Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Hard Out There For a Techie With Two X Chromosomes

Computer Scrap
Photo credit: Investing in Gold
So the latest sexism in the tech industry kerfuffle has me thinking. Reminiscing, if you will about my days as a techie. If you didn't click that link, the short version is that Adria Richards overheard some guys making lewd jokes about dongles during a talk about programs to increase women's involvement in technology. Since this was in violation of the conference's code of conduct, she tweeted pictures of the offenders, asking the organizers to enforce their own rules. In the fallout, one of these guys has been fired, Richards has received rape and death threats and has been fired herself. 

If you read the comments to that Jezebel article, you'll see people accusing her of eavesdropping. 

Looks like someone skipped sexual harassment training. Because if they'd been in that day, they would've noticed that people are not expected to stick their fingers in their ears and sing "la, la, la," all day to drown out whatever crap you happen to be spewing within earshot. Not creating a hostile workplace means that I'm not allowed to come into the office and regale anyone with tales of my sexual exploits or gynecologist appointments. Because chances are someone doesn't want to hear it. The same goes for keeping your dongle jokes limited to snickers about the word "dongle." 

And not creating a hostile workplace means not treating your female co-workers as sex objects.

Such as:

Once upon a time, I worked for a manager who couldn't look me in the eye for more than three seconds without looking at my chest. While discussing work. In front of other people. As the only woman on the team, I didn't really have anyone I could ask if I was imagining it. Was my necklace that eye-catching? I was young, newly promoted and disinclined to raise a stink. Though I did casually mention in front of his boss that he was having me do his work for him (project plans, etc.).

At that same manager's goodbye lunch, he mentioned how he needed to paint his house (he was relocating and selling the house). Some of the guys half-seriously offered to help. They joked, "A. will go anywhere there's strippers," (There were several men at that company who went to a strip club at lunch). The manager turned to me and asked what I was doing that weekend, implying that I could help out by stripping instead of painting. I shouted, "Excuse you!" and got a big laugh. WTF else was I supposed to do? The guy was leaving.

At a different company, I was felt up during a goodbye hug from a co-worker on our last day. Our corporate overlords were shutting our office down, so I guess he figured he had nothing to lose. I could've made a stink, but I was so shocked that at first I thought it was an accident and I didn't want to embarrass him. Later, I realized that cupping does not happen by accident.

While being introduced to my new co-workers at one company, one guy looked me right in the chest. On the bright side, I was introduced to a lot of people that day, and only one guy did that.

While coming into the office one day, a delivery guy (being escorted by a security guard) turned to me and said, "Nice fucking rack." I was already in the elevator on the way up to my floor before what he said fully registered. My first thought was to have a quick cry in the ladies room and move on. Then I decided that was bullshit. I spent the morning on the phone tracking down who this guy was, what company he worked for and what his boss' email address was. And I let this guy's boss know what had happened and cc'd my company's head of HR, who took it from there. The delivery guy was put on a different route so I'd never have to see him again.

While I was making all those calls, one female co-worker commented that at least he was complimentary. I pointed out that this was an office building, not a bar. I mused to another female co-worker that maybe I'd misheard - the Iraq war was still in full swing then and maybe he'd said "I-fucking-raq". She rolled her eyes, and assured me that I wasn't an idiot and hadn't misheard.

I spent thirteen years working in technology, first as a tech writer, then as a systems analyst. Sometimes it was great, and sometimes it sucked for reasons that have nothing to do with sexism. We can't avoid corporate dysfunction. But we can stop acting like tech companies are He Man Woman Haters Clubs.

It's a computer. It doesn't care if you wear a suit. It doesn't care how well you mingle and schmooze with management. It doesn't care what you look like. It doesn't care if your genitalia is an innie or an outie. It doesn't care if you've been working since the days of punch cards or if you grew up with a silver smartphone in your mouth. It doesn't even care how good you are at World of Warcraft. All it cares about is that you get it right.

Because of this, technology should be the most egalitarian industry there is. And yet...

And dudes? The rest of us stopped snickering over the word "dongle" fifteen years ago. Are you still forwarding emails about the Good Times virus and the frankenchicken too?


  1. Yeah, it's times like these when I feel ashamed to be a nerd. Come on, guys! You're supposed to be higher up on the evolutionary scale than Neanderthals...

  2. You rock. Thank you for being awesome and sharing your personal stories of how harassment happens so that the sensitivities are better understood around the issue.


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