I've never considered myself as a minority in computer science. It never made sense to me when women complained that they had no one to talk to and felt like they weren't being taken seriously. How could a field where most inter-personal interaction consists of plain-text communication possibly care whether you are black, blue, or are plumbed(hmm... possibly not the best term) differently than someone else.
Yet, when talking to inferno0069 last night, I realized that there is a difference between how I interact with women at this conference and how I interact with my colleagues (men AND women) at home. I had trouble pinpointing down exactly what it was, but after thinking about it for most of the morning, I think it comes down to posturing. In a typical computer science (and probably most engineering fields), there is a ritual upon meeting someone who's technical ability you don't know:
You don't start right away with your technical area. You start by, essentially, bragging about how much you know about random details of the field and the associated culture (e.g. discussing some new hardware platform or chip design or linux package that bears no relation to what you actually work on and want feedback on. This may include cultural topics like the current tech book that's hip in the industry). Keep your argument together long enough, and the person you are talking to will see you as a RealScientist and take what you actually have to say seriously. Don't do this, and you are dismissed as a girl looking for help on a problem, or looking to piggyback off of someone else's brilliant ideas.
Part of the reason I think I've had so much trouble seeing this is that it doesn't apply to communications between Mudders, or once someone familiar with the school knows I'm from Mudd. Also, once I am somewhere for more than a few days, I feel like people generally consider me to be 'one of the guys', and I'm set. At Grace Hopper, there is a general undercurrent of trust in one another's technical abilities within their field. I've been able to launch directly into "Hi, I'm a 5th year PhD student and I'm looking for collaborators in anonymous P2P storage networks" without worrying at all that the person I was talking to was going to talk down to me until I proved my worth.
I'm off to another session, so I can't flesh this out now, but I was wondering if any of you see this too and what you've done about it.
Holy crap, that was thunder...