Letters: Female programmers made up half the industry’s workforce in the beginning, says Peter Kay; while Dr Jill Miller says increasing diversity is about levelling the playing field. Plus Robert Lawrence and Susan Hutchinson on data and the state
I have to agree with Angela Saini (In Silicon Valley, misogyny thrives on shoddy science, 8 August). When I went to university in 1964 to study mathematics, half of the other students studying maths were female. When I started work as a programmer in 1967 half of the other programmers were female. As Saini says, it was not until the advent of personal computers (and computer games) in the late 70s and 80s that this all changed and female programmers became a small minority. There was no inherent difference in skill and aptitude between the men and the women.
The Google “manifesto” is clearly ill-informed and written by someone without knowledge of the early days of computing. Sadly, we are now suffering from a serious shortage of skilled programmers because half the population with the appropriate skills have been put off entering the industry, maybe by the sexist attitudes of those with these false views.
• While the author of the controversial memo at Google might think that measures to increase diversity are tantamount to discrimination, the fact is that a great diversity strategy isn’t about advancing one group at the expense of another. It’s about levelling the playing field, so that individuals, organisations and the economy benefit from the diversity of thoughts, ideas and ways of working afforded by people of different backgrounds, identities and circumstances.
Business is making progress, but not at the pace or scale required, and all organisations must ensure that diversity and inclusion is a clear strategic priority.
Dr Jill Miller
Diversity and inclusion adviser, CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development
• Several of the premises underpinning your editorial (Privacy and integrity are not easy to deliver in a digital world, 8 August) are flawed. You suggest it is the state’s role to mediate between the individual and companies that “hold and process our data”. But the state is also both an organisation generating data (as a customer of services it outsources, eg privatised prison services) and one holding and processing large amounts of data (eg the nation’s NHS medical records, NI numbers, tax records). So it has both rights as the source of data, and obligations as the holder and processor of this data. These two roles are potentially in conflict (for example, in the case of data collected during routine surveillance activities). Secondly, you state that the “personal data of any particular customer is worth in isolation very little to anyone else”. This is self-evidently not true where the details of online banking accounts are concerned. Thirdly, you contend that “the correlations that emerge from vast quantities of data hold good even when tiny samples are examined”. This is dubious at best and becomes progressively weaker as the sample size is reduced, ultimately becoming meaningless in the limit of a single sample. Time to think again, though your remarks about the requirement for universally available strong encryption are to be applauded.
Robert Lawrence and Susan Hutchinson
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