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Communications of the ACM


Things That Men Can Do To Be Real Allies For Women In Computing

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Valerie Barr

Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science, Union College

With thanks to the authors who contributed to "11 things white people can do to be real anti-racist allies." 

1.  Talk to other men in computing in order to create more allies.  Talk to other men who aren’t in computing.  Talk to women who aren’t in computing.  Women in computing need lots of allies.

2.  As supportive as you are, it’s not enough to sit back and watch from the sidelines.  Help build a movement to make computing a fair and equitable place for everyone.

3.  Because you are a man, you get a seat at lots of tables.  Don’t be embarrassed about that, don’t try to pretend it isn’t the case.  Use that to help change who else gets a seat at the table with you.

4.  Think about how you use language, both in speech and all forms of writing (both formal and informal writing).  Are you using terminology and phrasing that reinforces stereotypes about who belongs in computing?

5.  Read what women in computing are writing about their experiences.  Listen to their TED talks and conference presentations.  Just as importantly, read about the technical work being done by women in computing and refer to it in your own work.

6.  Every time a man you know in tech announces that he’s about to become a father, ask him when he is taking paternity leave, and for how long, and whether he will be the primary parent at home during that time, and whether he will shut down his work email while he’s on leave.  

7.  Be prepared with a response when you hear someone say that the company shouldn’t hire women because they’ll leave to have babies (yes, it may be the 21st century, but people still think and say that).  There are lots of ways to counter that.  Be creative.  And see #6, it might give you inspiration.

8.  Speaking of kids — visit toy stores.   Study how toys are packaged and marketed.  Begin to understand the gendering of the toy aisle.  Buy cool puzzles and building games for all the children you know, ones that are designed to encourage kids to use their imagination.  Plan in advance and shop online in the "education" store of companies instead of buying the prepackaged imagination-dulling products that the same companies sell in stores.

9.  Talk to girls about math and science and computing.  Ask them what is going on in school.  Don’t sit by idly when you hear that the teacher is not calling on the girls or is letting the boys dominate the techie activities.

10.  Find out what is going on in your area, and then get your company to support those activities financially and by letting staff take time to contribute to the activities.  Is there a Girls Who Code or a Black Girls Code group?  Is there an ACM-W Celebration of Women in Computing being planned?  Is there an ACM-W student chapter at a nearby school?  Is there a Girls Inc. or Girl Scouts tech program?  Is there an all girls FIRST Robotics team?  An investment of your time will help the girls in the program (short term impact) and help change the culture in your work place (longer term impact).

11.  Finally, don’t expect a lot of pats on the back and thank you calls and messages.  There won’t be an overwhelming wave of acclaim because you finally decided to act on the belief that women belong in tech.  We’ll be happy to have larger numbers of people making the case, but we expect everyone to wage this fight.  You will be welcome, but you won't be exceptional.  Thanks in advance.


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