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Understanding Inclusion in Making

stephsmithio profile image Steph Smith Originally published at blog.stephsmith.io Updated on ・6 min read

You can read this article, along with my other posts here.

I decided to revive this article for International Women's Day, to shine a light on the status of women in technology and some of my thoughts on where we have to go. It uses data from a project that I created last year, FeMake, which touches close to home as it represents my personal experience as a maker and as a woman in tech. More importantly, it draws focus toward gender inclusivity that I believe can only gain significance as we design the upcoming digital age.

Female representation across industries.

The Why Behind FeMake

As a relatively new addition to the maker community (my first product was launched a few months ago), I wanted to know how many people there were like me. More specifically, I wanted to know how present women were in this community.

Having worked in tech for a few years now and as an executive at a tech company for most of this year, I've personally experienced my fair share of bias, ranging from subtle to shocking. Since my recent entry into the maker community however, things felt different. Although not perfect, I felt supported by my male counterparts and was introduced almost immediately to Women Make, one of the most supportive communities I've been lucky enough to be a part of.

With all that said, the gender ratio seemed unsurprisingly familiar to my day job, and I wanted to know — where did the maker community really stand in terms of inclusion, and more importantly, why might that be?

I started by tweeting this out, inspired by a recent read of Brotopia and the news that ProductHunt had never analyzed this data themselves:

Almost immediately, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see this data:




My why here wasn't to "out" the maker community or isolate a single statistic as not being 50:50. I think we all knew that the results would be reflective of the gender imbalance in technology, but as an analytical person, I wanted to know the numbers.

Without data in any situation, you're flying blind. There is nothing to tether to, nothing to question, and ultimately nothing to celebrate if you are making positive changes. Moreover, if the women paving the way for future makers aren't recognized for their early adoption, they may never get the positive reassurance to continue.

How I Went Through 40k Names

I began by pulling all the maker and product data from ProductHunt from the beginning of time (aka 2013). This was done much more quickly due to help from Toni Codina, a fellow female maker, sending me a customizable PHP script for their API. Very quickly, I had 40 thousand unique maker names that I somehow needed to align to a gender.

Unable to manually go through all 40k, I decided to feed the names through Genderize, which indicated the likelihood that the individual was "female" or "male". For example, the name Brenden returned {"MALE, Probability: 1, Number:46"}.

I knew that if I was going to report on this data, I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. So, I utilized a formula to identify certain names as most likely correct, by the following logic: if the Genderize probability was >95% and N>3, I trusted the output. Similarly, if the probability was >80% and N>10, I mostly trusted the data.

I say mostly because I still ended up manually checking 8000+ names that didn't parse in Genderize, names that seemed to need an extra eye, or hundreds of gender agnostic names like Eli, Jordan, Pat, Sam, Charlie, Jamie, Morgan, Taylor, etc…

Naturally, there were a few cases where even when I checked the maker manually, I wasn't able to determine the gender. Those individuals have been removed from this study.

After manually checking 8k names for too many hours, I'm confident that the accuracy of this "study" is 95%+, or at least high enough that there is now a window into the presence of female makers on ProductHunt.

Who Cares?

So, let's take a step back before analyzing the output and quickly clarify why this even matters. As we move into the next decade, the digital products that are created will have an even greater impact on society. It's safe to say that technology will likely have the biggest impact on human prosperity, equality, and change over the next decade.

As with anything, the more that we can achieve diversity in the people creating these products, the more diversity we will see in the products and our future as a society. Some may dismiss the importance of gender, racial, and other forms of equality, but I would argue that it is essential. And unfortunately, inclusivity does not happen naturally.

Let's Talk Data

First and foremost, if you haven't already taken a look at the data, you can do so at FeMake.

A few clear things jumped out at me:

  • The percentage of female makers (13.9% in 2018) was actually less than the tech industry overall. This is also improving.
  • The percent of solo female makers (9.3% in 2018), ie: women submitting on their own, is even lower and not really improving.
  • Average stats across upvotes, comments, products launched, and % launching multiple times are all lower than our male counterparts.

So, what does this mean? Quite honestly, I don't have a clear answer on this. The number of women contributing is increasing, which is obviously positive and a testament to active efforts to welcome women into the community. However, the lower number of solo female makers and the lack of movement there makes me think that there is still a big psychological gap. Let me explain why.

