Women’s stories from the tech trenches – and how *YOU* can help!

(Warning: this is post is LONG!)

I gave a talk with this exact title at Ignite the Tour in Sydney, on 14th February 2019. It was a 15 minute lightning talk, and I barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to get through – but something is certainly better than nothing!

When I gave this talk, I did do a disclaimer about profanity…I don’t really believe I need to do that here because, if you’re on my blog, you should already know what my profanity level is like!

So I feel that this topic can be controversial and might have some people with their defences up, but I promise that I’m not going to get angry at you, dear reader – after all, you’re here to learn what you can do to make things better, so you’re all awesome in my book.

Now, I can only speak as a women in tech. I am not a person of colour, I am in a monogamous heterosexual relationship and while I do have several unseen medical conditions, none of them could be considered a disability nor do they affect my work. So I cannot speak for POC, LGBTIQ+ or those with a disability.​ While their experiences may be similar, I cannot speak for them.

In this post there will also be talk of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. These are VERY personal stories. So this is a bit of a trigger warning – if you are not in the right headspace to read this, I completely understand.

Women’s stories


https://twitter.com/girlgerms/status/1007338988309319680​

Back in June 2018, I wrote a long detailed tweet thread and ended with the tweet you can see – which started a whole new thread!​ The original thread was related to a post on Reddit which unfortunately was taken down due to the flood of comments saying it was all in that persons head.

Because of this, I honestly wanted to know what women in tech had experienced so I could compare against what I myself had experienced – I wanted to see if, as many men had suggested, it was just in our heads or if this truly was a widespread issue.​

So I put the call out…and woah.​ Women spoke up. They spoke up, they told their stories.

To view these images in full, please click on them so they are easier to read!

When breaking these horrendous stories down further, the following seem to be the over-arching themes of the stories I heard:

  • Degrading behaviour, including interrupting & ignoring​
  • Condescending behaviour, including talking down to and patronisation
  • Outdated views of women and family life​
  • Misogynistic behaviour, dictating how women should act, behave or dress​Women dragging down other women (tall poppy syndrome)​
  • Sexually inappropriate & harassing behaviour, including sexual assault & rape​

​How *YOU* can help

​ So now I’ve shown you what IS happening and what has been happening right under your noses, we now need to focus on fixing this. On getting past it and making changes. Because we can talk about these issues all we like, but until we actually CHANGE something, all we’re doing is going around in circles complaining.

So I’m giving you a few concrete ways that you, as fellow IT professionals and managers and parents, can help fix these issues. These are not definitive – my talk was only for 15 minutes, so there wasn’t enough time to go through everything. I feel I should let you know that I am giving a 30 minute talk at CrikeyCon so I’ll be able to add in any extra expansions into this once I’ve finished that!

Start Young

Want to change things? Teach kids how to be awesome human beings.​

We need to teach our kids that there are no such things as “boy” jobs or “girl jobs”. That our kids can do and be whatever they choose to be. If your darling baby boy wants to be a ballerina? Brilliant! Do it! Does your sweet-as-pie baby girl want to be a mathmatician? Awesome! Do it!

This also applies to language as well – we don’t want to be calling boys who like to play with dolls “sissys”. Girls who play sports aren’t “tomboys”. They’re just kids.

The other thing we need to teach early is respect for themselves and for others. Teach them that their bodies are their own. That no means no and to treat others with respect. It’s the whole “Do unto others” shenanigans.

Women – HELP EACHOTHER!

I truly cannot say this enough – women, we need to HELP EACHOTHER! We are not competitors in some awful race to the top. There is room in our organisations for more than one woman in the IT department. You don’t need to be a bitch to get ahead. You don’t need to pretend to be “one of the guys” if that’s not your thing.

Be yourself. Be authentic. Be a friend, a mentor, a helping hand to other women in this industry. We are far far stronger together than we are divided and fighting amonst eachother.

Related to this, I highly recommend going and watching the latest Pixar short: “Purl” It is truly amazing and it demonstrates both sides of this issues – what happens when women change themselves to become “of the guys” vs. what happens when women are unapologetically themselves.

Respect

This shouldn’t be hard – respect the women in your life. Whether that be in tech, at home, in a social setting, where ever. If you don’t respect women, then reading this post is a giant waste of your time.​

Respect comes down to how you are as a person – is your wife or partner equal to you at home? Do you do a fair share of the housework? Do you share your part of the mental load.

