcomes of efforts at preventing and responding to social problems.”

What does it take to make your community more inclusive?

  • “Want more inclusivity at your conference? Add childcare.” by Mel Chua and then “Beyond ‘Childcare Available’: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly”, by Camille Acey: “I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move ‘Childcare Available’ from just a word on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.”
  • Project Hearing: “Project Hearing is a website that consolidates information about technology tools, websites, and applications that deaf and hard of hearing people can use to move around in the hearing world.”
  • “Conference access, and related topics”, by Emily Short: “This is an area where different forms of accessibility are often going at right angles.”
  • “SciPy 2016 Retrospective”, by Camille Scott: “SciPy, by my account, is a curious microcosm of the academic open source community as a whole.”
  • “Notes from Abstractions”, by Coral Sheldon-Hess: “Pittsburgh’s Code & Supply just held a huge (1500 people) conference over the last three days, and of course I’d signed up to attend months ago, because 1) local 2) affordable 3) tech conference 4) with a code of conduct they seemed serious about. Plus, “Abstractions” is a really cool name for a tech conference.”
  • “The letter I just sent to Odyssey Con”, by Sigrid Ellis: “None of us can know the future, of course. And I always hope for the best, from everyone. But I would hate for Odyssey Con to find itself in the midst of another controversy with these men at the center.” (This is Ellis’s post from April 7, 2016, a year before all three of Odyssey Con’s Guests of Honor chose not to attend Odyssey Con because of the very issue Ellis discussed.)
  • “The realities of organizing a community tech conference: an ill-advised rant”, by Rebecca Miller-Webster: “…there’s a lot of unpaid labor that happens at conferences, especially community conferences, that no one seems to talk about. The unpaid labor of conference organizers. Not only do people not talk about it, but in the narrative around conferences as work, these participants are almost always the bad guys.”
  • “Emotional Labor and Diversity in Community Management”, by Jeremy Preacher, originally a speech in the Community Management Summit at Game Developers Conference 2016: “The thing with emotional labor is that it’s generally invisible — both to the people benefiting from the work, and to the people doing it. People who are good at it tend to do it unconsciously — it’s one of the things we’re talking about when we say a community manager has ‘good instincts’.”….What all of these strategies do, what thinking about the emotional labor cost of participation adds up to, is make space for your lurkers to join in.”
  • “White Corporate Feminism”, by Sarah Sharp: “Even though Grace Hopper was hosted in Atlanta that year, a city that is 56% African American, there weren’t that many women of color attending.”
  • “You say hello”, by wundergeek on “Go Make Me a Sandwich (how not to sell games to women)”: “Of course, this is made harder by the fact that I hate losing. And there will be people who will celebrate, people who call this a victory, which only intensifies my feelings of defeat. My feelings of weakness. I feel like I’m giving up, and it kills me because I’m competitive! I’m contrary! Telling me not to do a thing is enough to make me want to do the thing. I don’t give up on things and I hate losing. But in this situation, I have to accept that there is no winning play. No win condition. I’m one person at war with an entire culture, and there just aren’t enough people who give a damn, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing my health and well-being on the altar of moral obligation. If this fight is so important, then let someone else fight it for a while.”
  • “No One Should Feel Alone”, by Natalie Luhrs: “In addition to listening and believing–which is 101 level work, honestly–there are other things we can do: we can hold space for people to speak their truth and we can hold everyone to account, regardless of their social or professional position in our community. We can look out for newcomers–writers and fans alike–and make them welcome and follow through on our promise that we will have their backs. We can try to help people form connections with each other, so they are not isolated and alone.”
  • “Equality Credentials”, by Sara Ahmed: “Feminist work in addressing institutional failure can be used as evidence of institutional success. The very labour of feminist critique can end up supporting what is being critiqued. The tools you introduce to address a problem can be used as indicators that a problem has been addressed.”
  • “Shock and Care: an essay about art, politics and responsibility”, by Harry Giles (Content note: includes discussion of sex, violence and self-injury in an artistic context): “So, in a political situation in which care is both exceptionally necessary and exceptionally underprovided, acts of care begin to look politically radical. To care is to act against the grain of social and economic orthodoxy: to advocate care is, in the present moment, to advocate a kind of political rupture. But by its nature, care must be a rupture which involves taking account of, centring, and, most importantly, taking responsibility for those for whom you are caring. Is providing care thus a valuable avenue of artistic exploration? Is the art of care a form of radical political art? Is care, in a society which devalues care, itself shocking?”
The Responsible Communication Style Guide: Technology and Beyond (Kickstarter promo image)