In tech overall, there are many reasons that people often cite for the gender imbalance. (1) The pipeline, (2) psychological factors, and (3) gender bias in hiring, are three things that stick out to me and it's unclear which of these contribute more heavily to the complex pie.

However, I hypothesize that the act of being an indie or independent maker limits the potential influence of (1) pipeline and (3) gender bias. They are certainly not removed entirely, but any person — male or female — can wake up one morning and start learning to code for $10 on Udemy or launch a no-code product. Similarly, there is no one "hiring" an indie maker or giving them VC funding; so once again, the act of being an indie maker is one that is mostly restricted by the individual itself.

The Psychology of Inclusion

Thus, although this is certainly not scientific, the findings lead me to believe that (2) Psychology is even more prominent in tech (and making) than we give credit.

I recently learned of the Cannon-Perry test that was facilitated in 1966, which forever changed the way that people stereotyped programmers (and consequently also non-programmers). In 1966, this study decided that programmers "don't like people", and despite this only coming from one model, it became a mechanism that self-prophesied for decades to come.

With the data pulled from FeMake and the knowledge of the skewed history of technical recruiting, we cannot stop placing importance on welcoming communities for women like Women Make and Leap, or showcasing female role models in tech. That's one of the reasons as to why I included a resource section which you can find here.

On that note, I found it extremely inspiring to go through some of the top female contributors to ProductHunt. Not to focus on competition, but instead to center on some of the amazing products that women have brought to life, either individually or as part of a team.

Mathilde Collin, for example, is an independent female maker who has created 20 products of which most were successful, including her keystone product FrontApp. Steph Liverani was one of the co-founders of Unsplash, while Katie Zhu works on product and engineering at Medium (where you're likely reading this).

Parting Thoughts

People will have different opinions on FeMake, but at the very least, I hope this puts a marker in the ground representing where the maker community stood in terms of inclusivity at this time. Let's celebrate the progress which is represented in the data, celebrate women like Mathilde, Steph, and KT, and push for more.

I hope that today, just like every other day, we can continue to celebrate women in technology and understand the degree of progress we're making.

You can find me on Twitter, read more here, or subscribe to my blog.

Discussion (23)

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jacksonelfers profile image
Jackson Elfers • Edited

To each their own I suppose. Maybe we just have a natural inclination for different things. There's nothing stopping either gender from working in technology or doing their own thing. Some of the most memorable members of computer science were women, Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace etc. Whatever we can do to make it more inclusive is a good thing.

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stephsmithio profile image
Steph Smith Author

That's the problem though. Assuming that the ratio is due to a natural inclination for certain subjects being more suitable for certain genders, instead of addressing some of the things preventing women from being able to participate.

I'm not saying that every woman needs to participate in technology, but we should be more aware of the blockers or things that cause women to leave the industry. We have a long way to go to allow technology to be more inclusive.

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giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Sorry, but that is not a problem: is a polite and legitimate objection; furthermore, Jackson never suggested that maybe there are different inclinations, never mentioning subjects more "suitable" for one gender instead of another - a rather different concept.

Just for the sake of my own curiosity: would you be advocating also to reduce the female percentage of workers in sectors like healthcare and education?

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stephsmithio profile image
Steph Smith Author

1) The article was about female inclusion in technology, so a comment about natural inclination will be interpreted under that lens.

2) Regardless of how "polite" your argument is, it is not legitimate. Assuming that the current gender ratio is due to natural inclination is dismissive of the problems that women face every day.

3) I am advocating for all industries to be just as open and welcoming to both genders. If they were, it's likely that we would actually see more diversity in not just tech, but in sectors like healthcare and education. It's not about reducing a certain gender, but empowering all individuals to have equal opportunity.

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giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Sorry, I am missing a point: how is that non-legitimate, exactly? Different inclination dictated by hormones has some scientific ground, while conversely I find dismissive to ignore this point altogether and insist on problems that have to be there as a sole cause of different percentages.

Human economy works on limited resources, included finance and people: if you want to increase, say, men in education and healthcare or women in engineering and brick-laying, you will end up reducing the opposite gender.

So, will you reduce the percentage of women in healthcare and education, to spread them also across less fashionable/cozy roles like constructions workers, military and the like to go closer to a 50/50 ratio?

[I am not sure that in most western countries the problem is nowadays about "empowerment", more about being poor and living in bad networks - the so called "poverty trap", but let's skip this point for now]

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stephsmithio profile image
Steph Smith Author • Edited

These problems are multi-dimensional. I say this in the article very cleary. However, distilling our ability to contribute to technology based only on hormones is offensive.