How do you treat the women in your life – your wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, daughters. The women you interact with daily – the women you see on your way to work, your colleagues, the women you interact with when buying your groceries, your fuel, your morning coffee.​

For those who are in a position to create change in your business, this is where parental leave comes in. It is no longer maternity leave and shouldn’t be. Men should be able to take time off to be the sole carer of their children as well. Speaking from experience, having my husband home when our tiny human was born has given him a far greater appreciation of what happens on a regular day when I’m at home with her by myself!​

Understanding privilege​

Understanding privilege – and recognising your own. Yes, privilege is a buzzword these days, but it’s something we need to recognise in ourselves. ​

​Privilege is defined as “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.​”

​While individual experiences are important, we have to look at privilege in terms of systems and social patterns and groups – we’re looking at the rule here, not the exceptions. ​

​I myself have the privilege of being white, coming from a middle-class family in a western country. These privileges afford me things that others may not have who do not have my background.​

​Be aware of your own privilege – the societal groups you fit into and what privileges they afford you. This can include your race, your sexual preference, your income bracket, where you live and, of course, your gender. From this, work on how you, being in a privileged position, can help others who aren’t.​

ACTIVELY Listen​

Listen when women and other minorities explain that something bothers them​

Follow women in tech to see what they have to say and listen to their perspectives​

Listening is CRITICALLY important. You need to listen…and I mean ACTIVELY listen. We need you to hear us. To understand us. To not judge, to not start trying to *fix* the issue straight away, because most of the time that, unfortuantely and frustratingly, involves asking us to do something or change something.​

If we tell you that something is bothering us, that something is a problem, listen. Pay attention. Don’t just brush it aside. Don’t assume that it’s just someone whinging. Chances are, if a woman in tech is complaining about something, she has already weighed up the pros and cons of complaining, of making herself a target, of putting herself out there and possibly dealing with the repurcussions, ramifications and retaliation.

If you’re on social media, follow the women in your field. Speak to them, engage with them, get a feel for their perspectives. How do you expect to get better if you’re not listening to half the population?!​

​Be Inclusive

Buzzword? Sure. But it’s a good one. And I’m all for it. We want to include as many people as we possibly can – the more people, the better we can all be!​

Think of others when organising events – maybe you have non-drinkers in your team, so a team lunch at the pub isn’t the best idea. Maybe you have someone who has a disability and would have trouble with team building events that involve sports or physical activity.

Look at your team as a whole and think of EVERYONE when making these kinds of decisions. The more included people feel, the more likely they are to participate and integrate into your team.

I also know that sometimes we fall into the trap of using the language that comes easy to us.​

Calling a group of women on a floor “the girls”. When responding to people or saying hello to a bunch of people, using “Hey guys!”. We need to be more conscious of our language – and that includes everyone, even me. I’m just as guilty as anyone else for using the “hey guys” as a catch-all for everyone. I am also hyper-sensitive to being called a “girl”. I’m not a girl. I haven’t been a girl for a very long time. You don’t hear me referring to men in tech as “boys”!​

Be aware of your audience, especially at work – we, as women, don’t want to hear ​sexist jokes. I don’t even need to go into detail. Just don’t do it.

Review your hiring practices

This is one of the more interesting ways to help – a study carried out by HP revealed that men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas a woman will only apply if she meets 100%.

So we need to change the way we hire and recruit – and I know recruiters are guilty of what we call “wishlists”…a list of every known qualification and skill in the industry. That right there will put women off applying! Only lists the desired skills you *ACTUALLY* need. And women? Be brave! Step up! Go for that role, even if you don’t have all the skills – the worst that can happen is you don’t get it.​

Watch your buzzwords. Women are notoriously bad at recognising their own value, so saying that you’re looking for a “rockstar” or “guru” will not get women to apply. Pay attention to the perks you’re offering – and make sure they’re desirable to all of the applicants you’re hoping to attract.

For interview panels – include women on the panel. There is nothing more uncomfortable for me, as a woman, to go into an interview and have a panel of 5 men and be the only woman in the room.​ And men? If you’re in an interview and a woman is on the panel, don’t automatically assume that she’s HR and isn’t technical. I’ve personally had that happen and I can tell you that they went straight into the “no” pile.