Kickstarting a responsible communication stylebook as community infrastructure

I haven’t been writing very much on Geek Feminism in the last year – most of us haven’t. I’ve also slowed down on posting to my personal blog. And one reason is that when I think about writing anything longer than a couple of paragraphs, anything particularly nuanced, I need to budget the time and energy for pre-editing, to make sure it hits my and our standards for sensitivity, and editing after the fact in case it turns out I got it wrong.

(That is not the only reason — lives change, new commitments emerge, people come into and out of group projects and each others’ lives, new venues like The Recompiler and ladybusiness and The Bias come onto the scene, and so on. But it’s one reason.)

You know what I would love? I would love a style guide that helps me write accurately and sensitively when talking about communities and identities, especially when it comes to identities I don’t know through my own personal experience. GLAAD’s reference guide helps with one facet (QUILTBAG people and communities), and there are similar references published by other advocacy organizations, but I’d love a more all-in-one stylebook that covers race, gender, sexuality, religion, and health and well-being, especially in the context of technology.

I’m in luck!


Audrey Eschright and Thursday Bram are crowdfunding to edit The Responsible Communication Style Guide. It’ll be a stylebook for writers and other media creators, covering race, gender, sexuality, religion, and health and well-being, and it’s the first book project by The Recompiler. The Kickstarter deadline is in less than two days.

The Responsible Communication Style Guide: Technology and Beyond (Kickstarter promo image)

The Responsible Communication Style Guide: Technology and Beyond (Kickstarter promo image)

In my opinion, a style guide like this would be a great piece of infrastructure to have — not just a tool for individual pro-inclusion activists, and a guide for any blogger, marketer, podcaster, or maker who ever pauses before publishing and tries to look over what they’ve written for accidental ableism, cissexism, racist or sexist microaggressions, and so on. It would be that, yeah. But it would also serve as a shared reference, so we can say: “Here’s a standard we want to hold ourselves to, and we’ll ask our allies to hold themselves to as well.”

I’m a programmer — heck, you saw me grow as a programmer here on this blog, from talking about the learning styles that suited me, and what I needed, to finding a place where those needs were met. Other technologists, maybe you’ve had the experience of working on a codebase where there aren’t any tests, and you have to inspect changes with your eyes all the time to see if you’ve introduced a new showstopper bug. And maybe you’ve also had the experience of working on a codebase with great test coverage, where you can move faster, because you know that if you make a change that would break something, you’ll find out fast, before it has a chance to hurt anybody. As Bram writes, “I want a linter for writing!”

HOWTOs and checklists and playbooks are part of how we make inclusivity more automatic. I’d love to see what The Responsible Communication Style Guide can do to further this trend.

So, please join my household in backing this before its deadline, which is this Friday, September 30th at 2:59 AM EDT. (As I write this, they’re 65% of the way to their goal, and need about $7,000 USD more.) I’d love to be able to write faster and with more confidence, and to see what emerges when a whole lot of people with high standards for responsible communication feel the same way.

If I had a million linkspams (13 October 2015)

