Not a Fun Realization

There was a twitter conversation about a woman who mentioned that her 14 year old daughter– the only female member of the computer club, left the club because of the way she was treated. There was a comment that maybe that was a good thing, because unemployment for people with CS degrees is 9%. Not where I am– which is Nor Cal.  Here, driving distance to SF and Silicon Valley, the tech sector is hot. I know because I get emails from recruiters every single day, and I get calls a lot. I said, “You KNOW they’re desperate when they’re calling the girl.”

I also said that most of the guys in tech are not assholes, but no one is doing anything about the ones who are, and the environment that creates for women in the field is really, really, not worth it.

And I realized, my son looks to be headed toward tech as a career. But tonight I asked myself, what if it was one of my nieces, or what if I had a daughter who was techie-inclined.

The answer depresses me. I would want to find a way to discourage her. I would want to sit her down and say, just don’t do it. Stay the hell away from a job in the tech sector because it’s still a field where some asshole can put a slide of dicks– erect male penises– in his presentation to a room full of geeks that includes women, and when the women say, dude, that is not right, they’re told, publicly, loudly, that they should STFU and why don’t you have a sense of humor?

It’s still a field where a presentation about how your software idea for an app to rate hot chicks actually gets approved for presentation to a room full of young tech-hopefuls. Including young women.

It’s a field where a woman at a tech conference is sexually assaulted by a male colleague and all the men she thought were her professional friends either say nothing in her support or actually tell her it was was her fault. That black-eye doesn’t mean anything.

So, no. If I’d known what kind of bullshit I would have to put up with from a minority of asshole men while the majority of non-assholes don’t do a goddamned thing to change that culture, while I’m just supposed to shut up and quit causing trouble? I wouldn’t do it.

And I wouldn’t want my daughter or my nieces to either.

Explain to me why that’s not a fucking tragedy and a drain on the economy, to be just fine with keeping talent out.



9 Responses to “Not a Fun Realization”

  1. And it was ever thus: In order for evil to triumph, all that’s needed is for good people to do nothing.

    If tech were my daughter’s passion, I might help her start her own company… this doesn’t bring the industry around, but it might keep her self-image a little safer and it would protect her passion. No daughter of mine should have to choose between her passion and her self-respect.

    • Grace, you are right. Encouraging her to start her own company would be a great idea. I’d tell her, spend a year or two in the trenches, make regular visits to HR if you have to, and learn as much as you can from your brilliant colleagues. And then get out.

  2. Sunita says:

    When I was in college & grad school (same time as you, more or less), I was discouraged by people from studying various things. So were my smart female friends. We studied them anyway. She went to Harvard for her Ph.D. (where she was part of a group of women who were sexually harassed), I stayed at U Chicago partly for reasons that had to do with concerns about harassment & intimidation. My first academic position was at Columbia, where I quickly learned not to stand in the secretarial area or the male undergrads asked me to take messages for the male faculty. I was regularly propositioned & sexually approached when I was doing field work during grad school and after (so in the 1980s, 1990s), until I hit my mid-40s & became uninteresting to them. And I’m in the social sciences (not a women-dominated one, but still plenty of women).

    We shouldn’t be seeing this in any line of work anymore, I guess is my point. But we do. The solution, in my opinion, isn’t to tell girls/women not to go into those fields, but to prepare them for what they might face & make sure they’re ready for it. If they’re not, then they should think about going into another field, because it takes a lot of effort to fight this stuff even when you’re strong and sure you want to be doing what you’re doing.

    We can also remind the non-neanderthal men that silence implies consent for this kind of revolting behavior. Most of the men in my field are not misogynistic assholes, quite the reverse, but it’s sometimes hard for them to act. Reminding them to do so has helped & there is less overall frat-bro behavior afterward. It also isolates the fratbro jerks and imposes a higher cost on them for continuing.

    • Being the kind of person I am, I doubt I could have been talked out of the decisions that led to me working in tech. From what I see, many young women believe it’s not like that anymore. It is, of course, and we do need men to step and let the assholes know it’s not OK.

