08 May 2012

Thought of the day: Being a minority

The problem of women in science (or whatever you want to call it) is a fundamentally a problem of being a minority. Many areas of life were traditionally run by white, straight men, and even in the 21st century, it's very hard to break in. Being a minority is always hard. I've been on a sports team where I was surrounded by people were 20 years older, with families, and middle class jobs. The fact that we were all female didn't really matter much. Then I played with a sports club where there were a lot of guys (some women) but they were all around my age and studying science. Much better!

A woman developer gave a talk about making the developing community more female friendly and she has some good examples to illustrate what it's like to be a minority.
So what does it feel like to be a woman in open source? Jono Bacon, at the Community Leadership Summit on the weekend, said — addressing the guys in the room — that if you want to know what it’s like to be a woman in open source, go and get your nails done at a salon. He did this a week or so back, and when he walked into the salon he realised he was the only man there, and felt kind of out of place.

Another example someone suggested is walking into a sports bar on game night wearing the wrong team’s jersey. It can be the most friendly sports bar in the universe, but you’re still going to feel pretty awkward.

So as a woman in open source, it can be a bit like that. You walk into a space, and you feel like you stand out. And there’s enormous pressure to perform well, in case any mistake you make reflects on everyone of your gender.
So if you're lobbying to make life better for women in science, don't make yourself look like a man-hater. Your colleagues are probably white, straight, male, and speak English. They've never been a minority so they just don't know what it's like. Talk to them and educate them.

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