Ada Lovelace Day at SparkFun


The gender gap in STEM industries has been well documented. A 2011 survey by the Department of Commerce found that although women fill close to half of US jobs, they hold less than 25 percent of jobs in science, tech, engineering and math (STEM - or STEAM, if art is included, which it increasingly is) fields. The same survey found only one in seven engineers is a woman, only 27 percent of computer science jobs are held by women, and despite a growth in college-educated women entering the workforce, our share in the percentage of STEM careers has remained almost constant in the past decade.

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Education Project Manager Amanda Clark (left) and Director of Education Lindsay Levkoff (right) work on curriculum for a pop-ups and paper electronics class with the Department of Education in June.

SparkFun has 152 total employees, 32 of which (21%) are female. We’ve made some fancy infographics based on our employees, and while we’ve increasingly added female workers since opening our doors, you can see we have a ways to go before the divide is even close to equal.

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This widespread industry discrepancy is an ongoing concern, and varied theories exist on its causes. Foremost among the possible reasons for the gap are a lack of female STEM role models, continued cultural gender bias - conscious or otherwise, and a failure on the part of our education system to provide sufficient and tailored exposure to hands-on STEM learning opportunities for female K-12 students. SparkFun’s Department of Education, led by lady STEM fanatic Dr. Lindsay Levkoff, has worked frighteningly hard nationwide for the past four years to do everything they can to help integrate curriculum, classes, and hands-on STEM learning to K-12 educators, administrators and students, but for all our enthusiasm, we’re just one company.

So - how do we as a country close the gap and encourage more girls to study and stick with STEM fields throughout their education and careers? A concrete solution has yet to be implemented, but there is good news. The number of women studying in STEM fields is increasing every year, and with them, the number of female role models; Facebook’s chief operating officer and director of engineering are both women who have spoken on the gender gap issue, along with the vice president of Google, and we’ve watched as MIT grad Limor Fried founded Adafruit in 2005, went on to be the first female engineer featured on the cover of Wired, and continues to run a strong company that gives us a daily run for our money.

There are also a number of organizations devoted to efforts to close the gap. One of them, the Ada Initiative, helps host international events every year to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day on October 15. Ada Lovelace Day is about sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today. The aim is to create new role models for girls and women in these male-dominated fields by raising the profile of other women in STEM.

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Tech Stylist Dia teaches a plushbot class at SparkFun HQ in 2012.

SparkFun was invited to share our stories on Ada Lovelace Day in the hopes of showing a new generation of girls that inspiration comes from all over. I asked my women coworkers how they first became interested in science, technology, engineering or math; and who their STEM heroines are. Every female employee at SparkFun ended up here for a reason - because we’re passionate about what we do here - and over the course of this project I was happy to learn that we all have a story about how we got here and why, and at least one heroine who inspired us along the way. I have a mom who let me spend my childhood in the museum and nature preserve she worked for to thank for my love of science, and I was glad to learn I wasn’t alone. To kick things off, here’s a breakdown of who else we have to thank.

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As you can see, the guidance and encouragement of a family member (mothers, sisters and female cousins were listed), were the most cited influences, although computer scientist and general bad-ass Grace Hopper singlehandedly took a significant piece of the pie. When it came to sharing personal stories about STEM exposure, it was surprising to learn that a lot of women at SparkFun were just as inspired by direct discouragement or bias as by positive guidance, and I was honored they were willing to share their experiences and spread awareness of the challenges they’ve faced. Here are a few of the many responses I received:

"One of my early memories is indicative of how things have changed. We had an annual 'science day' in grade school, where people gathered in little booths in the gym. I remember talking to one of them that had a cool solar system banner. While I was peppering him with lots of questions, our principal walked up, listened for a while, then told the volunteer that I could always be counted on to spend too much time asking 'why?'. For years I used that story to justify not taking science classes. When I started college and had to take science gen ed's, it was my husband that told me how foolish that was and that I had been asking the right question all along; 'why' is an essential in learning." — Accounting Manager Lissa Kendall

"One of my earliest technology memories is of sitting with my mom in front of my family's first computer (a Gateway 2000 P5-100XL, which we kept in the pantry). She pulled up the Gopher page of a library (she's a librarian), then told me something I never forgot - 'Right now, we're talking to a computer... in Sweden!' Computers: they connect Sweden to your pantry. I don't think there were many days where I wasn't doing something on the computer after that."

