Ranty pants engaged – Sexism in tech: Deepdive

[WARNING, WARNING – DANGER <INSERT NAME HERE>: This is going to be a very stream-of-consciousness rant and is going to be a mixture of my ranty-pants being firmly engaged in regards to this issue and expanding on some of the points I made in a particular Reddit post]

So, not long ago, I posted a link to TableFlip.Club to a tech subreddit, /r/sysadmin, because I truly did think it was relevant and I honestly believe that a number of people in that particular subreddit were unaware of the issue, were unaware that the problem existed in their workplaces and chosen career paths.

Not unsurprisingly, I received a fair bit of negative feedback regarding it (the downvote tally is probably you’re largest indicator here). It was seen as me trying to provoke an outburst (which it wasn’t) and I was labelled an ‘SJW’ (something I’ve never actually been called before and something I honestly don’t label myself as). The words misandry and feminist were thrown around a lot and there was even chest beating from some to have my post taken down by the moderators of /r/sysadmin (Warning – if you are a woman in IT/STEM, I’d highly recommend not reading all the way through either of these threads, as they will make you want to pull your hair out in frustration).

I’ve taken some time to walk away from this issue and reflect a bit, but also to *try* (emphasis there on “try”) and take a fair chunk of the emotion out of it – because is an issue I’m somewhat passionate about.

If you’re not a woman in IT, I guarantee you that you don’t quite understand why those of us who are so vocal about this keep trying to get you to listen. It’s because most men in IT really don’t see the problem. It’s not that you don’t realise there’s a problem – when it’s raised with you, you’ll probably nod and think that it’s something that does happen. Just not where you work. Or the communities you’re in.

But it does.

When I posted to Reddit, I didn’t do it to be annoying, or to start a flame-war, or to poke the hornets nest. I did it because in system administration, like many other IT areas, this is actually a problem. It’s something I’ve personally witnessed, something I’ve personally experienced.

I work for a government department, in an IT operations role. IT operations here comprises of about 100 people. Of those 100 people, there would be perhaps 10 women. TEN. We’re talking 10% of the operational staff are women. And that’s a GOOD representation. That’s considered a milestone, something to be proud of.

One reply to the Reddit thread (from a moderator of the subreddit, no less) really managed to get under my skin and make me respond – because it was so blatantly wrong, so against everything that I (as a woman in IT) fight for, it needed to be called out.

I was called a misandrist – something I am definitely not. I’m a twin and I’ve grown up with a twin brother, I’ve been shown by my parents and family and friends that I am every bit as equal as my brother is. Because I am. I don’t think I’m better. I don’t think I’m more worthy. I don’t want to burn my bras and stamp down “the patriarchy”. I just want to be treated equally, on my skills, expertise and experience – without my gender coming into play. I don’t think that makes me a misandrist. I don’t think that makes any woman a misandrist.

“Every person’s experience is unique, and as you may painfully come to realize, reaching past a certain plateau requires less technical expertise and more political acumen; fewer technical chops, and stronger interpersonal relationships. Those relationships are not formed between men of influence and women that attempt to socially and professionally emasculate said men of influence and power.”

That’s a direct quote from this user – and I find it so utterly depressing that men truly think that women standing up for themselves is considered to be “emasculating”. I don’t think that’s what we’re doing. We’re standing up for ourselves, we’re putting our ideas forward, we’re asking to be listened to – and what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong in having people – ALL people – be able to have their ideas and opinions heard? Have their words shown to MATTER? Absolutely nothing.

I do agree that there are some women who complain about this and do nothing about it – I’m not one of them. I put my money where my mouth is and I say something. I’ve already said something before and I’ll continue to do so. But the issue is that those of us who speak up are the ones who are singled out. I can attest to that. Instead of the person who was blatantly and outright sexist towards me being taken aside and politely told that what he did was wrong, I was told in a meeting that calling it out the way I did (even without naming names) was something I shouldn’t have done. I was even asked if the blog post could be taken down.

I steadfastly refused – I would rather remove all traces of where I work than take down that post. Which is exactly what I did.

I’ve been told that I come across as bossy, strong-willed, demanding, strident, opinionated, dominating & (my personal favourite) aggressive. Yet these same traits, when used to describe a man, are totally different and conjure totally different visions. This is incredibly unfair on those of us who are just trying to keep our head above the water and be noticed for the hard work and effort we put in. Of course I’m aggressive and opinionated – I need to be just to get my views and opinions across!

“…the reality is that most men in technology are inherently suspicious of women in our industry; especially when our collective experiences have been to be at the receiving end of ridicule and low social status for being nerds and geeks (while building our expertise and investing in ourselves).”

Another perfect quote from this moderator, one that really makes me want to set things on fire (sorry, Iain!). Are you telling me that only MALE geeks suffered because of their “low social status” for being a geek or a nerd? Let me tell you, high school for me was no walk in the park. I wasn’t part of the “popular group”, I wasn’t one of the “cool kids”. I was in exactly the same situation – difference being, I was a girl. So saying that this is a reason to be suspicious of women? Seriously, pull the other one.

