Diversity in tech is a big topic. In our conversation with Ashe Dryden, programmer, organizer and diversity consultant, we unpack the many questions, misconceptions, and realities of diversity in our industry. In part I of our interview, Ashe gives us a diversity primer, explains why this topic is so important, and tells us how she’s crafted a conference based on inclusion called AlterConf. In part II of our interview, Ashe Dryden talks about how the harassment she’s experienced has made her worry about the safety of people around her and influenced her decision to move to the woods. She tells us about the incident that made her angry enough to start working on diversity advocacy, how her work has changed her perception of the internet, and what we can all do to be advocates in the workplace.
"Ashe Dryden is a programmer, writer, speaker and White House fellow who’s setting out to make the tech industry all about diversity. Passionate about helping others open doors – no matter their gender, race or sexual orientation – Dryden coaches companies to make diversity their number one priority.
As the White House fellow for LGBTQ tech, her expertise have garnered attention across the board, with the programmer also involved with AlterConf – an event that aims to shine a light on critical culture discussions in tech and gaming.
Here, Ashe talks of her first steps into the diversity limelight and how others in the industry can help with the cause."
In this podcast, Ashe discusses how AlterConf will address global issues of diversity while respecting local values; how the Code of Conduct applies in different cultures; why all AlterConf speakers and organizers are paid, not volunteers; and whether AlterConf will ever exhaust the range of topics at the Diversity 201 level. Finally, Ashe also mentions her new project, The Fund Club, which uses crowdfunding to inject significant financial boosts into non-profits supporting marginalized voices in tech.
Thanks to Liz and Niki for talking about my piece, The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community, on their Pagebreak podcast!
"You can't tell me that straight, white, cis men are inherently smarter -- because that's what you're saying when you say they were the only ones who were qualified [for a job]."
It’s important to understand the temptations that the cheaters felt — the circumstances that made their unethical behaviors seem expedient, or rational, or necessary. Casting cheaters as monsters is glossing over our own human vulnerability to these bad choices, which will surely make the temptations harder to handle when we encounter them. Moreover, understanding the cheaters as humans (just like the scientists who haven’t cheated) rather than “other” in some fundamental way lets us examine those temptations and then collectively create working environments with fewer of them. Though it’s part of a different discussion, Ashe Dryden describes the dangers of “othering” here quite well:
There is no critical discussion about what leads to these incidents — what parts of our culture allow these things to go unchecked for so long, how pervasive they are, and how so much of this is rewarded directly or indirectly. …
It’s important to notice what is happening here: by declaring that the people doing these things are others, it removes the need to examine our own actions. The logic assumed is that only bad people do these things and we aren’t bad people, so we couldn’t do something like this. Othering effectively absolves ourselves of any blame.
Wendy Fong over at Code for America did a portrait of me for Pride 2014. I'm super honored <3
From the creators:
Wendy Fong, Livien Yin, and Alex Tran came up with this idea for “Pride Portraits” as a way to celebrate LGBTQ folks who have helped build the web during Pride month. They hope this will be a way to elevate the profile and tell the stories of LGBTQ people in tech, emphasize the value of LGBTQ people in the civic tech community, and showcase Code for America’s commitment to supporting all members of our community.
Ashe Dryden, a programmer and an advocate for workplace diversity, said that complaints like the one lobbied against Tinder are all too common in the technology industry and are indicative of a deeper, troubled culture.
“These incidents reflect what we see at every level — the continual dismissal of women’s competence, the overt sexualized atmosphere we see both online and off, the aggressive hyper-masculinity that is often rewarded and idolized by other men,” she said via email.
Tech consultant Ashe Dryden told me a similar tale. “Upon telling [developers] that I'm happy to draw up a contract, I either don't hear from them again, or they get upset because I'm ‘trying to profit off it,’ ” she says. Dryden is usually happy to provide her input for a fee, but “I've turned down clients because I feel they're doing it more as a defense mechanism or to get a free pass from the community,” she says. “They don't actually care about increasing diversity or creating a safer, more inclusive space.”
“It’s a thousand tiny paper cuts,” is how Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described working in tech. “I’ve been a programmer for 13 years, and I’ve always been one of the only women and queer people in the room. I’ve been harassed, I’ve had people make suggestive comments to me, I’ve had people basically dismiss my expertise. I’ve gotten rape and death threats just for speaking out about this stuff.”
She added: “A lot of times that makes me want to leave. But it’s hard, because this is basically the only field that I’ve ever known. And is it right for me to have to leave when I’m not creating the problem?"
Dryden says there is a growing movement that is seeking to tackle technology's diversity problem. "I think that because the people that are looking at the problems of the lack of diversity are getting much more loud; so too are the people in opposition," she adds. However she believes that "on the whole, things are pushing forward".
"Any time that we've made cultural shifts and are looking at positive progress — you see a lot of push back. This conversation is happening a lot more frequently than it was before. I don't necessarily think that, for instance, the harassment and assault that we have at conferences and that kind of thing are increasing.
"I think that the number of people that are coming forward and reporting them are increasing, which raises awareness and also puts the people that have traditionally had the power in tech in a place where they feel like they have to be on the defensive."
