Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 29th Mar 2012 20:32 UTC
General Development A beautiful story about Gwen Barzay, a black woman who broke both racial and gender barriers to become an early computer programmer. "Today she is retired, and like most retirees, she asks her son to help her with computers. She likes her Mac and runs a small business buying and selling books on line. What does she have to say about the difficulties she faced breaking into a male-dominated industry? 'I had it easy. The computer didn't care that I was a woman or that I was black. Most women had it much harder.'" The computer didn't care. Beautifully put.
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What time frame?
by Tuishimi on Thu 29th Mar 2012 21:55 UTC
Tuishimi
Member since:
2005-07-06

It had to be at least in the 60's, yes?

[edit]

I ask because the instances of prejudice and all... still surprises me, having been born in the early 60's I don't know, I just never understood that whole thing.

Edited 2012-03-29 21:57 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: What time frame?
by WereCatf on Thu 29th Mar 2012 23:36 UTC in reply to "What time frame?"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

I ask because the instances of prejudice and all... still surprises me, having been born in the early 60's I don't know, I just never understood that whole thing.


If you were female you'd know that there's still PLENTY of prejudice to go around. Surprisingly prettiness goes hand-in-hand with prejudice: the uglier or tougher you look the easier people find it to believe you know your stuff, and vice versa.

With me looking like a river troll I've had it plenty easy, but I've seen up-close and personal how bad things can be for a pretty one.

Edited 2012-03-29 23:37 UTC

Reply Score: 8

RE[2]: What time frame?
by Tuishimi on Fri 30th Mar 2012 04:53 UTC in reply to "RE: What time frame?"
Tuishimi Member since:
2005-07-06

That is interesting. In a way I would have thought it would be the other way around, if anything. I think it was in USA Today (or maybe I saw it in ARS Technica) there was research done saying that handsome men are paid more than less handsome men, and the same for women. But pay scales are not the same as respect, I suppose.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: What time frame?
by Morgan on Sat 31st Mar 2012 01:38 UTC in reply to "RE: What time frame?"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

You do yourself a disservice, ma'am.

But you're exactly right: At my full time job in law enforcement the tough looking women tend to get the leadership positions regardless of competency, while the pretty girls end up stuck in entry level positions such as administrative assistants or records clerks. It's not universal of course, but common enough to notice even in passing. On the flipside, the men tend to be promoted more or less in line with their experience and qualifications, and physical appearance means nothing.

Reply Score: 2

RE: What time frame? -> early 1950s
by kateline on Fri 30th Mar 2012 05:22 UTC in reply to "What time frame?"
kateline Member since:
2011-05-19

The article says "A little over sixty years ago..." and is dated March 2012, so it refers to the early 1950s.

Reply Score: 2

Tuishimi Member since:
2005-07-06

Wow, I did not see that... thanks!

Reply Score: 2

It's never cared
by Vanders on Thu 29th Mar 2012 22:05 UTC
Vanders
Member since:
2005-07-06

The computer didn't care. Beautifully put.

That was a lovely story, and I agree totally. The computer has never cared, and I don't believe that the majority of computers hackers have ever cared either. You live and die by the quality of the work that you produce, and the person that produced the work has always been a distant consideration.

Another way of putting it: on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog.

Reply Score: 7

Question
by Alfman on Thu 29th Mar 2012 22:11 UTC
Alfman
Member since:
2011-01-28

At RIT the male-female ratio in my CS classes 10 years ago might have been 40:1. There are more women at places I work now, but they do tend to take gender-centric roles, with engineers being predominantly male.

Given that so few females go to school for tech degrees, it's not a surprise that few take up tech professions. But my question is, is this because females are being actively segregated from the field? Are they being discouraged? Or is it all by choice?

If it is by choice, is it something to do with upbringing or is there some intrinsic factor?

I'd like to hear your experiences.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Question
by rhyder on Fri 30th Mar 2012 06:19 UTC in reply to "Question"
rhyder Member since:
2005-09-28

Just to keep things in perspective, bear in mind that women outnumber men in British and American colleges/universities at at almost a 60/40 ratio. Therefore, female domination of an academic subject must be more common than the other way around.

