Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sexism and Women in Technology

There seems to be a lot of discussion on the Internet about women in technology. More specifically the troubles they have with. The Girls in IT–Infographic and Report from NCWIT I wrote about talks about the shortage of women and girls in information technology. A couple of recent articles give some clues about why that shortage of girls in the field may be.

Women I know in industry say that things are better then they once were but that there is still a lot of sexism in information technology roles. It drives me crazy.

I hear/read men saying that women are just not good at computing but that is opposite of my experience. I remember back in the middle ages when I was a college student the women had a curfew and had to be back in their dorms by 11 PM. Men had no restriction and often pulled all-nighters to get code done. In spite of spending less (often a lot less) time on projects the women in my classes never seemed to miss deadlines. Not a sign of “less ability” to me.

I’ve worked with professional developers for many years and the women I worked with all managed to be just as good or better than the men. AND they had a life outside of work which is more than some of the so-called “rock star” male developers didn’t seem to have time for. That’s not data but I have seen some data that strongly suggests that men often over estimate their abilities and women often under estimate their abilities.

So what brings on the aggressive sexism we all too often see, especially on the Internet? I don’t know for sure but I wonder if some of it is fear. Are some men intimidated by the way women work? Are they afraid that people will expect them to change the way they work and ask them to work smart rather than hard and long? At some level do some of these men realize that they don’t compare well to women? Not that they’d admit it to others of course. That would be a bit much for them.

What ever the problem is with these guys the rest of us need to speak out about the issue. We need to avoid laughing as the “jokes”, tolerating the snide comments, and reject actions that make women uncomfortable or unwanted. We don’t need to tell women to “toughen up” or “let it slide.” We need to tell other men to grow up.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should work in the industry for a while before making judgements. I have only met one sexist developer in my 5 years in the field.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'm a female developer and had to leave a job before because even after a letter explaining he needed to desist, my coworker continued with sexual behaviour towards me. I guess that is more sexual harassment, but I've experienced sexism too... some idiots seem to think I can't code and only got my job for my body. What a world we live in where people are so oblivious to reality - can you insecure? lol

Anonymous said...

can you say insecure* (It's early here still sorry lol)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should work in the industry for a while before making judgements. I have only met one sexist developer in my 5 years in the field.

From the "About Me" sidebar
Before teaching, Alfred was a software developer for 18 years.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that women are parasitical - its not enough to be allowed to join the group, but their mere presence demands strong controls over how men are allowed to behave and communicate. All of a sudden innocent acts are demonised and men are persecuted for making benign comments or jokes. A happy workplace becomes a strident, humourless and unforgiving place. Men become fearful of how they act in the presence of women, and women become hyper aware of their status as a "token female" and falsley perceive an aura of hostility and exclusion that they react against, often in ways that simply compound the problem.

The point is if women want to work alongside men they need to toughen up and play by the same rules as men, which means not complaining all the time and expecting someone else to rush in and solve their problems. And stop being victims for gods sake.

Alfred Thompson said...

I notice that so far all the comments are anonymous so far. If I had only been working in the industry for 5 years I'd probably be afraid to put my name to comments as well. 27 years working for computer/software companies in my resume. I've seen more sexism than I can write about.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1 here again.

Yes, I am fearful of communicating experiences in regards to volatile subjects like these in case there is a backlash later and it costs me a job.

Perhaps the difference in our experiences has something to do with the changing culture and attitudes contained therein. I can easily imagine how 25 years ago the workplace would have been much more sexist.

The more common concerns in the workplace in this day and age, in my opinion, are those of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. I have seen people openly joke at the expense of a homosexual co-worker, for example. They did not intend to be mean-spirited but the poor guy confided in me on a night out that it was getting him down. Sexist jokes on that level just wouldn't fly. I have also witnessed co-workers claiming that they did not believe that bisexuals exist.

If you think that women have it bad, consider that these groups are marginalised in the way that women were several decades ago. Transgender individuals suffer the worst of it - and not just in the workplace.

I don't intend to brush your concerns about sexism in IT aside but to provide some perspective.

