"The definition of "merit" is fluid and tends to reflect the values and interests of those who have the power to impose their particular cultural ideals." Jerome Karabel The Chosen, pg5

One of my favorite professors in college stressed the idea that in order to bring about change (in a system) there needs to exist the ability to translate analysis into vision and vision into strategies for change. In other words, you need a plan to get from the place you don't want to be to the place you would like to be and in order for that to happen you need to understand where you are and be able to envision the better place to be. Most importantly there must be action. Indeed no change occurs when people feel helpless and have no sense that they can affect change, nor when they are lulled into complacency and stricken with inertia.

This project is my way of continuing positive action in the face of what seems to be an insurmountable, or, at the very least, indefatigable problem; the lack of women in technology fields. As I write this the problem self-perpetuates and fewer girls are going into computer science partly because fewer women are in technology fields and those that are in the field continue to drop out at high rates, especially at pivotal mid-points in their careers. This is true across industry, government and educational institutions in the United States. (For further data regarding this fact please see the bibliography and info link.)

My methodology was to select a group of peers, mostly women who were at mid-points or higher in their careers and ask them questions regarding how they got into computers and what keeps them there. Specifically I was interested in their reflections and experiences regarding gender discrimination and inequality. I also thought it would be interesting to get a man's perspective so I've included one interview with a man.

A few clarifications must be stated. Nothing is particularly original in my approach. The interviews were casual and the questions were basically the same for all. I was interested and focused on hearing the interviewees' experiences from the perspective of someone who might or might not be working in technology or computer science even though I do work in the technology industry.

It is important to acknowledge that these particular women do not represent "all women" nor all "women's experiences" in technology and computer fields. There is no such thing as a universal experience for women in technology. Still bridging elements of experience, not in order to arrive at a single commonality, but to examine the multiple factors working together to maintain a gender segregated boundary is important.

It is also important to acknowledge the historical context in which we live our lives and go about advocating for change. In so doing we must not ignore the profoundly patriarchal, racist and classist society(ies) in which we operate. While seeking changes to these institutions we must be careful that we are not tacitly reinforcing imbalances by failing to acknowledge or understand this fact. Contextualizing this fact forces the analysis of why there is a lack of women in technology to a broader circle outside of the specific technology fields and instead looks to larger power imbalances across multiple intersecting locations.

There is ample research regarding why there is a lack of women and girls in Information Technology and Computers and the larger "STEM" fields. My reflections from this project seem to fall directly in line with much of the research I have read; there are many factors at work keeping true parity at bay and they feed off of each other and are fed off of the larger political climate.

I found in the interviews that the aspects which were compelling and encouraging to hear were at the same time discouraging and alarming. Many of the women I interviewed did not feel personally impacted by gender discrimination, or because they had not experienced egregious gender discrimination they felt fortunate and thus exempt, leaving subtler interconnections unclaimed. Yet the evidence is incontrovertible, women have not achieved parity in all scientific fields and most specifically not in computer science and technology. This speaks to the power of certain institutions for producing and maintaining levels of separation and disassociation.

Technology as an industry has a great meritocratic mythology surrounding it. As is the case with larger myths of the "american dream", the idea is that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and with hard work can achieve whatever status they wish. This idea is taken even further in programming culture where supposedly one is judged simply by the quality of code one produces. This ideology sets up a nice dichotomy whereby if one has not achieved a "higher status" it is because one has not worked hard enough or has not produced the best code and those that have "succeeded" have done so because of their hard work. Of course the idea of meritocracy does not acknowledge the systemic inequities that continue to prevent mobility; the glass ceiling, the "pink ghetto", the pay gap, the priesthood and old boys network, sexual harassment, racism, domestic responsibility imbalances, less leisure, less acknowledgement, less opportunity, less satisfaction, less power, etc. Nor does it acknowledge which institutions play a role in and benefit from keeping the meritocratic myths alive. It is not difficult to observe that in almost all positions of power across the United States women continue to be nearly invisible. Again this is true across industry, education and government and is particularly true in all "STEM" fields.

Change in social policies as well as forging of networks and communities can go a long way to disrupt the systems of gender oppression and discrimination. Shifting the framework of analysis to include an understanding of what is happening in the larger political climate will also help. It is vitally important to have mentors who will foster curiosity and potential in their peers as well as with younger women interested in technology fields. It is also important that girls are encouraged very early on to be self-directed, non-compliant and I think, more competitive. The world will soon enough try to impose characteristics upon them that will soften determination and resolve by valorizing "feminine" qualities of compliance, altruism and cooperation which often serve to maintain iniquitous gendered systems.

I believe the interviews are interesting and worthy of print-space as a continuing testimony to perseverance in the face of inequities and discouragement. I want to keep the conversation alive and grounded in the examination of the larger institutions of power and imbalance.