Overheard: “I just think there’s not that many women who enjoy coding. And I say that based on my daughter, too.”

Update: Instead of reading this blog post, I suggest you read the article, “The Secret History of Women in Computing: Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

Spoiler: The thing that went wrong wasn’t that women stopped liking to code.


I’m at the Microsoft MVP Summit in Redmond, Washington this week. This is a great event for learning from the folks building amazing new technology at Microsoft, giving feedback and representing the community, and meeting and learning from other MVPs from around the world.

This is a week of optimism and inspiration and thinking about possibility.

But this morning I got a reminder of the mindsets and assumptions that limit this possibility. That squash that inspiration. That make people, particularly women, think, “tech isn’t for me.”

This post is an exploration of a comment that I found surprisingly “squashing.” This post isn’t about shaming any specific people (nobody is identified except for me), it’s about exploring my own beliefs and biases that led this comment to have such power over me. Writing this was part of my personal process of defusing those beliefs and biases.

I slid into breakfast slightly behind schedule

We get free breakfast at our hotels at this event. It’s served buffet style in an area reserved for MVPs. I wanted to grab a bite and then jump on the bus quickly to make the first session today, so I slid into a table by myself. Right away, I heard two men at the next table talking loudly about women in technology.

This is an international event, but for the record these two were clearly from the United States. They weren’t yelling, but they were speaking loudly and they sounded irritated.

One of the men was talking about how women didn’t come to his user group. He said:

There’s nothing keeping them from coming to my user group.

And then he said:

I just think there’s not that many women who enjoy coding. And I say that based on my daughter, too.

I was flooded with anger

Almost immediately, I landed in a place between two urges: a urge to stand up and yell, and also a big fear response, too. The kind of fear response which triggers chemicals in your body and you can really feel it.

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say anything coherent in that moment. I wasn’t going to open anyone’s mind, because this comment connected me with the culture of “Nice/Pretty/Good Girls Aren’t Smart” which runs deep.

I’m not a kid anymore. I’m in my 40’s, and if someone calls me “Miss,” I look behind me to see who they’re talking to. I’ve developed some toughness over this time. But I still had a moment where I considered bailing out on the day and heading home early.

And then I mentally kicked myself and informed myself that I could throw this guy’s crappy expectations out of my head.

Why did I get so mad?

I’ve been fortunate in life: my parents told me I could do anything I want, and they expected me to do great things. They frequently told me that I was smart – when I was a toddler, an awkward pre-teen, and a particularly obnoxious teenager (there were some rough years) – my parents set high expectations for me and they kept on telling me I was smart. Even after I did dumb things.

I took this for granted as a kid. I rolled my eyes at it as a teenager. As an adult I am incredibly grateful they did this –  because I was getting a lot of other messages from the media, from other kids, from friends’ parents and even sometimes from teachers:

  • Cool girls aren’t smarter than the boys
  • Girls can be good at things that are feminine, like literature and writing, but boys are just better at math and science
  • Women shouldn’t be pushy. (The word “pushy” is a way to make “persistent and self-driven” into something negative, and the word is almost always used to describe women.)

These messages aren’t usually consciously sent, they are often accidentally said. They come from both men and women. These messages are still a hugely strong part of our culture.

I know, because I still fight against these feelings. I shouldn’t seem too smart in front of other people. Nobody likes a woman who shows off. It’s my role to make other people comfortable, not to challenge them. I should shut up and be quieter, I’m a girl. I’m supposed to be supportive, not a leader.

I got angry because the belief that “women just don’t like coding” is a manifestation of the cultural norm that women simply aren’t suited to being smart, that women are here for bringing comfort, not for blazing new trails. Women just don’t like it! How could they invent and lead when they’re so busy putting on makeup?

There is a relationship between these two statements:

  1. “There’s not that very many women who enjoy coding”
  2. “She’s such a nerdy freak, she thinks she can do this stuff. And she’s ugly.”

The first statement is completely ignorant that women in the United States are getting the second statement all the time, both blatantly and subtly (often complete with unrelated personal insults, usually on appearance – because we love to judge women on appearance in our culture).

The first statement rolls around in that ignorance and blissfully declares that it’s simply in women’s nature to not participate in a critical part of the most powerful and transformative industry that humans have ever invented.

Expectations shape reality

All those times when my mom or dad told me I was smart and I rolled my eyes, I still heard them. Those expectations sank in, even when I just had a sarcastic response. Those are the expectations that made my reality today. I work in technology. I run my own business. I wouldn’t be doing this if it my parents hadn’t drilled it into me that I am smart.

But yet, I still have those crappy cultural expectations in my head. I still have to constantly fight the feeling that I would be much better at this stuff if I was a guy.

And I sometimes have to squelch thoughts that censure other women for being bold, for being outspoken, for being brave leaders, for being unashamedly inventive and brilliant, for being the smartest person in the room.

That guy’s crappy expectations made me so mad, because I still share them in some shadowy way, and I constantly have to correct for them.

I’m not going to judge this anonymous MVP’s daughter. I am going to hope for her that someone in her life repeatedly tells her that she’s smart. And even better: that someone tells her she’s a leader, that she’s brilliant, that she has everything she needs to change the world with technology, with math, with her brain, and that she can start doing that whenever she wants. That she’s going to do remarkable things in her life, and she’s in control. Again, and again, and again.

“Interests” usually don’t just come from inside us. Our interests are hugely shaped by what people tell us we can do, and how that fits in with all the crappy cultural messages we are ever so slowly evolving away from.

My mission: raise my expectations, because we deserve it

A lot of my thoughts after this morning are around the question, “Is there something I could have said to change that guy’s mind?”

But the more I sit with this and write through it, I realize: that guy doesn’t matter.

The important thing is to change my own mind, and to evolve my own thought patterns. To not let his voice and the voices around him dim my love of coding / technology / geeking out. Instead, to bounce off those voices and be more inspired to do awesome work.

The important thing is to try to increase the messages to women in our culture: smart is the new beautiful, and YOU ARE SMART. I love it when you’re the smartest person in the room.

The important thing is to set high expectations for myself and my fellow women, and to have good assumptions about us, because we deserve those expectations and assumptions!

And that’s what I wanted to start doing more of in this post.

But there’s not that many women who code (added March 11)

A couple of folks in the comments have made the point that there are not that many women who are developers in technology, but there are women in other roles in IT — and that I overheard a statement of fact.

I’m up late and I’m in a cheerful, story-writing mood* inspired by a recent book I read, so take a quick break for a thought experiment with me!

*FYI, I am not the same Kendra Little who writes romance novels. I haven’t read the novels (YET!) but I’m guessing they are WAY juicier than this.

Imagine this:

An uber wealthy group of women decide to start a new experimental culture.

They buy a private island, pay to outfit it with great infrastructure, and recruit a group of young women engineers and a few men to join their experiment, in which they are going to change the way society works.

The new society is based on a model where the adult women primarily work at a software engineering company on the island, making games that are sold around the world. The internet and media on the island is tightly filtered for everyone else to protect the experiment.

The men on the island primarily work building things, and also running the homes on the island.

The children are taught that men are suited to do things like build homes and structures, farming and gardening, raising animals and taking care of houses. They are told this is because men are very active and are naturally suited to moving around a lot and thinking in shapes.

The children are taught that women are suited to tasks that require using computers, math, and coding, because women are good at communicating with one another, resolving problems, and being creative together about engineering complex solutions.

When the children are very young, they do a lot of things together as they begin to learn, but they learn that boys like blue and wear pants (the better to build things in) and girls like pink and wear skirts (much more suited to sitting and thinking hard).

Once the kids start getting toward the pre-teen years, kids start to tease easy other, and the genders start to split more into groups.

Boys who like to play on the computer are called “girly-boys” and are mocked for not being manly. The kids all have some computer classes for basic literacy, but boys who do too well at it are teased by some of the mean girls, who say, “I’d never date HIM, he thinks he’s a girl.”

When a boy has a hard time on his homework for computer class, his father says, “That’s OK, son. I was never good at that stuff either. Your sister is great at it, but you’re really good at building things.” (Dad really never did see the attraction in it, I guess that’s why he signed up to come to this island.)

Most of the boys follow their role models in life. They pair up with someone they enjoy and they find some work that they like.

But there are still some boys who like coding so much that they persevere- because they don’t like building very much. Even though they get teased, they persist at learning it. Some of them give up and go back to doing more traditional manly things, but a few boys stick with technology and do well.

Some of the young men start to land jobs at the software engineering company! It can be a little lonely working in the development team at times, because most of the guys around are working in facilities, or they move furniture around the office, or they’re project managers (men plan a lot of the things they build, so they’re natural project managers), but the older men aren’t coders.

The women software developers all seems to speak the same language. Some of them try to be nice, but they get frustrated because they find the young men harder to communicate with. They just don’t seem to understand things as fast, and when a lot of women are having a high paced technical conversation, a lot of times the young men don’t even talk a lot.

But the men still keep trying. The software development company needs more developers, and the young men try to talk management into training and recruiting more young men.

The men worked really hard to get where they were, and they want to help other men — and make the software company even better.

One day at lunch, one young male developer sits next to two young women who are talking loudly. One of the women complains, in a loud, frustrated voice, “There’s nothing keeping these guys from coming to my user group. I just think there’s not that many men who enjoy coding.

In both this story and in real life, the claim is about what people enjoy based on their gender.

Remember the Barbie doll who said, “Math class is tough! Party dresses are fun! I’ll always be here to help you! Do you have a crush on anyone?” That happened in 1992. The Barbie was marketed towards teens.

Remember Computer Engineer Barbie, who’s only computer skill seemed to be getting a virus on her laptop? She had to have the laptop fixed by two boys, who also were the ones doing the programming. That was 2013.

I’m not saying the Barbies are the cause of all this. I’m saying they’re just characters in this story – the story we tell our kids about what girls do and what boys do.

The story that explains why the fact that having few women developers does not mean that women do not like coding.

Oh, and the book that inspired this thought experiment is “The Power” by Naomi Alderman. It’s an interesting read, a real page turning, and enjoyable whether or not you give a hoot about coding.

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  • andyleonarddilm
    March 7, 2018 12:37 pm

    Kendra, those guys were being jerks. I’m sorry you had to listen to it and I’m proud of you for maintaining your cool. But I just checked my fitbit to be sure and, yep, it’s 2018 for goodness’ sake!

    I was raised by a woman who remains very strong and very smart. Mom (still) doesn’t take crap off anyone for anything. When I hear stuff like this I wonder, “What are you thinking?” (referring to the males). I suppose the answer is that they’re not thinking. Again, I am sorry you had to listen that nonsense.

    PS – you’re an awesome technologist and an awesome person. Thanks for sharing on both fronts! :{>

    Reply
    • I think that in the end it was good that I heard it. It brought me in touch with the little “jerk” who is in my own unconscious bias, still. Bringing that little jerk to light is the best way for me to learn to handle it.

      I also think that next time this happens, I’ll be better prepared to go over and calmly raise a question about their assumptions.

      I think you’re an awesome technologist and person, too! Proud to be in the community with you.

      Reply
      • Andrew Seyboldt
        March 12, 2018 6:25 am

        IMHO, this is much less a case of someone being a “jerk” and more a case of you seeing something that mostly isn’t there. The “jerk” was not sharing some unfair or ignorant assumption. He was making an observation and then speculating as to the cause. Do you think that 90% of school teachers and 90% of registered nurses are women merely because of cultural pressure? That’s ridiculous. They pick those professions because the innate ways that men and women are different lead to women preferring them more often then a career in IT or engineering. There’s no harm in recognizing this and no need to manufacture an issue where none really exists. Just my 2 cents.

