Women in Tech Have Huge Balls
Why women work twice as hard to succeed in the tech industry, and what we can do to address gender-bias and discrimination at work.
Lyndsey Scott is an actress, model, and app developer credited for challenging stereotypes about models and computer programmers, as well as inspiring young women to code.
You’d think people could just take that at face-value, but on one Instagram post celebrating her capabilities, she had to defend her credentials to misogynistic trolls commenting that she must only know how to program “Hello World.”
I wish that instances such as these were rare, but I know from experience that they aren’t. On one recent date, when I mentioned what I do for a living, I was asked if I just work on graphics and colors. Thinking that person might have just been uninformed and didn’t know the difference? You’re wrong. He was a sysadmin at a consulting firm with a degree in computer science.
During a department restructuring at a previous job, I was moved onto a team with five men – four of whom had never worked with me. I was consistently introduced to them as a designer by my new manager, even though my title had both the words “Engineer,” and “Developer,” and after I’d repeatedly corrected him during a prior meeting. Why do women constantly have to defend their credentials and capabilities where men are almost never challenged in this way?
Women must constantly prove themselves to employers
When I made the decision, at 18, to join the sparse ranks of women working in tech, I don’t know if I really understood what that would mean. At 31, I’ve learned that being a woman in tech means constantly having to prove that my balls are just as big, if not bigger, than those of my male counterparts.
Do I always feel this way? Pretty much. Do I always encounter these feelings at work? Thankfully, no. I’m fortunate, today, that I work in a place where I feel that my gender has no bearing on how I’m treated or the respect that I’m given. It’s definitely been an uphill battle getting to this point, though.
“Looking forward to the day when women in tech don’t have to go above and beyond to prove themselves.”Lyndsey Scott, Application Developer, Actress, and Victoria’s Secret Model
Sexism doesn’t always run rampant throughout an entire organization. Sometimes it’s just one team. In the example I spoke of earlier, I had previously been on a team where I was respected and my opinion was highly sought after. When I was placed on the new team, I was repeatedly overlooked as a designer with no technical capabilities. To be clear, my role at this company was as both a UI/UX Designer and an Engineer, pulling double-duty. For the first few months on this new team, I was completely left out of engineering meetings regarding the new product we were creating. Deference was given by my boss to a male developer ten years my junior who would act as a liaison between me and the rest of the group.
At first, I chalked this all up as a misunderstanding. It took a male developer from my old team to convince me to call a spade a spade. How could my boss misunderstand my credentials when he knew my title, presumably spoke to my old manager during the transition, and had my resume? What I was experiencing was blatant sexism.
Before I had the chance to speak up about my mistreatment, the overall project (which my team was responsible for building only a small part of) ran into some bumps, and I was called on by senior management – people who knew what I was capable of due to past accomplishments – to help completely redo the requirements and overall strategy. No one was confused about my position on the team after that.
Women work twice as hard for the same respect afforded to their male peers
Going back to the size of my metaphorical balls… I learned pretty fast that if I wanted to be respected, I had to work longer hours, volunteer for more work, learn twice as fast, speak twice as loudly and as often, and even make grosser jokes just to be able to “roll with the big boys.” I had to do all of this while still managing to play dumb, so as not to offend any egos. It’s a delicate balance that I struggle to explain in words, yet somehow most women that I encounter understand what I mean.
Women struggle with being taken seriously at work for a variety of reasons and are conditioned to work twice as hard to overcome these reasons, as opposed to challenging the discrimination they experience. One of these reasons could be the stigma that exists, or the preconception, that a female hire will go on maternity leave when she starts having a family – whether or not she plans to have children in her future. Men are capable of going on paternity leave, yet are less expected to do so, and are thus given more opportunities at work – whether that means being assigned to more visible projects, or being promoted.
Women are leaving tech jobs at a rate 24% higher than men, and a study of 4,000 women found that the prevalent reason for this is because a lack of advancement opportunity – not because of the desire to start a family, or a better work/life balance.
Another major reason why women are leaving tech at a rate of 41%: toxic workplace environments, where women experience not only sexual harassment and gender-discrimination, but over-sexualized cultures fraught with obscene jokes, strip club lunches, and even orgies.
