BCS Wolverhampton branch talk

December 7, 2012 - BCS / Women in Computing

Yesterday I spoke at BCS Wolverhampton, presenting a similar talk to the ones I’ve done at BCS Birmingham and EMF camp; the title and the abstract were the same, but the slides have been gradually evolving each time I give the talk. Having presented to quite a few people (about 30?) at Birmingham, and to about 120 at EMF, I thought I had the talk nailed; it takes about 45-50 minutes with time for questions, and there are often a lot of questions. But last night’s performance suggested to me that maybe this confidence in my timing was misplaced; there were so many comments and questions and debates that it took about an hour and a half to get through the slides!

Before I go into more detail about the debates and the questions, here are a bunch of links so the people who came to the talk can follow stuff up if they want:

  • My slides in PDF (about 2mb)
  • computingplusplus.org who are the organisation linking coders & IT professionals with local schools
  • BCSWomen, Girl Geek Dinners and womenintechnology; all great places for women to look for support and networking
  • Scratch, a great programming environment/playground for younger kids; AppInventor a system for coding apps for android phones, that’s really good fun and easy, probably OK for aged 9-10 up; and Greenfoot, a clever set of tools & an IDE introducing Java to kids, probably OK for 13+

The audience this time was small – about 15 people – and I think the size of the audience might have contributed to the interactive nature of the presentation. I think I was 5 or 6 slides in when I got my first question, and then the floodgates had opened. It was huge fun and very good natured, with my assumptions and statements being challenged at every step, and the audience supporting or disagreeing with me and each other, allegiances changing from slide to slide. I think nearly everyone in the room contributed to the talk and the debate at one point, which made the session much less like a talk and more like a roundtable or a seminar. I certainly didn’t win the entire audience over to my side, but I expect that I managed to get people thinking.

One point that really made me think was about monocultures. I have always thought (and asserted!) that monocultures are not pleasant environments to work in; basically, that an all male workplace is bad for the guys as well as the gals (and vice versa). Some research backs this up, particularly the research into sex-role spillover (male nurses take more sick leave, that kind of thing). But that doesn’t necessarily apply to technology: various discussions I’ve had lately have led me to believe that tech is more of a meritocracy than many other fields, and what matters is whether your colleagues can do the job. So men in all male technical teams are fine, as long as the other guys are competent. Another point raised in the discussion was that for some people, monocultures can be comforting places.

Now, anecdotally, a lot of the students I’ve spoken with about this (guys) have expressed displeasure about the gender ratio (they’d like more gals around); there’s a possible sampling bias here (well they’re talking to me, aren’t they, and my opinions are not exactly hidden on this topic), and there’s a possible ulterior motive (hur hur hur).

I don’t know of any systematic or scientific investigation of this though, and I’m not really sure how I would go about studying it. I think a study of what men-in-tech think about the lack of women-in-tech would be a fascinating thing to do, though, and I’m now sat here on the train wondering how I’d go about it and what the problems would be (sampling bias being the big one; if you ask for questionnaire responses, you get lots respondents who’ve got a strong opinion on the subject). Hmm. Food for thought, anyway – thanks, Wolverhampton!

If anyone reading this has any ideas about how to go about doing this study, or even wants to collaborate on putting it together, do leave a comment or get in touch:)

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