Last Monday in Seattle I ran logistics for a monthly meetup. I secured the speaker, arranged the room, and secured us food. I wanted to make it an awesome event because I’ve enjoyed working with the technology in question and have even given a few talks on the subject. We had a lot of interest from the Seattle community, the speaker gave a fantastic presentation, and answered a bunch of great questions at the end. Good conversations were had.
Towards the end of the event, my colleague +Amy Unruh, myself (who both work as engineers within Developer Relations), and the organizer stood just outside the event space doors. An attendee wanders our way and asks Amy and me if we “even understood what went on in there”, gesturing at the speaker. He then went on to ask if “we even had a background in ‘this stuff’” and making statements like “women don’t like to ask questions when they don’t understand the basics”. He was told that we could probably code him under a table, to which he laughed derisively and said “I highly doubt it”. Amy and I (but mostly Amy; I was too furious) told him that his behavior was insulting and unacceptable, and that he would not be asking the same of the male attendees.
Creative Commons image courtesy of Kurt Löwenstein Education Center (International Team)
Simply put, this is a common occurrence. It happens at nearly every meetup we attend or at which we speak. We are assumed to be non-technical, non-coding staff. This is not my only story; just my most recent. It’s not even the worst that I’ve experienced. Many have stories that involve other forms of harassment, assault, and/or gaslighting. Battling incidents like the one above is considered by many to be the cost of doing business as a women in technology.
Think of your experiences in the broader developer community. Have you ever had someone come up, unprompted, and question you, your credentials, your passions, and your identity? Has someone ever told you that your gender makes you less capable of understanding what is going on?
This happens to your colleagues and the developers in your community on a regular basis. Ignorance of the problem perpetuates the problem. Those of us working in technology are all a part of the broad tech community and are therefore responsible for the culture in it. Failure to correct behaviors like recounted above perpetuates that behavior.
I reference this tweet constantly:
If you’re a guy and say, none of the women I know in tech have experienced harassment, it’s because they don’t trust you enough to tell you.
— Glenn Fleishman (@GlennF) March 16, 2014
What’s the effect of this toxic culture?
I’m glad you asked. Among others…
- It undermines our effectiveness in our jobs. We have to spend far more time establishing credibility than our counterparts who don’t have to deal with this sort of behavior.
- Speaking out has an insane amount of associated risk. Will there be retaliation against us? Will it hurt our present or future employment? Will we be labeled in a damaging way?
- We leave. You lose good colleagues. Tech loses good people.
What can I do?
Educate yourself. Listen. Speak up.
Ashe Dryden wrote an excellent comprehensive guide to codes of conduct, which I highly recommend that you read. I’d follow that up with the guide that Geek Feminism’s guide to responding to reports of harassment. Additionally, here are some other resources and reading that myself and/or trusted allies have found useful for further education:
- The Ping Pong Theory of Tech Sexism
- Ride like a girl
- Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is
- Timeline of geek feminism
- Resources for allies
Please add your own pointers in the comments!