I am aware of the fact there is a finite supply. If you actually read my third point above, you would understand that. It's also very off-base to assume that women want to be in "fashionable or cozy" roles.

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giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Sorry, but you are insisting on a strawman nobody but you raised here: stating that different biologies might bring different interests is rather different than suggesting that they imply different skill levels.

Similarly, I never stated that women would not 'want to be in "fashionable or cozy" roles': that is another implication of yours.

What I asked if, in the alleged name of more "diversity", you would reduce the number of female workers in industries like healthcare, education, etc.

I find having to tell me "If you actually read my third point above" a rather un-constructive and patronising way to address my question ("womansplaining"?), but I will try not to take offence.

It is a simple "yes" or "no" question, so, again: would you reduce the number of female workers in industries like healthcare, education, etc?

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stephsmithio profile image
Steph Smith Author • Edited

Please stop trying to force an argument.

If female biology were the reasoning behind so few women in technology, then how do you explain changing ratios over time? How do you explain the fact that many of the first developers were women?

I would not force anyone to do anything under the "name of diversity". The point of my article which was followed up by my comments, is that technology is currently not inclusive and that we can do better. If it were more open and that meant some women in healthcare, education, or another sector switched to technology, I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Stop trying to frame it as a negative as me (or anyone else) trying to reduce women from another industry.

Your answers are proving the uphill battle women have to face in justifying the constant problems they face. For this reason, I will not waste my time replying to any of your further comments.

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giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Apologies, but I am pretty confident I am not the one trying to force an argument here :)

Nth proof of that, for example, is that you insist on points not raised by either me or the original commenter: neither of us ever stated that biology was the sole cause of it.

The argument about the first developers were women is sadly another fallacy cherry-picked and reported without much thought - imho -: while nobody in his/her own right mind would ever dream of denying the important contributions of people like Lovelace of Hopper, they were just a few among Babbage, Turing, Djikstra, Eich, Wozniak and countless others which happened not to have a XX sets of chromosomes (for what matters - apparently a lot for you).

Feel free to verify for example here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pion...

The common myth parroted by a certain political/ideological area, has been debunked countless times - the times in which women were a majority of engineers were never really there, as their job was mostly secretarial/data-entry related before the computer revolution.

It would have been also quite unlikely, as back then most women were far from being able to access a proper education and be engineers. A situation that I find despicable, of course.

I am assuming nobody would, say, call "engineer" somebody just putting data in an excel file or the like, but feel free to counter-argument. Or just disagree.

Again, you dodged my question: I did not ask if you would be ok with more women switching from healthcare/education to IT, but if you would enforce male quotas in those sectors, pushing out women.

And "glad" to see that women doing nasty, unhealthy and unrewarding jobs like working in the construction or defence sector didn't even make it to your radar, despite me asking multiple times, unless you just wanted to timidly leave a door open with "another sector", which does not sound too likely.

To be clear, I did not put any negative frame: you said that yourself. And so for you reducing women from a sector is "negative", but reducing men seems to be ok, mh...

Well, sorry you ended up resorting to playing the "if you even doubt about this truth, you are bad": I was raised in catholic fundamentalism, where that kind of thought is the rule, so I think I know where it all leads.

I am not sure that people will get an idea about the "problems they face" more from my answers than from yours, but ok.

Finally, referring to our discussion as a "waste" was sterilely impolite: I don't expect you to apologise - I just wanted to state it.

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iamfledge profile image
Ed Woodcock • Edited

Dude you need to stop watching so much Jordan Peterson pseudo-babble, and broaden your viewpoints.

Where at any point are you seeing reference or allusion to any kind of authoritarian enforcement of gender rebalancing?
Your interpretation of 'inclusion' is quite literally the opposite of it's own meaning, as if there's some kind of agenda to rebalance 'quotas' via exclusion.

This is just about making industries and communities a welcoming and celebrated environment for anybody and, like adults, re-evaluating certain attitudes and behaviours that impede that. Seeing a change in demographics of these groups/communities/industries would be a welcome and natural byproduct of this. Like seriously, why would you not want to be a part of that, instead of stamping your foot in the ground going "nope hormones"?

Sincerely, the grandson of a lady who worked as part of the Enigma cracking team.

