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The Pressure to Succeed as a Woman Who Codes

What men in dresses, fake geek girls, and coders all have in common.

I feel a disproportionate amount of pressure to succeed in coding.

I call it disproportionate because it’s only about 1/3rd of my career. The other two are support/training and public speaking. And while I used to have a fear of public speaking, I’ve somehow managed to discard that and I’ve got no concerns at all about screwing up on stage. I might. My talk might flop. My training might not be understood or adopted. My support may be wrong.

But what scares me to the point of tears is coding.

It’s not that I’m bad at it. Intellectually I think that I’m pretty good. I’m not the greatest in the universe, but that’s a realistic stance as opposed to anything else. And I enjoy playing with it, inventing new things, seeing how they work, helping people solve problems with code. It’s honestly fun.

Looking at the Stack Overflow Developer Survey I noticed that only 5.8% of the participants identified as female. Taken a different way, 92.8% of people had no problem saying they were men. Now, SO is aware of the disparity, and mentioned this:

Our survey results demonstrate a dramatic disparity in tech among men and women. In fact, we know women make up a more significant proportion of the developer workforce than this suggests. According to Quantcast, about 12% of Stack Overflow’s readers are women. (We don’t actively track gender internally.)

I have a personal theory that gamification appeals more to men than women. This stems from reading about Richard Bartle’s player types way back in the 90s. It was a big thing in MUDs and MUSHes, and the Bartle Test is essentially a series of questions that can be used to identify the classification of a player into one of four types: Killers, Achievers, Socializers, or Explorers.

Now it helps if you’ve read a little of Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players who Suit MUDs, but you can get by with the Wikipedia article. The main point is that we can classify people into player ‘types’ based on what they enjoy doing and how they like doing it.

In general, winning and hacking are associated with Killers and Achievers, while helping and curating fall under Socializers and Explorers. And when I say it like that and you look at things like programming vs support forums (of which I do consider Stake Overflow), lines start to be drawn. These lines are carved in stone when you consider some of the research gamerDNA did into what kinds of player played what kinds of World of Warcraft characters, and what their genders were.

What does all this have to do with the unrealistic expectations on women who code?

If one buys in to the hype and typecasting, then one would say that women (nurturers) are more likely to be socializers and explores. Regardless of if this is accurate, there certainly is an expectation on women that they are ‘mothers’ and, from that, they are often unconsciously perceived of being a specific player type. And when someone steps out of what people feel their norm is, they’re often set upon.

This is not solely endemic to women, of course. Men who express emotions publicly, like crying for example, are also set upon by others for not being manly enough. And that is precisely my point. People who don’t fit the stereotypes of what gender is get pushed back. People who act ‘out of character’ are looked upon as odd.

Okay, so why do women keep feeling pressured? Because shit like this happens:

You can look up the ‘fake geek girl’ phenomenon on your own. The fact is that it applies to anything not stereotypically female that a woman does. And it means that, in order to be taken seriously as a coder, we have to achieve great things or all we’ve done is prove we’re only good for the ‘fluff’ of support.

Eddie Izzard makes a joke in his “Dress to Kill” routine about men who wear dresses and heels:

You know, if a woman falls over wearing heels, that’s embarrassing, but if a bloke falls over wearing heels, then you have to kill yourself. It’s the end of your life. Its quite difficult.

And while we laugh at it, the truth is that ‘abnormal’ behavior is treated with incredibly high expectations. Unrealistic ones. Unfair ones.

I don’t have an answer to this, and for now women shoulder the burden of being expected to be greater than men of identical backgrounds, simply because of how we were born.

4 replies on “The Pressure to Succeed as a Woman Who Codes”

I think many women don’t have the time or desire for surveys. I raised two children and worked a too l o n g corporate job and time was precious. I still am of the opinion that I don’t do surveys. Maybe this attitude is wider than just me and messing with the results of women in coding?

@Patte: I have no children and I was raised by a single father. I don’t really think we can just say “Oh women take care of babies” or that women like surveys less than men. I don’t think anyone likes surveys to be honest, which would imply that the results are regardless to gender.

Now that said, I would totally be down with the idea that women are more cautious about surveys and less inclined to give up personal information. Which yeah, that’ll fuck your results right up.

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