        Reply
        • I searched for the word “jerk” and the only time I can see that I used it is in the comments. I wrote:

          “It brought me in touch with the little “jerk” who is in my own unconscious bias, still. Bringing that little jerk to light is the best way for me to learn to handle it.”

          The only person I called a jerk was myself. This post is about my experiences and the fact that I find I have internalized a belief that women are not as good at things things because we simply aren’t suited to them. I do not agree with this “nature” argument at all, so this belief brings me into conflict with myself when I consciously acknowledge it. It’s rare for me to acknowledge it, which is why I felt angry.

          I do not think that men are inherently worse at teaching or that men are inherently unable to become nurses. I think men have the full capabilities to be great at those professions, whether or not they choose to do it — and that men are even fully equipped to ENJOY teaching others and caring for others.

          And I think the same about women and coding.

          Reply
        • innate? it’s 2018 and you’re spouting tired biological rubbish and ignoring decades of research. maybe take your 2c and spend them on learning something about this issue instead of sticking to your comfortable assumptions.

          Reply
        • Whats curious is that, until the mid-70s or so, there were a lot of women involved in IT. Back in the day most people working in IT came from math or engineering departments. Something happened after CS was split off as its own subject in universities. I don’t know what the figures are for math courses these days but i know engineering in most countries has a fairly high percentage who are women. So the women-aren’t-good-at-tech belief doesn’t really hold water. IT’s participation rate is very low and this is not due to some innate male interest in coding. I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons, but one of them is definitely that IT culture is not very inclusive towards women and the other is, as Kendra mentioned, the general women-aren’t-technical business in society as a whole. Each of these feed the other in a vicious cycle.

          Reply
        • The issue doesn’t exist, for you. But for women in IT it is an every day part of reality.

          Reply
          • If I comment or try to explain something to you here is it “Man-splaining”? How do I do “Woman-splaining”?
            Less identity politics.
            And I will share that those people you feel treat you poorly? They probably do it to many others they don’t feel are in their ‘click’. Whatever they can use. But it’s good to keep a close eye on yourself also as part of the equation.
            Communication is a challenge. And many times leadership skills are lacking. Which is probably the truer underpinning of many of these issues.

    • I wouldn’t consider what those guys said part of being a “jerk”. They didn’t jump to the conclusion that Kendra did which was that it must be because someone is “ugly”, rather they are facing the real world and wondering why in a field that only has 12-20% women (depending on the location and how you define the position – e.g. IT Analyst, Programmer, Computer Science, etc.).
      Plus, Kendra did not keep her cool…she wrote a very bad blog about it in a very public area. Keeping her cool would have been to actually talk to the two men civilly and find out more about what they mean and possibly offer advice on how to get the 12-20% or more to join in a group that may be intimidating for anyone, especially women, because there is only guys there.
      Additionally, as the sentence taken out of context could and does mean a lot more, as I’m sure there was other comments from the two men that made Kendra leap to that conclusion and have her ire raised based on that comment. I too wish that some programming groups, user groups and conferences had more women, though sometimes the physical area limits that. I was previously at a company where out of a few thousand employees, we could probably count the number of women in the company on both hands. The company had issues, but gender job placement was not one of them. The companies location was in an area where there was much less than the usual 47% of the workforce being women, and the company also was slow to grow. So when there was a job opening, it was rare and typically a position for life. Many groups I have joined (and also promptly left) because the group had about 5% of knowledge share / improving skills and the rest was talking about how good or bad their jobs were or their bosses were. Given all of that, I totally understand why a woman wouldn’t want to join one of these groups filled with men. If the tables were turned, and I was a lone guy trying to join a group that was only women and 95% of the time they complained about their jobs, I wouldn’t want to be there for more than 5 minutes.
      I have 2 beautiful daughters, and I am very proud of both of them, and one of them is into coding and computers and such (as much as a 12 year old can be as that is a very fickle age…one day they like something, the next day they hate it). I would be so proud and happy if she followed in my footsteps and and became a programmer. My other beautiful daughter couldn’t care less about computers, but loves Softball, which I find boring but I wouldn’t miss a single game for the world. I try to foster their interests as much as possible and encourage whatever they get into.
      So if there is some real-life and good help for how to change these groups and garner more female following, that would be awesome!

      Reply
      • Ah, I suspected there would be folks who would comment to the effect, “It’s bad for you to write things about conversations you overhear! You don’t know what they were really saying!”

        I do know what they were really saying, because they were practically yelling in my ear for quite a long time. There was no way to avoid hearing everything in that very public room. I did not take photos of them wearing their name badges and post it on Twitter, or note which areas they were MVPs in – that would be wrong. But their anonymized comments are fair game for me to discuss in public, as would my comments be if the tables were turned.

        What I primarily write about in this post is my reaction to the comment – my puzzlement over the feelings it raised in me, my own self-examination, and the experiences that led me to feeling upset over an comment that some think is rather innocuous. I talk about my own sexism in this post, and how it creates a conflict in me.

        You can call that a bad blog all you want, but it’s just my personal story, and I’m not going to hide it because it involves an overheard conversation.

        Reply
  • “I still have to constantly fight the feeling that I would be much better at this stuff if I was a guy.” Yeah, I’m finally starting to get over that very idea…at age 41.

    Brilliant post, thank you.

    Reply
  • As a 23 y/o female who went to my first user group meetup last month. I was the only person there who wasn’t a ~40 y/o man and two people even asked if I was a DBA (yes, at a SQL Server user meetup). Regardless, I learned a couple new things, and felt fortunate to meet new people. I am working on challenging these expectations and assumptions about myself too, and definitely intend to go to more user groups! I hope that as we all challenge these assumptions, that this man’s user group–and every user group–has more women attendees in the future.

    Reply
    • Welcome to the community, both online and in-person! We are glad to have you with us!

      Reply
    • yetanothersql
      March 9, 2018 12:28 pm

      Welcome to the Data Platform community Brenna!

      Please don’t let the two guys in Kendra’s blog post or the 40+ year old guys form your opinion of men in general or especially of men in the Data Platform community. Most of us won’t tolerate the kind of behavior in the blog post.

      The 40+ year old guys have formed a user group, and that’s a good thing. If 40+ eyar old guys are all that they have seen then that’s what they expect. Your appearance at their meeting “threw them a curve ball” WHICH THEY NEEDED VERY BADLY, keep throwing them more curve balls!!! Next time you go, bring more people that don’t look or talk like them, learn from them, and broaden their group in the process!

      As DBAs and Data Professionals, they are exactly what you need to advance the technical side of your career. As a smart young lady, you are exactly what they need to broaden their understanding of where the industry is and where it needs to go. You all have a lot to offer each other, make the most of the opportunity!

      Reply
    • As a 50+ guy who sometimes goes to sql server dba meetups (and other technical meetups, as well), I think it is a reasonable question to ask. Here are a few reasons: Not everybody at a sql server user meetup is a dba, and even more importantly, I would never expect someone university-aged (though I admit I’m not great at estimating ages) to be a dba! I got there only after many years of work.

      Reply
  • 1 go you 2 I am totally judging that anonymous gentleman; everyone including his daughter deservers better

    Reply
    • I just didn’t want to make too many assumptions about other people based on his comments. Maybe he has no idea what’s going on in his daughter’s head 🙂

      Even for him — I know there have been some times in my own life when I have found myself making a big generalization about some group of people, and then later thought about what I said and realized I was saying that based on my own cultural biases and emotional state (and that I was being a jackass). Who knows, maybe he will question his own assumptions sooner or later! Change is harder as we grow older, but we can all do it.

      Reply
      • Yeah, before reading through your blog post and the associated comments, I might have said roughly the same thing as that guy.

        I have a daughter who has been recruited for STEM schools, but she tells me that she’s just not the least bit interested.

        I won’t go as far as to say I’ve been frustrated or disappointed, but I DO recognize the opportunity she is passing on, and find it disheartening.

        I had seen some other research that said male science-y people tend towards things, and female science-y people tend towards other people. (Engineering vs. Healthcare) I think I was just buying into that.

        I really didn’t put it together until reading your blog and the comments, but now I wonder if it’s because she’s not interested, or because she feels she doesn’t fit.

        For instance, she’s on the robotics team, but she’ll periodically tell me something to this effect: “I don’t really belong there. I just watch. They’re the real experts. Everyone else (ie – the boys) does the work. We (the girls and a couple less interested boys, or maybe boys who are more interested in girls) just stand around and watch and sort of cheer for them.”

        She also got channeled into a slower math progression than her male cousin at the same high school, even though he had worse Math grades at the time. (That I DID get my dander up about)

        Boy, I’m feeling a bit thick…

        As always, thanks for taking the time to express this, Kendra!

        If you need me, I’ll be off having a heart-to-heart with my daughter.

        Reply
        • I had an opportunity to go to a math and science speciality school in high school at no cost. My parents really wanted me to go, but I wouldn’t do it. I remember feeling like I wouldn’t belong there, that I already felt awkward / weird / nerdy enough. And I felt that I wasn’t good at math, anyway, although I got great grades at it. I later took calculus twice, once in high school, once in college – got an A both times and still felt I wasn’t “good at math”. It is finally starting to seem obvious that I was, in fact, good at math, that lots of math and science feels hard for almost everyone, and maybe I should have just talked more to my parents?

          It seems to me like a very positive thing that she’s expressing her fears about not belonging in STEM situations to you. I had those fears and didn’t express them aloud very much, but becoming conscious of them and talking about them seems like a great first step towards getting past them. I really thought the fear of not belonging meant that I wasn’t actually good at it (even if I scored well), I didn’t understand that the fears were normal.

          Reply
          • Excellent. I’m going to tell her exactly that. Thanks!

          • I remember feeling like I wouldn’t belong there, that I already felt awkward / weird / nerdy enough.

            If I’d had that opportunity in high school, I would have jumped at it. At that time, I didn’t care about being awkward / weird / nerdy.

          • If there’s one thing I could go back and change about myself in middle school and high school, it would be to not care about that. JEALOUS!

          • I wasn’t ‘good at maths’; I was in the advanced maths group and took maths O level a year early and did AO maths the next year and always got Bs and As but I also need to understand mathematical concepts through metaphors and explanations – I can’t look at numbers and parse them as a language the way natural mathematicians do. So for someone who does all their maths by brute force and metaphor I must have been pretty darn good at maths to do that well as maths without being ‘good at maths’. I was very good at biology and was already splitting my A level subjects between science and arts – I feel like I invented STEAM 😉 – but I think we set children up to fail when we talk about being good or bad at maths and science instead of finding them challenging and satisfying subjects to tackle.

        • it sometimes surprises me that with so much discussion of the systematic ways that women are excluded from the technology industry that people can not have come across these issues, but our social training to ‘be nice’ and ‘not make trouble’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’ and ‘just get along’ and ‘don’t be needy’ makes it so much harder for women to talk about how these issues impact us, making it easier to ignore how really widespread this is and to keep those assumptions going

          Reply
  • Some people really are dim aren’t they, sad that these were MVPs. I really think there is a generational thing involved in this sort of thing. Two of the last three hires into my .net coding team were female, not that it had any impact on if they were hired. They were better than the male candidates and scored better in the test!

    Some of the best programmers I have worked with are female, but equally I have worked with many very good male members of the profession. That being said I have met some rubbish programmers of both genders!

    Reply
    • Hooray for change!

