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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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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

Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin

(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.

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“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.

A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.

Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.

This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.

Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.

This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.

Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.

It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.

Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.

Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?

At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.

There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.

So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.

Let’s dig into that further.

Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.

For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.

The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.

All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.

A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.

The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.

If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.

Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.

Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.

In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”

What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.

Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?

Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.

Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.

The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.

Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.

People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.

Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.

“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.

That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.

It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.

Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.

In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.

The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”

The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.

It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.

The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.

The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.

The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.

We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.

This editorial was first published here on September 09, 2021.

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Opinion Editorials

Why you should at least try to declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, or an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

6 human skills that AI robots don’t… yet

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the growing power and skill of AI, but here are a few skills where we have the upper hand.

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Man drawing on a roll of butcher paper, where AI cannot express themselves yet.

AI is taking over the workforce as we know it. Burgers are already being flipped by robotic arms (and being flipped better), and it’s only a matter of time before commercial trucks and cars will be driven by robots (and, probably, be driven better).

It may feel unnerving to think about the shrinking number of job possibilities for future humans – what jobs will be around for humans when AI can do almost everything better than we can?

To our relief (exhale!), there are a few select skills that humans will (hopefully) always be better at than AI. The strengths that we have over AI fall into 3 general categories: Ability to convey emotion, management over others, and creativity.

Let’s break it down: Here are 6 skills that we as humans should be focusing on right now.

Our ability to undertake non-verbal communication

What does this mean for humans? We need to develop our ability to understand and communicate body language, knowing looks, and other non-verbal cues. Additionally, we need to refine our ability to make others feel warm and heard – if you work in the hospitality industry, mastering these abilities will give you an edge over the AI technologies that might replace you.

Our ability to show deep empathy to customers

Unlike AI, we share experiences with other humans and can therefore show empathy to customers. Never underestimate how powerful your deep understanding of being human will be when you’re pitted against a robot for a job. It might just be the thing that gives you a cutting edge.

Our ability to undertake growth management

As of this moment, humans are superior to AI when it comes to managing others. We are able to support organization members in developing their skillsets and, due to our coaching ability, we are able to help others to grow professionally. Take that, AI!

Our ability to employ mind management

What this essentially means is that we can support others. Humans have counseling skills, which means we are able to help someone in distress, whether that stems from interpersonal relationships or professional problems. Can you imagine an AI therapist?

Our ability to perform collective intelligence management

Human creativity, especially as it relates to putting individual ideas together to form an innovative new one, gives us a leg up when competing against AI. Humans are able to foster group thought, to manage and channel it, to create something bigger and better than what existed before. Like, when we created AI in the first place.

Our ability to realize new ideas in an organization

Think: Elevator pitch. Humans are masters of marketing new ideas and are completely in-tune with how to propose new concepts to an organization because, you guessed it, we too are human. If the manager remains human in the future (fingers crossed!), then we know what to say to them to best sell our point of view.

Using what we know, it’s essential for almost all of us to retrain for an AI-driven economy that is most likely just a few years away. My advice for my fellow humans? Develop the parts of you that make you human. Practice eye contact and listening. Think about big pictures and the best way to manage others. Sharpen your mind with practicing creative processes. And do stay up to date with current trends in AI tech. Sooner or later, these babies are bound to be your co-workers.

This story was first published here in October of 2020.

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