I’ve been in IT a while now (10+ years) and I was lucky enough to have a female as my first manager – which made being a woman in IT that much easier. She was always supportive, very encouraging and assisted me in cementing some of the views I hold today. (If you’re reading – Hi Donna!) Being in a team that already had a female in it also made things easier – the guys I worked with didn’t really view me that differently (well…not really, even if they did inadvertently give me my nickname). None of these guys felt suspicious or threatened by me. They didn’t view me as this weird creature to be scared of.

In fact, in the past 10 years, I have met maybe a handful of people who’ve fit this criteria…and most of those people have only been scared or suspicious of me because I was a threat to them. And truthfully – the fact that you feel threatened by me isn’t something I can control. That says more about your own insecurities and personal issues than it does about me.

Another thing that gets thrown around a lot in these arguments is the idea of a meritocracy. That’s all when and good, provided you’re all being measured on the same scale. This has been proven, time and again, not to be the case. Read the study – even with the exact same resume, the male still gets the job over the female. You cannot tell me that this bias isn’t a problem, isn’t an issue, isn’t a stumbling block for those women in IT who are trying to make their mark. It means that it makes it that much tougher for those of us in this industry trying to succeed.

I do agree that women and men are different – I agree we may think slightly differently, have different ways of approaching problems, have different views and opinions, have different priorities, have different outlooks on life in general. But if my skill set is the same as that of someone else, no matter the gender, we should be treated equally when it comes to the workplace. Our opinions and ideas should have the same weight, regardless of our gender. Being “different” in the way we approach things, in the way we think, doesn’t mean that we’re not equal as human beings.

As mentioned in one of the Reddit posts, it’s true that the equality movement in STEM will fail, unless we have assistance from men who are willing to stand up and say “This is wrong. This should not be happening. We need to stop this.” And that has happened – I know of many men who are supporters of women in STEM, and I’ve certainly worked and personally know many men within the community who are helping to stop this kind of sexism, discrimination and unconscious bias.

In the Reddit post, it was claimed that the men of /r/sysadmin shouldn’t be concerned with my post – they were asked (and I quote) “Are you men really so weak and insecure that you can’t simply dismiss a woman’s emotions and move on with your life?“. This in itself is something that needs to be called out – because a woman stating an opinion, a woman standing up for her beliefs, is seen as just being “emotional”. Well, yes. We can be. But this can be an emotional issue.

It’s emotional to be put down, simply because of your gender. It’s emotional to be disregarded for a position or a promotion because of something you have no control over. It’s emotional to be belittled and disregarded because you’re not male. It’s no wonder that women can get emotional about this issue. But that emotion comes from a place of passion – because the women who are trying to fight this are passionate about what they do and they want to fight for their place in this community.

What it boils down to is – We’re just after the same rights: to be treated the same, to be scored the same, to be paid the same, to be regarded and respected the same. Is that really too much to ask?

5 thoughts on “Ranty pants engaged – Sexism in tech: Deepdive

  1. Gambo

    Another great post Jess.It’s frustrating to see this happen, mostly because of people’s own insecurity. As far as I’m concerned, experience and knowledge is what counts. Don’t care if your male,female,transgender or whatever, it’s your skills and knowledge I’m interested in. We both know someone who was forced into leaving a company because of sexism, and to be honest we are worse off for her not working here.
    Pull your heads in guys, women in tech have just as much to offer as you, and in some cases even more. How do I know? Because some of the best people in tech I know are women. 9 times out of 10 I will talk to them first, because they know their shit!

  2. Sonia

    Sing it, sister! But not in a provoking, kill all the men way. 🙂
    Truly the best way for women to be recognised as equals in IT is men start pulling other men into line for unacceptable behaviour. It’s cultural. It can’t come from management or a policy. And when women complain, it’s not as powerful as another guy saying to his colleague ‘that’s not on’.

    1. JB

      Yup, agree. We have to police our teams and that goes for both genders. If anyone has an unprofessional attitude they should be brought to book by their colleagues before anything else. I also love how blokes who do stand up to stop this crap are also labeled ‘White Knights’ and the same narrow minded thinking from the hecklers transfer whatever hangups they have onto the guys too (but not as ‘heavily’). Just on a side note, guys who are agressive, demanding etc. arent always seen positively either, a few places I’ve worked those types are just as excluded by management because of the bad blood they foster.
      Keep on keeping on! Great post.

  3. skyalin

    “I do agree that women and men are different – I agree we may think slightly differently, have different ways of approaching problems, have different views and opinions, have different priorities, have different outlooks on life in general.”

    Study after study has proven that diverse teams perform far, far better, directly because of this fact. You’re really lucky to have had a female role model; still looking for one myself!


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