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Thoughts on the web, travel & remote working life by Paddy O’Hanlon

Gender Data, Awareness and Change

Written from Brussels, Belgium

On a Shop Talk Show episode, John Resig, jQuery creator, mentioned the Women Who Code twitter list he made. He said:

“In a day to day experience, I wasn’t hearing from enough different voices, from different backgrounds, from different experiences. I wanted to create an environment for myself in which it became much more expected that there are lots of diverse, interesting developers out there.”

John follower everyone on the list and continues, “it started to shift how I think about things”.

With so much gender issue commotion, especially in the tech industry, this made me reflect. I found Twee-Q, an app which gives a gender ratio based on retweets. I scored a worrying 100% of male retweets. Hard to believe. Especially considering myself an incredibly open, progressive, equality-embracing, forward thinking, bla bla bla, person.

Of course, just because I have consistently retweeted men doesn’t necessarily mean I’m gender bias, but probably does. And I’m conscious of starting to retweet based on gender just to level my score. But, it’s very useful information. “The first step toward change is awareness”, says Nathaniel Branden.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the IAT, Implicit Association Test, which tests how well you can match or associate words with pictures. Gladwell says he has a moderate automatic preference for whites. Apparently 80% of white Americans have a preference towards whites, and even 42% of black Americans have a preference for whites.

You can test yourself at Project Implicit. When I read Blink, my results showed I am moderately sexist and racist. Which feels pretty disgusting to say. I imagine most of us want to be perfectly equal in our mindset; consciously and subconsciously—or to even tip the scales to the other side for a while to speed up the balancing.

The incredibly talented Nichole Sullivan bravely mentioned, talking to Jeffrey Zeldman on the Big Web Show, that she took the IAT and was told to be slightly sexist towards women. And that it had been valuable in making changes to her own mindset.

The point is not to judge ourselves harshly, but that info brings awareness, and awareness can lead to change in behaviour which leads to change. There is no prescribed action here, other than a suggestion to maybe look at your own Twitter data.

I’m a little worried about publishing this. Or sharing my thoughts on gender at all. It feels a very sensitive topic at the moment, and easy to unintentionally step on someones toes, or come off as self-righteous, or self-promotious. But I think discussion is crucial.

Macklemore’s, A Wake, just came to mind. No serious connection with the post, just for enjoyment.

Published by Paddy on 25 Mar 2014
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