      I know some women currently studying computer science in school, and some of the stories they relate are still eye-opening, and not in a good way. But they are brilliant and are persevering, and I agree and hope that the trend continues.

      Reply
  • I have to say, my niece studied coding and found it boring. She is now doing well as a lawyer. Just because his daughter doesn’t want to get into coding may not mean he thinks any less of her. Maybe she has convinced him that both her and her friends see a different direction for women. I have learnt not to judge people without gathering more information. On saying this i myself see people like Kimberly, Jes, Jen, and yourself as inspirations. Purely due to your skills and how much you give back to the community. I hate the fact people single others out by gender and not by skills.

    Reply
    • Oh, I don’t mean to say that I think less of folks who want to do other things. I know men and women who have chosen to spend their time raising kids, and I hugely respect them!

      Instead, I mean expectations that you can do these things if you choose — changing our mindset so we think that it’s normal for a woman to be an excellent coder or mathematician or scientist, if that’s what she chooses, and that we expect she’d have that option. Or similarly, that it’s normal for a man to be an excellent full time parent and supportive homemaker and spouse if he chooses, and that we expect he’d have that option.

      It is still really hard to cross these boundaries. I would probably not have had the same level of emotional response if I had overheard that “men just don’t like to raise kids,” with the person’s son given as an example — but I think it’s just as wrong and limiting. I know some amazing full time dads and they get a lot of crap from the world, when they’re doing something terrific. (Another example: male nurses.)

      Reply
  • Great points here. We need to remember that really it’s early days for women in tech. It’s barely 100 years since we got the vote. Still more to do. I work in tech as well and have attended a couple of the MVP meetings. The positive side was that it was so great to be in a room of people who love technology as much as I do. The downside was that (a) it was 80% males and (b) NO female presenters at all. I did comment on that to the organisers and in all fairness, they said they had asked but “couldn’t find” a female presenter. What is depressing me though is that this year again, NO female speakers. WTF? You are so right though. No control over what people do, we just have to keep on keeping our expectations high. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Ah, great point about thinking about time. The software in our cultural brain doesn’t evolve as quickly as the software in our computers.

      I am happy to say that on the data platform side, we are a bit ahead of some other tech areas in terms of percentage of women — I rejoice that I have had to wait in line for the women’s restroom at some data conferences! And many folks on the data platform side know that a lot of trailblazing in computer science in general and data technology specifically was done by women. I am better off not listing speakers at the MVP Summit, but we did have a few women (including some of my heroes).

      Reply
    • I think there were some female speakers in the Power BI track at the MVP summit.

      Reply
  • When I arrived at SQLBits last month, I noticed the crowd was younger than the crowd at PASS. And there were much less women in the crowd. I am not sure why though. Is it different in Europe? Are there less women in IT there than there are here? I mean, I’ve worked mostly with men in my career, so I’m used to it. But I feel like the percentage of women in IT has grown over the years in the U.S. Maybe Europe has some catching up to do. Or maybe SQLBits just isn’t a good representation of it. I haven’t been to the local user group in many years since I was just too tired at the end of the day and just wanted to go home. Now that my job is much more relaxed, I still don’t go because I’d have to sit in traffic. Ha!

    Reply
    • I don’t know any numbers about those percentages — I suspect that Rie Irish and the folks in the WIT chapter might. Does seem that it would be interesting!

      I Was lucky to be part of a DBA team at one point that had THREE other women DBAs. I think the total team size was around ten, and four of us were women. It was such a kick-ass team, and so exciting and fun to be part of it.

      Another team I was on had nine engineers, three of us were women, and we came from EIGHT different countries. It was an amazing team, and the diversity of the group was very much part of what made it amazing. We had such different backgrounds that we made fewer assumptions about everyone thinking the same, and we worked a little harder at communicating. We were more creative.

      Both of these teams made me a firm believer that diversifying gender and culture in a team makes a team stronger.

      Anyway, that’s not what you wrote about, it’s just where I got thinking about your comment 🙂

      Reply
      • Speaking of people you used to work with…When I gave my notice at my last job, people asked where I was headed. Only the SQL Server DBAs knew of BOU, but I’d say it anyway and then explain. Well one of them was a previous co-worker of yours. You guys had recently had lunch, so she knew what was going on. You might know her with a different last name, but I only know her as Erika Dow. She was really fun to work with. Love her laugh.

        Reply
        • OMG, you got to work with Erika? I LOVE HER! She’s so brilliant. Back in the day when I was first learning how to totally screw up a SQL Server, she sat two desks away and was geeking out over packet sniffing.

          Reply
        • Hilarious. The Erika Coulombe I mentioned below is/was Erika Dow. Small world. 🙂

          Reply
          • That is too funny! Her ears must be burning from all of us talking about her on here.

      • As a very lucky (male) member of one of those teams, I’m immensely grateful for the things you, Gina, Crystal and Aubra brought to the team. It was a huge period of growth for me in my career, and I”m very grateful to have been there. 🙂
        Side note: we were just chatting with Erika Coulombe about the same thing, and the somewhat subtle things she’s faced as a very senior systems engineer, and that she stills runs into that stuff today at times. That makes me sad, as she and you are some of the best tech people I’ve ever met.

        Reply
  • Well said Kendra.

    Thanks for sharing and sorry you had to hear that. Our daughters are fairly constantly told “You can be anything you want” (except I have to tell Svitlana, “Just not President of the United States for you” with a smile.)

    I think smart is cool. And I truly mean this – but when I think of really smart Query Optimizer, Tuning folks – I literally picture in my head a few faces. Three of those are Gail Shaw, Erin Stellato, and Kendra Little. No lie. Sure Grant, Conor, and Adam are also in that list.

    Great post, MS. Little 😉 🙂

    (Sucks that you had to write it in 2018)

    Good seeing you at the MVP Summit this week.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Mike. I do think things are changing, and that we’re moving more towards a world where gender is less of a limiter in which paths we can take in life — and not just for women. So inspired by responses like yours.

      Reply
  • “Smart is the new beautiful” is the phrase. Thank you Kendra.

    I will use that for my daughter.

    Reply
  • Hey Kendra, keep up the good fight! Discrimination is something that is inherent to the human race, and the more insecure the individual, the more ways s/he will try to find to make herself/himself unique.

    I’m a little surprised that this idea of “women don’t like tech” is still around; I thought we’d got past that, at least in this country. When I entered a career transition program at the University of Denver called “Women in Computer Science” in 1987, that mindset was rampant. But I thought that I’d been detecting less and less of it over the years…sadly, maybe not. Maybe I’ve grown deaf to these insecure little men-children who can’t stand the idea that a girl could actually be good at math and science, and yes, even PROGRAMMING!

    For this type of person, I have three words: “Mary Grace Hopper”.

    Reply
    • I think the idea is waning — or at least that there’s more pressure against the idea. I suspect that the conversation itself was provoked by there being pro-women in tech messages being sent at the event itself.

      I loved reading lots the examples of amazing women in tech yesterday on International Women’s Day! I have a task for myself to blog about some personal heroes.

      Reply
  • Tweeted a link. I echo Mike’s comments about picturing those my go to SQL resources. Glad you posted this. My scientist daughter will be whatever she wants to be.

    Reply
  • As a woman in technology, I am confident that women can do an excellent job, notice that I am not saying just as good and that is for a specific reason. I think each gender has their strengths and weaknesses. I.e. For the most part I find women to excel as teachers. When I search to understand a topic better I specifically search for blogs written by women, first. (like yours, Gail Shaw… :).
    I do think that men and women each have their individual strengths and when we are able to recognize and
    work to complement each other instead of trying to equalize then it will take us much further. Women are not small men 🙂

    Reply
  • Hi Kendra,

    I’m going to defend the guys…just a little bit. The comment seems to have started from a conversation about the percentage of woman coming to the user group, and I think it’s great that conversation was started in the first place. At a minimum they’ve moved from thinking a user group full of guys is normal, to wondering why there aren’t more ladies around and (hopefully) on to how to get more around.

    You are right that there is still a mismatch between how smart and motivated people are thought of based on gender, but I do see that changing. It’s changing for a bunch of reasons. First, I think smart is ‘in general’ starting to be a bit cooler. Secondly I see initiatives in schools which are exposing all students to technology not just special lunchtime clubs where the girls are ‘not expected’ to be interested, and therefore not invited. And thirdly…people like yourself are making this a public conversation.

    I know the narrative my daughters get around their future options in technology is very different from the one my sister got. They are certainly not being told they shouldn’t be doing stuff, and at 9 years old are teaching the boys how to make computer games.

    When it comes to technology specifically and career paths in general, so much can be down to the right teacher with the right attitude at the right time. Or, from a negative slant, the wrong comment from the wrong person at the wrong time. So I want to join the others here in thanking you for all your hard work in providing a female role model. In the SQL Server community at least there are plenty of fantastic role models for young woman to look up to.

    Thanks,

    Rob

    Reply
  • I am not sure what the issue is here. I have been working in IT for over 30 years and in my experience the statement the guy made is sad but true. It is just an observation.

    We have 10 people in our dev team and only one of them is female. My team leader is female and actually used to be in that dev team and although she is really geeky decide she didn’t really enjoy coding and would rather manage people.

    On the other hand in our IT department of around 120 people we have many females but they are mainly in the project management or team leader space. Even our CIO is female!

    I encouraged my daughter on many occasions to follow me in to IT because I believe it is a great area to work in and is very rewarding both in pay and the variety of work but she wasn’t remotely interested and is currently at Uni studying HR.

    Reply
    • The fact that you can read this post and simply write, “I am not sure what the issue is here,” means that you do not WANT to know what the issue is here.

      Reply
      • Outrage fatigue already!
        The issue here, is YOU WANT to be outraged by very sincere remarks, which were not addressed to you, but you choose to exploit via blog post, then condemn others for not sharing your sentiments or agenda. #Infantile.

        Oh, and:
        “because we deserve those expectations and assumptions!”

        Really? Who told you that? #Entitlement, #Feminfluenza

        Reply
  • It is a fact that there are more men coders than female coders so the guy you overheard was simply stating facts.

    I have experienced the same thing in my IT career so I therefore don’t know why hearing someone stating a fact upsets you so much. If he had said that women don’t belong in IT then that would be something to get upset about but he didn’t.

    I have just done a quick tally of our IT department and there are actually 117 males and 78 females so they are hardly unrepresented but we only have one female coder.

    Reply
    • I added a little section to the article called “But there’s not that many women who code (added March 11)” to elaborate a little in a different way. Things can get lost in the comment thread and I enjoyed writing it and I wanted to put it in the main post.

      I appreciate your sincerity and openness in your point of view, even if we have a different take on the situation. And even if we don’t convince each other, that’s OK. Thank you for your sincerity (especially after I was somewhat flippant in my first response).

      Reply
  • Hi Kendra,

    In general terms, those men were correct. Women vote with their feet. I have been involved in IT since the late 1990s and there has always been positive discrimination for women in IT. Almost the only female programmers I have seen have been from outside the Western cultural sphere (Indian, Russian or Chinese). A female neighbour of mine has a degree in Engineering from Cambridge and she prefers to work in the field of Requirements Engineering.

    Around me, the women here work in the fields of project & product management, in requirments engineering, in financial control, in production, in HR and on the help-desk. It is clear to me that if they wanted to be programmers, they would be.

    I believe that these women choose to work in the fields where they work. I can’t imagine that there are any frustrated programmers amongst them. We have to go abroad to get programing work done on account of the lack of programmers here. Programming is well paid and we all know that.