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v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡 • Edited

The common myth parroted by a certain political/ideological area, has been debunked countless times - the times in which women were a majority of engineers were never really there, as their job was mostly secretarial/data-entry related before the computer revolution.

Do you have a source for this?

I'd had the impression that there was, at one point, a higher proportion of female IT technicians or programmers than men in the 1970s, but I am open to being corrected.

And P.S. Watch whose words, and which words, you're calling "pseudo-babble," bucko.

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shiling profile image
Shi Ling

I agree, that assumption is a problem. It ignores the many blockers discouraging women from joining STEM careers.

There are real blockers that needs to be stopped, and the first step is awareness.

Things like disgusting sexual advancements, and assuming that a cute / beautiful girl has no idea what she's talking about:

I've been told that girls in computing science classes are such a treat for the boys. Creeps.

Things like lack of female representation:

As much as I dislike being asked to join a panel for the sake of female representation in tech, it feels discriminatory in reverse, but I sometimes feel that I need to show young girls that the computing field belongs to them too.

I grew up knowing a lot of female friends who excelled at and loved maths and science.

But slowly, I found myself having less and less female classmates as I progressed through academia.

When I ask these women what happen, they tell me that they can't imagine being a scientist or an engineer because they don't feel smart enough for it. These girls were geniuses and topped science classes I tell you, but they stopped believing in themselves.

Or worse, they feel that being a scientist or engineer makes them unattractive because it's for boys.

I wrote more about what I observed happening to my female friends in my story:

If natural inclination was all that was needed, all these women who have joined STEM careers already instead of hating their job as a banker or accountant or administrator.

We need to be more proactive in discouraging blockers and encouraging women to follow their passion if they love math and science.

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stephsmithio profile image
Steph Smith Author

Yes, this!

I taught myself to code over the last year, but prior to that even though I came from a science/math background, I felt like I wasn't cut out for development. That it wasn't for "someone like me".

We cannot underestimate the impact of psychology on our choices and need to create an open environment that paints development in an accessible way.

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stargator profile image
Stargator • Edited

@shiling that's exactly the point. When programming started, as in hiring people as "computers", and the field was gaining traction, it was women that filled the majority of the positions. That was in the 1940s!

They were in those positions largely due to the US military recruiting them since the majority of men were serving overseas.

Not only did these women not get the credit they deserved at the time (but their male colleagues did), their names weren't even recorded when they appeared in photos related to the ENIAC project they were a part of.

When the war ended, sure enough the men hiring for those positions looked for men to fill them. That had nothing to do with the inclination of women at the time (cause there were a lot of talented ones who started the field looking for work, while a lot of the new hires had no experience), but more to do with the constraints society put on the genders and what roles they thought more "suited" to each gender.

That is why discussions of "inclusion" also involves discussions of "gender norms", "gender stereotypes", and a whole host of other purely social concepts that teach children what they can and cannot be.

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jacksonelfers profile image
Jackson Elfers • Edited

On a neurological level, our brains are connected differently. That isn't to suggest we should conform to any sort of societal role. I do agree we should encourage people to think independently and not cast stereotypes. Can't we also embrace the positive aspects of our differences? Best of luck with whatever you do and have a great weekend. 😊

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stargator profile image
Stargator • Edited

My wife never was interested in technology from a maker or programmer perspective. It also just seems like "magic" to her. But where as I graduated from college with a BS in Computer Science after 7 years, she got her Bachelor's, went on to get a MBA, moved to a new city and bought a home, and by the time I met her I was 1.5 year out of college. She graduated with a BS in 2004.

She is tremendously smart and has over the course of our relationship gained an interest in programming to the point where she's taken an SQL course and is looking to leverage Data Science in her work as an Enterprise Risk Analyst.

This change was not because, as a student, she had considered Computer Science or the tech industry as an option, but decided she preferred something else.

No, this change was due to her realizing there wasn't a barrier to her learning how to code. That it was an option for her to gain an understanding of how programming languages fit into the paradigm of creating apps phones, computers, and TV. And she could use that knowledge to make "magical" things!

What I take from @StephSmith's work and the article she written is that we need to not limit our thinking to "we're just different and are inclined for different roles". That's the thinking of an RPG player or the US military before women were allowed to intentionally signed up for those roles.

We are not a class-based species. There's nothing specific to the genders that determine our roles. Individually, each person has their own aptitudes and interests. But they are also severely impacted by what their environment tells him they are or what they could be.

