Tonight I won the Techionista Award, a new Dutch award for women in tech. You can read the judges report here(Dutch). Sadly I could not pick it up, since I am in London now to speak at NDC. Tomorrow I will be a guest on the Hello World show a great show on code (with a women host by the way!)
Luckily my lovely friend Deborah picked it up for me (thanks Deb!) but I wanted to seize this opportunity to say some things on women in tech, so I am doing it here.
I used to not be a fan of women in tech things, because after all, I am a *person* in tech. Why do these things need to be about my gender? I do not want to be the best *female* tech inspirator of the Netherlands, I want to be the best, period.
When people express that same sentiment, I get it. Because sure, talk about my achievements should not be about my gender, and yet it is. This is a clear example of the difference between the world as it is, and the world as we would like to see it. My gender should be irrelevant, but clearly it is not. I cannot count the number of times people have asked me if I am *really* a university professor, if I *really* know programming etc. My gender is brought up all the time.
So what to do? Do we ignore the fact that even though it should not be a thing, it is? Or are we going to make the world a better place? We could (and many people do) say toughen up, who cares that people say these things, just work harder and be a good role model and in a generation it will all be fine. But let me present to you…. this graph:
This clearly shows that something is up with computing, and we are going to have to work really really hard to fix this! This graph shows that the ‘natural’ increase of women as we have seen in other fields is not working for us. Even though things are getting better—for example, at the conference I am at in London right now, there were a lot of amazing sessions by some amazing ladies, but the pipeline is not really improving in the Netherlands. In Delft we have about 500 freshman in computer science and only about 30 women among them, while in the online Scratch course I ran (over 10.000 kids participated so far) in the Netherlands, about 30% of the kids were girls. What happens there? How do we go from 30% for kids aged 7 to 11 to 3% when they are 18? Do they all lose interest? That is unlikely, right? We keep telling girls you need to be brilliant for programming and we keep putting male nerd stereotype in science classrooms while we know that is discouraging.
The voices that are saying that programming is not for girls are so loud and so omnipresent, we cannot place the burden on individual girls to ignore it. Sure, some girls do, like me and some of the other great women on the Techionista list, but that is more luck than skill, and we want every girl with an interest in programming to be able to become a programmer without ever hearing that it is weird, unsexy, ungirly or hard.
Until that day comes I will show up on any programming, science or tech for girls event, and I will explain time and time and time again to middle class white boys and men that no, this is not discrimination against them, it is simply balancing against strong forces that work against girls and women.