    It may very well be that programming is an unwelcoming place for women but from what I know of the programmers here, I find it hard to imagine. It is a parent-unfriendly profession, given the sprint deadlines. It is hard to take time off to bring a child for a hospital appointment, for example. They are also doomed to Hell on account if their use of Entity Framework, but that doesn’t enter into the present discussion.

    I think that women have a bigger problem with the juggling of famil and work. Because they don’t tend to choose men who are also willing to work parttime in order to raise the family, it is women who are left too make the hard decisions once they become pregnant. And so many clever women leave the workforce on or around 40.

    I short, it seems to me that women choose their own careers. Do you we need to have 50-50 representation in all fields? Does anyone complain that we need to get more men into primary school teaching or medicine or marketing? And any discrimination that I have seen is self-discrimination. No man stands in the way of a woman becoming a programmer.

    Reply
    • I know more technical women working as DBAS than I know technical women who are developers– and at least in the United States, working as a DBA is a bit harder for work/life/family balance than being a developer. Lots of developers here have more predictable schedules, and many DBAs have set hours to be at the office and then unpredictable on-call.

      There have been times at the SQL PASS Summit recently when I have had to wait in line for the restroom! It was awesome!) I went to a .NET conference in the midwest a few years back and I was one of maybe five women in the whole lunchroom. It was a great conference, just a different population, percentage-wise.

      When I was still trying to work my way from a customer support job into a DBA job, there were two women DBAs on the production team, and one Database Architect who was a woman. They were all badasses, and they were role models for me. Seeing them doing that job made me feel I could do it, and I kept in touch with them over time.

      Seeing and meeting people like yourself in a profession makes it easier to join that profession. At least, I very much felt that way.

      I suspect that this difference exists in part because lots of us DBAs are self-taught. It’s rare for someone to get a computer science degree to become a DBA, it’s a career you can edge yourself into. So if a woman ends up in her 20’s in the right place at the right time without a software degree, she can still end up in the job.

      In any case, I don’t think we need a 50/50 gender split. I don’t want to get rid of any of the men developers! I think we need to develop the best, smartest tech culture possible, that there’s room for more women, and that having diversity in teams, both gender and culture, makes for better teams.

      It is possible that by the time we stop being so weird about “men are doctors, women are nurses” and the like, that computers themselves will be writing all the code by that point, anyway.

      Reply
      • I fully agree, Kendra, RE the DBA statements you’ve made above. I never had any “formal” training as a DBA other than some four day tech refreshes; I learned on the job and found myself leaning more towards the data side of the house than the programming. In fact, when I decided to become a DBA I became THE DBA, and the organization I work for didn’t recognize that as a primary duty for over 12 years – they just knew the servers didn’t die, no data was ever lost and I knew how to deliver it when requested. In fact, I did myself a disservice since the data layer became so invisible they conveniently forgot it took effort to BE invisible. Not until three years ago with new upper management changes did my efforts become recognized and I finally got a backup.

        This profession (aka DBA/Data stuff) isn’t a cakewalk. I still work weekends, holidays and late nights when updates need to be applied, or program upgrades need to be performed(No, Mr. Vendor, I won’t give you SA access…..). None of my children chose to follow me because of the demands on my time – heck, they’ve chased me down on cruise ships when issues have arisen – and wanted something more dependable. But to those of us who have it in the blood, it’s worth it. And, FWIW, my backup is a gentleman so I’m helping expand the X chromosome factor of DBA-hood.

        Reply
    • Curious, so how do Indian, Russian, and Chinese women meet family obligations, in your opinion?

      Reply
  • Damn typos. I must proof-read my submissions better before I click reply.

    Reply
  • Steve Powell
    March 12, 2018 1:23 am

    Yeah. Those guys are throwbacks. My son is totally not interested in coding either. Good at maths, great spatial awareness but literature and acting are his things. God help anyone who judges him on this within earshot of me. I have nieces and friends with girls. Many are bucking the trend and it’s great to see. The world will be a very different place in 20 years. Thankfully society is moving (way too slowly) and recognition of ingrained misogyny is far wider now than it’s ever been. Keep calling them out and try to remember there are plenty of Y chromosome carriers who would totally stand with you on this.

    Reply
  • Sean Redmond
    March 12, 2018 1:25 am

    Hi Kendra,

    I don’t know how it is in the States, but there are more female doctors than male doctors here (and dentists and vets).
    I wonder if that is the kernel of the matter, being self-taught?
    Are men more likely to re-invent themselves or take their education/career into their own hands?
    Certainly when I was in school & university, it was women who studied harder and performed better in exams. Of the 4 first-class degrees earned in my class, 3 were earned by women. I wonder if women are more comfortable with the formal system of learning & progession rather than the self-taught route?

    Kind regards,
    sean.

    Reply
  • Christopher Dodgson
    March 12, 2018 1:48 am

    I just sent this to my 14 year old daughter, who is beautiful, smart, geeky, kind and creative – she’s not into coding – but she certainly can be if she wants. Keep smashing those barriers.
    Best wishes,
    Mr Chris

    Reply
  • Hi Kendra,

    thank you for this passionate plea against stereotypes and prejudices. It clearly had a lot of resonance with me and I feel urged to share my thoughts.

    First of all: I absolutely admire women in technology and look up to experts like you or Jen Stirrup, who made their way to the top. I am sad that there are not more of them and most people I work with in tech are male colleagues. Women are different to man but that’s something businesses could thrive upon and having women in technical jobs brings in new perspectives and ways of thinking to the male colleagues.

    Let me add two examples from my personal life:
    – My wife works a a software developer. She studied at the same university as I did but in another programme which was exclusively dedicated just to woman. We regular IT students sometimes envyed the female students for their better equipment and lectures due to specific sponsorship of that programme. However most of the fellow students of my wife pursued a carreer within project management and other IT-related but more supporting tasks. She was the only one of her final year going to work as a a software developer. I admire her for that and appreciate that we can actually talk about the specifics of our jobs as a couple and are doing related things.
    – However I had a few moments within our relationship where it was difficult for me to keep showing her my respect for her endeavour. I am not proud of that but it was something coming from deep within. She often was discouraged from pure technical tasks like OS and software installation or networking.I grew up tinkering around with software installation (often breaking things but learning along the way) and it was difficult for me that she clearly had no interest in this activity at all but pursued a work within the IT sector. In my view it is essential having done some pretty basic things like configuring your own machine or even configuring networking at some point in time to be able to understand these things better even if you don’t have to do it in your everyday job. I would have loved to explain her how this all worked but she simply was and is not interested in that topic.

    To finish I would like to write some lines on encouraging children to be smart as your parents said to you. My daughter is just nearly two years old so that’s not the pressing matter at the moment. However I think a lot about doing parenting the right way. Of course I would love to give her some background on IT and programming or even databases some day. Formal education in IT (in Germany) is not that good and often is dependent on the commitment of the teacher itself rather than on a set standard. However I already read some articles of experts telling parents not to give too much praise to their children. I guess it is always important to find a balance with this…no one would willingly like to raise his/her children to selfish over-confident individuals. On the other hand rarely praising your children doesn’t seem right as well. Your writing just for once had the impression on me “oh so your parents constantly told you how smart you are…but have there been real occassions to prove that or did they just change you by saying that?”….I really don’t mean to insult you or downvote your childhood….just want to say that for sure it’s important to encourage your children but on the other hand you have to be realistic with that and don’t exagerate.

    Thanks for reading

    Martin

    Reply
    • merkwrdigliebe
      March 12, 2018 7:53 am

      I’m sorry you had to hear that Kendra.
      It’s insecurity in their own skills IMHO. Subconscious or consciously they know they aren’t that good and they grasp for a way they can exclude others from competition. They attempt to base their opinions on some “Fact” of course but, I wonder if they even know how stupid they sound. I’m sad to say, I heard something similar at lunch at the last dev Intersections conference I attended. It shocked the hell out of me. The usual, are you holding this seat and I sit down. It was a group of guys form a NY firm. They made a couple of comments about not many women attending the conference and nothing unusual about that really, it was probably 7 or 8 to 1. But what followed shocked the hell out of me. They then made a couple tasteless comment and tried to include me. I didn’t say a word. I just stared blankly at the guy that made the actual comment and waited until the guy stopped talking and looked away. “This is just us, this is how we are”. Again I put my fork down and blank stare returned until he stopped talking and looked away. A female coworker also attending the conference came and sat next to me. No more comments from the guys of course, they trickled off.
      It’s just my opinion but if you put time into justifying why some other group isn’t skilled enough or lacks the desire to replace you then you are half-way out the door already. I’ve worked IT for 30 years and it’s gone from a job nobody wanted where you had to teach yourself everything, to a coveted job where you can actually get good instruction (Kendra has taught me a lot about indexing). IT is a real profession now and news flash, some of the schooled folks actually have good social skills.
      I always looked at my fellow IT folks as an intelligent progressive people. People that make jokes and worse actually believe what they are saying are a pathetic embarrassment to the industry.

      -Rick

      Reply
    • Hi Martin

      Just wanting to clarify – so because your wife isn’t into building machines from the ground up that means she’s not as good at her job or understanding deeper technical issues?

      Regards
      Maria

      Reply
    • Hi Martin

      Just wanting to clarify – so because your wife isn’t into building machines from the ground up that means she’s not as good at her job or understanding deeper technical issues?

      Regards
      Maria

      Reply
  • Great article Kendra, the fact that it made you mad and subsequently write this is a good thing, you still have power to fight the good fight. Your parents brought you up smart, something I do you my kids both my 7yo son and my 5yo daughter. There is a long way to go, case in point: I was on holiday in the states last summer and I was shocked to find there isn’t a female professional baseball league in the US. I tell both my kids there are no barriers to do or be whatever they want. Keep fighting!

    Reply
  • Thank you Kendra. I have been subjected to this as well and it is time a discussion ensues.

    Reply
  • Kendra,
    As a middle aged white guy, I’m sure I’d put my foot in it if I say too much, but growing up I always remembered how much better the girls were at math and science. In fact all the women I dated were science/math/chemistry wizards. I never understood why there were so few.

    Reply
  • I COMPLETELY respect your coding skills Kendra! We have never met, but I remember you from the “Office Hours” sessions, where I found what you and the team presented invaluable.
    As to your overheard comment: With that attitude, I find it completely predictable that women would not attend “his” user group. I believe it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If, when someone goes to that group, they encounter an attitude of “why is THAT person here? People like that don’t LIKE this!”, they are unlikely to return, and likely to tell others “Don’t go there, they don’t LIKE people like us!”
    It prevents the inclusion of varied and useful viewpoints, and leads to stagnation.
    Seems kind of like saying “I won’t wear jeans; I had a pair and they didn’t fit right, so I am not buying any more.”

    Reply
    • Your comment reminds me that the first time I felt like a “minority” was on a subway ride in New York City in my 20’s. It was a perfectly, normal, peaceful subway ride, the car was quite full of people, and I looked around and realized I was the only white person. I noticed that it made me feel vulnerable in an odd way, even though nothing threatening was going on. There was just nobody obviously “like” me.

      I now live in a city that is 72% white. I heard an episode of Invisibilia (white lady listening to NPR, yo!) about how rest homes where people can live among people in their own culture are increasingly popular, because as we get older and fear death, we become more negative toward other cultures. Hanging out with people “just like us” gives us more of an illusion of meaning in life.

      Kind of getting off topic, but basically this event makes me prod a little bit more at my other unconscious biases. Because I agree with you about stagnation, even if it can be comfortable.

