Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The 'Mom Test'

Coinbase allows people to buy and sell digital currencies and exchange them with fiat currency. For most people, digital currency can be confusing and intimidating. Coinbase is out to change that and make it simple. On Bloomberg TV yesterday, Adam White of Coinbase, to explain how simple their system is, described it as having passed the 'Mom test.'

How many times have I heard male technology executives describe their software as 'so easy even my Mom could use it'? Too many to count. You get a twofer with such a remark, offending both women and older people. This time, something snapped. So I wrote an irate email to Coinbase. 

I'm writing about Adam White's recent appearance on Bloomberg TV. He referred to the 'Mom Test'. This expression is totally offensive. Mr. White should be ashamed of himself.

Tech executives (almost always men) typically describe an application as so easy to use 'that even my mom could use it'. No one could get away with saying something was so easy to use that 'even a black person could use it', or 'even a gay person could use it'. What makes men think it's acceptable to make such a derogatory statement about women? There are countless households (including mine) where the resident tech is the female in the house. 

Statements such as Mr. White's also fly in the face of sincere and concerted efforts to attract girls and women to STEM, where there is a shortage of talent. What young girl would think she's capable of a successful career in STEM when such comments float around the ether (pun intended).



Lib Gibson
a tech pioneer who has been using email since 1970, who led global networked application development in the 80s, who was CEO of a mobile data company in the 80's, who launched Canada's largest ISP in the 90s, who ran Canada's largest Internet company in the 90's and 00's and who currently serves on various high tech boards of directors

(Pardon those last phrases. I was pretty sensitive about being labelled as a dumb old woman!)

To my amazement, almost immediately I received an email from Adam, followed by a phone call today. Adam is a very pleasant young man and he was most apologetic about his words. I started out upset with him and ended up an admirer.

Adam said Coinbase was very dedicated to diversity in their work place, pointed out that his own mother, an engineer, was the techie in his own home, and explained that he meant no offence. Basically he seemed puzzled about what made him use this phrase - he usually describes the Dad Test. (That's only a onefer as you only insult older people.)

Adam acknowledged that his careless statement was wrong, and that it contributed to the stereotyping of women as non-technical - not to mention older people. He said he was grateful to have it pointed out and would change his language in the future. It just shows how deeply the stereotype is embedded, if a well-meaning young man like Adam can use an offensive phrase so nonchalantly. I've challenged this kind of language often, but never received such a fulsome apology and commitment to behaving differently. We women should make sure we never let such remarks pass without commenting on them.

Adam and I had a discussion about what phrase he could use instead of Mom Test, and the best we could think of was "it's so easy that anyone can use it". Not as good a sound bite as the Mom Test. Any ideas out there for a better catch-phrase?

3 comments:

Jane M said...

How about "so easy even an adult could use it". Doesn't insult adults so much as flatters kids and their (seemingly innate) ability to pick up new technologies.

Sandy M said...

How about "as easy as pie" or "a piece of cake" or "as easy as falling off a log"
as per Sandy M

Sandy M said...

How about "as easy as pie" or "a piece of cake" or "as easy as falling off a log"