Reading 04: Digging a Deep Hole of Bias

I believe the lack of diversity is a huge problem in the technology industry. Diversity brings a variety of view points and ways of thinking. I believe this diversity of opinions and thoughts helps make better more well-rounded products and software. Not only is there a lack of diversity in the technology industry, there is also a lack of compassion for anyone who thinks differently. This makes for uncomfortable or unwelcoming work environments.

It is unfortunate that the technology industry took such a turn to “brogrammer” culture, because it makes the industry so unwelcoming to people who are “different.” It was not always this way. In the article “Why Women Stopped Coding,” it is pointed out that”A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women.” On top of being the original coders, the percentage of women in technology was on the rise until the 1980’s when the personal computer came out. The early personal computers popularized the idea that “computers are for boys.” This seems to be the start of the downfall of the percentage of women in computing. Computers were only being bought for boys, and “as personal computers became more common, computer science professors increasingly assumed that their students had grown up playing with computers at home.” In my opinion this created the exclusivity of the technology industry. I felt this pressure to already have a basic understand of coding and technology when I took my first computer science class, and it definitely felt exclusive.

The unwelcoming workplace statistics provided in the article “A new survey explains one big reason there are so few women in technology,” are both alarming and unsurprising at the same time. Same with the fiasco that happened at Uber. Some of the statistics and stories told are very alarming and would absolutely deter women from even entering the industry. To read that 60% of women in a survey of women in technology reported sexual harassment, is shocking because that is two times the national average. However I was actually very unsurprised by a lot of the stories a read because they are similar to things I have already experienced and I have not even worked in the technology industry full time yet. This summer I worked at a large tech company and was the only girl in my friend group of interns. I was constantly made fun of or talked down to for being a woman, whether they realized they were doing it or not. At the Grace Hopper Conference, I listened to the story of a Black woman who was the CEO and founder of a company, that was eventually kicked out of her position when she was pregnant because “It’s already hard enough having a black woman as CEO, let alone a pregnant black woman.” It’s this type of culture that made me decide I could not live in a city like Silicon Valley where the majority of the population is computer scientists and “brogrammers.”

I need to live in a city not made up of “brogrammers” because I need to be surrounded by people who think differently. That is what the technology industry is missing, people who think differently. In an interview, Melinda Gates discussed when she made the decision to just be herself:

 And I started to learn that being myself could work. By then, I was a manager and I ended up inadvertently attracting huge teams around me who wanted to act in the same way. And people would even say to me, “How in the world did you recruit that amazing programmer to one of your teams?” and I would say, well I think they just want to work in this type of environment.

Melinda Gates detailed that she attracted the top talent by forming teams of people who did not want the competitive nature of other teams. People want to be themselves, and they want to be surrounded by other creative people who think differently. By making diverse, uncompetitive teams, we can make a much more welcoming environment for everyone, not just women and minorities, and this can help make the workplace more fun and less stressful.

The lack of diversity that currently exists in technology, is bad for business, and bad for the future of technology. When asked about the risks of not diversifying technology, Melinda Gates says:

I think we’ll have so much hidden bias coded into the system that we won’t even realize all the places that we have it. If you don’t have a diverse workforce programming artificial intelligence and thinking about the data sets to feed in, and how to look at a particular program, you’re going to have so much bias in the system, you’re going to have a hard time rolling it back later or taking it out.

The longer we wait to make the workplace comfortable for diverse individuals, the more technology suffers from bias and lack of diversity, and the deeper we dig a hole that we will not be able to get out of. Women and minorities bring different points of view and different ways to solve problems. It also can be argued that women bring a level of compassion to their work that men might not. Compassion can make for a more meaningful experience not only for the user of the product, but also make it easier for future computer scientists who work on the product.