[hackerspaces] hackerspace demographics

Matt Joyce matt at nycresistor.com
Tue Jan 15 06:50:45 CET 2013

On Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 12:09 AM, Sam Ley <sam.ley at gmail.com> wrote:
> The issue with the knitting group sounds like it clearly had a gender
> component. If you need a roadmap you should really be paying better
> attention.

Entirely possible, but having re-read the email twice, I am still not
seeing what you are.  If you are willing to put up with my
inattentiveness, by all means please hook me up with a roadmap.  I'd
love your insight.

> Regarding shared interests: Hackerspaces, almost by definition, have very
> wide interest levels, and theoretically, new interests among active members
> is taken as an opportunity to learn something new, not an "outside" activity
> to be scorned.

Scorned is a harsh word.  And while I personally agree that hacking is
a broad term, hackerspaces are microcosms of the hacking world.  Each
defined by their membership.  As an example, look to Hackerdojo in
Mountain View.  If I were to go down there on a tuesday afternoon just
after lunch and proceed to dremel away on a project, people would be
irritated.  That's because they are largely software engineers, and
they don't generally engage in hardware hacking.  If I did this for
three weeks with a group of 4 or 5 friends, people would become
annoyed.  And eventually if the situation was not handled well, I
think the situation could easily become harsh enough to warrant the
use of the word scorn.

I see the basic value in this particular example as being worth
investigating from the viewpoint that we can learn what was done wrong
at this hackerspace and how to first identify the issue, then address
it.  I think that discussion would be enlightening for many on this
list, and potentially allow this hackerspace and others to learn from
a past experience.

> Knitting is a form of making that is very practical and
> interesting, involves math and patterns, and is connected to a long history
> of craftsmanship.

Knitting is awesome.  I am a fan.  I don't enjoy it as a hobby myself,
but that's more because I prioritize it too low on my list of things I
think are awesome.  But, if time were limitless I'd be all about
knitting myself a bad ass scarf.  It's on the list of do before I die
to be sure.

That being said, not everyone is in to knitting.  And knitting has
traditionally been a very insular craft.  The proverbial knitting
circle is a very social activity, but I can easily see how folks who
are exclusively into knitting would be very quickly regarded as
outsiders in a hackerspace.  For better or for worse.

> If you didn't already know that the hobby is mostly women,
> you'd assume that most hackerspace types would be interested in learning how
> to do it, in the same way they happily take up microcontrollers, bicycles,
> etc.

I have heard that the craft is predominantly female adopted, but I've
seen evidence of that changing.  Which I think is great.

> Why would a group that tends to think of an opportunity to learn a new
> making skill as a good thing all of a sudden think it was a bad thing?

Simply put, some hacker activities just don't jive well.  As with the
software engineering vs industrial work example.  Hardware
hackerspaces tend to be very messy by software engineering hackerspace
standards.  They are also loud, and at times a great deal more
potentially hazardous to the un-initiated.

Also as brought up in a sadly devolved other thread, there are
activities that people disagree with on a moral ground.  Such as fire
arm related hobbie.  This is apparently something many hackerspaces
are involved in, and also have strong feelings for and against.  At
the end of the day a hackerspace can't be all things to all people, at
least not without some sort of federated model and supporting
facilities to accomplish that goal.

In short, learning isn't a bad thing.  But, it's also not a bad thing
for a community to focus on their core values, whatever those may be.
And while that at times may be exclusionary, it's also a reasonable
attempt to limit your expectations to what is achievable.

> I'm
> not accusing anyone of overt sexism, but one's own brain has a tendency to
> trick you into making poor decisions unless you force it to stop and think
> about the situation. I know I've been unintentionally rude to people without
> thinking about it in the past, so I try to think carefully in the future.

Absolutely.  And truth be told, I don't think that's ever going to go
away.  In fact in some regions, what is considered rude by folks in
the vast majority of other regions is actually considered quite
normal.  For instance, NYC vs SF.  Any loyal son of Brooklyn on their
first pilgrimage abroad learns quite quickly that their cynical,
sarcastic, and often times insult laden banter is not well received
outside of their own home town.  ( A problem I've struggled with for
years.  )

The simple fact is, we sometimes offend each other.  And I think
intent matters.  If people are blind to their insults, it is up to you
to help them understand that you find their actions or remarks to be
insulting, and to do so as courteously as you can manage assuming you
aren't just trying to pick a fight.

But this is where I think the approach to conflict resolution becomes
a worthwhile discussion with Lisha's example as a great working

> As far as gender balance, our space currently has 19 people (we tend to
> cater to people with high space requirements so we don't tend to have a lot
> of members at a time), and the demographics are currently:
> 19 members
> 9 women and 10 men
> 5 have children (2 men, 3 women)

I think the discussion of children in the hackerspace was one of the
most divisive discussions NYCResistor ever had.  It nearly tore the
community apart.  It is now a running joke.  However, since that
discussion several members have had children.  So who knows maybe the
issue will be revisited again.  =)

> Our income demographic has never been explicitly measured, but tends toward
> the lower middle range - people who are transitioning into making income
> from their creative works. We do have a few well-to-do engineers and
> software people, but they are the exception.

I would find income demographics interesting.

> If things are sounding pretty good so far, one thing we lack with regards to
> our community is racial diversity, and while it is tempting to explain that
> away as just "well so does Colorado as a whole", I think that a hope would
> be that any space would accurately represent the people around it, which is
> an elusive goal. You can't just go "round up" minorities and put them in
> your space, but broad thinking about how spaces engage the world around them
> should naturally equalize things over time.

Actually the racial point is a very valid one.  And specifically the
race I don't see is African American.  I see this across most of the
IT sector.  And while I know several truly badass hackers who could be
called african or african american, the numbers are far too few.

And it's a situation I'd love to see rectified.  But, unlike with
gender equality no one is calling for change.

Now I've breached the subject with a few friends who have bucked the
trend.  And most of them take the position that they are a hacker
first, and they could care less if there aren't other folks of their
color hacking.  And I truly respect that.  But, at the same time.  I
wonder what the issues are that have lead to this, and how we might
remedy the core issues.  My guess is, that much like gender gaps in
STEM, this issues extend far beyond the scope of making conferences or
hackerspaces more comfortable and tolerant to minorities.

> While the responses were a bit insipid, there was a point to be heard
> there, if you listen to it... A common feature of discussions regarding
> exclusion is that it is always initially difficult for people who are a
> member of the excluding group to sympathize with the excluded group.

Sure, and there's another point to be made.  Silencing an expressed
opinion, or question because the person asking it is of a select
gender is unacceptable under any circumstances.  Perspective is always
a valuable thing.  Especially differing ones.  It is when unlike minds
meet that knowledge is exchanged.

> The stereotypical negative response by a member of the excluding
> group is to raise the burden of proof requirement so high that it
> becomes impossible to "prove" anything, thereby invalidating the
> experience of the excluded. Think Donald Trump's recent behavior if you
> want a funny example.

I think we both agree on this, but from different angles.

> The topic is worth additional discussion, but don't be too hard on people
> who are already working from a point of disadvantage. Group dynamics
> are clearly at work, but gender is one of the most dominate aspects of
> group dynamics in most human interactions.

Occasionally I myself troll this list.  And in fact, some folks in the
past have used some of my less serious conversations to bolster ad
hominem attacks on me.  It's something I've accepted to live with as I
find value in the occasional insane argument of wits rather than
logic.  Some don't see it that way but it's another discussion
entirely, and one I think I shall have at a later date.  In this
thread, I shall simply ignore the posts that detract from the
conversation.  Hopefully unlike in past threads they do not entirely
drown out the conversation.

Thanks for the thoughtful response.  ( Positive encouragement is a new
thing for me. )


