I have just received an e-mail in my work inbox titled “calling all women of SharePoint”, that started with the words “Working in the male-dominated IT industry isn’t easy”. It invited me to some “women-friendly” conference on SharePoint in Boston, perhaps alleging that other conferences are not so women friendly.
I must point out that I am deeply alarmed by proliferation of “women doing XYZ” sort of agenda in software development, and not for reasons of misogyny. I strongly believe that any sectarian movement of a “people with biological property X doing Y” variety perpetuates segregation rather then promotes integration and true equality.
Our industry, or at least the parts I worked for, used to be virtually free from morbid political correctness and “affirmative action” kind of stuff.
Computer is a great equalizer: it does not care whether you are Russian or Cherokee, and who you sleep with. The software you create either works or it does not. If I download a software library, the last thing I worry about is what percentage of the library authors possess biological property X. It is either a good library, or a bad library and this is all that matters.
Of course, in the workplace people factor is unavoidable. Some people may be bigots, some may be rude, and others may be outright criminals. However, if past experience is any indication large scale campaigns for “people with biological property X doing Y” do not improve the situation at all.
These campaigns strive to fix “inequality”, but most often the fix is not true equality where biological property X does not matter. Instead, they promote preferential treatment for people with property X at the expense of people without property X. By closely monitoring and emphasizing percentage of employees, attendees, participants, etc. with biological property X, the campaigners actually increase importance of property X and people’s self-identification with it, as opposed to actually being able to do Y well. This effectively widens the divide rather than removes it. Ultimately, if the movement is successful, it leads to harassment and open discrimination of people without biological property X. For instance, you will be pressed to hire more women even if they do worse than men on the interviews, just because they are women and percent of women is closely monitored.
Thus, the end result is more discrimination, not less. Kawahane Indians expelling people of wrong race from their territory near Montreal is a good example of what I am talking about.
Mind you, the nature of property X does not really matter. Currently the popular ones are race, gender and sexual orientation, but it may change at any time. So, “left-handed redheads of MySql” may not sound as comical as it does now if right people take up the cause. After all, working in an industry dominated by right-handed brunets is not easy.