"For anyone who isn't inspired by technology, who thinks it's not for them, I want to take them by the shoulders and say, 'You could make anything! YOU COULD MAKE ANYTHING!' Is there a person alive who isn't inspired by the idea that they could make anything? " — Tech Support Guru Allison

"I think the first time I (stubbornly) decided I was going to pursue STEAM work was in middle school when I had a male teacher tell me I wasn't any good at math because I wasn't creative enough. It made me so angry that it spurred me to prove him completely and utterly wrong. After that, it was all science and math, all the way. I ended up taking Calculus 3 and worked as an intern at a microbiology lab by the time I graduated high school. I then went on to get an Applied Mathematics B.S. degree, and am now working on a Masters in Biomedical Engineering and in Applied Statistics, while lovingly hacking away on electronics."

"Women have done great things for STEAM subjects: check out Hedy Lemarr, Maria Agnesi, Sally Ride, Jane Goodall and Mary Cartwright. These were women I learned about in school and pushed me to continue pursuing my interests in STEAM subjects, even when others told me I couldn't do it. Between teaching at SparkFun and working with customers, as well as the outreach I did in high school and college, I see the amazing minds of young women already leaps and bounds ahead of me in the tech fields, working to make the world better. Unfortunately, I think there is still a lot of stigma against women being capable in these fields, which is frustrating, and is something I personally find really great that working at a place like SparkFun allows me and supports me to fight against." — Engineering QA Toni Klopfenstein

"In 2nd grade, I got to walk across the school yard to take advanced math classes with a 5th grade class. That was totally awesome. I also made a rat trap car in 6th grade that made me really interested in math and science. In 6th grade, I was told I wasn't able to take an advanced math class because there were not enough books. Apparently the school district only had four books, and all four of those books were being used by boys. It is so important that EVERYONE has equal access to STEAM technology, and I love that our company represents that. Women in STEAM fields are awesome; it is always impressive (in an HR capacity) to speak with a woman who is strong and confident in a male-dominated field. Being a woman in math, technology or science indicates that you are smart, love to press the boundaries, and are willing to work hard." — HR Manager Sallie

"The first time I was interested in STEAM was when I took apart a working iPod when I was 13, and was fascinated by the LEDs and other tiny components I didn't quite understand, but knew were vital to the operation of most electronics. My STEAM heroines generally come from comics or books. I've been fascinated with science ever since I'd first heard of Mina Harker, Jane Foster, and Dr. Ellie Sattler. These not-so-real women are incredible, brainy, self-guided women who don't need a male leadership to inspire them or keep them motivated. I wanted to be a paleontologist after watching Jurassic Park, even though it wasn't always the most glamorous job (case in point - the scene where Ellie is literally up to her elbows in poo). These ladies made science and experiments a tangible, possible future for all young girls." — Packager Danielle Sanford

"I have always been super interested in biology, human anatomy and bugs! I remember being a kid and hanging out in my backyard, cutting up bugs and 'investigating' how they work and what they are made of. I also have spent most of my life memorizing common plant names and their uses in food and medicine. These days I am an amateur beekeeper and home chef; my love for the natural world has transitioned into my favorite hobbies. My mom was a physical therapist for 25 years; talking about the natural world and especially the human body was part of everyday conversation. We probably spent too much time self-diagnosing various ailments and walking around in the woods looking at mushrooms and berries which I would inevitably ask if I could eat. Luckily, the answer was most often 'no.'" — Marketing Manager Lara B.