I’ve had the displeasure of working with teams that find camaraderie the same as high schoolers in a locker room. These types of teams settle into this mode which is perfect for keeping the outsiders out. Some may say that this fosters competition in a “survival of the fittest” sort of way. I’d argue that this setup keeps many smart people out before they start, and that is a terrible problem.Bradley DeLoatche, CTO of Snappy Kraken
What’s the solution?
Lyndsey Scott suggests that the path to fixing gender-discrimination and sexism at work, and bridging the gender-gap in STEM, must start with men. “Male programmers outnumber female programmers by about 5 to 1, so I think they have to take the lead in holding each other accountable,” she said to BuzzFeed recently.
Asked what men can do to support their female counterparts struggling to be heard in the workplace, one software developer and self-proclaimed “Recovering Toxic Male,” gave this advice:
I think a big and kind of subtle one (and thus hard to kill) is around interruption. So firstly, if you’re a dude, do not interrupt your female colleagues when they are talking.
Second, if you see a dude interrupt a female colleague, gently but firmly insist that she gets to finish what she was saying. Wording is important… not “Let her finish;” not “I want to hear what she has to say.” She has a right to be heard without a male coworker having to validate that.
I interrupt everyone, so this is very hard for me. It’s horribly invalidating and rude to do to anyone, but I think it’s particularly harmful to do to someone who already has to fight tooth and nail to be heard in the first place, half the time…
The most obvious change any male feminist can make is to himself. Own your own bullshit, cut it out, and unwaveringly hold yourself to any standard you’d hold someone else to. It absolutely can be hard to spot in a system that is designed, from the ground up, to never make white dudes feel uncomfortable.Jaybill McCarthy, Software Developer and Recovering Toxic Male
McCarthy brings up an important point: the pervasive and institutionalized nature of gender discrimination in the tech industry.
The gender-gap in the tech industry has only been widening since 1991, where women took up 36% of computing jobs in the United States. Today, women hold only 25% of computing jobs across the country, and 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies. This disparity is what puts men in a position of power over the livelihoods of women. “The asymmetry of power is ripe for abuse,” Melinda Gates told The New Yorker last year.
So how do we begin to bridge the gender-gap so that power-dynamics can be more balanced? I asked Robert Sofia, CEO of Snappy Kraken, his opinion on what steps companies can do to support women striving for success in their fields:
…Business leaders only exacerbate inequalities by trying to hire people that fit a certain profile so they can promote diversity. “We don’t have enough [insert type here] at our company so let’s hire more of them” doesn’t solve anything. It just encourages hiring people who may not be most qualified for the role simply because they fit a certain profile.
When you focus on hiring whomever is most qualified… When you offer opportunities to whomever who is most likely to capitalize on them… When you stop caring whether someone is male, female, trans, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Christian, or whatever they happen to be… When all you see is a human being and you treat all human beings the same, then equality comes naturally. It’s not something you have to force.Robert Sofia, CEO of Snappy Kraken
I am inclined to agree that hiring based on fitting a certain diversity profile is not the way. Such misguided hiring practices only set women up for failure if they are unable to fulfill the responsibilities of a role, thus strengthening the opinion of some men that women as a whole are not cut out to work in STEM. Women want to be judged by the merit of their capabilities and not by their gender, so it must work both ways. We don’t want to be hired because we’re women – we want to be hired because we’re qualified for the job.
Many hiring managers argue that there simply aren’t many female candidates applying to their positions. One theory on why this may be the case is that women are being alienated from jobs during recruitment. If I had a nickel for every job ad I’ve read that uses the words “rockstar,” or “ninja,” I’d be rich. Language like this is implicitly gendered and promotes the sort of toxic “brogrammer” culture that turn many qualified women away before a conversation can even be had. There’s also a surprisingly low amount of job ads I’ve read that talk about parental-leave policies, pumping rooms, or child-care benefits. While not all women plan to have children, a company that offers these types of benefits shows that they have a culture that is welcoming to women.
Fostering and portraying a workplace culture that is inclusive and supportive of all marginalized groups is one key to hiring and retaining diverse talent, and starts from the top. For an industry that is historically male-dominated, maybe the other key is what the tech industry does best: