Sometimes, the stars align. Other times, it is the articles that come across my screen.
A few days ago, Gene Spafford wrote an excellent essay over at CERIAS on the need for more women in engineering, more particularly in Computer Science, and even more particularly in Computer Security. Even more importantly, he listed things in the article that both men and women should do to bring about this change. I’ll repeat the first five of his fourteen rules for men:
- Simple: be aware. Help others be aware. Don’t limit your involvement to this, but everything else flows from this.
- If you have children, encourage them and their friends to consider computing in school. Be supportive of anyone trying an IT profession. Be positive and not condescending.
- If you are a teacher/professor, don’t let the male students bully or harass the females. You are there to create a learning environment for everyone. Generally speaking, many women are less quick to respond to questions as they think about how to frame the answers, and they tend to let others speak without interruption; males generally are the opposite. Don’t let anyone be interrupted when speaking, and ensure that everyone gets a chance.
- At a conference or professional meeting? Don’t assume that the women are less important than then men there — especially if they look young! Address everyone equally. No one should be invisible. Would you want people to ignore you or trivialize what you had to say if you looked different than you do? Address the person, not the appearance.
- Don’t ever touch a woman, without her clear uncoerced permission, in any manner that you would not touch a male authority figure. That is, would you touch your boss/professor/policeman in the same manner — without getting slugged/fired/arrested? Thus, shaking hands, fine. Catching someone if they stumble, fine. A greeting hug? Let her initiate it. Grabbing their butts? Definitely no. Use the same rule of thumb for language. Would you proposition a male policeman you just met?
For the women, he gives specific pointers to resources (although he forgot the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security sponsored by ACSA — contact me if you want information on that and I’ll get you to the right people). One thing that he surprisingly does not mention is the importance of role models. Many of the women I know in the field went in the field because a role model showed them it was possible. There are many such role models, from Sally Ride to Grace Hopper to Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, the engineer who designed the I-405/I-10 interchange. I’d like to mention two that were written up recently. The first is the President of my employer: Dr. Wanda Austin, who worked her way up as an engineer. The second I just read about: Mary Sherman Morgan, the first female rocket scientist.
The road isn’t easy. The LA Times just had an interesting article about the insidious effect of a sport on the climb: golf. It appears many female executives don’t feel at ease cutting out of work to do “business” on the golf course, and male executives (thinking they don’t play golf) aren’t inviting them. This is the same subtle segregation that occurred back in the old athletic clubs and fraternal societies, and served to exclude women from the business world. Battling the attitudes is part of the first step.