"Science was always the most appealing subject in school, and I was fascinated by all of the livings things in my backyard. Understanding how things work has always been the most interesting knowledge to pursue, so science was an obvious choice. Growing up our close family friends had a pretty extensive collection of skulls and other fossils in their house. They certainly got me hooked on skulls and skeletons, a fascination that continues into my own collection today. I was lucky that my high school offered anatomy and physiology, as that was probably the class that sealed the deal for my career path."

"If we take native curiosity into the 21st century, we should all be interested in how the technology that surrounds us works. We talk about finding a better balance between being a consumer and a producer and, thanks to open source/access, it's now easier than ever before to learn about these technologies without having to study them at a post-secondary level. On a broader scale, I think understanding how things function builds confidence, problem-solving and creativity. These are critical traits that young women can benefit from for the rest of their lives. Nearly all of the literature points to the fact that young women are interested in science and technology until something happens right around middle school or high school. If we can use technology and interesting applications to keep that spark alive, the world will greatly benefit from having more balanced teams to tackle the global issues. I'm excited by how much the female population has grown at SparkFun since I joined the team and, even though we have plenty more growth to achieve, I am hopeful that it's an indicator of bigger things happening all over." — Director of Education Lindsay Levkoff

"When I was younger, I would pretend that I was Gregor Mendel, and collect as many seeds as I could find. Then I logged and drew their growth. Also, I would do little genetic experiments that normally went horribly wrong (aside from food, I'm pretty sure I am responsible for thousands of plant deaths in my life). I used to get home early from school (skipping, rather), just so I could draw new inventions, Leonardo da Vinci style, and figure out how they would work. My room used to be covered in sticky notes and drawings on random topics - such as how I could develop better AI for robots specializing in sarcastic and dry humor."

"It is very important to show girls that STEAM careers are challenging, but fun. Growing up, there wasn't a focus or push in Electrical Engineering at my school or at home, so it never crossed my mind that engineering could be a career path, even though it was a big part of my own free time. I ended up going into programming and art instead (which are also part of STEAM). It is awesome some schools have FIRST Robotics clubs and show what different STEAM career options are available."

"Another reason I think it's important is to build confidence, and change the stereotypes of females in certain STEAM fields. Having more of a balance between sexes in STEAM careers might help with the misconceptions and confusion that are still awkwardly debated within these fields and the media. There are many different extreme views on this topic; for example, if you are a female in a more male-dominated field, you have the pressure of representing all females out there, and if you fail, then you're also letting other females down (I just recently heard this again listening to professional meetup talk). Even the view that a female got an ubiquitous job or is a part of a project only because of affirmative action, and that they didn't earn that spot, is often prevalent. Young children and teenagers interested in a STEAM career should be focusing on being mad scientists, or dreaming up the next revolutionary invention, not preparing themselves to deal with stigmas and stereotypes in STEAM fields." — Technical Designer Pamela "Cortez the Killer"

"As a kid I always loved computers, I think my family got our first computer when I was about 7, and I remember loving the magazine I got with games you could type out. I was too young to be able to type well and so always begged my parent to type it for me. But ever since then I've wanted to understand how computers work. That quest pretty much took me through an electrical engineering degree."

"I think it's important to society in general to have people interested in STEAM. These are the areas that make advancements that increase the quality of life; whether it's medicine or a new smart phone, these fields are changing the world. I think too often girls (and often boys) are led to believe that math and science are 'hard' and not for them. We need to stop telling kids things are too hard for them before they ever try it." — Tech Support Guru Michelle

I’m thankful to my female coworkers for their enthusiasm and willingness to share their stories for this project. If there’s anything to be taken away from such a wide-ranging catalog of personal experience, it’s that the gender gap isn’t set in stone. A disparity of women in STEM fields doesn’t need to be a given, and as the world changes, the influence of peers, teachers, family members and role models - male and female alike - will play an invaluable part in the choices of the women who will succeed us in our industries. We may not be able to singlehandedly change the education system (not that it will stop us from trying), but we can be a good influence on young students as often as possible; it only takes one person to tip the scales. We’re honored to add our voices to Ada Lovelace Day, and to the professors, scientists, coworkers, entrepreneurs, moms, engineers, sisters, friends, fictional paleontologists and Grace Hoppers who showed us what was possible - thank you.