I have lost a friend who killed herself after working hard to join our high school football team (which she did). And she got accepted into the UNC School of Arts. I will never know what forces she engaged with that continually told her what she couldn't do.

I dealt with issues of self-esteem growing up (and still do) to the point where I talked to my mother over the phone expressing a desire to kill myself (and it wasn't the first time these thoughts haunted me). All because I allowed the voices of bullies and adults get in my head. They shaped for me a vision of the future I did not like.

I don't bring this up lightly. It's to illustrate that both everyone faces obstacles from society that should not exist. We should never be telling girls or boys what their limitations are. We should be asking, nah, encouraging them to discover their limitations and to push for whatever dream they have.

There is not one reason to believe that we each go through life with the exact same experiences, with the exact same opportunities, and with the exact same knowledge/awareness of those opportunities.

Once we are born, that's it. Genetics can only take you so far, the rest is up to society, the environment, and each individual in it. That's why is it important to do basic retrospectives and ask questions like, "Why are so many people from this demographic continue to pursue these careers and not others?".

As a society we need to have serious conversations about what known and unknown obstacles exist that prevent or otherwise limits a person's ability to excel. These obstacles could be physical (blindness), legal/financial (grants to encourage men to go into STEM roles, not women), but also societal (like being uncomfortable/resistant to have a conversation about demographics or reassessing assumptions).

Fundamentally, this is important because once we remove or lower the barrier for more people to go wherever their passion takes them, then we as a society benefit.

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jacksonelfers profile image
Jackson Elfers

I couldn't agree more. It's important we encourage people to think independently from the status quo and keep an open mind. Although to acknowledge we might have different biological drives isn't to suggest we should conform to any sort of societal role. That's a fantastic success story about your wife. Cheers.

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stargator profile image
Stargator

Thanks for the comments about my wife and understanding my perspective.

I apologize if I seem to be poo-pooing your point of view, I just cannot understand what biological development aside from blindness or other handicaps could potentially prevent someone of pursuing a career in tech.

And I think that's where it boils down. You say "biological drives" and I think "an obstacle or impediment". I don't think my biology drives me to program, I don't think my wife's biology drives her to do her job.

Sometimes we feel like a job is a calling, but that could be more spiritual than biological.

I mean it's sitting down and thinking really hard about concepts and ideas you can't physically taste, touch, feel, smell, or see.

Anyone with the ability to type and think critically can do it, no biologic organs are required.

I just cannot accept that any "biological drive" exists that called for me to be a programmer. I was driven to programming because my environment seemed to remove any other option for me. I was lonely as a kid, so I tended to solve problems on my own. Then I got a computer and I had a wealth of information around me.

Then I found out I could make changes to my computer myself! No one told me I could, no one told me I couldn't. The bullies and adults just told me I was worthless, stupid, and need to fight my own battles cause the adults in charge didn't care. That was about school, that wasn't about computers.

Gradually, programming seemed like something I could do by myself.

Others are attracted to programming because of the ability to create and cooperate. Any industry, any field, can have social elements that encourage collaboration, team work, critical thinking, thinking of the logical possibilities, or even thinking about the social/economic/physical/mental/etc aspects of a project.

When I hear other people's stories, I never hear anyone say they were born to be a programmer or some other tech professional. It's usually something they pursued because of experience, not something innate to their genes.

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Vitali Pomanitski

Hi Steph, I see you get lots of responses from the community and that's all without having a sponsor. Could you share your experience and tell in short what you did? I'm trying to learn but I'm really awful in what regards communications in compare to you.
Tnx/Vitali

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Steph Smith Author

Hi Vitali! Unfortunately, I can't share any secret tips since I don't have any.

My process is just writing the post (for my own blog), converting to Markdown, posting here (including choosing 4 tags), and hoping for the best!

I think it's all about writing articles targeted to the community and keeping your tone personal. People want to hear from people, not companies! :)

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vitalipom profile image
Vitali Pomanitski

Thanks Steph, I understand you have additional channel as your blog, I'll try to write even more and see the effects of other posts and articles on my reputation in here, at dev.to.
Thanks Steph, thank you a lot.

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Juan F Gonzalez

Massive props to you for that incredible work done on FeMake and also for using a .tech TLD 😉. Keep on going and paving the path with dem lines of code 😁

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Steph Smith Author

Thank you! 😊