What Can Men Do?

It's no secret that programming is an incredibly male dominated field.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://blog.codinghorror.com/what-can-men-do/

Is there something inherently wrong with fields that naturally skew heavily male or female?

I disagree that many of these fields naturally skew towards one gender. Historically they do, but that is the result of social norms/circumstances.


I don’t know. I’d say child care / maternity nurse, as occupations, do indeed naturally skew female. Women give birth, men don’t.

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Another thing you can do is linking to people who have tackled this issue before like Shanley and others who continously write about these subjects like Julie Pagano or Ashe Dryden.

Oh, also the Geek Feminism wiki has a lot of good reading and resources.


No romantic relationships at work, I don’t know, it really has some pros and cons.

I know it won’t have anything to do with women for me specifically, but I met my boyfriend through work, and I’m happy about how it all went down, although it was a bit awkward the first few weeks when we didn’t dare saying anything to our colleagues. Maybe, people should know that they have to be adult about it when it’s on the job - just like when it’s not on the job.

Women should know how to say no, and men should know how to accept the no. I would say that is a better way to handle it, than saying “No romance allowed at all!”. Not allowing people to follow their emotions can lead to unhappiness, as well.


How about instead of “no drinking events connected to work” you just enforce your safe-environment / harassment policies (you have those, right?) all the time, and consistently? If somebody doesn’t know how to continue being a decent human being when they’ve had a beer or two, they need to be mature enough to recognize that and stick to club soda.

The bigger point, I guess, is how much should your policies put you in the place of Dad / Mom? I can absolutely get behind having Be A Decent Person rules, and making a point of correcting any violations. But outlawing relationships or taking the beer out of the lunch fridge is military-style punishment of the whole to avoid dealing with a few bad actors – it’s micromanagement, really.


These days, Asperger’s is recognised as an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), so it’s pretty much the same as saying high-functioning autistic, or maybe the Asperger’s spectrum is the first part of the full-on autistic spectrum. Something like that. As parents of an Asperger child we get to hear a lot about this kind of thing.

Pickiness aside, it’s a good piece. Improving diversity is a problem, though - in a field that attracts people with ASD characteristics, we’re going to have empathy and other social interaction problems. I mean, one of the things about the job that I still enjoy even in my 50s is that I don’t have to spend all day talking to people…

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I also met my girlfriend at work and it works great! Yes we have disagreements at work, but we can go outside and talk it through. I love to share my work with her! And after work, we barely talk about work so we can separate it without problems…

The three premises of this argument don’t really stand up.

  1. Diversity leads to better products and results

    This is absolutely true, but why focus on just women? Why aren’t we also making an effort to recruit black men, who are also woefully underrepresented? Framing a solution in which women are the sole solution to our diversity problem is disingenuous best.

  2. The Internet is the largest recording of human history ever built

    Yes, and? I don’t see how this implies

    therefore we need more women.

    There are skyscrapers, monuments, and other incredible feats of engineering that show off the best of humanity, and they were mostly built by men. Is this really a problem?

  3. Women in 10 years need to be able to provide for themselves, and their families

    Yes, just like they need to today. This isn’t much of an argument. Other work is always available, so let’s not pretend that it’s an IT sector job, or bust.

The subtle hint that most of us might have Aspergers was also pretty classy.

About a year ago I was working as a freelancer for a pretty large firm, and this topic came up among my project team members. One of the women on our team suggested that the reason there aren’t more women in our industry is culture. She then pointed to a coworker’s desk that had the entire TNG cast in bobblehead form (awesome, I know). After which, she said that it was very hard to relate because she knew next to nothing about “geeky shows”, and she felt left out in most of the daily conversations that happened in the firm. If there wasn’t such an overt display of geekiness in the field, she was sure more women would be a part of it.

Now, I’m not sure that this is part of the reason why there aren’t more women in our field, but it seems to be a pretty common sentiment. If I can’t relate to the people I work with, I’d definitely feel left out. And by mathematical induction, if I feel left out in school and can’t relate at all to the nerds in my computer science class, I would not think about spending the rest of my life feeling that way.

The title of this post is “What Can Men Do?”, and I’d posit that one of the things we shouldn’t do is change ourselves. If I want to put the cast of The Next Generation on my desk, nobody is going to stop me.

Respect, and a proper working environment should be given to everyone, obviously. So if someone isn’t respectful, they should definitely change in that case.

But this isn’t a problem unique to women. In fact, we already have a name for this; it’s called workplace bullying. If we stopped framing this as a women’s issue, we’d be a lot more convincing at fighting it not just in our field, but across all jobs because bullying happens everywhere. For some women, it happens to happen because of their being female. It can happen to men too. Maybe he smells funny, or is really short… whatever it is, people will find a way to bully other people.

