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Bil Lewis

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Where are all the girls?? (International Lisp Conference 2009)

April 15, 2009

As I lean back and scan the crowd of 200, I begin to ponder...

Where are all the girls??

I count one. Judy, a grad student at MIT. There might have been
another woman I didn't notice, but not many. What the ???

This is the Lisp community. It's always been closely connected with
the AI world which is famous for having a larger percentage of
women. But 1 woman and 199 men?

Something's wrong.

I'm kind of a conservative guy. "Equality of opportunity does not
guarantee equality of outcome."

As long as I figure folks have had the opportunity, the choice is up
to them. I'm not surprised that many women are not interested in
computer science. And I don't find it evil. It's OK if they (or any
subgroup) find other things more interesting than CS.

If I see an industry that's 2/3 men, I let it slide, figuring that
there' plenty of opportunity for women and even if there isn't there
are plenty of women to fight for it.

1 out of 200 however, is weird. And not healthy.

The Lisp world does collect a certain number of... really nerdy
types. I look positively normal there. But so what? There are nerdy

But there are also a lot of very fine, solid, personable individuals
whom I admire enormously. And I cannot think of a single...
anything-phobic remark by anyone. Ever. Not in any Computer Science
setting anywhere. I cannot ever remember anyone in CS disparaging anyone
due to their sex, race, etc. CS is not an actively anti-female society.

Quite to the contrary, I've been in many serious discussions about the
dearth of women in Computer Science.

So where are they???


Normally I would insert a slightly tacky joke about the poor male
student's trouble getting a date for Saturday night and how lucky the
girls are.

But it turns out it can be a real pain in the ass. A female student
has a challenge trying to study Computer Science with her peers,
because they keep begging her for a date. I can see where that would
cause some problems.

So, no tacky joke.


At Tufts, we had more women than men in the faculty, so it was
particularly disconcerting that we could not attract more than about
20% women to our program. Discussions usually ended with ideas about
attracting more girls in high school, but no real insights why
Computer Science should be so different from the other sciences.

And why should Lisp be so much more extreme than other areas of
Computer Science? The probablity of having a conference with 1 woman
and 199 men drawn randomly from the population of Computer Science
professionals is somewhere below 0.0000001%. It can't be random. There
has to be a bais--a massive bais. But I don't see it.

Why only one woman?

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