  • Effective Learning Strategies for Programmers | Allison Kaptur (10 Oct): “In early September I gave a keynote at Kiwi PyCon in New Zealand on effective learning for programmers. There were two pieces to the talk: one about mindset, and one about particular strategies we can use. [Growth mindset or a fixed mindset; confidence and imposter syndrome]”
  • Interview: Web Developer Ashton Levier on Girl Develop It and Being a Woman in STEM | The Mary Sue (9 Oct): “Originally from Louisiana, Ashton Levier is a teacher turned web developer in Salt Lake City, Utah. Introduced to coding through Girl Develop It, Ashton then enrolled in Bloc’s online coding bootcamp. [This] is her Q and A on how she did it, and her thoughts on diversity in tech.”
  • Burning Out, Bowing Out, and How Bridges Sometimes Burn | Camille E. Acey (22 Sept): “I have been honored to join so very many clubs that invited me to be a member, and, furthermore, when I felt a new club needed to be created, I was ever at the ready to start/co-found it. From feminist book clubs to food cooperatives, I have been an eager member or initiator for all manner of activity groups. […] I am definitely in a reluctant bow out/quitting cycle (in order to make time for work, family, marriage, and socializing/sanity restoring self-care) and so I wanted to share some thoughts about it that might be useful to you.”
  • Inspiring and supporting tech’s next great engineers | Makinde Adeagbo at Medium (8 Oct): “/dev/color is a non-profit organization that provides Black engineers with the connections and skills needed to start and stay in the industry, and advance into leadership roles. Founded by some of the top software engineers in Silicon Valley, we’re a community for software engineers, by software engineers. We work with members throughout their careers, from college to industry, through mentorship, training and events.”
  • What makes a good community? | The Geekess (6 Oct): “There’s been a lot of discussion in my comment sections (and on LWN) about what makes a good community, along with suggestions of welcoming open source communities to check out. Your hearts are in the right place, but I’ve never found an open source community that doesn’t need improvement. The thing is, reaching the goal of a diverse community is a step-by-step process. There are no shortcuts. Each step has to be complete before the next level of cultural change is effective. It’s also worth noting that each step along the way benefits all community members, not just diverse contributors.”
  • What To Do If Your Workplace Is Too White | Stephanie Foo at transom (10 Aug): “There’s a question I’ve heard a lot lately. Program directors and hosts approach me at radio events more and more often (it’s not hard to spot me — I’m often one of the only People of Color [POC] in the room) and ask, “How do I reach a more diverse audience? And how do I hire more people of color?””
  • [warning for discussion of sexual harassment] Famous Berkeley Astronomer Violated Sexual Harassment Policies Over Many Years | Buzzfeed (10 Oct): “One of the world’s leading astronomers has become embroiled in an increasingly public controversy over sexual harassment. After a six-month investigation, Geoff Marcy — a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been mentioned as a potential Nobel laureate — was found to have violated campus sexual harassment policies between 2001 and 2010. Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students. […] After another undergraduate came forward with a complaint a year later, Murray-Clay, along with three other female graduate students and postdocs, tried to register an official complaint at the university level. But there, too, they were told they could not do so on someone else’s behalf.”
  • [warning for discussion of sexual harassment] The Long Con | Mahalo.ne.Trash (9 Oct): “Something that people rarely think of as a con game is sexual harassment, but after listening to the lived experiences of women who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I feel the analogy is apt.”
  • [warning for discussion of sexual and racial harassment] The Cool Girl Trap: Or, Why Sexism in Tech Isn’t Going Away. | Kennedy Garza at Medium (6 Oct): “This status is only granted to girls who are cool on her male colleague’s terms — the second she steps outside the bounding box of that status, she is ostracized, or at the very least, looked at differently forever. It’s why sexism and other negative behaviors are so common in the industry. Speaking up about these things, once you’ve already been established as a ‘Cool Girl,’ can at minimum make you a social pariah and at worst, impact your career.”

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, 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.

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)


Eat, pray, linkspam (2 September 2015)

