Women in Tech
I’m not a person who generally talks about the “women in tech” issue. I’ve always said it’s never affected me personally. I feel awful when I see bad things happen to women in our industry, but have never felt the need to get involved in the conversation.
I think I was confused about what the issue is. I’m at AltConf this week (which - to their credit - have been incredibly welcoming to women and vocal about the inclusive nature of the event), and Brianna Wu got up on stage today to give a talk called “Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech.” The room was packed. She gave a lot of concrete advice on things men should be doing differently. You should watch it. But what really struck me was the conversation that happened with the audience after the talk. As soon as Brianna finished, a man raised his hand and said (I’m paraphrasing, but this is all true):
"This was a really aggressive way to approach this issue. You gave us a lot of stick and not a lot of carrot. Why do you have to attack us and make us feel like bad people? Why not phrase it positively and constructively - like, our businesses are at a disadvantage because we’re missing out on female candidates? I think people would respond a lot better if you did. I’m not saying this from a place of privilege or anything."
It illustrated her point so perfectly that I wondered for a second if he was a plant in the audience. First of all, hello tone argument. Secondly, he did it. He did exactly what every man does when they hear a woman talk about these issues. He made it about himself. He chastised her for “being negative.” He got defensive. He separated himself from the issue by saying that he’s not sexist or privileged; he’s just a normal nice guy trying to help her out. (For the record: he did actually seem like a nice guy trying to help. I don’t at all mean to imply he’s a bad guy or not supportive of women in tech.)
Part of Brianna’s talk was about how it’s not enough to be a nice guy. (This echoed a lot of the concepts in Mike Lee’s incredible talk, as well.) In fact, that mentality is part of the problem. It keeps you from changing anything. It prevents you from taking accountability. We get it; none of you do this on purpose; you still do it. You really need to acknowledge that you are doing it and stop doing it, instead of relying on us to get used to it.
So, for the first time, I got really, really angry. I felt personally offended. I finally saw the thing other women have been experiencing. I realized I am one of them.
Brianna kicked off her talk by saying that no women like talking about this issue. Female developers want to talk about, you know, development. And some of them have gone so far as to say they no longer want to be responsible for speaking to this issue; they just want to get back to what matters to them. But we have to talk about this issue. We have to talk about it until it stops being an issue. That’s going to take all of us (all of us women, and a lot of you men).
So let’s talk about this. I don’t think of myself as a victim of sexism in tech. I’ve always had respectful coworkers, and I’ve been lucky enough to always feel safe at work. But this conversation happened to me last night at AltBeardBash (which was, otherwise, a lovely party):
Guy: “Hey, we’re thinking a lot about how to make WWDC and AltConf more appealing to women. Do you think it would help if we offered childcare?”
Me: “Oh, I think it’s great that you guys are making that a priority, but I don’t think it’s that easy. It goes so much deeper than that. You guys should do some outreach to schools; you should have more female speakers; you should make sure female developers feel welcome and important here-“
Guy: “Oh, I wasn’t serious. I just wanted an excuse to come talk to you.”
And you know what? Last night, I brushed this off as a drunk guy attempting to make conversation - I didn’t take it personally - but let’s be honest. I didn’t like that someone talking to me in the context of the conference wasn’t interested in my ideas, or my thoughts on diversity in tech, or even what I do for a living. I was one of a handful of token girls at that event and that’s all he saw. And that is (unintentional) sexism in tech. And those moments add up to - I think mostly unconsciously - why some women don’t want to be in this industry. And it’s a terrible feeling to realize that I’ve been helping this happen by not saying anything. By not even realizing these kinds of interactions were anything but normal.
Brianna talked about how sexism in tech isn’t the Mad Men world that men picture when they think of that word. Men (and women!) don’t notice sexism is happening because they don’t see men groping women, or kicking them out of meetings, or saying outright derogatory slurs, or the other bullshit they see in clearly misogynistic fiction. But it’s there. It’s sometimes subtle, and often unintentional, but it’s constant, and it’s really, really not okay. I no longer want to be a person who says it is okay.
So I want to start talking about this. I want to join Brianna and so many other amazing smart women in fixing this. I don’t want to have to worry about men hitting on me at tech conferences.* I don’t want to have to wonder if I’ll be able to get a job in 10 years, when my greatest perceived asset is not being young or pretty. I don’t want to be interrupted by men every time I talk. I don’t want men to keep making stupid insulting jokes and telling me that I’m the problem if I don’t think they’re funny. I don’t want people to gossip that I got a promotion by flirting. I want my hypothetical future daughter to join a work force that is 50% female, and that is totally happy to make her the boss.
I encourage you all to watch Brianna’s talk, pick up a book, follow some tech women on twitter, include them in your events and your conversations, and think about how you personally can help. Speak up if you see something happen. I know we can do this.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’d like to continue this conversation and talk about what we can do to work on this together (particularly in NYC), feel free to email me.
*EDIT: A (male) friend of mine read this and asked if it’s ever ok to hit on women at tech conferences. I hope this doesn’t come off as a diatribe against flirting at conference-related parties. To be clear, my issue was with the insulting (and, frankly, ironic) nature of the conversation: the implication that diversity in tech is a joke, that I don’t have any important opinions to share, etc. I certainly don’t think I can prevent people from falling in love at tech conferences. Everyone here is great! I hope some people do fall in love! Why not!
EDIT #2: For the record, a representative from AltConf reached out to me after reading this post to apologize for that conversation happening. I didn’t really need an apology, but it was a really nice gesture. They are super serious about including women and have zero tolerance for these kinds of situations. Which is great.
I, too, have been a “just doing my own thing, getting shit done” woman in tech. I haven’t thought much about it, but I have been the recipient of many awkward unwanted come-ons. It sucks SO MUCH to reject a decent guy, but it sucks EVEN MORE to realize he’s totally not interested in what I do or have to say after I tell him I’m not looking for a romantic thing.
I’m realizing that rather than deal with that suckiness, I avoid tech networking events and I don’t invite male clients or colleagues out for drinks. I hadn’t considered the impact on my career or even on my friendships until now. I’ve known so many brilliant, amazing guys that I wish I’d gotten to know better but was too afraid they’d get the wrong idea. How sad. :(
The only way to really change this is for both men and women to make sexual desires a lower priority than making a new friend. For men and women not to approach each other because things might get sexy, but because they genuinely want to trade thoughts and ideas, to respect each other as equals, not objects for the satisfaction of a need.
Yeah. That’ll happen.
I did the sorting ceremony at Pottermore and got Ravenclaw. :D
"I’d always looked enviously at the people who earned more than I did; now, for the first time, I was embarrassed for them, and for me. I made in a single year more than my mom made her whole life. I knew that wasn’t fair; that wasn’t right. Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners. What had seemed normal now seemed deeply distorted."
GIF animation: Emma Jane Webb
Another unfortunately timed ad, this time during Bring It On.
"Gray strings represent all the states that New York sent more than 10,000 people to in 2012. The thickest band runs to Florida; click on it and you’ll see that 53,009 New Yorkers headed for the Sunshine State and are perhaps appearing in Florida Man’s Twitter feed this very instant. Conversely, 27,392 Floridians moved to New York and might now be experiencing the joy of $14.50 packs of cigarettes."
"Happy Halloween! As you can see, same costume as last year: middle-aged lesbian pundit in a jacket that was bought for less than twenty dollars at the mall in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Trick or treat."
Rachel Maddow, obviously.
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny at the Paley Center in NYC.
The beginning of the best weekend ever.