Be wary of unconscious bias – if possible, make applications anonymous when reviewing! This works not just for gender, but also for racial stereotyping.

Related to this, if you have women on your team, don’t fall into the trap of gender norms and trying to push specific tasks on them. We are not your secretary, unless that is our job title. We are not there to organise the social gatherings, take minutes at meetings and be the general “mum”. That is not our job – that is YOUR job as a manager.

Give credit

The number of times I’ve been in meetings and a female colleague says something (or worse, it’s been me saying it) and not a single person pays attention. Cut to a few days/weeks later, a man says the same thing, and suddenly it’s a BRILLIANT idea.​ I cannot tell you how frustrated that makes us. It’s as if we’re invisible.

So give women the credit they deserve – and give them to ability to speak up! If you heard a great idea from a fabulous female colleague and you want to see it progress, make sure to give her the credit she deserves for having the idea instead of taking credit for it yourself.​

Give women the opportunity to have their say in meetings. And please – try not to interrupt others! I know I’m guilty of this myself!​

Call out bad behaviour

We need you to help call out bad behaviour. We need you to stand up, for us and with us, to say “This is not okay!” – because we can’t do it on our own.​

Many women, especially those who have told me their stories anonymously, haven’t been able to stand up for themselves out of fear of retaliation or retribution. We all know of instances of women who have lost their jobs over going to HR or making a complaint, of women who are scared to report these issues. I’ve experienced retaliation before, while the person that I was complaining about had nothing happen to them.​

We need allies to stand with us, to say to our colleagues, our managers, our HR that this is not okay. That it’s not fair for the target to be on the woman who made the complaint, that we do not accept victim blaming.​

Don’t be a creep

I usually use another phrase for this, but let’s just say that trying to find a meme for “Don’t be a dick!” was somewhat difficult. So let’s just stick with don’t be a creep.​

My favourite line about this comes from comedian Anne Clark:​

“Men – treat all women like you would treat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson​”

​Don’t hit on us in work situations. Don’t try to touch us inappropriately. Don’t ogle us. We’re not magical unicorns, despite what you might think – there are so very many of us, and we don’t want to have to leave this amazing industry.​

​In other words – DON’T BE A CREEP!​

​We don’t want to be telling the stories that we’ve told. We don’t want to be afraid to go to conferences. We don’t want to have to book accommodation based on the best street lighting and how close it is to an event so we’re less likely to be followed. We don’t want to have to give out fake phone numbers for fear of getting weird calls or dick pics. We don’t want to have to change jobs to get away from harassers, attackers and rapists.​

​We’re just like you. We love tech. We want to be here to work, to learn, to engage, to be awesome.​

Links

Other than the direct links I’ve put in this post, the following are just a few links to news articles, blog posts, socila media content that I used to put this together, as well as my original talk. I’ve added in a few extras that are certainly of interest to this topic:

I wanted to end this by saying thank you for reading. Thank you for taking time out of your day to go through this, read it, absorb it, click on some links and read further – understand what’s happened, what’s happening and how we can make this industry even more amazing.

I really want to encourage discussion on this, to get people talking and to help change these stories into positive ones – so feel free to have a chat to me: in real life, via email, via Twitter, via LinkedIn, via Reddit, or even leave a comment!

1 thought on “Women’s stories from the tech trenches – and how *YOU* can help!

  1. Shayne

    I went to this presentation at Sydney Ignite and it was great, i’m sad that it was only for 15 minutes, something like this needs a lot more attention than it gets. I also wanted to ask a question, but I ran out of time at Ignite, so I will ask here instead. 🙂

    We are a team of ~ 40 IT staff. Something that I have been aware of for a while is we have a singular female in our team of 40, and naturally we would like to have more as there is absolutely no reason why it needs to be male dominated. So it was recently brought up, for us in our helpdesk team which we about to go recruiting for a position, was to instead apply for 2 trainees and apply for an exemption in our recruiting so we ensure we only hire 2 female trainees, both to bolster our team, and to try encourage more females to enter into IT.

    But are doing the exact same thing, just in the opposite direction I suppose? By limiting the pool to females only, are we still discriminating against them in a way? I am in two mindsets about this and I would love to be able to give our team some more feedback on this.

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply

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