Comments 36 comments

  • I hope it’s not out of place for me to chime in as a dude, but it occurred to me recently that I likely wouldn’t work in tech without the guidance and encouragement of the women who taught and did technical work in my elementary & high school. Mrs. Van Cleave tolerated my egregious abuses of the school network, let me hang out in the lab for countless hours with her copy of the HyperCard book, and told my parents I needed a computer of my own. Mrs. Reinoehl gave me a copy of Computer Programming in the BASIC Language that still sits on a shelf behind my desk at work.

    In the kind of place where I grew up, these gestures were absolute lifelines. There’s almost nothing about my identity or experience of life that hasn’t been colored and shaped by those early interactions. Our technical culture as a whole is impoverished every time someone who could become a mentor, a guide, or the kind of principled antagonist that every young hacker mind has to find somewhere is discouraged from entering the field.

    • Not out of place at all, Brennen. I loved hearing people’s stories, and while writing this post I wished I could have had the space to ask all of SparkFun’s employees about their role models and early experiences. It’s my hope that everyone has a story and someone to thank for the encouragement that got them where they are; thank you for sharing yours!

    • That’s what I don’t understand, Brennen. You were encouraged by a female teacher, and there is a higher percentage of women teachers, especially in the formative years. Not to mention the very high percentage of women in childcare, and the extremely high percentage of women who have a bigger role in child rearing at home.

      So why don’t these women encourage females in the same way they encourage males to be interested in the STEM arena? They did in Brennen’s case.

      It seems that if a child’s future interests could be shaped and guided in their early years, and that there are more women doing the guiding, then what is the proposed source of these inequities?

      I hope that nobody just blames the easy target of “the media” as the cliché scapegoat. Surly the child rearers have some responsibility?

      • It seems that if a child’s future interests could be shaped and guided in their early years, and that there are more women doing the guiding, then what is the proposed source of these inequities?

        It’d be kind of odd to reduce a really complicated question about culture, work, and the economy to a single relationship, and then decide that the best thing to do would be to assign blame to the women who teach for the inequities affecting women across an entire society or industry.

        It assumes something to say that women in teaching roles, people who are after all frequently modeling careers in tech, science, mathematics, etc., don’t encourage girls to follow in their footsteps. In cases where they don’t, or where boys receive the bulk of the energy devoted to encouraging involvement in science and tech, there are a lot of questions to be asked about why that is - questions having to do with teachers' own experiences, broader cultural patterns, and the expressed interests and backgrounds of kids themselves. If you have ever spent any time teaching, you probably know that that last is itself not a simple question. If you’ve ever worked with teachers, you know that everyone brings their own experience, prejudices, assumptions, and expectations to teaching. Teachers don’t operate in some sort of cultural vacuum any more than parents do.

        I really don’t mean to accuse you of bad faith in this, but comments like this always come up in threads like this one (there are certainly a handful here), and I don’t often feel like the people writing them are very interested in the answers to the questions they pose.

        There’s a pattern here, and one part of the pattern is that women who have devoted their lives and careers to these fields are articulating that we as a culture and a set of professions have real problems to deal with, that there are real inequities that they face in their day to day lives, and that we should be willing to give some serious thought to a bunch of questions that may not have easy answers, that might require some self-reflection and some changes in the way we conduct ourselves. The other part of the pattern is that a lot of dudes react to hearing this stuff by trying to explain it away, or assign blame, or just reflexively assert that the right-now state of things - neither the experiences of the past, nor the possibilities of the future, but rather the illusory stasis of the current moment - is just a product of inexorable natural laws which straightforwardly demonstrate what we should both desire and consider possible.

        We might do better to just sort of chill out and listen for a while: Squash the impulse to dismiss and easily categorize things that make us kind of uncomfortable, ask some questions in the awareness that they might not have easy answers, and most of all start treating the lived experience of other people as something we should consider instead of something we should be at pains to explain to ourselves by way of explaining to them.

