Sexism in tech


October 10 2017

By now I assume you’ve not just heard about the Google memo, but that you’ve discussed it, dissected it, and seen your fair share of not just hot takes but hot takes of hot takes. Overreaction, proper reaction and under reaction were plentiful. The bottom line is that the gender biology pseudo science is obvious red pill trash. My mother suffered mental and physical domestic abuse. She raised two children on her own: The first was a shit head early and often, the other grew into being a shithead later. She survived raising the two of us as a career real estate agent. She owned a beautiful home, a beautiful car, and we always had presents come Christmas morning. Warm and delicious meals were always served on time and she was always there for us. Nearly 10 million families share a similar experience. Woman can’t deal with high stress situations? Fuck you pal. Sexism and racism in tech exists (here, here, here and here). The statistics are galling.

One in ten women have received unwanted sexual attention and one in four people of color have experienced stereotyping.
Those are just the reported statistics. Unreported incidents make those numbers even worse. To pile on, these statistics are rough at best because we currently lack a reliable way to track these incidences. Representation of women and people of color in tech is abysmal. I came into the tech world out of self preservation from a relaxed outdoor industry. I do not have a CS degree. I am not an engineer. I am not even journalist (they make good coders). I have a fine arts degree. Specifically an industrial design degree. I made a career change and applied creative problem solving skills to user experience. The similarities and overlap allowed for a natural transition. My first encounter with techies was the day I interviewed at my company. The woman at reception was kind but something was off about her (I couldn’t quite put my finger on it). The second woman I met was pleasant but cold. Without any small talk or the ability to present myself my managers second comment bluntly pointed out the horrible grammar in my portfolio. On my first day, getting engineers to say hello was like pulling teeth. I met two bowl haircuts. Two! I was invited to play dungeons and dragons. I’ve never played dungeons and dragons. There were extreme introverts and extreme extroverts with no inbetweens. One guy wouldn’t shut up and stop smiling. The other was mute. The first party I was invited to socially, was a lightening talk. We snapped instead of clapped. If you asked the guy who owns the place, he’d tell you he’s quirky. If you asked me and everyone else, they’d say he’s on the spectrum. He’s built a successful company over 30 years and navigated through the tech industry brilliantly. My favorite coworker was a moody, animated, and gifted but wild pain in the ass. Much later, I asked my manager if this was common in CS. He stared at me wide eyed and replied ‘Is water wet?’ This pattern continued after I moved on from ICS. Walking in the first day, at my new office, was like entering the Tri Lambda house. There was a guy who carried around a personal fan and picked at his teeth every few moments and went back to typing. I can still hear the smacking of his lips on his fingers as he picked away, in an open office nonetheless. It was vile. One colleague, who I’ll ask to edit this blog post shortly, is a wonderful guy. He’s smart, talented and hilarious. He’ll tell you he’s quirky. I’ll agree, vigorously. Hoodie and open toe sandals in the winter. Hoodie and open toe sandals in the summer. He knows nothing of the sportsball and everything of the showtunes. He’s unabashedly contrarian. He’ll change positions if the winds blow too strongly in one direction because he isn’t a joiner. He can be a pain in the ass but I’m better for knowing him and proud to call him a close friend. When I look to my left, there’s a woman wearing socks with sandals running pop, lock & drop it dance routines. When I look to my right, I see 30 X-Men bobbleheads. I have more examples but I think you get the picture. Techies are weird and difficult to understand. This experience is shared among my finance friends who transitioned into tech sales. Among sexism, women and people of color, cite isolationism as the reason why they leave the industry. I’ve experienced the isolationism, but I’m lucky that I’m personable and chameleon like in my ability to adapt to surroundings. I could have left and written them off as weird, mean or ignorant. It required patience and understanding. I get their humor. I appreciate their personality quirks. I accept of their disabilities. I’m aware of their insecurities. I understand why people can misconstrue their behavior as antisocial and their intentions as racist or sexist. Depression, psychological afflictions, and poor social skillsets are serious problems in tech. As great as some of these people were, on occasion they made me feel dumb and out of place. In time they’ve come to understand me and how I perceived them. Sexism and racism are rampant, but those shouldn’t be the only reasons why we interpret techies as toxic. It’s easy to misinterpret intention. It’s hard to imagine the race and gender gap is entirely due to sexism or racism. I’m fortunate to say, neither company I worked for had these problems. The guy who picked his teeth, he yelled at a female project manager for something benign. It was uncomfortable. But he wasn’t being sexist, he was being rude because he lacked the social skills to understand it in the moment.