Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Tech Is Not Pink

Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle had a front page article entitled How not to attract women to coding: Make tech pink.  Apparently, colleges trying to recruit young women to computer  engineering have been sending out flyers done in curly purple script, with flowers on them.  They create pink web sites for women computer engineers.  They refer to "web divas," in flyers printed on purple polka-dot paper.

Does this make you cringe a little?  It should.  They're trying to sell an actual, well paying career, and they present as if they're selling Barbie dolls.  You would think people running colleges would be smarter than this.  Folks, this approach is insulting - which, to the Chron's credit, was the point of the article.

I speak as a woman computer engineer.  I have 19 years experience in a mainframe data center belonging to a major bank; in retirement I support 3 web sites for local non-profits.  Computer science classes weren't available to women when I was in college - well, they were there (using IBM cards), but no one told women what they were about.  Women of my generation didn't get jobs working with computers, with very few exceptions.  (Grace Hopper was the previous generation.)

I started working with personal computers almost immediately after they came on the market.  I kept department books on an Apple IIe, using VisiCalc, in 1979.  I wrote my own menus and installed my own programs on an IBM PC-XT (10MB hard drive!) in 1982.  I took night classes, read books, took on free projects for experience building databases, and finally lucked into an "entry-level training program" at the major bank.  (If that rings a bell with you, you know what the bank was.  The program hasn't survived.)  When I retired I decided to do web management for non-profits; I taught myself that, too.  I don't do web design, I'm a mediocre designer; but I can set it up, I can maintain it, and if it breaks I can probably fix it.

I hate pink and never wear it.  Little flowery things make me wince. I'm interested in how things work, not how they look.  And while today's young women aren't like me in a lot of ways, if they aren't interested in how things work, they probably aren't going into computer science anyway.

Why do we all care that there are few women in tech?  Because women see things differently than men do.  Women ask different questions, and sometimes produce answers the men didn't think of.  If you ever wondered why the tech world works the way it does, the answer may well be, because it doesn't have enough women, asking those different questions.  Go for it, ladies; ignore the curly purple things.  It's a fascinating field, even if the recruiters haven't got a clue how to sell it to you.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

War on Whom?

Like many other people, I'm shocked and appalled by the SCOTUS decision in Hobby Lobby.  I've seen a lot of flap suggesting this constitutes a "war on women." (What else did you expect from a panel with a majority of Catholic men?)  But if the Hobby Lobby decision started (or contributed to) a war, it's a little narrower than that.

The Hobby Lobby decision is a war on poor women.

The women directly affected work for Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby is bragging today that it has raised its "minimum wage" to $14.50 an hour and its part-timers get $9.50 an hour.  Well, goody for them.  According to Planned Parenthood, IUDs (one of the 2 methods that Hobby Lobby objects to) cost between $500 and $1000.  If you work 40 hours a week at $14.50 an hour, you make $580 a week - before withholding.  So an IUD, if that's what you need, will cost you all of one week's and part of a second week's net pay.  Or more.  And that assumes 40 hours a week.  If you work part-time you get $9.50 an hour and I won't even bother to calculate how that stacks up against the cost of an IUD.

Hobby Lobby, at least, is only objecting to 2 methods of contraception.  But the ripples are spreading - just today, Eden Foods, a maker of soy milk, has announced that the 150 people who work for them will not get any paid contraceptives at all.  Eden Foods is closely held and the owner is Catholic - and he's refusing to pay for anything that "prevents procreation."  He sued about being forced to cover contraceptives, and was refused by the U.S. Court of Appeals, on the grounds that a for-profit corporation couldn't exercise religion.  The day after the Hobby Lobby decision, SCOTUS vacated that ruling and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals "for further consideration."

This is a war against poor women.  Well-to-do women can pay for contraceptives themselves.  How much money do you have to make before you can drop $500 on birth control?  How much before you can drop $1000?  What if you're married with kids?  I'd stop and think before paying $1000 for anything out of my pocket.

One could argue that this is merely a salvo in a larger attempt to reduce women to mere chattels again, with no voice in society and no ability to make their own decisions on when and whether to have children.  That war is going on.  But this specific decision is just a skirmish in it.

The most ironic statement of all came from Justice Alito:
“The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections,” he writes in the opinion.
So here it is:  a prescription for single payer, direct from the Supreme Court.  I thought we should have gone straight for single payer years ago, when this whole argument started.  Can we reconsider Obamacare and go where every other civilized nation in the world has gone, now?