        • You can rightly accuse me of bad faith, Brenden, for I started out with a genuine interest in understanding the cause, but the tone of my post ended up in an unfortunate hunt for blame, with the child rearers becoming the sole target.

          After re-reading my post it was clear that I was implying that women are somehow their own oppressors because they make up the majority portion within the very groups responsible for the moulding of children’s minds.

          I apologise to those offended, and I have no excuse for my latent prejudice. I do aim for impartiality but it seems I need a little more work.

          Nobody is to blame, and again you rightly point out that the cause is very complicated indeed with there being no one single source.

          Having said that, assuming that a person’s interests are not just hardwired into them by nature, I do think that it would be beneficial to have an additional campaign that concentrates on educating the nurturers for proactive guidance.

  • The chart of breakdown by department would be a bit more impactful if it showed number of women / total employees in department. For example, if a company has 2 female engineers, but it’s out of 2, they’re definitely well above average. But if it’s 2 out of 100, well, you get the idea.

    • I agree, for reference, I can tell you that here in techsupport there are 6 of us total (with 2 women). Oddly enough our percentage has gone down in the past year. About a year ago 3/5 members of techsupport were women (Toni and Pam moved on to bigger and better things here at Sparkfun).

    • If I counted correctly, we now have 13 folks in the engineering department total, making Dia and myself the 15%. Hurray for math!

  • Stereotypes are powerful - but sometimes can be used both for and against the cause. My favourite example was reading a few pages in weekend edition of newspaper about female mathematicians - they were few of them in the university, they were told ‘pure science is not for women’, ‘women don’t/can’t get mathematics’ etc. (yeah, that’s still common here, on electronics faculty I heard a few years ago ‘girls come here to get husbands, we don’t need them’). When they came to mathematics conference in Italy they met a large group of fellow Italian female mathematicians and, surprise, they were told - ‘mathematics is such a feminine area, men rarely study maths, it’s not for them, they don’t like it’. Looks like Italian stereotype was rotated 180 degrees.

    Stereotypes are so dumb… I know a few really good female mathematicians, one is my good friend, one achieved professor of mathematics in ‘60s. I don’t dare to imagine what she’s heard in her times. She was still teaching algorithms in college a few years ago.

    A few years ago I took part in workshops on ‘how to get teenagers, especially girls, more interested in STEM’. One of the recurring themes was that teachers often can’t explain the idea in more than one way, because they understand it just in that one way. Example from my friend: she studied CS and when teacher was showing equations for FFT she tried to understand why there is Fast in FFT - equations were equivalent and while she tried, she could not understand that. She was stubborn, though, and she was going through book after book and finally she found an explanation - butterfly diagrams. Happy, she came to the teacher with the book in hand, ‘look, I finally understood, this is why Fast Fourier Transform is fast’. Teacher looked at diagrams, took a long while and said ‘you know, I can’t understand a thing from these diagrams’. As I see it, the more versatile teacher is, knows more examples and ways to show the principle, the more students will get it - both girls and boys. Probably statistics are not the same - maybe more girls understand one explanation, maybe more boys the other; if male teachers show just ‘ boys’ ‘ version, proportionally less girls get it, and while we’re at it, they loose a lot of boys along the way, too.

    Ultimately, I guess you need a passion for the subject. Whether you have a great example home, or a favourite heroine in SF novel you read, or Limor Fried / Amazing Grace / Ada Lovelace, or a great teacher of any gender that can wake up your brain and ignite the passion - you win, whatever your gender. Great teacher and general encouragement can sustain and improve on that; dumb stereotypes and stupid people can slow you down (that’s what we need to fight against); just don’t let that passion die.

    • Whether you have a great example home, or a favourite heroine in SF novel you read, or Limor Fried / Amazing Grace / Ada Lovelace, or a great teacher of any gender that can wake up your brain and ignite the passion - you win, whatever your gender.

      YES.

  • “Computers: they connect Sweden to your pantry” - that’s a great quote all by itself, thanks Allison!

  • No one mentioned Zombie Marie Curie! Though I suppose she’d fit in the “Fictional Character” bucket.

