The other problem for women in Tech

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An inconsequential thing happened a while ago that kept playing in my mind. I’m an analyst at heart, so it intrigues me when something trivial gets a reaction out of me.

This post is about women in tech and our problems in the workplace.

We talk a lot about men, harassment, and discrimination and reporting misconduct at work.

But what I’m going to talk about has been a bigger issue for me.

Even though, #metoo.

And the problem is, it’s still hard to even describe the problem.

I also don’t have any insight on to why this thing happens, or how to stop it. I can avoid going for one-on-one drinks with a colleague or client. I can say there’s no reason to walk me to my cab, and I tend to pre-plan ways to back out of a situation I feel is unsafe. None of this guarantees anything, but in general, I feel like I have some things I can do to stay safer.

This is something I am helpless to prevent. And if I report it, I come out sounding crazy.

You’ll see. You’ll think it too.

The inconsequential thing

It’s so stupid. Bear with me. A friend sent me a picture of a dumb joke graph he drew. Something about how the phrase “cute butt” could be used if the butt in question wasn’t itself physically cute. We talked about needing to define “cute” and if there were other variables missing. Stupid stuff.

One girl he knew took offense. Ok, that can happen with stupid jokes. The problem was the way she spoke to him. Here was a white North American woman telling a Syrian refugee that he had no idea what it was to be oppressed. Having his presumed grasp of English cited as the reason he didn’t agree with her.

This friend frequently corrects my spelling and grammar, but to her, he’ll always be an Arab. Which means:

  • he’s a misogynist
  • he speaks English more poorly than her
  • He needs her help to understand and integrate with ‘western culture’

So it was dumb, and he replied graciously, and we laughed about it.

Yet it was on my mind all week. Why?

And then I realised..

I’ve been dealing with shades of this my entire life from a certain type of woman, professionally and socially. 

#notallwomen, obviously.

I don’t know if it’s a British class thing, a race thing, an “I have an American accent thing” or some other variable/factor I’m not aware of.

But I do know it’s exhausting dealing with all the tiny things and trying to jump through the hoops I need to be taken seriously.

  • I can’t know more than them, in a subject I’ve spent years studying or over a decade working in. Even when they’re a junior or a hobbyist. That only makes us equals.
  • I can’t have the solution to a problem in a meeting. Solutions must come from them. Maybe using only my methods but from them, you see? The point is, I need to be under them in some way, structurally. 
  • They ask for my ‘help’ in projects but don’t give credit. They get promoted.
  • Various behaviors relating to my time being unimportant, and needing to respond to petty requests last minute/immediately because their time is very important. Their role does not support this feeling of importance.
  • When I walk into a room, my appearance is always commented on first. This sets me out as “not serious”, or “trying too hard”. I haven’t found a magic formula to fix this, so I wear what I want now. It’s going to happen anyway so I might as well have comfy shoes on.
  • I can’t know more about UK indie music than them. That is either hilarious to them or offensive.
  • I can’t know it’s Sheherazad by Rimsky-Korsakov being played. I can’t try and help them remember a Spanish/French word by telling them the Latin root of the word and a similar word in English. There must be some fundamental way I’m less than them when it comes to culture.
  • Jokes that are really about undermining me or marking me out as the outsider.

So, I sound crazy, right? I know you’re thinking it.

These are tiny subtle things that can all be shrugged off individually. Except they happen all the time. From women to women only.

They’re not reportable, but together they erode my ability to do my job to it’s fullest. I just can’t fight everything, all the damn time.

And I think that’s the effect they’re designed to have. Shut us up. Push us to the corner. Keep us at task-completion level, so we can be told we’re not capable of managing yet. Ever. By other women.

Women who complain about men in the workplace.

Asking us to stand behind them.

With men, I know maybe I f*ed up by being nieve or too trusting, but I also know who stepped over the line, and it wasn’t me.

With women, I come away feeling like it’s me.

It has to be me.

I don’t see it happening to anyone else, and no one else sees it. Everyone else gets along just fine.

It’s definitely me.

When we talk about women in tech, we need to talk about other women.

I am for women and believe women. But the ugly truth is, for me, I’ve had much more goodwill and support and respect from men.

I feel safer with men.

Something is wrong.

Related extracts from other articles:

The moral equivalent of “she who smelt it, dealt it”:

McGonigal cites a study in her book that showed that people who felt they had expressed statements proving they cared about equality were more likely later to display sexist or racist biases.” via “The Strange Way Being “Good” Hurts Your Willpower

When your ‘feminist’ company makes women’s lives worse:

Yet, the second type of company, one that is theoretically rooted in feminist principles from its inception, is a newer phenomenon and one that makes that blends feminism and corporatism into a mix even more toxic towards the greater good for all women.” via “Stop trying, there’s no such thing as a feminist company

When the female former diversity officer and new founder is that kind of feminist:

You should know that we are an early stage startup that cannot afford market salaries. Despite that, we paid premium salaries to bring a few women who did well in our interviews. But, they lacked the energy to put us into overdrive.  [..] l’m now back to being the only woman on the (tech) team 

I left a private note on October 12th asking what lacking energy meant and if lacking energy was specific to those female hires or if they were expected to deliver more because of their ‘premium’ rates. It was a private note because I wanted the author to know that whatever she said wouldn’t result in a pile-on. Because I am always finding myself subconsciously thinking in ways that don’t align with my values, and we’re all just human, trying to do better, right?

I got no reply. The author replies to many other comments. So you decide how important it is to her to unpack those feelings vs virtue signal. 

A better solution to hiring:

If you are not willing to promote the women you have within your business to Senior Management, and other companies aren’t as well, then this Diversity drive is just a fad. You want to hire ‘already made’ women. Women whose former companies at one time or the other took a risk on them. Well, truth is, that pool will gradually dry up if nobody seriously considers how it fills up in the first place.

[..] let’s not only think about hiring more women at higher levels (Feel that rhyme?) let’s think more critically about improving the pipeline. [..] let us also closely monitor how the women who are already in our organisation progress through the ranks. This would mean ruthlessly identifying our biases and dealing with them head on. via “Are We Coming at Diversity All Wrong?




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