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I saw Hilary Mason's post, "Stop talking, start coding" and realized she had put in 4 words what I'd been debating taking as a personal philosophy.

Theory: The more time we spend on women in computing initiatives, the less time we have to actually get stuff done.

I've been turning down a lot of opportunities lately, and most of them have been in relation to women in $foo initiatives. Where $foo can be all manner of male-dominated geekdom. I've turned down chances at serving on a board of directors, recruiting, mentoring, speaking, giving campus tours, or running new women in $foo groups.

Why? Because I sat down and looked at my time a few years ago, and decided that I wanted to be the sort of person who gets stuff done, much like Sarah Mei articulates the answer in her post, "Why I don't work at Google." I like groups of smart people, but smart people like the GNU Mailman team who were working on version 3 held a lot more appeal that the Linuxchix folk who were just talking.

It'd be easy to blame women's groups as the problem, but then you'd miss the thing that I love most about women's groups:

The best women's groups aren't about separation and segregation: they're about providing an incubator for people who need a leg up to be part of the wider community.

That pretty much sounds like a recipe for making change and getting stuff done, and means the wider communities I care about are getting more awesome people. I love teaching. It's such a rewarding part of my job that I never feel that my time in the classroom working with my students is a waste. So why had I begun to feel guilty about my involvement with incubator organizations?

I recently went to a talk by Jane Goodall. She didn't talk about being a woman at all: she talked about the positive changes she's seen in the world, and how talking about these positive changes helps to inspire people more than shaking her finger seemed to. She believes this so strongly that she spends 300 days a year travelling and talking. But she says she's very careful to choose the right initiatives: Sometimes people are so desperate to Do Something that they sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. This isn't a problem exclusive to women in computing groups.

So I'm working on a checklist for choosing the right things for me:
  1. Do I want to do this?
  2. Am I the best person for this? (Or can I refer them to someone else?)
  3. Can I do it without negatively impacting my other commitments? (Will it take up too much of my time? Does it happen at a time when I'm busy?)
  4. Am I reasonably sure this will result in getting stuff done, so I'll be able to look back and be proud of what I accomplished?
I still answer my email and occasionally post a blurb from an organization that doesn't otherwise know how to reach women. It takes minimal energy to be polite and provide basic help, and I know I appreciate it when people do the same for me.  But the initiatives that get the bulk of my energy are going to be the ones where I feel like I'm really making change.

Date: April 20th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"The best women's groups aren't about separation and segregation: they're about providing an incubator for people who need a leg up to be part of the wider community."

This is what I really want CU-WISE to be. We may need a bit more doing, but I think that events like the Celebration are exactly what we need. We're just showing off what we're doing. ;) (I also want members to post more accomplishments on our blog for the same reason. Speaking of which, maybe you should post there about passing your defence and doing stuff for GSoC, etc etc.... wink wink)

I also love CU-WISE just for the friends one can make. To me that's the most valuable thing that I didn't know I was ever missing (since I never had any issues being one of the few girls in undergrad).

What's your take?

-Gail

Date: April 20th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I ended up writing a full blog post on it. ;)

http://compscigail.blogspot.com/2010/04/not-all-womens-groups-are-harmful.html

- Gail

Date: April 20th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
So very true. A lot of men don't even know that they are invited. Perhaps we should make more of an effort to reach them, especially for events like the Celebration.

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