  • I understand the importance of female role models, but don’t forget to ask fathers to introduce and encourage STEM topics with their daughters. After all, as long as the gap exists, it’s fathers who are more likely to already be familiar with those fields. My daughter helped me change a light switch yesterday and enjoyed it. We’re working this week on adding a Lilypad and LEDs to her Halloween costume. She loves playing with hexbug robots with her brother and me.

    She is such a feminine, dress up, doll and pony loving girl that I worried we might never have anything in common, but she also loves doing science and electronics with me. Don’t be afraid to ask. A father can also be a role model for a girl.

    • I also agree with Chelsea and with you. In my experience growing up, the majority of the support and encouragement I received to pursue my interests in STEM came from male teachers and relatives. I’ll sing their praises to anyone willing to listen, but I do think it’s also important to give a shout out to the awesome women who have been supportive as well (even if there are fewer of them).

    • I agree completely, and I’m fortunate to also have a dad who helped me with every science fair project and to this day, encourages a rabid enthusiasm for lifelong education. I know many SparkFun women also have male role models they could thank at length, but Ada Lovelace Day is specifically devoted to honoring the female role models that have helped us - as there are comparatively few of them in the STEM fields - so that’s what we chose to focus on this time around. But, as I said in my takeaway, everyone can and should be a positive influence on the next generation of STEM geniuses, regardless of gender!

      • Gotcha, thanks for the clarification about the day’s purpose. Count me in for highlighting some female role models in my homeschool lesson this evening.

    • I totally agree with everybody! I had both male and female teachers who supported me in math and programming. Teachers meant a lot to me growing up and were my role models. The biggest thing to me is that people (any gender) are supportive.

      Karl - your household sounds awesome! It is wonderful that you are a great role model for your children! :)

  • While I agree that the STEM fields need to make sure they’re being accepting of women, I feel the biggest reason for the gender gap is that most women simply aren’t interested. Anyone who tries to say that men and women are the same and have the same interests is out of touch with reality. It’s a simple fact that STEM aligns more closely with male interests than with female interests in the same way dental assisting and nursing aligns more with female interests than those of a male. Of course there are exceptions on both sides, but the average case is what we’re talking about here. What I dislike about the current trend is the attitude of ‘affirmative action’ that somehow women need to have a sort of special privilege or we need to go out of our way to make STEM fields especially attractive for women. This attitude in my opinion only creates more tensions and strays away from true equality which by definition is equal opportunity for everyone, not special benefits because you’re a minority gender.

  • Matt Sorum from Guns and Roses talked about STEAM on a recent MohrStories podcast. Apparently he gives to a lot of charities and he mentioned STEM and how it should also be adding the A. Pretty good stuff.

  • You all might find this interesting http://www.element14.com/community/videos/9578/l/get-closer-challenge–google-hangout-us#comment-26912 Google hangout focused on wearable tech.

  • I wonder if we’re looking at the wrong numbers here, but I also wonder if the right numbers are impossible to obtain. Why is it significant that 27% of IT jobs go to women, just on its own? Shouldn’t we relate that number to the relative proportion of women wanting enter that profession? Is 50% the right balance to shoot for? I don’t think it is. The number we should be shooting for is “the proportion of people seeking IT jobs to the people getting IT jobs should be the same for both genders” - that is, if 90% of the men seeking IT jobs actually get IT jobs, then 90% of women seeking those jobs should also be hired (no less and no more). If that happens and it’s still 3-1 men to women in the IT department, is that a problem? If that were the case, wouldn’t pushing for 50% actually represent abuse of women, pushing them into jobs they will hate?

    I know I’m being dramatic, but really, I don’t think we’re looking at the right numbers, and I am concerned about getting this problem fixed. I have discussed this issue with people before and I’ve been accused of “being sexist” for simply bringing up the idea that a smaller proportion of women than men might be interested in IT jobs, and I honestly don’t understand that sentiment. I do understand that the reverse assumption (that a women wouldn’t be interested in IT) is sexist and harmful, but trying to get the numbers right shouldn’t be - there is no value judgement there.

