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Opinion Editorials

Solve the gender gap in the tech world: quit bitching

(Editorial) The gender gap in the technology world exists, but it is not this ugly chasm that some portray it as, and there is actually a solution that doesn’t involve unfair demands and complaining.

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dalia ziada

dalia ziada

The gender gap in the technology industry

Over the weekend, the world paused to celebrate International Women’s Day and brands of all sizes dreamed of creative ways to observe the day. Some made stickers to honor achievements of women (like the fact that a woman invented the dishwasher in 1887 and another invented chocolate chip cookies in 1930) and others created shocking video that celebrated how far women have come yet how much struggle remains.

The honest looks taken at the current outlook for women was done by brands to put their stamp on history, and sure they’re spreading their logo alongside these messages, but the original “eww, they’re taking advantage of the situation” feelings I had subsided, because I think it’s important to talk about the challenges many women have.

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And then I read Sarah Parmenter’s piece, “Why the gender gap in the design industry needs to end” and she points out that women aren’t looking for special treatment in the tech industry, in fact the opposite. She asserts that men can’t win in most cases, which I agree with – male bosses, hire more women and you’re accused of trying to assuage your male guilt, don’t hire more women and you’re a chauvinist who is holding women back.

Then, one commenter caught my attention:

“Oh no not another feminist article. Look, if you want to change gender gap in the design industry all you have to do is tell males not apply or pass laws prohibiting design organization hiring more men than women. All these gender issues never look at the elephant in the room. Which is, once women fall in love, get married, and have kids, their priorities change. This has always happened and always will be. But the minute I say that, I become a racist, sexist, homophobe for stating the obvious. So, the solution is, of course, is to not to fall in love.”

Is he right? In some cases, yes, but not all cases. In my case, I fell in love while in college, married, became a parent, and was encouraged by my husband (who is now my boss) to work my ass off to pursue my ambitions (sidenote: I’ve always been extremely ambitious, so I would never have married someone who didn’t understand that). But in other cases, women do get married and shift their attention – some of the smartest women I know are stay at home mothers with college degrees, and I don’t see them as lower on any totem pole than I. So what if we took different paths? That doesn’t make her less hireable than me, should she use her computer science degree against my English degree, and it honestly has nothing to do with the damn gap, given that so few women actually stay at home – a growing minority, in fact.

So should we beat this dead horse?

So why beat this dead horse that is the “gender gap in the tech industry” if every situation is unique? Because it’s important. No woman is entitled to special treatment, and only idiots expect it. Let me illustrate.

I was once at a conference and I was the only woman on stage. That’s not uncommon, really, and I am fully aware that I have often been the token woman. Instead of moping about it, I’ve taken full advantage of the situation and built some of my notoriety on the fact that I have those opportunities. Should I object and proclaim that there are more qualified men that should be on the stage? Hell no, I’m taking that opportunity and running with it like any smart business person should.

At this particular conference, a group of women (who I am actually friends with) approached the organizers and complained, so last minute, there was a lineup change, and some men that were supposed to speak were cancelled and some lesser qualified women (and crappy speakers, I might add) were featured.

BIG WIN FOR FEMINISM, RIGHT!? Kick men in the dirt while you offer a subpar performance in the name of vaginas everywhere? No. That’s the problem with the gender gap – the whiny people that expect special treatment, in fact, they demand it and hold the tech industry hostage.

For anyone who is guilty of demanding this of any event, I want you to go Google “Dalia Ziada” right now. She obliterates the gender gap in endless ways in the face of her own safety, which makes the “not enough boobs on stage” argument seem petty.

The solution is so easy

The best way to solve the problem is ending the bitch and stitch about the fact that there is a gender gap. It’s narrowing, and most men are truly supportive of quality talent, regardless of gender. Sure, there are places like The Chive whose culture is openly chauvinistic, just don’t go work there. Duh.

The long term solution to ending the gender gap is telling your children, male and female, that STEM careers can be exciting. Train them to be curious and creative, and in the end, the gap will narrow naturally as they build robots together and see each other at age six as equals. Don’t have kids? Find a local charity that works with girls that may someday be interested in STEM studies. Donate some time instead of crying.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Go help the next generation to advance and narrow the gap, or just make your daughter’s life easier by encouraging her to be a creative problem solver (which let’s face it, is the job of a technologist). Focus on narrowing the gender gap and making future lives easier by being hands on with the next generation instead of bitching about it and demanding that qualified men be thrown off stage so that a random woman can fill that seat to satisfy the need of having a woman on stage.

Help the next generation to breathe easier and quit making unreasonable demands that don’t actually narrow the gap.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Tinu

    March 11, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    In a world without privilege, of all kinds, yes, that would be a solution, stop whining and put your shoulder to the grindstone. I used to think this, until someone took the time to show me the relationship between my struggle as a person of relative privilege, influence and power.

    Long story short, our struggle to be noticed on stage in tech is related to the struggle of women on the other side of the world who just want to keep their female babies from being sold into bridal slavery.

    As those with higher privilege get our demands met, in all areas of social justice, it’s like a sound barrier being broken, or the first four minute mile. This used to be more apparent historically when our struggles were all closer together. We were able to own property, vote, not be considered property, etc.

    It’s much more complex than this, of course. We also need a new measure of success. I never let up professionally because of men or kids — in fact I work this hard so I can be in a better professional place when I have them. But I was never taught either/or because of my cultural background.

    What those who have struggled before me taught me is that when those who have begun to receive their equal rights let up, the more important rights we have struggled for disappear as well. The backsliding continues until some of us are barefoot and pregnant, and others of us are on plantations.

    I’m not saying you don’t have a point, you do. But it isn’t just unfair for anyone to pursue a position they would later have to abandon because of family. It’s also unfair that those who have them, male and female, have to make those kind of sacrifices to be in those positions. Which is another can of worms, because capitalism, which I’m in favor of as a company owner.

    I’m saying that it’s a lot more complicated and we need to look for more answers to all of this, including the idea that there’s only one feminist agenda we should all be in lockstep with.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 11, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      Tinu, thank you for the thought-provoking response. I don’t think that your additional thoughts negate anything I’ve said, in fact, you’ve strengthened them.

      The issue is extremely complex, nuanced, and different for every American worker, which is why I alluded to a stay at home mom versus a COO.

      To me, the women before us that REALLY had it hard are to thank for the narrowed gap, but women that focus on headcounts on stage of genders are slapping the faces of those that were treated like shit for so long to pave a positive road for US. All I’m saying is that we must keep our nose to the grind and make the road even MORE positive for the next generation, and being a baby won’t cure any ill here.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to weigh in – your thoughts are tremendously helpful on the topic!

      • Tinu

        March 11, 2014 at 10:48 pm

        You made a really strong point about the ling term solutions. A really strong one. I hate to admit how much, especially in my culture, the pressure to marry and have kids and be the best as GD everything had me So confused as a kid.

        Even today, I have chosen to have a very non-traditional relationship with a man that makes me super-happy. But the societal pressure from friends and family about how I “should” be married… I wonder what century I’m in. I may get married but it’s not a goal of mine.

        This same world told me I *could* aspire to professional greatness, but when I began to, shunned me for not having a neglected kid and troubled marriage in tow.
        So please don’t get me wrong -I felt I was adding to, rather than negating your point. Expecting special treatment is the opposite of justic. But some don’t know the difference.

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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