> On Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 9:33 PM, Al Jigong Billings <albill at openbuddha.com>
> wrote:
>> ++
>> On Jan 14, 2013, at 8:32 PM, Michel Gallant <sfxman at gmail.com> wrote:
>> "Hi, I'm a man and here's why your complaint is not legitimate"
>> On Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 11:10 PM, Matt Joyce <matt at nycresistor.com> wrote:
>>> I don't see a knitting groups lack of jive with a hackerspace
>>> community as being a gender bias.
>>> For instance, at Noisebridge a continued point of protest I've heard
>>> before is the people who come in solely to use the kitchen.
>>> If a sub group within the community is not really jiving with the
>>> greater community it's really not necessarily a bias built upon
>>> gender.  it sounds like ( from my reading ) that it was more of a lack
>>> of shared interests.
>>> And that can be problematic in either direction.  If I were to show up
>>> with 3 of my good friends ( male or female ) at a knitting circle and
>>> starting soldering arduinos into the scarves / sweaters / awesome
>>> socks / I was knitting there's a good chance that over time I would
>>> wear out my welcome with the rest of the knitting circle.
>>> While I am all for identifying areas where people can be made to feel
>>> more comfortable, I am also all for not trying to fit square blocks
>>> into round holes.  If two communities don't share common interests,
>>> they will likely not share space well.  Trying to change that seems a
>>> futile effort to me.
>>> And, while there are those that do transcend multiple groups, that
>>> does not mean that those groups will be able to jive.
>>> Curious why you thought it was related to the gender of the knitting
>>> group members over the potential lack of shared interests?
>>> On Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 10:55 PM, Lisha Sterling <lishevita at gmail.com>
>>> wrote:
>>> >
>>> > On Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 9:27 PM, Nathaniel Bezanson
>>> > <myself at telcodata.us>
>>> > wrote:
>>> >>
>>> >> on paper our membership is about 80% male, but if you look at the
>>> >> people
>>> >> who actually show up and participate, it's a lot more even -- roughly
>>> >> 60/40
>>> >> most of the time.
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > It sounds like you have a great space there!
>>> >
>>> > Last year at SpaceCamp, an unconference for hacker and maker spaces run
>>> > by
>>> > School Factory, we had an informal poll of the founders and
>>> > facilitators
>>> > there to see what the gender makeup was. Despite the fact that there
>>> > were
>>> > about 30% women at the conference, it turned out that the membership of
>>> > hackerspaces tended to run closer to 90/10 with a few notable
>>> > exceptions. A
>>> > couple of the women there spoke directly to the fact that they were
>>> > made to
>>> > feel unwelcome at some hackerspaces even as the hackerspace *said* that
>>> > they
>>> > were being gender-blind.
>>> >
>>> > An example that I can think of off the top of my head is how at one
>>> > mid-west
>>> > hackerspace, a woman started a knitting group that brought in a lot of
>>> > other
>>> > women. Some of those women became involved in other areas of the hacker
>>> > space, but not all of them did. However, *some* of the men in the
>>> > hackerspace continually berated and badmouthed the knitting group,
>>> > complaining that it was taking up space that should have been used for
>>> > "real" hacking like woodwork, metalwork, programming and electronics.
>>> > The
>>> > knitting group wasn't forced to stop, but the discomfort from the way
>>> > that
>>> > they were treated meant that fewer women wanted to come, not only to
>>> > the
>>> > knitting group, but to other functions as well. The knitting group
>>> > died, and
>>> > the hackerspace was left with only a couple of female members (one of
>>> > which
>>> > went on to become a facilitator at another hackerspace).
>>> >
>>> > I agree that the way to get future women into the hackerspaces is to
>>> > get
>>> > their parents in today. We all need role models. Are parents are our
>>> > first
>>> > role models. The other adults in the spaces we frequent as a child
>>> > (school,
>>> > scouts, daycare, hackerspace, etc) are very important as well.
>>> >
>>> > There is another issue that needs to be addressed, and that is making
>>> > sure
>>> > that your hackerspace is an open and welcoming place to all: women,
>>> > gays,
>>> > transgendered people, people of different faiths, or colors, or shapes,
>>> > or
>>> > sizes...
>>> >
>>> > There is a lot of work going on in this area at a lot of hackerspaces
>>> > and
>>> > that is really fantastic. Be aware, though, that you might not be aware
>>> > of
>>> > the issues facing any minority in your space. Sometimes you can find
>>> > out by
>>> > asking. Sometimes you can't. An of course, if you don't know that there
>>> > is a
>>> > problem, it's pretty much impossible to fix it. But when someone does
>>> > speak
>>> > up, hear them out and see what can be done.
>>> >
>>> > As for women not wanting to talk to the press about being a woman in a
>>> > hackerspace, there may be several reasons for that. 1) It's really
>>> > awesome
>>> > at your space and they don't see a point. In which case you should
>>> > maybe
>>> > encourage them to speak to the press and say exactly that, since it
>>> > will
>>> > help women who feel timid about joining *any* hackerspace more likely
>>> > to
>>> > show up. 2) They are sick of saying the same things over and over to
>>> > the
>>> > press, being misrepresented and painted as either a victim or a hero or
>>> > some
>>> > other archetype rather than as a person who hangs out at a hackerspace.
>>> > 3)
>>> > They really don't like anything that smacks of personal advertising.
>>> > "Get my
>>> > name in the paper? Ick! No thank you!!" 4-infinity) I can't possibly
>>> > know
>>> > all the other reasons...
>>> >
>>> > - Lisha
>>> >
>>> > --
>>> > http://www.alwayssababa.com/
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > _______________________________________________
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>>> > Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
>>> > http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
>>> >
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