Alexander B. Howard wrote an excellent article about why to include women. In response to a reader, he added a comment which I find particularly insightful and compelling. He quotes a column by David Brooks last year on genius:
If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.
This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.
Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.
Then Alexander Howard adds:
Replace “writing” with “coding” and “novelist” with “developer” and perhaps you might see my thinking on the importance of mentorship, networks and modeling.
In as far as the problems that exist in this area, I’m not sure they’re entirely created during childhood, nor that their remediation lies only in education in classrooms, libraries and laboratories.
There are two points here which are key to solving the problem. One requires that people of privilege and power act differently and one requires that minorities (including women in tech and business) step bravely into their own potential.
I believe that the lack of diversity in tech and tech startups can only be solved one person at a time. This is a daunting prospect until you start thinking about it in a microcosm.
Sarah Mei and I decided to do something to make it so the SF Ruby Meetup had more women. There were so few women in the group that we figured that finding 12 more would triple our numbers. Being geeks, we solved it with math. Teach 120-150 women Ruby, expect 10% to be interested and stick around, and our goal would be met. This is a deceptively simple description of the solution, but this simple goal and powerful support from a large number of individual men and women in the group made it work.
I’m convinced that a large reason the workshops have worked is because of the mix of participants — we typically bring together around 50 women and 25 volunteers. The majority of the women are programmers. The attendees can bring a man to attend as well, so we’ll always have a handful of guys who are not technical. The volunteers are both men and women who know Ruby on Rails and have a wide range of skills. When you start talking to a stranger at a workshop there is no way you can know by looking at each other whether the other person has a technical background or aptitude and they could be a CEO, an engineer at the top of their career or unemployed. That breaks down stereotypes and creates an incredibly great environment for learning and networking.
I am very excited that this workshop format will be replicated in New York City and San Francisco (soon to be announced) on the same weekend May 20-22nd. I believe that what is magical about the workshops we have done so far can be replicated in any city by any group of people who genuinely want to share what they know.
As Sarah Mei says “it’s a numbers game.” We’re creating change through teaching Ruby and Rails to women. You can join us or you can create your own change by reaching out and mentoring someone and by stretching your boundaries. Help someone find their genius… or find your own.