    • Your analysis is correct of the situation. We aren’t trying to push any one into an area that they aren’t interested in. One of our core values is being passionate and having fun doing what we do- we want everyone to have that opportunity. The problem is that there are plenty of people wanting to get into these fields that aren’t encouraged or supported properly. THAT is what we try to fight against, and that is why we are highlighting the importance of our female STEM heroes.

      I personally did not learn about engineering as a possible career choice until I was in high school (despite all of my interest in STEM stuff as a kid), and I was lucky enough to be supported into that field. There are plenty of young women (and men) out there who don’t get that opportunity, but perhaps if they stumble across a post like this sometime on the internet, they can be inspired and realize that they too can succeed in STEM fields, if that is where their interest lies.

      • Yes, I’m one of those people too. When I was younger, I had a strong desire to learn electrical engineering, but nobody would teach me. They assumed I wasn’t smart enough, and I was doing calculus in the 7th grade, so the assumption was wrong and there was evidence. I never understood why people didn’t help me progress, and were always pushing me to play sports, which I thought was totally stupid. The lack of support lead to a drug problem and a child, and that sent my life on a big detour. So, I know how serious it can be. I eventually made my way to college and I’ve been a successful programmer for 20 years now, but it didn’t have to be that way. I wish I had known about this event because I surely would have volunteered to help out.

  • Perhaps you could also give the racial makeup? How many african americans or First People (native americans) do you employ?

    Whatever happened to excellence? Color/Gender/etc. blindness. Character and if they excel at the job?

    That is my worry about today. I have known and respected many women in STEAM, but they were really, really, good. As good or often better than their male coworkers in the same role.

    There is something unique about the STEM fields - reality is in this case an arbiter of talent and ability. You can either solve or not solve differential equations, understand GRAD, DIV, and CURL, and do algebra or calculus. Either the circuit works or the fuse blows or the magic smoke comes out of the IC. Either your code fits within 16K or it doesn’t.

    There are many anecdotes about universities wanting to promote “diversity”, so taking someone who does not have either the prerequisite education or knowledge and instead of respecting that and filling in the gaps, they throw him into the deep end of a difficult program where they crash and burn instead of a more moderate path where they would shine.

    The current “bell curves” in the USA according to research are different between the genders. (apparently far less so in Asia). I don’t wish to speculate how much is nature and nurture, and where it will be a generation from now. But it would be a disservice to everyone to “grade on a curve”. Or to push a woman into STEAM simply because she is a woman any more than to push a bookish, artistic (and excellent at mindwork and creative tasks) boy into football or hockey.

    We each need to find our own purpose in life. And I don’t know, but I suspect it isn’t 50.0% for men and women in every occupation, field, or endeavor.

    To those women with the mind for such work, I salute you and encourage you to consider carefully the choices. My mother was a career woman in the 1950’s when she was paid far less than her male colleagues since this was before it was illegal to do so - but she earned her respect from everyone in the company she worked for. But she left work to marry my father and have me.

    Technology has not overcome Biology. Yet I’ve known many mothers who have the brains, but choose to use them to homeschool the next generation of Lady Ada’s and Charles Babbages. This should not be disrespected.

    You can choose your future, you simply must choose it wisely. If it is to enrich the world via talents in the STEAM world, I can only encourage you to go forward with full gusto. The entire world will benefit. But if you ultimately desire something else or think something else is more important you should pursue that alternative. You should not do what anyone else thinks is important or fulfilling - you should live your life, not someone else’s idea of what your life should be.

    • Whatever happened to excellence? Color/Gender/etc. blindness. Character and if they excel at the job?

      Technical culture in this country has been, not to put too fine a point on it, completely poisoned by the earnest belief that it is in actual fact (rather than aspiration) a meritocracy.

      There’s something that feels inherently noble, or maybe just inherently no-nonsense pragmatic, about the idea that the cream rises to the top of the field, and that rewards in status and pay and participation are really basically just commensurate with innate goodness. Or at least it feels that way if you’ve been rewarded. What’s missing here is much introspection about opportunity, access, or broader culture.

