Archive for: February, 2011

Oh noes, it's women CEOs!

Feb 28 2011 Published by under women

In case you missed it amidst all the other news last week (Wisconsin protests, New Zealand earthquake, The Last Airbender winning worst movie of the year), there's a debate raging across the pond as to whether there ought to be quotas for hiring more female CEOs to lead companies. I've been watching this debate unfold, because the comments people leave on these articles provides some insight into the thinking of some very polarized people. Furthermore, they reveal some seriously flawed assumptions.

Let's take Mike for example:

People should not be chosen for a job on the basis of gender, race or religion. In every case a job should go to the person best able to carry out that job. --Mike Rose, UK

You know, Mike, I agree with you 100%. I think that is a great statement. Except, please do something for me. Explain to me how a hiring manager identifies who the "best person able to carry out that job" is. Is it based on an objective, quantifiable measure? Say, number of publications, number of profits earned, number of customers acquired? Is it based on a gender-blind objective assessment of a candidate's writing skills, technical skills, or thinking skills?

Oh, it's usually not? Huh. Then how can best be determined? Awfully fuzzy, I'd say.

Here's the thing: in corporate America (and in your case, corporate Britain), there is systemic bias and discrimination against non-majority people. I say non-majority because this bias is something that goes beyond race, ethnicity, and gender discrimination. It also includes socio-economic status, parental status, marital status, sexual orientation, and cultural background.

You see, many of the people being discriminated against don't "fit" the mold very well. So in addition to never even getting called in for an interview because their name is "Jamal Brown" instead of "John Smith", if they are interviewed they don't make the final cut because they didn't fit the majority image the hiring manager had in their brain.

So in nearly every case, we're finding the majority person getting the top jobs because the non-majority person didn't fit this non-objective image of "the best person able to carry out that job".

Someone asked the head of Associated British Foods about its CEO hiring decisions. It 'says it has a duty to appoint the best candidate, "and to date that person has been male"'. (The Times, 25 Feb 2011).

Riiiight. Ok, Mike, let's look at the logic here:

  • Companies always hire the "best candidate".
  • The majority of Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies are run by wealthy white men.
  • Therefore, the best people to lead Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies are wealthy white men.

Ok, I'm done picking on Mike. Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies, this message is for you:

     If you are truly committed to diversity, PROVE IT.

Stop padding your website and brochures with pictures showing how diverse you are and actually bring in some diverse leaders. Take a chance on a non-majority person for once. I promise, we don't bite. Usually.

12 responses so far

Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII

Feb 14 2011 Published by under computing history, women

In 1942, when computers were human and women were underestimated, a group of female mathematicians helped win a war and usher in the modern computer age. Sixty-five years later their story has finally been told.

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! There is a new documentary called Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II about female mathematicians and scientists who were secretly recruited to do ballistics research and crack codes during WWII. (They were called "Female Computers", back in the days when "computer" meant "one who computes")

Unsurprisingly, because the research was classified, the efforts of these women went largely unsung until Professor LeAnn Erickson, faculty at Temple, made a documentary about them.

CNN has a nice write up about the film, and includes an anecdote about work on the ENIAC (the other "first" computer). Though, this part made me cringe:

The war ended in 1945, but within a couple months of arriving in Philadelphia, Bartik was hired to work on a related project -- an electronic computer that could do calculations faster than any man or woman. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, created by Penn scientists John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr., weighed more than 30 tons and contained about 18,000 vacuum tubes. It recognized numbers, added, subtracted, multiplied, divided and a few other basic functions.

Men had built the machine, but Bartik and her colleagues debugged every vacuum tube and learned how to make it work, she said. Early on, they demonstrated to the military brass how the computer worked, with the programmers setting the process into motion and showing how it produced an answer. They handed out its punch cards as souvenirs. They'd taught the massive machine do math that would've taken hours by hand.

But none of the women programmers was invited to the celebratory dinner that followed. Later, they heard they were thought of as models, placed there to show off the machine.

I'd like to think we've come a long way since 1945, but I have heard recent stories of female technologists demonstrating things at technology shows whom male attendees assume are booth babes, so maybe we're not quite there yet.

In any case, if you are interested in seeing the film, the creators have several screenings scheduled, and are planning more. Also I believe you can rent it on Netflix. Or, check your local PBS listings.

4 responses so far

The Difference Engine

Feb 07 2011 Published by under meta

Hi, my name is FCS, aka Female Computer Scientist. The kind folks here at Scientopia have invited me to blog with them, and being a long time fan of most everyone here I have decided to accept. It was  a delightful surprise to receive the invitation.

I am planning to keep my other blog active and post here on an occasional (hopefully weekly) basis. Right now life is rather hectic, but hopefully in the next few months a tide of calmness will come and a lovely, dichotomous blogging pattern shall emerge.

You may wonder what "The Difference Engine" means. It is often credited to be the first computer, and I guess as far as the western world is concerned that's true. It was conceived by Charles Babbage and improved upon and first "programmed" by Lady Ada Lovelace. Babbage is referred to pretty much everywhere as the "Father of Computing". Well, I think if that's the case then Ada is most certainly its mother. She is, fortunately, well-honored in computing history, and each year the world celebrates Ada Lovelave day, where we all honor our favorite female computer scientists.

Since Ada's time things have dramatically improved for women, people of color, and people with disabilities who want to study and work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but in my observation we still have a ways to go. So that's the other part of the title of "The Difference Engine" - I'd like to help change the image and face of computing*.

I'm still considering the best way of doing this, but at the very least I hope to do some general CS education and outreach.

(*) Don't worry, this will not become a Computer Vision blog. Or will it? Mu ha ha...

16 responses so far