Module 5: Social Issues in Computing covered currently-relevant topics such as women in computing, social media, and the effect of technology on relationships.

November 5

  • Something as subtle as the workspace environment strongly influences gender bias. Lending support to this finding, I'll admit that as a man I rarely consider my workplace surroundings to be off-putting, nor did I ever consider that what is natural to me might be off-putting to someone else.
  • I think it's an important point in the "women in technology" conversation that there are women who engage and compete with men on a complete level when not discouraged environmentally from doing so. It's an obvious and and repetitive point, but claiming that women (as a gender class) suffer any particular disadvantage in technology as compared to men is unfair.
  • I appreciated Senator Ron Wyden's articulate assertion that "what Title IX has achieved on the playing field remains undone in the classroom." One can't help but wonder how much further and how differently technology and mathematics would have developed if more influence from women had been present "in the classroom" throughout the past thirty years.

November 10

  • There exists a tricky balance between process and goodwill. What is the proper role of quotas in protecting minorities' rights in society and the workplace? We clearly don't want to hire an artificial number of any minority group just for the sake of equality if that group isn't qualified/motivated/willing to serve the role! Instead of quotas, we might nobly want to resolve inequality bias on an individual basis, but this opens the door to that subconscious bias again.
  • It's extremely easy to feel like inequality bias is a solved problem since we generally all agree that qualified people should get the job regardless of race or gender or sexual preference. The key is to remember that this bias arises as a consequence of subconscious and unintentional behaviors.
  • Another consideration: is it always true that a business wants to hire the most qualified person? There are other factors that make a potential employee a valuable hire that have nothing to do with their skill set; for example, a company might want to hire a woman simply for the workplace atmosphere she brings, regardless of her capacity to serve the stated business goal1. Is that unethical?

November 12

Cydni Tetro spoke about Women and Tech.

  • More women graduating from college than ever, but the number of women in computing jobs is declining (from 35% in 1990 to just 26% in 2013)—they're staying in the workplace but choosing other careers. I appreciated Tetro's interpretation of this information: there are plenty of women, but we have cultural factors forcing them out of tech.
  • The problem is that we gloss over the problem ("no decision is a decision"), and especially in Utah County there are natural drivers in our culture that drive women out. We simply tend not consider the implications of women being in tech, which sends the message that we don't expect them here. Really unfortunate.
  • Tetro brought up what is to me an extraordinary fact: we tend to label men and women differently for the same behavior, and negative labels can create a feedback loop that generates failure. Assertive men are "powerful" but assertive women are "bossy." (See this powerful commercial).

November 17

  • I found it interesting in the Pew Research findings that technology has encouraged existing relationship dynamics among young adults—many (including myself) have found them to both strengthen relationships as well as sometimes impair them. To me, this is an extremely clear and close-to-home example of how technology is a tool both for good and evil, and its impact on us as individuals and as a culture depends on when and how we choose to embrace it.
  • We discussed how businesses know their employees will use social media on the job no matter what, so they might as well capitalize on that. While I understand the desire to take advantage of young adults' digital literacy, this assertion made me feel underestimated, as I try hard to refrain from using my employer's time for activities that don't further their goals. My friends used to include me in group-texts while I was at work, and then be surprised when I didn't pay attention to their conversations.
  • The Deseret News article struck an important balance between celebrating the liberal arts and technology in education. As a culture, I think we often fall victims to extremes, defending either liberal arts ("creativity" in the traditional sense) or technology at the expense of the other. On the contrary, we should understand that the intersection of liberal arts and technology is a collaborative space and not a battleground.