      Reply
  • Female who just turned 60 here, been in IT professionally since the ’90’s, started out a programmer and decided I preferred the data administration/let’s screw up our SQL servers side of the house 15 years ago and changed my focus to the dark side. While I only made IT my profession in the ’90’s, I had a VIC20 and Commodore 64 when they were first released so from my teens have always monkeyed with code. My parents, too, always told me that I was incredibly smart, talented and could do anything I put my mind to. So there’s the background.

    What I’ve found throughout my career – and it still goes on today – is that the fact I don’t have certain body parts definitely weighs in on at least the first impression people have of my capabilities and effectiveness. When I was consulting I used this to my advantage, allowing know-it-all 20 somethings to feed me garbage as I was investigating their IT departments to find out why things weren’t going as they should have been. I will admit the looks on their faces when I delivered my final reports and demonstrated their BS smokescreen didn’t work, and then iterated all the things they had done incorrectly was worthwhile, but still didn’t stop the sting of the implication – you’re not good enough. You’re female, you don’t know what you’re doing. And, in my particular case, you’re too OLD to know what you’re doing (I was in my 40’s at the time).

    In any work situation you have to prove you have the chops – that’s just basic common sense. But, I can tell you that many of the younger people I work with in IT are disproportionately male and still harbor the same discriminatory ideas you experienced at that conference. You’re female, You aren’t good at “real” tech, you don’t belong. You’d think it would be getting better; flat out it doesn’t appear to be. I now get the double dunk in the pool because of course if you’re not young you can’t know the latest technology. You can’t keep up, you aren’t progressive enough and all that ilk. I’ve been around enough to not drink the Microsoft Kool-Aid that whatever their latest delivery is must be deployed RIGHT NOW. My caution based upon my experiences is viewed by many in the 40 and under crowd I work with as me not “getting” it, and I know that’s because I’m female and a grandmother on top of it.

    I’m proud I’ve succeeded in IT, and made a very nice living at it for almost 30 years. But I had to work harder, in many cases be better than my male colleagues, and for many of those years not appear to be “pushy” in order to succeed. With age has come wisdom, I now don’t care if they think I’m pushy, but I still see the same discrimination almost making a resurgence in the past 5 years or so that I had hoped would disappear. I just hope those of us who prove themselves, make a difference and aren’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the latest company wonder kid are making a difference for those women who will follow.

    Reply
    • I have read your comment three times, and wow. You are the role model I need, and here you are! When I’m having doubts about myself, I’m going to think about your comment.

      I know what you mean about age bringing on discrimination in technology – I’ve heard about it from men and women in the field since I first started out in IT. I hear what you’re saying about having to triple prove yourself, and I love that you’ve succeeded at it and are proud of yourself.

      Reply
  • I recently found a nonprofit called Girls Who Code (https://girlswhocode.com/) that I have been trying to support. Especially now that I have my (now 8 week old) daughter.

    Let me ask you a question as an opportunity to realize that the same way that person might have been slightly ignorant, that we are also ignorant ourselves. Let me ask you this, when you were eating breakfast when you were listening to that guy, what were you eating? Believe it or not, but it is highly likely that at that very moment that you were getting upset with him about being sexist, that you were being speciesist. I do not say this as any sort of judgment upon you but simply as a way of helping you understand that your belief in equality is probably not complete sincere simply do a lack of knowledge the same way that guy had a lack of knowledge (I was a horrible speciesist, so no judgment). You can read my article here to find out if you really do believe in the idea of equality or not:
    https://christiananimalethics.com/are-you-a-speciesist/

    Anyhow, thanks for drawing attention to ways we can exemplify our belief in equality when it comes to sexism.

    Reply
  • Steve Mangiameli
    March 12, 2018 7:00 am

    I’ll probably suffer backlash for this, but here goes anyway.

    I’m kind of in the same boat as the two “jerks” Kendra overheard. It’s not because I’m sexist, it’s because I haven’t seen a lot of women in this industry. In the last three positions I’ve held as DBA, there have been exactly three female DBAs and I’ve only met a couple of female developers – 13 years, 3 female DBAs. Is that anecdotal? Or are other’s experiences similar? I don’t know, but I don’t have any problems sharing that experience with all of you, because that’s my experience. Does that make me sexist? A jerk?

    On the other hand, I see a lot of female ETL managers, applications engineers, project managers, analysts, etc. These are still IT, but not coding or technical. And then of course management, HR, accounting, nursing (non-IT) – lots of female representation. Is my experience really that far off from “reality”?

    Women are obviously just as capable in any of these roles as a man. So why do I see fewer women? Is it gender bias? Is it upbringing? Is my experience different from the norm? Or is just the way our brains are wired and it’s different for everyone?

    Personally, I think it’s the latter. That’s not to say sexism or upbringing don’t play a part, but I think by and large there aren’t as many women coding or in IT because the work just doesn’t attract women the same way it attracts men. I don’t think there’s anything to be angry about. A couple of guys sharing their own experiences with each other, should not incite this type of emotion. Their stories and experience are anecdotal, just like this one, and my guess is, they were not meant to bring anyone down, oppress anyone, or in any way be offensive.

    Reply
    • My own experience is that as a pre-teen and teen, I strongly veered away from math and sciences and didn’t like them because “that’s stuff for boys.” This isn’t a concept that I got from a man at a conference, it came from other kids, from TV, from things I’d heard growing up, from comments adults make about their own skills, strengths / weaknesses. I really wanted to read Sweet Vally High books and just fit in, and having a talent for guy-centric studies did NOT fit into that story.

      I usually don’t think about this, but my own sexist beliefs and thoughts that still lurk around came to mind when I overheard this comment. That internal conflict was what got me upset enough to write the post.

      Reply
    • I believe we’re hard-wired to do some things naturally and with flair; however, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn the same skillsets with hard work and perseverance – you may just never be a wunderkid. I think to be a good coder (and yes, DBAs code, a concept many people don’t get) you can learn the skills, but to be a great coder and innovator I think the hard-wiring comes into play. Both my parents were in fields that feed the IT hardwiring – electronics and accounting. My brother has been an innovative sysadmin/developer for years, and I’ve done pretty darn good for myself in IT over the years. So yes, I truly believe genetic hardwiring does come into play somewhat, but there’s nothing that says it can’t be inherited by people without dangly bits. The discouragement the non-dangly individuals get through misdirection, the non-nurturing inherent of skill sets and condescension I’m certain derail many promising ladies from successful IT careers. Pity, really.

      Reply
      • My parents were musicians! 😀

        They both considered themselves non-mathematical and non-technical, but music is actually very mathematical. Also, since they considered themselves non-technical, they would always hand me the manual and tell me to figure out how to do it for them. Even when I was really small! I think they could have figured out how to set VCR clocks and the like themselves, as they were smart people, but they had a mindset that they were artists and not mathy or techhie. (There’s a non-gender self-bias for you!)

        (Also, what you said, GreyLadyDBA.)

        Reply
    • it’s because when they started building out silicon valley, Unisys hired two behavioural scientists to help them build recruitment profiles and they interviewed 1200 men and 200 women and decided that the ideal developer was an antisocial puzzle solver; hire for that and you get an industry that is largely male. Keep doing that and you get an industry where confident women are seen as pushy and aggressive, and where the system pushing them out looks a lot like women not being wired for technology and people wondering why it’s like this.

      Reply
  • I purchased all 3 of my teenage female relatives laptops between 2016-2017. The oldest had already graduated high school and is not working, aimless currently career wise yet spends large amounts of time using social media. I purchased her a Microsoft HTML book. Knowing that it is pretty easy to create a basic web page I encouraged her to do so during the few days I was visiting using the book as a guide. She reached a page early into the book w/ a dead hyperlink and gave me that as the excuse for not proceeding further and didn’t create a web page.The hyperlink was just to an online version of the print book she owns. None of of the 3 relatives are interested in pursuing computer science/IT despite of 2 of the 3 spending significant time using the computers purchased for social media or gaming. I have done well financially as a DBA and have shown them earning potentials for pursuing computer science/IT careers.

    Reply
  • I think you made an important assertion and probably debatable one “…“Interests” usually don’t just come from inside us. Our interests are hugely shaped by what people tell us we can do…”

    Reply
  • I recently attended a user group in Charlotte on the Internet of Things (IOT) because I wanted to understand what that’s all about. I was met with an enthusiastic hello from the organizer, and the comment, “We need more women to come to these meetings! Can you help us?” It was a great experience and I saw some really cool IOT stuff.
    I understand why you got so angry at that remark you overheard. Thank goodness the world is a big place, and there are many men/user group organizers who actively seek women as members!

    Reply
    • That is a wonderful example of a great way to welcome someone to a user group when trying to build the membership!

      And honestly, it could be a clever thing to say with almost anyone to help them feel at home among strangers, and to try to grow the group – learn something unique about them and ask for their help bringing in more people. “We would love to have more people from ___ industry / with ___ background / with ___ years of experience.” When joining a group it is great to hear “we like that you’re here and we need you to be part of the group.”

      Reply
  • Aneyshia Taylor
    March 12, 2018 7:46 am

    Last month one of my counter parts told me I was really smart! He said it about five times in one week. I started thinking to myself, am I not supposed to be smart? Great post Kendra and Jen I’m finally starting to get over that idea as well.

    Reply
    • My boyfriend is studying computer science, and he has a study group with peers who are both male and female. They are mostly in their 20’s. (Except for my boyfriend, I feel some need to explain that he is closer to my age. Let’s not examine that right now.) He said offhand to me at one point recently, “[Woman in the study group] almost always figures out ____ problems before I do, but she seems to think that I and [other male in the study group] are smarter than her.”

      At the time, I thought, “Wow, and [woman in the study group] is really smart!” I didn’t even think about me still having that same thought pattern until overhearing the conversation.

      Reply
  • Thanks for this article! I sent it to my daughter, who is studying Biology (pre-Med). I sent her a quick email to remind her that she is smart and she should never defer or demur in a conversation in which hers is the only female voice.

    Incidentally, I quit listening to a local sports radio station because an announcer would not accept that the female basketball coach who has the BEST record in collegiate sports was superior to a more-famous male counterpart in men’s basketball who has the second best record (best in men’s basketball). His reasoning – men’s ball is just harder.

    I hope my daughter has the cool and confidence in 20 years that you displayed in your reaction to the thoughtless guys you overheard. Maybe they are otherwise OK guys, but the comment was jerky and it is sad (but not surprising) to hear it in a group of professionals in our field.

    Also, it is sad that the other guy did not push back. I hope I would have the confidence to at least call him out for making an statement unfounded by any sort of facts.

    Anyway, thanks for posting (and shout out to Brent Ozar for posting the article in his newsletter – it’s how I found it).

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • I hope that in 20 years, when your daughter overhears such things, she doesn’t feel an emotional reaction, because it’s not something she’s internalized. Maybe she’ll walk over, introduce herself, and make a short, brilliant point, then continue with her day — or maybe things of that nature will be such an outlier from the norm that she recognizes the bias but just goes about her day.

      I guess I hope for all of us that our frustrated comments are more about, “Hey, I’m working on this cool thing and I can’t seem to get a diverse group of people interested in it. I want that, because I want to make it as useful for lots of people as possible. How do I get more kinds of people interested in working on this?”

      Reply
  • Donna DeVaudreuil
    March 12, 2018 8:11 am

    When I graduated in 1979 with a degree in chemical engineering, 25% of the class was female. I worked for a large manufacturing company that already had several female engineers, and while it was mostly men, I was treated fairly and never experienced any negatives.