      I once went to a babyshower where I was the only woman who wasn’t a Phd working in a lab, and every single one of them talked about the BS they put up with from some men and how their work and ideas had been sabotaged or stolen, and it was shocking to me that they thought they’d just been unlucky. They didn’t see it as a systemic pernicious problem that was happening to them because of their gender.

      We were all in our late twenties, I think, but I’d been in the corporate world where it was even worse.

      I guess I’m just feeling more discouraged than usual.

      • Sunita says:

        I can understand that. TheH and I were talking about misogyny the other night at dinner, as one does, and he was basically saying the same thing. We fought this fucking fight, so hard, decades ago. It’s so awful to feel as if everything we went through did not improve things for the next generation.

        That said, at least in the social sciences we knew it was misogyny, and when I see it now, even relatively less consequential fratbro behavior, I can point it out to my male colleague and they get it immediately. That is definitely an improvement.

  3. Carolyn,
    I worked for a tech firm for 10 years (I think we even talked about SANs on twitter once), but none of the things you mentioned happened where I worked. I was in marketing, so I’m unsure if that makes a difference. Of course there were 300K employees worldwide, so I can’t say it never happened. I did, however, encounter a few asshats who tried to tell me how to do my job, but most of the guys I worked with were really great. I still keep in touch with them on Facebook.

    • I’ve never worked in marketing at any company so I can’t speak to that experience. What I have done, and do today, is work in tech, on the front line, as a production and development DBA and data architect. The people I work with are network engineers, programmers, and software architects. The majority of them are great people who are extremely good at their jobs. But there are men who aren’t. If there is a data or database problem, they must work with me. It is often my job to call them out on poor programming that compromises the data and/or the database.

      Most of the time it’s not a problem. I say, dude, the answer to your problem with a foreign key violation is NOT removing the foreign key, it’s rewriting your code so it’s doesn’t attempt to insert bad data. There is no possible answer to that except “You are right.” But there are men who cannot tolerate hearing that from a woman. I once had to say that in a con call of several programmers — there was dead silence. But then one of the guys skyped me to say, “I can’t believe you even have to say that.” So, in this case, I think the silence was embarrassment. But, even though the guy who skyped me is awesome and wicked, wicked smart, what he did not do was say that on the call. Probably because he did not want to embarrass the guy who thought that was an acceptable solution to his poor programming problem.

      The thing about production databases is it’s a high-profile, high risk environment. If I, as the DBA, make a mistake, that mistake can bring the company’s business to a halt. Most of the time, people only care that you’re good at your job, and you’re protecting them from stupid mistakes. But after a few years, the assholes wear you down and a lot of men just don’t experience that push back. They just don’t know. So I have the stress that all production DBAs have PLUS the stress of dealing with sexist assholes.

  4. DawnD says:

    Joining this really late, unfortunately.

    Hmmm – should you discourage her. I. don’t. know. Sit her down, tell her the truth, and send her forth. It is changing, but nowhere near fast enough. I work in high tech. Product marketing. Sort of an interesting bridge between tech and marketing. We had a major re-org about 18 months ago. In that time, we have lost every single high level female exec. At a recent “all hands” where the new management team was introduced to the company (global, multi-billion revenue, 20k employees), there were no women on stage, and one minority. During Q&A, a co-worker, of whom I am very proud, stood up and asked, “where are the women?”

    All of that in the context of having had the author of “Lean In” to speak about how “we” support women in the work force, about how proud “we” are of our record of promoting women (we’ve reached 27% of women in management!). Have I been harassed here? No (other places have had issues though), but there are clearly systemic issues. Gigantic ones.

    So, send your son out there to support all of the other nieces and daughters he meets. This is equally important. Please don’t think it’s not.

    I’m going to try and keep kicking a** on my side. Lord knows there’s a lot still to do.

    • Thanks, Dawn.

      I appreciate your comment, and boy, that must have been so discouraging to see all the women gone. ::sigh::

      At my current job, the owner happens to be African-American, and he doesn’t seem to have any trouble finding talented, even gifted, non-white people and women to work at his company.

      Makes you wonder. Not. He’s looking because he knows exactly what minorities are up against. And the white guys are not.