I wanted to write about

2016-03-04, so many things

Either there isn't enough time or I don't think it is important enough. Or maybe both. Yet another explanation is that I don't know enough about the topic or that there simply isn't enough to say about it to devote a whole post to it. Either way there are many things I want to write about but don't. Just like there are countless things I want to do but don't. Here I will, quite paradoxically, write about them afterall. Just not in as much detail as I would like to and not to the extent that the topics deserve. Oh well, so it goes.

Women, technology and the importance of political action

This has been brewing for about a year now. I was surfing the web one night, as one does, when I came across this tweet:

To begin with I want to say that I appreciate what technology has done for the position of women in society. It is true that the pill has given women more control over their lives and that the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner has freed up labour time in homes with a traditional division of labour. And it is also true that politicians often accomplish very little. But something about the tweet bothered me: the implication that political action is unimportant and that technological innovation is somehow enough. It bothered me because I think it is both wrong and dangerous to think so.

I've been hesitating to write about this (for a year) because the "women in tech" topic is complex, controversial and difficult to understand. But nevermind that. The fact is that we cannot take it for granted that technological innovation will automagically lead to a better society for women while ignoring political action as somehow inherently ineffective.

I say this because I observe the importance of political action for "women's rights", as the quote from the tweet puts it, every day. The best example I can think of is parental leave in Norway. As the Norwegian state puts it the "total benefit period for parental benefit in the case of a birth, is 49 weeks at 100 percent coverage". In short, both parents get almost a year of paid parental leave. Close to the time of birth there are some weeks that must be used by the mother of the child. It is possible for couples to negotiate a situation where the woman gets all the leave but that does not happen in the majority of the cases (at least according to the anecdotal evidence I am going on).

The labour market implication is that women are not automatically less attractive (in productivity terms) as employees when compared to men. In the situation where men share the leave 50% this is even better. It means that when you employ a woman you will have enough time as an employer to get and train a replacement (ideally) and that you are likely to have to do the same for men who are becoming parents. In short: this gives women a better chance to find good jobs.

So where is the technological innovation here? You're right: it is nowhere to be seen. This is the result of collective action and political will. I guess I should tweet something absurd like "science 0, politics 1", what a laugh.

Other things that come to mind when thinking about technological innovation and women in society is Gamergate. The internet sure is great and social networks probably make societies more productive, women included, but if you know anything about the internet you know that it is a terrible place for a woman. That's right, terrible. And what will improve it? More tech? I'm not so sure.

To continue making progress on women's rights we have to be willing to engage in collective action and institution building. Technological innovation is not enough.

Work wtf

There was that time in my first job when I forgot about a meeting. A colleague walked into my office afterwards and asked "Where were you?" and I said "Here. Why?" to which he responded "You missed the meeting" and I was like "Why didn't anyone call me? It is just down the hall..." and he shrugged. So I thought to myself, wow, this is pretty messed up. I made a honest mistake and people knew it and sat there in the meeting knowing that I was in my office, literally 20 meters away from them and noone bothered to call me. They would rather have me miss it so I can feel really bad about it.

So then I went to the office of the deputy director and apologised for missing the meeting. And all he could say was "oh well you've missed it now so there is nothing to do". So I stood there and apologised again, waiting for him to at least accept the apology, maybe say something like "no worries, next time just remember, you can catch up by chatting to whomever and reading the minutes" but instead he just sat there making me feel even more guilty. Then I told him "look man, I apologised now and I will not feel bad about this anymore, I consider this done" and walked out. Wtf?

And then there was that other time I was at dinner with the company. I was eating away and suddenly heard the CEO say "...the internet makes us better people" and I responded "I don't know, isn't that a bit speculative?" to which he responded, in front of everyone "why don't you go fuck your face!" and then I said "well I'm going to assume that you don't actually want me to do that so I will just continue eating then". Huh? For real? Wtf!?! A year later he was fired by the board and a year after that the company went bankrupt. Good riddance.

More recently, and less dramatically, I wrote an extended email to my boss and one other person of influence about a project I'm contributing to. I wrote about what I have observed so far, what worries me about the way of work, the attitude of the participants and included actions I am currently taking to try and improve this. I also listed suggestions for other measures of improvement. I was pretty direct and harsh about the project's shortcomings and was quickly called in for a meeting. The person of influence was doing most of the talking and his suggestion was basically this: we should circumvent the project leader and gain influence over the team indirectly to push the project in the right direction.

He went on to say that we should pursue this strategy because official channels take too long and that the project leader will take criticism personally. Wtf? The suggestion was that we should not give feedback to the project leader because they would take it personally? Even if they would take it personally this is a horrible suggestion. I mean, feedback is all you have when you want to improve. And as a professional you must learn to deal with criticism. It's not like we are working on this in our spare time. We are getting paid to build this service and we should be willing to sacrifice a little ego in order to deliver a good product.

And so

It seems I have written about these topics afterall. Hopefully it won't take me a year until I write about the next thing that's brewing in my head...