First, the basics: In case you missed it, Twitter has a feature called “block.” If you block someone on Twitter, that user can no longer interact with you. But Twitter changed the feature from blocking to essentially muting someone, which meant that users wouldn’t see updates from the blocked person — yet they could still follow, favorite, retweet tweets, and so on.
The change punished users, not harassers. That’s why the truth-in-humor analogies ranged from things like calling the police about an attack and being told “Well, what were you thinking, going out in public?” to bullying someone in a classroom and then having the teacher offer the bullied student earplugs (that was one of mine). In short: ridiculous.
The Nation: Twitter’s Blocking Flub Might Have Been Prevented If the Company Weren’t Dominated by Men
When it made the original change, the company explained that it was to fix the fact that users can tell when they’ve been blocked, which it said meant there was “antagonistic behavior where people would see they were locked and be mad.” As Ashe Dryden pointed out, “This is dictating an abuse victim’s safety based on how upset their abuser feels.” As Zerlina Maxwell explained in her petition to get Twitter to reverse its decision, “I am very concerned because stalkers and abusers will now be able to keep tabs on their victims, and while there was no way to prevent it 100% before, Twitter should not be in the business of making it easier to stalk someone.”
As a longtime fan of The Setup, I'm super honored to be featured there. It was really fun to figure out what things I've come to rely heavily on and what annoys me with the current state of software and hardware. Check it out and read the full interview.
NPR picked up my article on The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community.
"Ashe Dryden, a blogger whose focus is diversity in tech spaces,noticed something very similar. After an influential tech entrepreneur wondered aloud on Twitter if open-source experience should be a requirement for all applicants to web development jobs, Dryden noted that the overwhelming majority of the most active users of GitHub — one of the most popular open-source code hosting services — were white guys. (That's only one data point, but there isn't a whole lot of hard data out there on race in the world of open source.)"
"I worry that focusing so much on the brogrammer stereotype means that people who don’t believe themselves to be brogrammers will not look at their own actions critically. Our culture has had these issues longer than brogrammers have been around."
A journalist from Mission Local covered the Double Union event that was held in San Francisco.
“Harassment is an epidemic,” said Ashe Dryden, the first of seven speakers at the event. Dryden, a developer and advocate for diversity in the workplace, has traveled the world promoting diversity and inclusivity in tech.
Visiting from Wisconsin, she connected with the recently formed Mission feminist hackerspace, Double Union, to host Wednesday’s event off-site because its new space has not yet opened.
Like others there, Dryden is preoccupied with attrition in the tech industry and cited a study showing that 56 percent of women in tech leave the industry within 10 years and never return. That number is twice the rate of men.
“That says something about our community,” said Dryden.
Defining diversity she said, “is not just ‘where are all the women in tech’.” It means, she said, creating a tech culture that welcomes everyone.
She said businesses must work on changing an environment that can be perceived as unwelcoming.
How are we wired? This episode talks with tech expert Ashe Dryden about why tech industries lose out when they're boys clubs, Code for America fellow Serena Wales talks about grassroots programming, and the mothers behind Stealing Time magazine and GenderMom discuss whether gendered behaviors are hardwired in kids.
All in a fascinating 40 minutes!
If computer programmers behave badly toward women, it may be because they don't know many of them.
"Everybody has a hard time talking to people that aren't like them," said Ashe Dryden, an independent software developer who works with companies on diversity issues. "When we're looking at companies that are largely white, straight men, and asking them to introduce more diversity into their workforce, it can seem a little intimidating and many of them don't know where to start."
Dryden and two other women in the information technology industry spoke with host Kerri Miller about a problem they had all experienced: bad behavior from a workforce that is largely male, working in a business where most of the hiring depends on peers referring peers.
The result, Dryden said, is that "many companies are 80 or 90 or more percent men."
I spoke with Michael at Ugtastic a couple months ago (with a cold, unfortunately; excuse the nasaliness!) about the diversity work I'm doing and the things we can all be aware of when it comes to create more inclusive communities. Thanks for having me, Michael!
Last week I got the chance to sit down with the Ruby Rogues to discuss diversity in the ruby community. We covered why diversity is important, how we can increase the amount of diversity, dealing with our own subconscious biases, how to be an ally, and a lot more. I was really pleased with the amount of things we were able to cover and how respectful and productive the conversation was.
— Josh Susser (@joshsusser) April 17, 2013
@ashedryden amazing job on the RubyRogues podcast.
— Aaron Kalin (@martinisoft) April 17, 2013
— Carina C. Zona (@cczona) April 17, 2013
— Dermot Harris (@dermotharris) April 18, 2013
I was asked on to the RubyFreelancers podcast to discuss client red flags with potential and current clients. There was a lot of conversation around my contract, which I put up here (can also be found on github).
Thanks to Chuck, Jeff, Evan, and Eric for having me :)
This past week I was invited to talk with Zee Spencer, Evan Light, Dave Hoover, and Matthew Weitzel on the Developing Developers podcast. I had a great time hearing and sharing ideas for mentoring and apprenticeships, both self-driven and otherwise.
Listen to Giving and Getting Feedback and let me know what you think!