The Octonauts and the tech industry

I was just inefectively expressing a difference of opinion over an incident in which the founders of Atlassian publicly apologised over a “sexist presentation”:

The discussion I was having made me try a bit harder to articulate my point of view. Here is the result of that.

The Octonauts

The Octonauts is a brilliant kids show aimed at pre-school children. It teaches great lessons of bravery, protection, team work, etc. In this way, it can be seen to represent many of the good willed, non-mysogynistic people who exist in the tech world who have the power of code and want to use it to better society (I’d like to put myself and most of my associates in that group).

An easily unnoticed subtlety

What I think is interesting is that there are 8 characters in “the crew”, only 2 of which are female and both of which are secondary characters. In addition to that, there is a “guest character” in each episode, a sea creature in trouble; I can’t remember a single female character in that list (I’ve watched a great number of them!).

It’s subtle, but very odd when you notice it. My Daughter hasn’t noticed it, I’d reckon most women wouldn’t either. I only noticed it after watching this excellent TED talk: (highly recommended).

It’s a gender neutral, pre-school show, but even that shouldn’t matter (see the TED talk :)).

Not deliberate, I think

I’m pretty sure that the makers of the show, a man and woman team, aren’t sexist. I image that they are good people producing a great show but, like me, they’re conditioned to the status quo and githe imbalance hasn’t crossed their mind.

I think this is true of a lot of people in the tech industry; we’re so used to the current male dominated situation, we wouldn’t notice the subtle bias in our attitudes that prevent us from seeing that this situation is odd, very odd. We’re not sexist or bad, just blissfully conditioned. Perhaps this is also true of the Atlassian speaker.

Its about the men, as much as it is the women

What’s interesting about the TED talk is that it is from the perspective of a man and how he wants his son to grow up. I feel it is the same here. If we want to redress the balance, we need to call out to the good guys, the conference speakers, those with influence: become aware of this subtle and pervasive attitude in ourselves and make adjustments to put it right.

Over focus on distractions like the slide in the presentation don’t help - and potentially damage “the cause”. But raising awareness with the good guys can and should lead to situations where the guy might automatically choose a different angle with his slide in the first place.