I also have to ask myself, we make a lot of effort with outreach programs in our industry. I have yet to see the same level of effort displayed in female-dominated jobs. Why?


So good of you to encourage white knighting. Because we all know those weak and feeble women can’t be trusted to stand up for themselves, right ? I’m sorry, but #3 seems to propagate the problem instead of fighting it.


Absolutely agree. Those arguments are weak.

I think that we should let people do what they want and make sure we don’t discriminate, but forcing equality in a profession/place where it doesn’t come naturally feels stupid.

I agree we have a discrimination problem. But the opposite of discrimination is not equality - it’s respect. As long as the women who naturally want to work in tech are respected, we shouldn’t be forcefully trying to get more women.


I have three kids (two boys and a girl) and my oldest (a boy) absolutely adores babies and young children, and always has.

Although it shouldn’t have, this surprised me enough that I started thinking about why it was surprising. From looking at my kids’ friends, my very anecdotal theory is that actually loads of boys love babies, and loads of girls couldn’t care less, and that the gender difference is not that great. As they get older, I think boys are subtly encourage to suppress this side of their nature, and girls are encourage to develop it.

As I say, purely anecdotal so feel free to shoot me down. I’d be interested to know if anyone else has observed the same.


oh-so-common Aspergers tendencies in programmers I mentioned earlier:

  • No feigning surprise. “I can’t believe you don’t know what the stack is!”

Such behavior is a complex social interaction with a highly manipulative construct. Assigning that behavior as a trait of Aspergers, a disorder which is almost by definition the opposite of being highly attuned to the complexities of deep social clues, is grossly inaccurate.

You’re basically using the term Apsergers to describe any anti-social behavior, but there’s a significant difference between inept social behavior due to an abnormal brain wiring, and deliberately being a manipulative jerk.


I agree with the last sentence, but the first is too generic. “Look, I just am an aggressive, bullying jerk who makes comments about how women belong in the kitchen. It’s who I aaaaammmm.” You laugh, but when you complain that “people have to have a sense of humour”, that is literally an equivalent statement. Changing your behaviour in order to make people more comfortable is not “capitualting”, it’s “politeness” & “decency”. Obviously, you don’t change everything, but refusing to change is jerky.

Also, she’s got a point. There’s no reason that making software needs to be tied to the whole Star Trek/Star Wars/Firefly geek culture, and the fact we link those cultures so strongly does exclude people who would enjoy making things, but don’t want to watch the shows.

Note that the inverse doesn’t apply. There are plenty of people who enjoy sci-fi who can’t program and have no interest in it.


Maybe there aren’t much women in IT is because most of women aren’t really interested in it? Those who are, will find a way inside. I’m speaking for myself, but I code because I can’t not to, and I know a lot of you feel the same. And those women that are in IT probably too. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to try and lure people in, and most of what I read out there concerning women in IT was exactly about either that, or about some poor guy being whiteknighted to death because some other guy made a poor joke about forking a repo.

So long story short, don’t be a jerk. Your Cap.

Hmm. I’m puzzled by the suggestion that a doll is a boring, unimaginative toy. Have you seen girls playing with dolls? My girls construct amazing scenarios with them. Lower tech toys inspire more imagination and creativity, not less.

Conversely, only a few kids (those with … bad word coming … aptitude!) actually build things with tech toys … for most kids, tech toys involve a lot of staring and slack jaws. (Which, BTW, is why agism is silly … no, having lots of exposure to mobile phones doesn’t mean that everyone is writing apps.)

And I am still waiting breathlessly to learn whether the maternity ward and elementary schools are crying out for more men. Since the diversity would make those places stronger, right? What say you? You kind of just left that dangling. Do we need to launch initiatives to more fully integrate those fields?


Speaking from personal experience as a young father, I disagree. When I said to my wife, oh you’re so good with the kid and I’m so awkward, she replied: “Are you kidding me? This crap was super hard for me to get used to at first.” (And it was true - I just had to get more used to caring for the kid.)

I think you can’t derive some greater ability to care for children from the biological fact that women give birth.


If only, the issue is never a beer or two, its always a beer or 15. Cause that is when stuff gets weird. Put 50 males in a room and I can guarantee at least 2 of them will get weird, not in a good way, after 15 beers.


Giving birth requires you to be female. Nothing else about it does. There’s really no biological reason men can’t work in every role in obstretics just as there’s no biologicla reason women can’t work as programmers, engineers or welders.

Agree. I used to share OP’s opinion, but changed my mind. Where I work there are now 4-5 couples, and we never had any problem. The argument that the odds of it working out looks invalid to me (most of those are now several year old, sometimes with kids). And if other couples formed and self destroyed without me noticing (as is quite possible), well if I haven’t heard about it it means everything’s good, no?