JohnRyan said...

Thanks, Alfred! We need more of this in every industry, and especially tech. It's shameful that folks still don't see the problem or try to throw out red herrings to stop or divert the conversation. Unfortunately, just talking about sexism and the obvious injustices that happen to women daily causes some of the worst folks to show up and smear their stupidity where ever they can get it to stick.

Alfred Thompson said...

An other take worth looking at https://medium.com/thoughts-on-society/a1345b36b91b

Calyth said...

I remember in 3rd year, Networking I class, I made a crack about a female student asking the question "What's hexadecimal".

I regret now that when I made the crack, I brought gender into it. Because at the core, my beef is that a 3rd year CS student shouldn't have problems understanding what's hexadecimal.

Frankly, if it was a guy I think I probably can't hold back and burst out laughing out loud in the classroom.

It turns out that she turns out to be an excellent student, runs the Women in Computing club, and a very capable person.

Our expectations and our jabs at one another needs to be done when everyone understand that it's just a jab, and everyone will get over it. If I did burst out laughing at a guy for that question (or a girl), I'm basically bullying. I hope that I'm now a little wiser on when and how to poke a little fun at people...

Anonymous said...

Question - where is the escalator for men in what are traditionally female-dominated fields like childcare? Why are men seen as dangerous rapists there and why does nobody seem to care?

eplybon said...

I'm usually a lurker, but I just have to make a comment on this one. First, thank you for the post, Alfred - I really appreciate when fellow educators "get it".

Second, one anonymous commenter said "The problem is that women are parasitical" and "The point is if women want to work alongside men they need to toughen up and play by the same rules as men". I'd just like to point out that he, while making a post he thought meant that women need to make a change in the workplace, actually demonstrated the real issues involved here in those two small pieces of his comment, which also demonstrated his own prejudices and derogatory view of women, theoretically including his mother.

Who made men the deciding factor on what is acceptable/unacceptable in the workplace? Can't we all just get along?

Anonymous said...

I worked in telecommunications for many years up to 2010. I often overheard the men gossiping about every female developer in the place. It was very ugly and reeked of insecurity.

I worked on one team and went to a client function with two of the guys on my team. One of them got drunk, and in front of the clients blurted out how he thought I was hot and sexy. It was a shock to me and wasn't mutual or encouraged in any way. I always dressed conservatively in high necked shapeless shirts because I didn't want guys talking to my chest. I was tough about it and didn't take it any further but I felt embarrassed and undermined.

At all levels there was discrimination but it was silent and subtle. The females were excellent developers but they got paid less because they didn't brag so much. And they were railroaded into testing and support jobs at every opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 35 year old post doc in physics with 3 kids and I feel like a lone wolf survivor. In college, I did my problem sets by myself while the guys worked in packs. I had my kids as a PhD student and wrote a good thesis. As a post doc, I independently designed and built an experiment which a larger group took over as it was on the verge of success. I got marginalized for the first year after their takeover but after they screwed up so many times, wasting time and money, I got to come in and fix it. I got credit in some circles, but not in others. The experience served to show me how critical (gender) politics are in building a career. I am now absolutely certain that the misogyny of the young men who were given authority over me (their elder) and the misogyny of the manager who gave them that authority should be criminal. A woman early in her career can't see the insidious structures which are holding her back. She only hears rumors about them from her mother. When she sees them face to face, it is enough to make her want to quit and run for the hills. By then, the uphill battle seems pointless.

Anonymous said...

I want to go into computer programming so badly but am scared to because of the sexism I've heard about so much.

I tell myself all of the time that I should just gut up and do it. After all I love programming why should I let my fears stop me?

But the truth is I am a victim of sexual abuse. I represent roughly 1 in 4 women in America who have experienced such atrocities.

If you ask why your jokes aren't being taken innocently? It's at least partially because to far too many women those jokes echo a reality in our past. A reality of violence and abuse and of being treated like sexual objects.

Should you have to change your behavior because of someone else's past? No. A person's past and their response to it is their own responsibility. I just want people to know the effect they may be having on others that they haven't considered.