    I did notice a regional bias, as when we lived in one location, the schools did not make much emphasis about gender differences. We then moved around several times and I saw many instances where comments were gender biased. On one school field trip a teach asked for “four strong boys” to help unload some boxes. What about those strong girls! Being new, I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot but I still regret not speaking up.

    My daughter graduated with the same degree from the same college and women were only 6% of her class were women. I’m the only female in IT at my company. I’ve been working as a DBA for 17 years, and in that time there have been far fewer women than men in IT. I don’t know why this has changed but my husband and I still encourage young women to think about STEM careers.

    Reply
    • Wow, that’s awesome that you and your daughter both have degrees in chemical engineering from the same college. You have proved to be an amazing role model.

      Really sad to hear about that percentage dropping.

      Reply
  • Michael L John
    March 12, 2018 8:45 am

    Some random thoughts…
    If there were no “female” coders, and no “male” coders, and just plain “coders”, would there be anything to talk about? Does applying labels simply add to the issue?

    The argument that being in technology makes it difficult to have children, etc. applies to men as well as women. I have 4 grown children, all of them are “geeks”. None of them wanted any parts of being in IT. They watched dad work all night, get calls 24/7/365, and jump through every hoop imaginable to be at their games, school functions, Scouts, and so forth. Three chose science as a career, one is in finance. But not IT.

    Our CEO is a female. The 150 person IT department is almost evenly divided between men and women. Diversity is the norm. There are women in every kind of position, from management to coders. Yet, on a daily basis, I see and hear comments and behavior from both the men and women that fit exactly into the comments that infuriated you. It appears that we don’t even know what we don’t know!

    Reply
  • I do wish there were more females in development. I have worked with and for many of them in my career. I raised five daughters and would have loved for them to become a coding geek like myself. None of them chose to do that in University, but they did choose interesting and productive degrees and careers.
    Even as I tried to interest them and my sons into coding,I felt they thought it could be boring to work at a computer all day. They wanted something more interactive with people. It was probably my approach to teaching them that was the problem, but I do think there is the thought out there that being a computer programmer is lonely and can get old without interaction with other people. And by the way, I was very conscious of teaching my daughters that they could do anything they wanted, as long as they put in the work for it. I must say, all my children, 5 daughters and 2 sons, are hard workers and they do believe they can do anything. They just may not want to work in the computer arena…..after all, it is a personal choice. I am very proud of each of them, no matter their career choice.

    Reply
  • Hi Kendra,

    I didn't hear the conversation you mentioned, so there's no way for me to judge the guy's tone, but is it possible that his was a lament rather than a tone-deaf reaction? There's no doubt that society still has a long way to go to reform the "she's just a girl" mentality that keeps young girls from pursuing STEM education, and that hobbles them if they do manage to overcome the first hurdle. My mom wanted to be a watchmaker and ran into this same BS, and it embitters her to this day (she's 79). I grew up knowing this, and have always tried to deal with people, all people, the same way. This doesn't make me some kind of saint- it only means I am consistent across my interactions (for better or worse).
    I have to say, though, that if I had SQL meetings and no women came, I'd be upset too, but it's a larger kind of upset. We are forcing people into molds, crushing dreams, and squandering a vast talent pool in the name of outdated, outmoded thinking. I can't imagine I'm the only man out there with this belief, and while there's no way to tell why this guy said what he said, it is at least possible that this sentiment was not born out of ignorance, but frustration.
    If it means anything, I make it a point to always attend one of your lectures at SQL Pass. It's not because you are a woman, but because I know you know a hell of a lot more than I do, and I respect your skill, dedication, and sense of humor. What I tell my wife when she struggles (she's going for her PhD in Gerontology), is just be. Perhaps my thinking needs adjusting too, and in this day & age, someone's bound to tell me how wrong I am, but it's the advice I give to my nephews, and what I will tell my two young nieces when they're old enough to understand. Not only will I not stand in their way, but I will encourage their creativity and learning, whatever way they decide to take it. Hopefully, it is enough.

    -Dan

    Reply
    • The conversation was very loud and I don’t have any doubts about the tone.

      I wrote the post because I was puzzled by my own reaction to hearing it, which was very strong and quite unusual for me. I wanted to write through it and work out just why it bothered me, when I am usually somewhat cynical about these things and shrug them off (possibly too much). Through writing the post I started to see that my own unconscious biases and tendency to mentally use gender stereotypes to undermine myself (and yes, sometimes criticize other women in my mind), were what provoked all those feelings.

      For a long time, I was under the impression that having a thought meant believing it, or buying into it. These days, I am starting to recognize that having a thought pop into my head doesn’t require “buying into it”, that it’s much more normal to have weird thoughts than I used to recognize. So at those moments when I’m having a problem working something out and I start to think, “I’m so dumb, of course I’m crap at this, girls suck at this stuff,” I can recognize it as a passing thought, but not something I have to believe. And that I can just be.

      I’m listening to a book about cognitive therapy theory when I walk my dog these days, and I think it’s showing 🙂

      Reply
  • Let me start off by saying in no way do I intend to offend anyone. So, if you’re going to keep reading I only ask that you read and don’t think. No, I don’t mean go in blind. I’m just saying keep an open mind and hear me out COMPLETELY first.

    I’m always up for a challenging article and so I landed here. That is, until I started reading. I had to cut it short. It sounded to me like things just got taken way too personal. The biggest problem I saw is one that most people do the second that they hear something that they don’t like. They stop listening and start responding. Most of the time anything rational goes out of the window and the person is so caught up in his or her emotions that they can’t see it until it no longer matters. Case in point this post. You were “eves dropping”. Whether intentional or not, you heard a story or at least some part thereof and immediately went into the danger zone. By your own admission you missed all of the context leading up to why he made the comment that he made. You also missed the points or experiences that he had which brought him to his statement.

    All the guy did was provide his perspective about why things played out the way they did based on his assessment. Your entire rant about being ugly, not smart enough, or how you were raised were all totally irrelevant to comments that he made. He simply said, “I just think there’s not that many women who enjoy coding. And I say that based on my daughter, too” with the operative words here being “I” and “think”. Maybe, just maybe he meant it the way you thought he did -even though I still fail to see anything directly tying his statements to woman not being ugly or not smart. Facts are facts only until proven to be false and today’s facts tell us that especially in comparison males, there just aren’t a significant amount of female coders/dba/IT professional. Period. No more no less. Notice I said nothing about intelligence or beauty. I just stated the facts. Now, take that ratio and from that, lets carve out the “female nerd” to “male nerd” ratio. Here again the numbers are still significantly less than the number of male counterparts. Looking at this is easy to understand how one could comment that there “aren’t many woman who enjoy coding.” Now I’m paraphrasing here but I can understand the context of what he was trying to say.

    I will give you this, he probably chose poor timing to make that comment, and or the wrong audience. Maybe he’s not as good at teaching as he thinks he is? Maybe the crowd that follows him just gets him for who he is. It doesn’t mean he’s too smart or too dumb for those that chose not to attend his session. It just means for those that went and did not chose his session -they likely have had an experience that tells them that they’d be better off learning it somewhere else. Maybe HE is taking that a little too personal, and he should work on that. Again, it’s still his right as an individual. Maybe, my post in and of itself is one big rant and I totally missed the mark -it wouldn’t be the first time for me 🙂 I guess that is what happens when we show up to the party late and then poke our noses in a conversation not meant for us.

    Reply
    • So… you didn’t read my post but you’re like “hear me out COMPLETELY.”

      LOL.

      Eavesdropping is when you purposefully spy on someone.

      When two people have a conversation in near-yelling voices in a quiet room, such that everyone in the room is forced to hear every word, unless they put on noise cancelling headphones, they are not being spied on. They are forcing their conversation on everyone in the room. That is what happened, and I am very clear on the context of this post.

      This is a post about my own experiences, examining why I felt upset about the conversation that was broadcast so loudly and so publicly, instead of blowing it off and returning to my usual nerdery. My question in the post was, in fact, “Why am I having such a personal reaction to this?” That’s what I explored.

      Reply
  • Anger? That’s aggressive. Guaranteed to provoke the “fight or flight” response in any recipient. It’s also guaranteed to cause the recipient to ignore your insights. Instead, they’ll either think how to avoid you or let the adrenaline flow to attack you. Then you’ll be able to say “These angry, jealous men. They hate women.” Perhaps your own behavior provoked their intolerant behavior. Also, so much for that much regarded US virtue. The freedom of speech. Angry outburst invariably suppress speech. Or perhaps that’s what you want.
    I don’t think that’s what you want. I think you was an assertive remark that these men are suppress the wants of others. Let them think about the impact of their actions, instead of you eventually thinking that your behavior defeated what you really wanted in the first place

    Reply
    • Which behavior of mine may have provoked them? The behavior of sitting down, silently, at a table near them? The behavior of existing as a woman at a technical conference?

      I did not consciously choose to feel angry. I did choose not to identify the men personally online. I did choose to cut my breakfast short after 10 minutes so I wasn’t forced to hear their conversation for longer than that (I try to eat slowly, so I just skipped the coffee and left).

      I did choose to examine why I felt so angry, and be open and vulnerable about it in this post. I did that because I think I’m not the only person who has conflicts inside myself like this, and because I do think there are behaviors and statements we can change that impact others (particularly kids).

      I don’t feel defeated. I don’t feel angry. I’m glad I thought this through, and I’m glad I’m having these conversations about this post.

      Reply
  • Interesting article. I like the thought of that island experiment for sure. How can I sign up to be one of the male test subjects? Being vastly outnumbered by intelligent women while having minimal responsibilities such as “building things” sounds like a pretty good gig to me.

    Reply
  • So… you didn’t read my post but you’re like “hear me out COMPLETELY.” as I said in my post “Maybe, my post in and of itself is one big rant and I totally missed the mark”. Yes, and laughingly at myself I admitted that going in. I didn’t read all of it because less that a few paragraphs in (to me it felt like) you got upset over something that was probably just taken too personal or out of context something we all do. The only real point I was trying to make that was that not everything is worth your anger or frustration but again that was my observation based on the part of the information I chose to read. I’m glad you did read all of mine though 😉 (and in good spirit might I add) I certainly wasn’t trying to offend you or any of your readers.

    Reply
  • I think you are fooling your self if you think being good at math and science is some how cool for young boys these days, and that being picked on for excelling and being drawn to math and science is limited to, or more common in girls. That certainly hasn’t been my experience, as a student ( more years ago then I care to admit), or more recently as a father, an uncle, and an active participant in out of the classroom youth activities. Being smart, excelling in school makes you a nerd/geek weather your a boy or girl. I would argue that doing well in school is less accepted for boys then it is girls (based on my personal experience).

    I am a father, and I want my daughter to be able to pursue any field she wants (although there are times when I’m at at 3am troubleshooting issues, that I think I would steer her away from IT), but I want it to be what she wants, not some societal idea pushing her into a career. I am going to assume that there is some driving reason that there are fewer women in some IT fields then others, but how many women will enter IT not because they love it, but because this counter pressure, pushing for young girls and women to enter IT career fields. Is it really any better for a girl or young women to get pushed into a IT career by the pressure to “do any a boy can do”, then to be pushed away from that field by gender norms?

    This whole conversation seems to stem from the idea that there is something inherently wrong with having male dominated industries, and I think that is a false premise to start with. Men and Women as a whole are different from one another. Why do we see a push for more women to enter traditionally male dominated fields, but no push for men to enter fields traditionally dominated by women? Where is the cry for more male teachers, more male nurses, etc. When looked at as a whole there are trends of one gender being more strongly represented in a career field, but the automatic assumption that those trends are the result of outside pressure, and are not naturally occurring seems to be based more in feeling that facts.