Many of the so-called "prestigious" work roles within IT, although high salary, offer very poor outcomes in terms of a decent work-life balance.

In addition, there are plenty of work roles that exclude men such as in the areas of social work and work with children.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Question
by Alfman on Sat 31st Mar 2012 01:27 UTC in reply to "RE: Question"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

rhyder,

"Just to keep things in perspective, bear in mind that women outnumber men in British and American colleges/universities at at almost a 60/40 ratio. Therefore, female domination of an academic subject must be more common than the other way around."

I went to look this up, and it seems you are right (from 2005, but it'll do)
http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2005-10-19-male-college-cove...

However this just amplifies the male to female discrepancies in technical fields.


"Many of the so-called 'prestigious' work roles within IT, although high salary, offer very poor outcomes in terms of a decent work-life balance."

I feel the IT industry is loosing it's appeal as ever more firms give in to offshoring and consolidation, unlikely to return to the glory years of the 90s. There's no doubt about it the work-life balance is a negative for this profession.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Question
by anda_skoa on Sat 31st Mar 2012 09:37 UTC in reply to "RE: Question"
anda_skoa Member since:
2005-07-07

In addition, there are plenty of work roles that exclude men such as in the areas of social work and work with children.


Hmm, which country does that apply to?

Here in Austria there are no such exclusions. Men work in medical jobs, care for sick or elderly, work as teachers, sport instructors, in day care facilities or youth group leaders (e.g. boy scouts).

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Question
by rhyder on Sat 31st Mar 2012 10:29 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Question"
rhyder Member since:
2005-09-28

It's certainly the case in the UK.

Just one in 50 teachers of the youngest primary schoolchildren in England are male, despite a government recruitment campaign, figures revealed today.

Only 2% of staff in nursery and reception classes, which teach under-fives, are men, according to figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

In schools with receptions but no nurseries, this figure falls to 1%. Men account for 16% of all primary schoolteachers. - Under-fives have almost no male teachers, The Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/07/primaryschools.educ...

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Question
by anda_skoa on Sat 31st Mar 2012 13:19 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Question"
anda_skoa Member since:
2005-07-07

It's certainly the case in the UK.

Just one in 50 teachers of the youngest primary schoolchildren in England are male, despite a government recruitment campaign, figures revealed today.

Only 2% of staff in nursery and reception classes, which teach under-fives, are men, according to figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

In schools with receptions but no nurseries, this figure falls to 1%. Men account for 16% of all primary schoolteachers. - Under-fives have almost no male teachers, The Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/07/primaryschools.educ...


Well, you claimed that men would be excluded from working in these areas. These facts prove the opposite.

Women have been and sometimes still are excluded from working in certain areas, claiming that men are excluded from other while facts show that they are not is sad.

Reply Score: 2

Gender Barrier?
by dosende on Thu 29th Mar 2012 22:49 UTC
dosende
Member since:
2011-05-27

I was under the impression that MOST computer operators (and thus programmers before the two tasks were really separated) were women back in the day. It wasn't a prestigious job. They were seen as low grade machine technicians.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Gender Barrier?
by Vanders on Thu 29th Mar 2012 23:21 UTC in reply to "Gender Barrier?"
Vanders Member since:
2005-07-06

Sure, with the first generation systems (1940-1950) the operators tended to be women. They were not programmers though (as loosely that the word can be applied to Colossus, I guess). There's a big difference.

Edited 2012-03-29 23:33 UTC

Reply Score: 5

RE[2]: Gender Barrier?
by WereCatf on Thu 29th Mar 2012 23:40 UTC in reply to "RE: Gender Barrier?"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

Sure, with the first generation systems (1940-1950) the operators tended to be women. They were not programmers though (as loosely that the word can be applied to Colossus, I guess). There's a big difference.


