[Pdx-pm] Ask For It

Addie M amdemew at gmail.com
Thu Jan 15 14:35:23 PST 2009

Let me try to be polite with this response, as a woman in CS (and someone
who still hasn't gone to a meeting, so I feel awkward just butting in, but I
feel extraordinarily passionate about this).

I've heard of this book countless times and I think it addresses the issue
of why women who are already in CS, on average, are not as "successful" as
men.  But it doesn't actually directly address the issue of
underrepresentation.  Negotiation skills aren't exactly an issue early on in
the pipeline (typically academia), where women are leaking out like crazy or
just not entering at all.

I do think, though, that the trend of women not "succeeding" as much as men
in computing and other fields (business etc) because they aren't as
aggressive or willing to sell themselves is indicative of exactly why women
aren't in the field in the first place.  An environment that rewards this
stereotypically masculine behavior is very off-putting or daunting to many
women.  Countless studies have shown that the hyper-masculine culture of
computing is the core cause of women's underrepresentation in the field.  I
consider myself a mostly androgynous person - due to my upbringing I show
some strong masculine traits, but I also reflect (and embrace) a tremendous
amount of my upbringing as a female, which includes a strong interest in
politeness and a general aversion to the traits that drive negotiators
(unfortunately, people with feminine upbringings don't rule the business

I think having discussions about the paucity of women in CS, especially when
these discussions are led by people in the majority group, is fantastic.
All members of the computing community need to be aware of and sensitive to
these issues in order to make the field appealing to people who are talented
and capable but nonetheless averse because they cannot personally identify
with the culture.  But I feel compelled to steer the conversation in a
slightly different direction just to show how the approach of pushing a book
like this on women is more of a symptom of the problem than a solution.
Being in the field for the past 10 years has been a constant struggle to
maintain my identity in light of an overwhelming message to adapt to the
culture of computing if I want to succeed, or even just stick around.
Realistically, I understand the necessity of, in this case, needing to
negotiate and advocate for myself if I want to do well.  That said, doing so
stretches far beyond my comfort zone and even my fundamental beliefs.

I'm willing to change myself a bit to accomodate the culture, but the
culture has not changed at all to accomodate me, and that's why "the sooner
they learn this stuff, the better off we all will be!" hit a wrong note with
me.  Until there's a little give on each side, expect to see a persistent
lack of diversity in this field.

That said, if you're really compelled about this issue, start googling about
the underrepresentation of women in computing and you'll find a huge amount
of research that all says essentially the same thing.  In other words, the
research has identified the problem, but most of the community isn't aware
of this.  Implementing a solution is tricky, but the more of us that are
aware of what's going on, the closer we'll get to making a positive change
for women and the community as a whole.  My recommendation as a starting
place is "Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing" by Jane Margolis and
Allan Fisher.  If you've always comfortable in this culture, you'll probably
learn some things.  If you haven't felt comfortable at points, you'll
realize you aren't as unique a case as you thought (that was what happened
for me).

JMHO, and thanks for reading if you have lasted this long,
(perl programmer who does yoga on meeting nights)

ps - an unfortunate counter-argument to this book, and an indication of our
culture as a whole - women who do negotiate like men in the workplace still
get worse results, as this behavior isn't looked upon favorably when they
exhibit it.  There was a study released sometime last year showing this
trend, and I'd share a link if I wasn't going braindead on good keywords to
use to look it up.

On Thu, Jan 15, 2009 at 11:56 AM, Keith Lofstrom <keithl at kl-ic.com> wrote:

> Last night at the Lab after the pm meeting, discussion veered to
> the underrepresentation of women in CS.  Kernel hacker Val Aurora
> suggests the book "Ask For It:  How Women Can Use the Power of
> Negotiation to Get What They Really Want" by Babcock and Laschever.
> The problem is that in most situations men are about 10x more
> likely to ask for what they want than women;  while much of the
> time the guys are turned down, they sometimes get what they ask
> for.  That usually means better jobs, better pay, better purchases,
> and so forth.  The authors teach some of the basic negotiating
> skills, as well as techniques to deal with the frequent rejections
> that come from asking for the iffy stuff.
> I bought a copy for my wife, and what we learn from it will help
> both of us.  Perl Mongers include women with the energy and skills
> to change the world - if this helps them do make good changes
> better and faster, the sooner they learn this stuff, the better
> off we all will be!
> Keith
> --
> Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com         Voice (503)-520-1993
> KLIC --- Keith Lofstrom Integrated Circuits --- "Your Ideas in Silicon"
> Design Contracting in Bipolar and CMOS - Analog, Digital, and Scan ICs
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