    That said, there are lots of out liers to the “gender norms”, from some of the great women who are near the top of their respective fields (your self included), men working in female dominated fields. Rather then try to balance things out, pushing women into technology fields, or pushing men into teaching, I think we should just make sure the door is open for those that want to go through it.

    Reply
  • So, yeah. I’m primarily from the sysadmin side of the house and doing production DBA and server infrastructure stuff. The only time I’ve ever worked somewhere where my IT department was more than around 16% female was when I worked at a women’s college (my particular department was 100% female, planet of the wimmin, baby! I probably wouldn’t have gotten into this field or stayed if it wasn’t for planet of the wimmin and the mentoring they provided. But I digress).

    Anyway. I’ve heard a lot of that sort of thing in previous places. Women just don’t like working with hardware… and we also think it’s hilarious to joke about how terrifying it is to see a woman holding a screwdriver. Et cetera, et cetera. For me, the reaction is usually that the first time is just kind of not funny, and it gets progressively more irritating each time. (Are they doing it because my eye-rolling older sister sigh is funny? Or is it more hostile than that? I’ll leave the motivation as an exercise for the reader and forgo the speculation.)

    Aside from unfunny jokes, I don’t mind if my workplace has a lot of men in it. Generally, I like men. shrug It’d be nice to encourage more women, though, just because I know some women have encountered attitudes like that and voted with their feet. (Not me, mostly because I’m obstinate and ornery and intractable and a bunch of other qualities that were presented as terrible character flaws in my youth, hahaha. My parents always made sure I knew I was smart, but they also thought I should be pliant and accommodating and a bunch of other things that they weren’t. wink) And the planet of the wimmin was a really nice environment–not perfect, and they paid poorly, but nice. (Example: There was a culture of overworking and staying late, but there was also a culture where the first person to leave would walk down the hall and knock on each door in turn and say, “Go home.”)

    I totally hear what GreyLadyDBA says about having to prove yourself at each new gig. I think that’s why, for the most part, I prefer to take care of a company where they already know me than move around a lot. (I only really seriously considered consulting once.) I mean, you know, that’s the game and it’s the only game in town and I’ll play it because that’s just the way it is, but it takes a lot of energy I could spend doing things I enjoy (like making tech things better).

    Reply
  • Hugo Kornelis
    March 12, 2018 12:27 pm

    Reading the comments here (and I’ll admit that I did not take the time to read all of them completely – some I skipped, some I glanced over, and some I actually read – so do not be offended if what I see is in contradiction of the specific comment you wrote), I get a feeling that there are a few readers who missed the point.

    I see a few comments along the line of “hey, there ARE less female coders, these guys were stating a true fact”. To the people posting that comment, I’d say re-read Kendra’s post. She never denies that this is a true fact, but she encourages everyone to dig one level deeper and think about WHY less women are into coding. And she claims that this is not genetlically predetermined but, at least to a large factor, a result of (often unconscious) social pressure and role models. And she points this out because, by making the unconscious processes conscious, we can start to try to change this. (Kendra, please correct me if I misinterpret you but this is what I took away from your post).

    So anyone who comments that Kendra should not have bothered because these gentlemen were simply stating facts are missing the point. It’s not about whether or not they were right, it’s about WHY they were right.

    (Oh, and I would also like to respond to this sentence I found in one of the comments: “Does anyone complain that we need to get more men into primary school teaching” – yes! yes! yes we need to get more men there. My daughter is working in primary schools and both her and her colleagues hate that there are no male colleagues. Back when my children were still in primary school themselves, I hated that all reachers were female. Not because of gender bias on my side, or on anyone’s side – but because almost every pedagogue will tell you that it’s important for children of that age to have role models of both their own and the opposite gender, With the shortage of male primary school teachers, that objective is not accomplished.

    Reply
  • hello All, who contributed. I read this blog when it was posted and it appears it grew pretty long.

    There is not much difference in the ability of females to do programming, or math or science, after all males get a 50% chance to get their mathematical abilities from their mothers.However, there are several lifecycle and societal factors liniting the choice of the proession, and they do relate to child bearing. I will not touch upon biological/lifecycle as in the past they seemed to offend both girls and boys, even though they are proven scientifically. I think the societal factors that limit women the most, but I hope it will change at one moment or the other with more benefits introduced by state (and not imposed on the employers, as it is now sadly done). Meanwhile, for all of you on this post who try to “encourage” their daughters to go into the computer science or math or physics and fail: here is what you do. When the daughter is very young, before five years old (before school) – you do as many puzzles related to math with her as you can find. You often talk to her in terms ” I know, I will be very proud mommy/daddy of the mathematician, computer programmer/etc”.. You go to exploratory museums, like planetarium, science museums, etc. You play dominoes, chess, checkers – any games of strategy. Basically you spend time and you ENCOURAGE THEM WINNNG. When they get into any stupid school that you have in your district and start experiencing the pressure… You type in “IMACS” in google engine. You find their site. You sit with your daughter, promise her candy, and apply. Then you patiently sit with her for the first time till she is hooked, or it is proven otherwise. And yes, it maybe a day, a week, a month, or half a year – if she does not protest – you be with her, till she says, “mommy’daddy” I will do it alone, thank you. If she had natural inclinations – she gets to get to this page at some time: https://www.imacs.org/success-stories/

    or goes to college early like my daughter did – and studies the subject of her interest, which happens to be physics/math/philosophy/computer science. If your wife supports you without ever saying that the daughter should not do math – you hit the jackpot. Then she might end up in the room with jerks as Kendra did, although I PERSONALLY never experienced such a thing – and I doubt I ever will. I often had males challenge me in debate, but if you keep it out of gender – usually I win…

    I see some sad distribution of males/ females in my college classes as well, however girls do just fine when they get into my class. How we get them there? Read the above.

    I had references to agile in this discussion – supposedly, agile makes sure you do not overwork? How come you had to work overtime on your sprint???

    Reply
  • I’m getting tired of all the men trying to explain why more women don’t ENTER tech, when it’s pretty clear why they LEAVE. That’s the problem that needs to be solved here.

    Reply
  • First, I’m sorry that man said this.

    Second, I am grateful for your writing. Your story is a good one and should be more widely told.

    Third, I have trouble agreeing with your statement “The word “pushy” is a way to make “persistent and self-driven” into something negative, and the word is almost always used to describe women.”

    In my head at least, “pushy” = “tries to get their own way, especially if it makes others uncomfortable.” When someone does something to get the label “pushy” from me, usually what they did is try to make me do their work, or try to make me agree with them without my being allowed to argue.

    But while a persistent and self-driven person of any gender may make me feel uncomfortable, that’s entirely on me — I know that my discomfort comes from the demonstration that I’m not pushing myself to reach my own potential.

    Reply
  • Hi Kendra,
    Great Post! Regardless of if people agree or disagree, we are getting them to talk about it. That is a wonderful first step. I had noticed a similar trend with my user group until we started moving the time around (we still aren’t awesome, but we get between 10% and 30%). Many people have kids to take care of at night and can’t spend it out late with a user group (I am very much included in this and that is the reason I didn’t make PASS Summit last year). It is hard to be superwoman and I find there are a lot more women in the community that would attend events if more care were given to when and how they could attend. We are working on having a weblink to our user group so people can attend even when they can’t get away from work (I like to save up my “getting away from work” time to use on my kids). I attend each month because I run it.
    The next part is making women feel welcome. My first user group meeting was so scary! I didn’t know anyone and there were all these REALLY smart guys, no women and some of them felt a little creepy (turns out they are a little socially awkward like me). Having a friend at the user group can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Pat Wright worked really hard to build the SLC Community and make everyone feel welcome and like they have a friend. I am trying to continue that environment.
    Finally, my daughter loves to code, but she has been raised knowing that women can do anything and I know many people are still shaking off the limitations of previous generations (I am still trying to shake off what my brain was trained to say I can and can’t do.) We just have to continue to support each other and encourage each other to keep going. I know it makes a difference to have other women you admire telling you that you can accomplish anything.
    Sorry they made you angry, but thank you for getting us talking!
    Hugs
    Andrea

    Reply
    • Hugo Kornelis
      March 13, 2018 1:17 am

      Andrea, in the spirit of your own words: (“we are getting them to talk about it”), here are some thoughts that came up in my head when I read your reply.

      1: Time of the user group. The problem you describe is real: once you have kids it is hard to plan activities at night. But the majority of people with kids are in a couple, and this problem should be the same for both partners. Yet your words and observations show that this is not the case. Apparently (and I am not talking individual people here but statistics and numbers), it is considered “normal” for a man to tell his wife “will you mind the kids alone tonight dear, I’m at a user group to advance my future career”; yet the exact same words when spoken by a woman to her husband are considered not normal.
      Why is this? Is a large majority still in the mindset that “women will stop working when the kiids get older so no need to invest in her career”? Or “the mal is he main provider so his career is more important than hers”? Or, looking at it from another angle: are the women even asking, or are they too culturally conditioned to not even ask their spouse for such a favor? I don’t know the answer, but the world needs to figure this out so it can be fixed. Yes, shifting the time has worked for you. But there is not a single time of day that works for everyone. Late afternoon will not work for people who need to pick up kids from school or daycare; early afternoon blocks the UG from people who are not allowed to take the time off by their boss; early morning will be an issue for people who need to get their kids clothed, fed, and dropped off at school; etc. Each time slot shuts out a different group. The real solution to one group being shut out is not to shut out another group. A rotating schedule would be okay. But even better is to find and fix the root cause. Evenings SHOULD (in my opinion) be the best time for all people. Yes, single moms and single dads will need to get a sitter. Yes, people working in shifts will have to miss some months. But overall, most people in the data profession work daytime and should be able to have someone attend to the children while they work on their career. If that is harder for women than for men, then the root cause of that difference needs to be found and fixed.

      2: Making women feel welcome.
      As a very socially awkward person myself, I think I can relate to the need to make PEOPLE feel welcome. Those who have met me at events in the last few years will not know because I have managed to change my behaviour, but when I started to go to SQL Server related events I only wanted to be left alone. Just let me sit in my chair, listen to the speaker, and for (your favorite deity)’s sake: DO NOT TALK TO ME.
      Now I will not pretend to understand the issues women are facing in a male-dominated world. They will not be the same, and I will probably never fully understand your struggles. I just wanted to reinforce that I truly do believe that user groups (and other events) should try to be as open, as welcoming, and as people-friendly and women-friendly as possible.

      Your daughter.
      I am really happy to hear this. You clearly want to encourage your daughter to chase her dream. You realize how your own background can influence you to say the wrong things and actively work to prevent that. That is very well done!
      However, I have seen some other comments (and I deliberately chose to put this here, so as not to single anyone out) where I get the feeling that the fine line between encouraging a girl to follow her heart and attempting to force a girl into something they do not want is crossed.
      If a child does not show any interest in a profession, then that’s it. Accept that they have other interests, encourage them to excel in the areas where they want to excel. Even if that would be smack in the middle of the gender stereotypes that you have fought to break. They are not you, and they are defintely not a means to further your cause. The responsibility of parents is to present your children with a diverse array of toys. Let them choose what they want to play with. Let them explore their options. It is wrong to give baby dolls to girls and action figures to boys. But it is equally wrong to give baby dolls to boys and action figures to girls. The responsible parent will make both baby dolls and action figures available to both boys and girls. Let them make their choice. Let them play games, watch their choices, and always tell them that whatever direction they decide on, you support them and you have full confidence that they will be able to shine in that career,
      Personal story time: I am, of course, excited about my own profession. I was lucky to land in a profession that has my heart. I have tried to transfer this excitement to my son. Why my son and not my daughter, you may ask – well, it’s not because of gender bias, but simply because he loved video games and started talking to me about ideas he had to improve games, or create new games. I took that as a cue to see if I could get him interesting in programming. I bought a game development tool, a beginners’ book, and we started working through it. After at most four chapters we both realized: his interest was NOT in coding, but in the creative process of coming up with game ideas, with crazy levels, and with interesting enemies to beat. We have never touched that book since. In other words, I encouraged him to explore if coding is in his interest, but I did not push him when he told me it wasn’t.
      (Not saying this to show off as the perfect parent, I know I am far from perfect. But I do think I handled this right)

      Whew, got carried a way while writing. Sorry for the long text. And if you’re still here, then thanks for reading.