      I can’t recommend Reg Braithwaite’s take on this and related issues highly enough.

      But if you ultimately desire something else or think something else is more important you should pursue that alternative.You should not do what anyone else thinks is important or fulfilling - you should live your life, not someone else’s idea of what your life should be.

      I couldn’t possibly agree more. It applies to anyone considering a career or a vocation. But it’s worth pointing out that no one here is suggesting otherwise.

    • The “what about excellence” question always seems to come up when the diversity issue is brought up..

      I never see the flipside of that, which is “what’s up with all the average men?” Men never seem to have to worry about proving that they can excel to secure a job or be considered to participate in a given field.

      I wonder why that is.

      • Men do if they’re older than 40.

        “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.” –Mark Zuckerberg

        • That’s why I think he’s an ass. Family is way more important than a job ( at Facebook ) . As many people have discovered, the company is great, right up until it lays you off.

    • For the most part I agree with you. People should not be pushed into a field for the sake of diversity, but at the same time people who have the ability and desire should not be denied the opportunity or discouraged in that field. I think the goal here is to start encouraging people in an area that is still filled with discouragement, not trying to force women into positions they don’t want or are not capable of (some woman are capable, some are not, same with men). A agree that we should be color/gender/etc. blind, but that means making sure we encourage everyone equally as well.

      • “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. United Negro College Fund.

        I agree totally. But somehow as a society we are measuring by statistics. I’ve known people of all backgrounds that were great and beautiful minds. The best thing is to place them where they can grow to the sky.

        I do also need to add that character is important. As Martin Luther King Jr said, we should be judged “By the Content of our Character”. I’m not sure what is happening, but having many children outside of wedlock is not what I consider good character. Somehow “self-control” is no longer a virtue when talking about certain groups or individuals. But character is the foundation upon which knowledge and education can be built. Someone who cannot control him/herself will not have the discipline to gain the knowledge or practice to gain the abilities needed.

        Most children are seriously deprived. So many stories about one math teacher, one chess club, and some inner city school with “hopeless” cases is winning state championships. But that requires a recognition that there must be objective standards. Demand excellence and you will get it.

        Read an 8th grade text from the late 1800s and see if you can get through it. Boys and Girls back then did.

        • but having many children outside of wedlock is not what I consider good character

          Respondents to this portion of the thread should be aware that my banhammer trigger finger is just unbelievably itchy this week.

          • Yes, this strays too far afield. Baby steps. First, gender equality in the number of catfish noodlers, then the wedding dress industry. First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

            Seriously, Apple hired a lot of women in engineering in the middle 80’s. Most of them moved quickly to team management positions and then project management - positions that had not existed before. At the time it looked to me that they found the 18 hour 6 day Jolt cola and potato chip fueled weeks worked by the male engineers to be not what they expected after school, though a few thrived on it. Then came the catered lunch meetings nearly every day that were all female. When Jobs returned, he asked who all these mangers were, said he never needed them before, flattened the structure and fired them all. Is there a lesson here? It LOOKED like they were RIFing women. Truth is at MS, Dilbert would get fired. At Apple, his boss would go. Somehow, most of the women hired as engineers became Dilbert’s boss.

            The working world has changed so much since then, and sensitivity is so high, you probably think I’m a crazy sexist just for telling the story. Well, I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested.

            • Yes, this strays too far afield. Baby steps. First, gender equality in the number of catfish noodlers, then the wedding dress industry. First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

              Dude, please knock it off for a while.

              You’re one of our better trolls. Sometimes you help keep us honest. I like you, I really do. I respect your technical background and your historical perspective. But you’re still trolling, and this adds exactly nothing to the conversation at hand. Nothing. I will revoke your commenting privileges in a heartbeat, because I can, and because it will be infinitely better for my blood pressure than continuing to field your antagonism.

        • Are you honestly asserting that the reason for the lower percentage of women in STEM fields relative to the general population is because women, generally speaking, lack character?


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