Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

The Trump Effect In My Classroom

Why my students are more reluctant to acknowledge the lack of workplace diversity as a problem

The Trump Effect is most often talked about in regard to the rise in bullying in schools since the election of Donald Trump last fall. Similarly, there has been a rise in anti-semitic activity in the United States. This activity has been attributed to Trump and his cantankerous rhetoric. I have observed similar behavior in my students.

Last month I shared with you two writing assignments I have used in a computer programming class I teach at my local community college. This past week we just completed the second of those two writing assignments for the spring semester. Before going any further let me take a moment to say the vast majority of my students are diligent, thoughtful and hardworking. These responses do not reflect the majority of students views at the college. In fact, in my experience they are the exception, not the rule.

I asked students to read this article on gender discrimination, then post their thoughts in a forum. Here are the prompts, and some of the unedited responses I got for each:

Do you think there are higher rates of gender discrimination in the technology field? If so, have you ever witnessed it?

  • I personally do not believe there is gender discrimination in the technology industry, what I do believe there is however, is a lack of interest by and large. People like to bring up the supposed (and highly illegal) wage gap that does not in fact exist between men and women and then try to relate it to things like the tech industry. The reality is that there is not a wage gap, but an earnings gap. This gap exists because different people choose different career paths and make different choices in life. The overwhelming majority of women are simply not interested or do not pursue the technology field, it isn’t that they are discriminated against and kept out like it is some sort of secret club.
  • Honestly, I would anticipate that there are lower rates of gender discrimination in the technology field, if you are comparing it to others. I am mostly basing this off of an extrapolation from my own experience. In my experience, the higher the education level of a given work field is, the lower the rates of discrimination are. The most discrimination I have personally witnessed has been in factory jobs, or other entry level “blue collar” jobs that have been heavily populated by a large number of “good old boy” types that express notably low opinions of women. In my administrative employment, I didn’t honestly notice any discrimination against women, and 2 of my 4 bosses overhead were women. My hypothesis is that education plays a major role in eliminating unethical discrimination.

Is there a double standard in the workplace between men and women? For example are aggressive men seen as ‘ambitious’ and aggressive women seen as ‘bossy’?

  • I do not believe there is a double standard as described in the prompt either. I believe these characteristics are equally applicable to either males or females.
  • The question itself feels like it is begging the question a little to imply that if the double standard exists, it is subsequently a widespread problem, which is a bit of a non-sequitur. I think that we live in a “post-Oprah” generation, where ‘ambitious’ women aren’t some out of the place thing. Sure, there will always be double standards, but it would be inductive reasoning to suppose from the smaller example to the greater, and subsequently not particularly useful.

Would you be more ‘Turned Off’ by a confident woman, than a confident man?

  • Not if it’s just the confidence bit and not the aggressiveness; I mean as a proponent of gun rights I do like a gal who can handle anything from a small handgun to a large rifle.

Is the lack of under represented groups in technology a problem?

  • No, but it may be indicative of a problem. A company receiving 99% Caucasian male applications would not be doing something wrong, unethical or immoral if they had no female, African American or Latino employees. A company in a 75% Caucasian area isn’t being racist to have 70%-80% Caucasian employees. In fact, I believe it would be unethical for individuals to be discriminated against individuals for being Caucasian, in order for the company to “pad” it’s minority figures. Where it could be a problem is where underrepresented groups are discriminated against explicitly on account of being part of that underrepresented group, but it has to be shown that this is why.
  • There is not a problem with a “lack of representation of groups” in the technology field. Do not force people to want something and create artificial diversity. Quotas help nobody, having genuine interest does.

I have been using this assignment for 5 years. I can think of only one student who gave responses like this in the past. This semester I had three students who gave responses in which they refused to acknowledge issues of diversity in the workplace. There is no way for me to definitively say what effect Donald Trump and our nation’s political climate is having on my students. However, if we look at incidences of bullying, anti-semitic activity as well as “chatter” among right-wing fringe groups, there is no doubt that these groups feel emboldened and carry a greater sense of agency when sharing their views.

One of the perspectives I like to share with my students is a business case for diversity. Many students argue against “diversity for diversity's sake” and I generally agree. Here is a business case I like to share:

More than half of Facebook users (52%) are female. Let’s say we want to overhaul the FB user interface. Based on the fact that more than half of FB users are female, wouldn’t it make sense to be sure to have female developers and designers on your team? So, when building this team, based on this information you are going give weight to team members gender. This doesn’t mean compromising technical skill, but if we know females will make our software better, we give deference to this factor.

If you have feedback on this example or another business case for diversity, I would love for you to share it in the comments below. As educators and workers in the field (I am both) we need to share these examples either in the classroom, or in meetings and interactions with our peers. Sharing these ideas and making the business case for diversity is the only way we are going to change hearts and minds on these issues.

Happy Teaching!