  • [Video] Maggie Nelson, GitHub Director of Infrastructure Engineering: “Maggie Nelson, Director of Infrastructure Engineering at GitHub, shares her story at the GitHub Girl Geek Dinner on August 19, 2015”
  • Black Lives Matter Inspired This Chilling Fantasy Novel | Wired (August 29): “Her new novel The Fifth Season is set in a world wracked by natural disasters that threaten to destroy civilization. In this world sorcerers who can harness the power of earthquakes and volcanoes are both feared and valued, and such people, known as orogenes, are subject to brutal oppression. Jemisin says that real-world events in Ferguson, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, helped inspire her story.”
  • I’m Obsessed With Slam City Oracles and You Will Be Too | Autostraddle (August 29): “Jane Friedhoff’s Slam City Oracles is a smash-em-up game […]  like you’re wandering through an imagined world full of blocks and, like we all did when we were four or five, pretending to Godzilla things over with absolutely no consequences.”
  • Kickin’ Rad, Super Bad: Interview With ‘Hiveswap’ UI Artist Veronica Nizama | FemHype (August 28): “One key member of the development team is Veronica Nizama, user interface designer and texture artist for What Pumpkin Studios. Veronica has a wealth of experience with both mobile and mainstream game development, having worked directly on over forty projects, and has carved a name for herself on the adult comic book scene. I had the chance to sit down with her and discuss her work on Hiveswap, as well as some of her own personal experiences in the industry.”
  • Don’t let them label you a demon kitty | Stormy’s Corner (August 28): “if your organization is labeling you as a “demon kitty”, it’s not your fault, not any more than it was the fault of a six week old kitten. So, hold that knowledge, that it’s not your fault, and decide if you want to work it out with them or if you want to find a better home.”
  • Call It the ‘Bechdel-Wallace Test’ | The Atlantic (August 25): “Bechdel reiterated her debt to Wallace for coming up with the test. “I feel a little bit sheepish about the whole thing, […] because it’s not like I invented this test or said this is the Bechdel test. It somehow has gotten attributed to me over the years.””
  • Letters to Tiptree: what does it mean to “write like a man”? | Hoyden About Town (August 26): “Letters to Tiptree was released this week from World Fantasy Award-winning Australian small press Twelfth Planet Press, and I’m rather excited about it. […] In Letters to Tiptree, forty writers, editors, critics, and fans address questions of gender, of sexuality, of the impossibility and joy of knowing someone only through their fiction and biography. They reminisce about the impact of Tiptree’s work, about teaching her stories, and about what it means that a woman can write “like a man”.”
  • Diversity Panels I’d Like To See | The Bias (August 31): “generic panels don’t so much add to the conversation as recap it. It’s impossible to go into a subject as broad as “Race In Science Fiction” in any depth in a one-hour slot, and without knowing how well the audience has educated themselves on the topic, the panelists generally just end up summarizing the background reading.”
  • Diversity Panels: Where Next? | I Make Up Worlds (August 25): “These days, more conventions & comiccons feature panels on diversity: what it is, why it matters, how we can support it. I’ve seen examples of these being absolutely packed, especially when they first became features of the con and library landscape […] Now, however, without in any way suggesting that the need for discussion is over or that we have solved the problems, I am wondering to what degree the “diversity panel” may be beginning to become less effective and perhaps even to exacerbate the problem.”

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, 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.

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.

Cross-post: Start your own b(r)and: Everything I know about starting collaborative, feminist publications

This is a cross-post from Amelia Greenhall’s blog.

I am very hopeful that other intersectional feminist tech publications – possibly many others – will start in the coming year. This blog post is my way of supporting these nascent publications: an offering of everything I’ve learned about starting and running publishing companies.

After I wrote a blog post (What it was like to co-found Model View Culture with Shanley Kane) that disclosed that my business partner had been emotionally and verbally abusive, a number of people who had written for Model View Culture wrote nuanced, thoughtful pieces about it. (Links at the end.) In particular, Amelia Abreu wrote “Now start yr own band: on relationships, trauma, and tech feminism”. The last sentence of her essay really resonated with me:

“To borrow an old riot grrrl catchphrase, “Now start yr own band”. I neither want nor need to be aligned with a movement that is led unilaterally, and I also have no problem supporting those who need to control their own visions. We have the momentum, so now let’s start a bunch of new conversations and some new venues for them.”

At the moment, I have no interest in (or time for) starting another intersectional feminist tech publication, but I do possess a lot of knowledge about what goes into running one. I have pulled it all together here in hopes that it will help people who are considering starting a new publication. Here’s my (California/USA-flavored) advice on publishing, collaborating, budgeting, business incorporating, working with lawyers, being profitable, and anything else I thought was both important and non-obvious. I also asked Valerie Aurora (co-founder of The Ada Initiative and one of the women I co-founded Double Union with) to contribute to this article, including the sections on incorporation, choosing a founder, choosing a board of directors and advisors, making a budget, and raising money.

May this be of use.

