GitHub recently donated unlimited free private source code repositories for women learning to write open source software through the Ada Initiative, and some people are unhappy about it.
GitHub’s donation will create an incubator environment where women can sharpen their skill and benefit from collaboration and peer review with other colleagues at the Ada Initiative, but not the greater code community. The Ada Initiative points out that “many women are reluctant to post their code publicly when they are first getting started in open source software,” and believe it or not, “This reluctance has good reasons behind it: fear of being told they are bad programmers, fear of being publicly mocked or harassed, and even fear of losing job opportunities.” Because of existing inequalities within the tech community, “all of these are greater risks for women on average than men.”
Snipe, who identifies as an open sourcerer and devops chick, among other things, writes, “so, you mean the exact same stuff that makes it intimidating for men?” No, Snipe, no. Women and men have equal intellectual and emotional capacity, talent and humanity – you name it – but that does not mean we’re all dealt the same set of cards to play in this lovely world of ours. Women face maddeningly disproportionate amounts of double standards and obstacles.
In a nutshell: Just because Snipe succeeded with the current infrastructure in the tech community does not mean that everyone else henceforth should be subjected to the same infrastructure. We can do better. And improving the infrastructure will not take away from Snipe’s success or credibility. So guess what, Snipe, step aside and let us do our work here.
And the longer version:
Our culture values the “good girl”, and this isn’t good
From day one, girls are raised to please everyone, get good grades at school, look pretty, act passively, etc. In this harsh world, kids (including boys) learn that girls’ success comes in the form of being a “good girl” and failure means being a “bad girl”. This mindset, sadly and unsurprisingly, carries over into adulthood.
Rachel Simmons does an excellent job outlining how we would all benefit by creating a space in which girls can be “real girls”, somewhere outside of the good/bad dichotomy that stunts growth and stifles opportunity. Simmons argues that we should mindfully adjust our values and raise our girls with experience in self-negotiating, making calculated risks, rebounding from mistakes and asserting themselves. To stimulate such a change in our cultural value system, Simmon’s created the Girls Leadership Institute.
Because the “curse of the good girl” extends itself into adulthood, we need more avenues for education and change. The Ada Initiative facilitates change specifically within the tech industry. GitHub, one of the Ada Initiative’s sponsors, further promotes change by making an incubator learning environment possible.
Incubator environments can be helpful to leveling competition
Incubator environments are not a new phenomenon. In fact, I would argue that this is one of the greatest values of modern educational institutes — including Rachel Simmon’s Girls Leadership Institute and the Ada Initiative.
Historically speaking, our country can go ahead and thank Alexander Hamilton for establishing the incubator environment that allowed our economy to successfully develop. In Bad Samaritans, Ha-Joon Chang cites the 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures, in which Hamilton argued, “a backward country like the US should protect its ‘industries in their infancy’ from foreign competition and nurture them to the point where they could stand on their own feet” (loc 924). The implementation of Hamilton’s “infant industry” measures allowed for rapid industrial growth in the United States. Countries need time to develop specialties, master skills, and implement effective organizations before they can successfully compete internationally.
In more than one instance, Chang describes developing countries succeeding via nationalistic policies, “kicking the ladder out from beneath them”, and only then adopting free trade. Chang writes, “in the long run, free trade is a policy that is likely to condemn developing countries to specialize in sectors that offer low productivity growth and thus low growth in living standards” (loc 1367).
You see what I’m getting at here? Snipe is crying “free trade!” for women and men coders, and she’s kicking the ladder out from beneath her feet, which is a huge mistake. We’re not there yet. We have cultural inequalities that are not going to fix themselves in an unchecked “free trade” tech environment.
The issue of sexism in tech merits our attention
Snipe goes so far as to say:
The notion of sexism in tech trivializes the very real sexism that is pervasive in daily life. Sexism in tech is a symptom, not the sickness. In attempting to treat this symptom, we’ve alienated ourselves so much that men in tech don’t know what to do with us anymore.
Sexism is deeply rooted in our culture. There is not a single point of origin where this “sickness” should be addressed; there are MANY points of origin, and the tech sector is one of them. In attempting to address sexism where it exists, we might challenge people to think differently, and that’s ok. Since the tech sector is largely comprised of men, I can imagine that some of them might feel uncomfortable from time to time. Real change is never easy. To recycle some of Snipe’s own advice, the men who don’t know what to do with us silly, headstrong women “need to take it like a grown-up”. We cannot let the discomfort of some prevent us from having such an important and necessary conversation.
We should diversify our incubator programs
While I find much of Snipe’s blog post off-base, I agree with her on one thing: I would like to see programs that facilitate skill development for all who feel intimidated, regardless of gender and age. There are multiple types of diversity missing from the tech sector. People in gender/age/class/race inclusive programs can build skill and confidence in a more diverse incubator environment, and they can hopefully enter the workforce with a set of values and experience that lends itself to succeeding in the status quo while contributing to a more sustainable future.
Women-only programs work well for some women, and for that reason, I’m glad they exist. And I’m glad GitHub supports one of them. In addition to the Ada Initiative, I hope to see GitHub (and other tech companies) invest in more incubator programs that promote much-needed cultural development in the tech workforce.