It was all for practical reasons, though: women generally have smaller, more slender hands than men, and thus it was much easier and safer to let them handle changing the vacuum tubes. Also women even in general tend to be more slender, so you could fit more women in a room than you could fit men.

Reply Score: 3

RE[3]: Gender Barrier?
by transputer_guy on Fri 30th Mar 2012 00:20 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Gender Barrier?"
transputer_guy Member since:
2005-07-08

I think it had far more to do with WWII, both the UK and US hired literally zillions of women who weren't allowed to fight into the secret world of the intelligence gathering and processing.

That's where the early computing devices were, so after the war, there was a ready pool of women that had worked on these data entry thingies that men hadn't seen yet.

Some of those were working as operators on code cracking machines, and other on what ever else the WAF could do where men weren't available.

I suspect Grace Hopper got her start there too.

Reply Score: 5

RE[4]: Gender Barrier?
by WereCatf on Fri 30th Mar 2012 00:43 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Gender Barrier?"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

I think it had far more to do with WWII, both the UK and US hired literally zillions of women who weren't allowed to fight into the secret world of the intelligence gathering and processing.


That, too, but I did read an interview about someone who worked on ENIAC and was a big shot there, and he said that literally one of the biggest reasons for hiring women was indeed their smaller hands.

I'd provide a link, but heck, I can't even remember if I read it online or in a magazine.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: Gender Barrier?
by Alfman on Fri 30th Mar 2012 01:54 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: Gender Barrier?"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Hmm, well I would have never suspected physical characteristics had anything to do with it, but I suppose it makes sense. But the differentiation based on physical characteristics hasn't carried over into modern computing, has it? So why the gap today?

Reply Score: 2

Comment by transputer_guy
by transputer_guy on Fri 30th Mar 2012 00:11 UTC
transputer_guy
Member since:
2005-07-08

It's been said that to be a great engineer you need to have a slight streak of autism inside, somewhat indifferent to people and feelings. When I first heard of that I and others were annoyed, but I eventually came to accept it.

Autism in boys runs 5 times that of girls, so a much lighter version probably follows.

As it stands, I have only ever worked with female engineers in large companies like Motorola who go out of their way to hire them, they have to meet affirmative hiring laws. In every smaller company, zippo.

Anyway any female engineer could probably have her pick of companies to work for. I wonder where my robot/rocket daughter will end up, NASA we hope but not in space.

Reply Score: 4

Great story!
by ngaio on Fri 30th Mar 2012 01:51 UTC
ngaio
Member since:
2005-10-06

I really liked this story - thanks for sharing it.

In 1993 I was very fortunate to be able to take a computer science class on compiler design with the distinguished professor Susan L. Graham. As far as I can recall, she was one of the earliest female faculty members at UC Berkeley. Her star shone brightly.

Edited 2012-03-30 01:52 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Great article
by kateline on Fri 30th Mar 2012 05:26 UTC
kateline
Member since:
2011-05-19

Great article, thanks for posting the link.

Sometimes as a US citizen one thinks we're declining -- economically, politically, international affairs.

But then you read an article like this and see that at least we're evolving in the right direction in terms of racism, sexism, diversity, etc.

Amazing that this woman says at the end "“I had it easy... Most women had it much harder." You can see that it's through that kind of indomitable spirit that she persevered and triumphed. Kudos to her!

Reply Score: 5

The interviewers didn't care either.
by wannabe geek on Fri 30th Mar 2012 15:01 UTC
wannabe geek
Member since:
2006-09-27


The men were amazed. To their credit, once they became convinced that she hadn’t faked her results, they knew she would be a great hire. They recommended her for training as a programmer analyst, the most senior position being filled. She completed the training and became one of the first women to program computers in Canada. Gwen would go on to lead a number of large computerization projects in the insurance industry as well as for the City of Toronto.


Actually she was treated with fairness, according to her marks. Good for her.

In contrast, nowadays countless applicants are rejected because of their sex, race or similar considerations, that is, because they don't belong to the legally mandated quota of women and minorities. Where's the outrage?

Reply Score: 1