— Amelia Greenhall (@ameliagreenhall), San Francisco, January 2015

Continue reading

Where in the world is Linkspam Sandiego? (23 January 2015)

  • Hacker Mythologies and Mismanagement | Betsy Haibel at Model View Culture (20 January): “There’s nothing wrong with recognizing that some software engineers conform to nerd and/or hacker stereotypes. There’s also nothing wrong with recognizing that engineering is a discipline that requires concentration, or a creative profession in which work may sometimes come in difficult fits and starts. But the idea that engineering culture should map one-to-one to the existing and coherent nerd subculture is dangerous. Our myths about engineering become excuses for why someone is struggling. They discourage teamwork as a drag on productivity, rather than seeing it as a multiplier. They encourage coders to Other disfavored employees as “not real engineers,” creating clearly defined in- and out-groups. They encourage everyone to view coding ability as an innate orientation rather than as a trained capacity, which corrupts both hiring and professional development practices.”
  • Infamous | Mark Bernstein (15 January): [I found this site’s colours and text difficult to read, and it gave me a headache.] “GamerGate set out to writes its own story in Wikipedia – and to spread the dirt about the women who were its targets. These efforts were blocked by established editors under established Wikipedia policy. In retaliation, GamerGate planned an operation to get rid of its opponents – the “Five Horsemen” active in preserving objectivity and in keeping scurrilous sexual innuendo out of the encyclopedia.”
  • Gaming while black: Casual racism to cautious optimism | Jessica Conditt at joystiq (16 January): “”Gaming culture is a direct reflection of our society,” [Dr. Kishonna Gray] said. “The only reason racism and sexism run rampant in gaming is because racism and sexism run rampant in society. But in physical spaces, mostly, it’s not overt. It’s subtle. It’s covert. So, yes, these issues manifest in a similar manner in gaming, but I contend that they present themselves worse. It’s not subtle. It’s in-your-face racism. A black person may not be called a nigger to their face, but they can almost guarantee it will happen in virtuality.””
  • Male Allies Bingo Card | Karen Catlin, Cate Huston, Kathryn Rotondo (15 January): “As we look ahead to 2015, we’re hopeful that more men will show up as allies for women in the tech industry. That you will take a stand. That you will leverage your voices and your power to make real change to improve diversity. The tech industry desperately needs it. And here’s what we hope to hear from you.”
  • Call for Donations and Nominations to Wiscon Member Assistance Fund | Chris W at WisCon (2 December): “Every year, we try to help as many people as we can come to WisCon. It’s the time of year when we ask you to please consider contributing to the member assistance fund. […] All nominations need to be made by midnight, PST, February 15, 2015.”
  • C is Manly, Python is for “n00bs”: How False Stereotypes Turn Into Technical “Truths” | Jean Yang at Model View Culture (20 January): “Judgments about language use, despite being far from “objective” or “technical,” set up a hierarchy among programmers that systematically privileges certain groups. Software engineers sometimes deride statistical analysis languages like R or SAS as “not real programming.” R and SAS programmers, in turn, look down at spreadsheet developers. Software engineers also distinguish between front-end (client-facing) and back-end (server) code, perceiving writing server code to be more “real.””
  • Brutal Optimization | Rachel Shadoan at Storify (20 January): “When you have to wade through an ocean of horror to participate in our communities, what are our communities optimizing for? […] Let’s examine our ideals, FOSS folks. Do we want to be a community where you can only participate if you can survive the brutal terrorizing?”
  • The Elephant in the Keynote (LCA 2015) | Project Gus (19 January): “In all three of these questions I see a common thread – people (particularly younger people) not wanting to engage with kernel development or the Linux community in general. It’s not even necessarily a diversity issue – Matthew Garrett & Thomi Richards are both younger white men, demographics traditionally over-represented in open source ranks. I’m in that same demographic, and with a background in systems programming and writing hardware-level code I’d be naturally interested in learning to contribute to the kernel. The major detractor for me is the community’s demeanor. […] I don’t mean to play down the importance of diversity in open source. I think these issues are also extremely important and I think Thomi and Matthew do as well. It’s just that even if you leave the (traditionally polarising) issue of diversity completely aside, the answers we heard on Friday are still problematic. Considering the diversity angle just compounds the problem with additional layers of alienation. […] And while younger white male software developers are having their opinions panned by the respected older generation on stage, what does this mean for actual marginalised groups? If FOSS is ever going to achieve broad adoption, it has to appeal to more than a privileged few.”



