Boris Smus

interaction engineering

A respectful truce?

It's a fact that men greatly outnumber women in software engineering. As for why, there is a fundamental disagreement between social constructivists and evolutionary psychologists.

Constructivists say that it’s because of systematic oppression against women. Boys in the 80s grew up with computers, learned programming and made life a living hell for their female classmates in CS101. Planet Money has the scoop. Evolutionary psychologists say that it’s because men and women have evolutionarily caused differences in interests and point to studies indicating that progressive countries have larger gender representation gaps because women are free to choose careers based on interest. I find it likely that both positions contribute in part to the gender representation disparity. Compelling arguments can be made for and against both, and both are rooted in academic disciplines that are dangerously squishy. As a result, I don’t think we currently have a good scientific way of determining this.

So what; science, schmience! Followers of the evo psych and constructivism are at war. One continuously pisses the other off with their inflamatory rhetoric. It is true that white males are historically privileged, but hammering “white male privelege” into their heads predictably puts white males into a defensive stance. Similarly, discussing how evo psych means that women are less interested and therefore less capable of software engineering will predictably annoy females, especially those rightfully proud of their software engineering prowess, and tired of dealing with similar allegations for their whole career.

I've spent way too much time reading and thinking about this lately, and it saddens me to conclude that the wisest course of action is to avoid discussing this topic entirely (oops, too late). Scott Aaronson, Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery propose a respectful truce between the two camps. Advocates of evolutionary psychology should:

do everything they can to foster diversity, including by creating environments that are welcoming for women, and by supporting affirmative action, women-only scholarships and conferences, and other diversity policies and also agree never to talk in public about possible cognitive-science explanations for gender disparities in which careers people choose, or overlapping bell curves, or anything else potentially inflammatory."

Meanwhile, social constructivists should:

avoid libelling [white men] as misogynist monsters, who must be scaring all the women away with their inherently gross, icky, creepy, discriminatory brogrammer maleness.