      Reply
      • Thank you Hugo! I LOVE this and you are absolutely correct, there isn’t a time that works for everyone. It is hard balancing act and moving the time around does help. I totally agree that there seems to be an imbalance between male and female careers, but I know talking about it can help.
        I think that it is awesome that you have worked so hard to be social at user groups and love that you are so inclusive. I do try to make everyone feel like they have a friend and are welcome at user group and love that you are doing the same.
        You sound like you are an AMAZING parent and that you are doing what is best for your children. I think that allowing your children to follow their dreams is the very best thing a parent can do. I love that you worked with your son to help him explore his interests. I think that is something that every parent should do if possible. Thank you for being such an awesome force in the community and taking time to help us all be better.

        Reply
  • I was raised by a mathematician/computer scientist and I was daddy’s girl. I started “playing” with code in 5th grade when my dad bought me a children’s book on coding. He made it fun and exciting. He was still trying to learn code to create an app shortly before he passed away. I am who I am because of him.

    I believe we do need to have better attitudes and environments to make it more welcoming for all people. I’ve been in the field for many years and was the only female on my team for a long time. It can be tough having to “prove” ideas a lot more than others. Constant push back even with many articles and blogs to prove a point or make a change. Even having a Microsoft engineer on site backing me up wasn’t enough at times because it was an idea that came from me – the only female on the team. Some will persevere while others bail out because it can be unwelcoming. I managed to toughen up but it was exhausting while others were not challenged as much. I also worked with my husband who is an oracle database engineer and he witnessed first hand a lot of my struggles. So, contrary to what some might be thinking, I wasn’t being “emotional” or too “sensitive”.

    The point is, we can make it harder or we can make it better. Change of perception is where it starts. Clearly, if I followed the perception of most, I wouldn’t be in this field. Thanks to my dad & women like Kendra, I am and I love it.

    Reply
  • Too often people make assumptions that are based on emotion rather than the facts. But that is really the way things work. And the truth is everyone has challenges selling their ideas because many times there is just a lot of resistance to change. It really shouldn’t be assumed it’s because of sex or any particular thing. I would even say it’s more chaotic than that and very hard to deal with. I am a man that has been in a number of teams and have had the same difficulties. Once an Asian was brought in as our team lead. He openly said he wanted to get me fired. Another time we had a big disagreement where they said I wasn’t trying to be a member of the team. The disagreement? They didn’t think we should be backing up model database and I did. I also pointed out it’s only 2mb and what were they trying to accomplish by not backing it up? They were all very disappointed in me. Should I have gone along to get along? I didn’t in this case. I suppose if I were a woman I could say it was because of that. But the truth is that it is just more chaotic than you would think it would be.

    Just because someone says they don’t see a lot of women doesn’t reflect an opinion of women. And naturally they attempt to understand it. And as far as the assumption that some women may not tend to like coding, that doesn’t equate to any judgement on their skills or abilities at all. Just what is observed at times.
    Case in point:
    As part of my college years I had an accounting class. There was a woman in the class I noticed. Her fingers were a blur over the ten key (showing my age here) whereas I struggled. She consistently finished tests and exams very early and got straight A’s. She was always relaxed and it looked effortless for her. Then one day very shortly before finals she said goodbye and that she was dropping out. She said her husband wanted her at home. I just couldn’t believe it and strongly encouraged her to at least finish and get her A+ in the class! She just smiled and waved goodbye in a very casual relaxed matter. I never saw her again.
    She was way better in that class than I was. She just really wasn’t that interested. I sometimes think when someone has a lot of ability and it’s easy for them that they tend to get bored or lose interest. Whatever it was, it was her choice. So when I might say she just wasn’t that interested, it has nothing at all to do with ability.
    Sometimes the opposite observation is also true about the ratio of men to women. When I first started at this company I would go to some presentations where there might be 60 people. I was one of about three men in the presentation. I also was wondering…why!
    To sum it up, it’s good we are trying to understand things in an open and friendly manner and not good to get mad based on assumptions. Even if it may be the natural thing to do.
    There are amazing people for all interests out there and all are needed. And taking into consideration their identity is not really basing their qualifications on their skills or merit or quality of their character.
    Many times we can come to a better understanding if we simply have a conversation.
    And as someone who has a teenager, I just hope we can find something that they are interested in as a career! I find many kids tend to not believe enough in their abilities. Maybe they are afraid of too high expectations.

    Reply
    • This post is not truly about the people I overheard.

      This post is about ME, and my own opinion of women (including myself), and feelings that were brought up by overhearing their conversation. The post is a conversation with myself about why overhearing those few words had such an impact on me.

      You write that it’s, “not good to get mad based on assumptions” as if you are disagreeing with me. The whole point of my post is in fact looking at my own assumptions that were raised by the comments — so that I’m aware of them.

      Reply
      • Some of my point is that everybody makes assumptions. And indeed they are required. And people tend to make a lot of decisions based on emotion which can go along with those assumptions. And being able to examine those emotions and assumptions is also good and also tricky to do. If you can do it before you make a judgement or conclusion that is also good.
        “as if you are…” .
        This has somewhat evolved into talking about communication. This also plays a part in someone’s success.
        A major part of being successful is emotional stability and self control/discipline. It all plays together. I deliberately tried to keep it somewhat general as communication is very hard and to me the fact that we are trying to communicate is the real important point.
        P.S. Personally I always thought the smart girls and/or tomboy’s were really the most interesting. Depending somewhat on their character.
        P.S.S. “The whole point of my post is in fact looking at my own assumptions that were raised by the comments — so that I’m aware of them.” – I’m agreeing with this. It’s great you had enough self awareness to try and understand why you got so mad. Our own insecurities tend to play here. Are we worth it? (Yes) Do we deserve it? (Yes) Do we like/love ourselves? Some say a lot of lot successful people are narcissists. It could be it’s because they think they deserve everything!

        Reply
  • This post really resonated with me. I grew up with 5 brothers and BOTH of my parents let me know directly and indirectly that I simply wasn’t as capable or logical or intelligent as any of my brothers because I was female. I chose to major in Computer Science, a disappointment to my parents who thought I should be a nurse or a teacher. There is nothing wrong with either of those professions but I knew they weren’t right for me. I was one of only 2 females in my major for my graduating class. I chose not to have children for a myriad of reasons but that was also a disappointment to my parents because, as a woman, that was what I was supposed to do. Decades later I still battle a severe inferiority complex. I have had many experiences in the workforce in which coworkers have made comments about my capabilities based on how I look and my gender. I try to move past it and continue on. But I still think I’m not smart enough. I still catch myself feeling small and inept. But as each year passes, I feel this way ever so slightly less. And you better believe that I’m taking every opportunity to let my brother’s daughters know they are powerhouses that can do anything they want in life.

    Reply
    • Thank you for taking the time to write this comment. The reason I made this a public post rather than something I type out into a text file and then threw away is because I thought it might resonate with some other folks, and together we could get a little bit stronger. And reading your story does make me feel more determined and hopeful.

      Reply
    • Thank you CDR and Kendra. I am in the same boat with having a hard time believing in myself. One of my greatest champions is my Step-Dad. He constantly tells me that when I realize what is “under the hood”, nothing can stop me. When I feel down, he says, “Don’t forget what is under the hood!” It builds me up and I know that we are an awesome community for helping to build each other up. Thank you again for all you guys do to help us not forget what is under the hood.

      Reply
  • Back in the late 70’s when I took university computer classes there were quite a few female students- maybe close to a 50/50 ratio. You jumped in learning Fortran, then got a survey course with different languages like Lisp. The hardest courses were in IBM assembler, and we had to write a working compiler at the end of that run. Through all this, the women didn’t wash out any faster than the men.
    One theory is that when 8-bit personal computers came out, parents gave them to boys instead of girls. By the time they had a class in computers, the boys had been playing around basic modifying game programs for years and most girls were starting from zero.
    These days, I think the pervasiveness of the whole ‘Brogrammer’ culture makes the field unattractive to intelligent people, particularly at the entry level. Fixing that and treating people like professionals would go a long way to making tech work more attractive.

    Reply
  • Kendra, I love this article. And I love what you do. Arguably one of the most advanced SQL gurus I’ve come across, with a style that I can really relate to. I’ve been following you for years and using the technical advice you’ve given numerous times with great success! Those comments, I’ve heard them many times. Over and over again. Some comments hit harder than others, some tone-deaf comments are not as poignant, but they all add up over time. Akin to “death by paper cuts”!

    Those guys aren’t attracting more women to their talks probably because their talks are boring and they do too much “Man-splaining”! LOL! The comments sounded like they came from a place of insecurity and denial 😉
    Like an efficient programmer, he needs to process the clear feedback he is getting (i.e. lack of women in his talks) and adjust his style if he wants to improve. Of course if he doesn’t want to improve (and leave his code buggy!) he can always just blame the “user” instead of debugging his code…. And we’ve all come across code like that.

    I’ve been working with databases and data architecture for over 17 years, and by now I have steady confidence. But for over 10 years I was made to feel like a junior DBA. I’ve often seen men with less than half my experience be given twice the weight of respect for their technical expertise. But I’ve also seen these over confident men build systems and design architecture that is faulty and way above their heads. And it all comes crashing down. Not good for business, or the engineer himself.

    Technology is our future, and we should ALL be part of building it: women, men, non-gender conforming people, LGBT people, people of colour and Neuro-diverse people. The richness and brilliance found in diversity is missing in the workforce and in our software and businesses. Without diversity in the tech workforce, we will continue to create boring, inefficient 2-dimensional apps, software and business models which are not evolved and don’t work for the majority of the population on this planet.

    Who is with me??

    Again, Love Love Love your work Kendra! Thank you!

    Reply
  • I will say there are women in SQL Server that have become somewhat famous over the years.
    There are Kalen Delaney and Kimberly Tripp. Some great articles and books written and classes taught which have been enjoyed by many.
    One great website I love for the great information it has is: https://www.sqlskills.com/about/
    SQLskills.com is owned and run by the husband-and-wife team of Paul S. Randal and Kimberly L. Tripp. You may also enjoy some of their articles. Their blogs are great.
    Kendra: I hope you don’t mind me sharing their website and blog here. I am uncertain if it is considered bad manners or not. If it is, I apologize!

    Reply
  • I applaud you for keeping your cool and allowing yourself time to digest and analyze what was being said. As an African-American, who is a newly appointed SQL DBA, I have some of the same inner demons doubting my place in the SQL Server realm. Not many people from my background invest in such career and we are usually stereotyped into a certain occupation. So I do feel like I have to not only prove that I am smart and capable of doing a great job, but also show that African Americans are smart and able to do an exceptional job at whatever we put our mind to. So thank you for sharing “your” story!

    Reply

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