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.

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About Linkspam (28 December 2014)

  • Diversity != Inclusion: Expanding the “diversity in tech” conversation | Tiffany Mikell at Medium (26 December): “Diversity in tech conversations have become stagnant and narrow. Missing in these conversations is the relevance of culturally specific learning, methods of curating inclusive work spaces, practical ways to navigate the psychological toll of being an under-represented person, and attention to the value of supporting economic ecosystems that financially and structurally support POC communities.”
  • Why You Have To Fix Governance To Improve Hospitality | Cogito, Ergo Sumana (21 December): “if you want a hospitable community, it’s not enough to set up a code of conduct; a CoC can’t substitute for culture. Assuming you’re working with a pre-existing condition, you have to assess the existing power structures and see where you have leverage, so you can articulate and advocate new worldviews, and maybe even move to amend the rules of the game.”
  • Turning girls of color into robot-obsessed techies | Fortune (21 December): “In three years, Black Girls Code has grown from a pilot with a dozen students to an organization with chapters in seven U.S. cities, and one in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Robot Expo sold-out before Black Girls Code could do any outreach to schools. In Berkeley recently, nearly 200 girls rotated through classes that were a big contrast to their usual school curriculum. They learned about building a circuit with Play-Doh to make an LED light up, snapped together machines made of Legos that could be hooked up to motors, and assembled robots that could wheel across the floor on their own steam.”
  • Lupita Nyong’o: Star Wars Finally Gets It Right | Black Girl Nerds (24 December): “We have yet to see a Black woman depicted in a major role within the Star Wars universe.  This will in fact be a monumental moment for both fans of Nyong’o and the Star Wars franchise itself.  I am giddy with excitement that I can finally see a woman of my ilk kick ass in a big budget sci-fi film.  This is a colossal point in history for all black girl nerds.”
  • Is Being a Jerk Necessary for Originality?  | Springer Link (6 December): “We aimed to investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness and innovation process such as idea generation, promotion, and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships. Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical. In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”
  • The story of Grace Hopper (aka Amazing Grace) | Stanley Colors (9 December): [comic] see also a previous SMBC comic.
  • No true conference organizers | ashley williams at Medium (22 December): “there are no true conference organizers. Just conference organizers doing better and worse jobs at making conferences safe. Instead of appealing to purity, let’s stay constructive and keep iterating on our efforts. Design is not opposed to iteration, rather, it is a very important element of every iterative step. The dichotomies and post-rationalization Jared demonstrates in his blog post render his opinion unfalsifiable and, as a result, premptively end any further critical conversation about how to make conferences safe. That’s the last thing we want.”
  • Deep Lab Book | Studio for Creative Inquiry (23 December): “Deep Lab is a congress of cyberfeminist researchers, organized by STUDIO Fellow Addie Wagenknecht to examine how the themes of privacy, security, surveillance, anonymity, and large-scale data aggregation are problematized in the arts, culture and society.”
  • [potentially not safe for work content] An Oral History of the First Cyberfeminists | Motherboard (11 December): “Over twenty years later, in the many feminist conversations happening online, groups like VNS Matrix and their compatriots in the Cyberfeminist trenches are not frequently cited. They should be. Their spirit of joyful subversion is more relevant, more cannily timely, more totally necessary today than it has ever been.​”
  • [warning for harassment and violence towards women] Why Are We Kicking Up Such a Fuss About The Interview? | In These Times (24 December): “Yet here we are, with the new and supremely newsworthy face of terrorism, The Interview’s cancellation. And it mirrors, in exact detail, what women have been going through all year. It’s international terrorism, whereas other cases were domestic, but if that makes a significant difference, no one told Oklahoma City. It’s a case of nations opposing each other, rather than one privileged group within a nation opposing and punishing a less privileged one”


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.

I take it wearing cat ears wouldn’t help?


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. With the state of affairs as it is , my EHIC card is useless, I might as well not have one.

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.