Maybe its time for women in tech to get angry

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in women in tech | Tagged , | 1 Comment

This post is stuck in my head. I won’t be able to work on my program that launches TOMORROW (SO MUCH TO DO!) until I can get this post written and out of my head.

Last night I saw a tweet advertising a podcast that pondered if social media would be the great equalizer for women in tech. The author has since changed the advertising angle, and I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast (see the first line of this post). When I read that tweet, I felt like I was punched in the gut. I know the podcasters, I know the incredible tech woman they had on as a guest.

Seriously – social media as the great tech equalizer? Look, the root cause of women not being in tech is not the womynz. I personally have moved away from “doing” social media as my job because it kept dragging me further from product, and thus tech. I still use social – as a tool (see my last post – social media is bullshit). I mentor folks that do social as their job, I encourage the product people I work with to use social to develop better relationships with our customers. The sweet spot in my career has always been where communicating and building communities intersects with the technology.

The punch in the gut I felt from reading that one tweet – and then the anger I felt when I tried to decide if I should say anything – is what turns women from tech. If you haven’t read @shanley’s post Things I Never, Ever Want to Hear Again, you should go read it. The first thing on the list is why are you so angry? When I read things like I read last night, it does make me angry. I think the anger is with myself – why do I feel like I can’t speak up? Is it because I’m afraid it won’t matter? Why do I feel that speaking up won’t make things better? Maybe because that’s how our tech society is. If you are passionate woman, speak with conviction, and challenge the status quo, you are an angry crazy woman. Hell, maybe what tech needs are for the angry women to finally make their voices heard.

And let me be clear, I’m not angry at an individual. Except maybe myself for wussing out and not speaking my mind right away. I’m mad a situation where someone can say something that comes across as sexist, that I can realize 100000% they didn’t mean it that way, but it doesn’t feel as if there is a way to point that out and have a positive conversation. So it just sits there, another off-hand remark that reinforces the status quo. No one calls it out. And if I do I’m the angry bitter old lady.

I’m mad as hell at the environment in which I must exist to work in my chosen field.

There is also this article on ValleyWag: This is why there aren’t enough women in tech. The article quotes many technical women giving testimony about the way they have been treated ┬áin our industry. It made me think about what happened to me in college, then an experience I had at work yesterday.

I went to college on a displaced homemaker’s grant. The idea was, get single moms some training and a 2-year degree, and they can find jobs and everyone wins. Even though they tried to talk me out of it, I got an EET degree (basically first 2 years of EE, with a focus on being a tech vs a designer). I was the only woman in all my classes, there was only one other woman in the program. During one lecture about putting together boards, the professor told us that women are best for this job because they have small delicate fingers. Well, if you know me, you know I don’t. Never have, even 20 years ago when I was skinny. And I’ve never been known for my gracefulness :).

I also had the second best grades in our class – I was in constant competition with the guy who had the best grades. He really challenged my brain, it was awesome. When the professor made this comment about where women belong, I raised my hand and (after pointing out my not-so-small-or-delicate-fingers) asked don’t designers make more money? Why are you trying to talk me out of doing something that where I’d do a better job and make more money? This was back in the day when I didn’t realize you had to filter those sorts of comments. To his credit, he apologized. The guys in my class all agreed with me as well, so that was encouraging! I later taught that professor HTML (after I taught myself – this was back in the 90s). I was lucky – and also hadn’t been conditioned yet not to speak out when something was wrong, or when I felt angry. I was also lucky I was dealing with guys separating from the military who honestly did appreciate merit vs gender.

That was almost 20 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. My latest encounter with this sort of thing happened yesterday. I’m a product marketing manager, and I was in a scoping call with our devs and my product manager. We were asking questions about a new proposal, and something was said that just wouldn’t work with how the product is designed. I brought this up, and one of the devs used my own words to mansplain my own product to me – except he didn’t get the tech right! Luckily I could IM with my PM and laugh about it, but that same feeling was there. What if my PM was like the mansplaining dev? I would feel frustrated because I raised an issue on technical merit at the time those issues are supposed to be raised (a scoping meeting).

While you would think the joy of “I told y’all! I knew I was right” would be satisfying if the devs didn’t listen an implemented an troublesome feature, you would be wrong! My job is to make our customers happy, and I’d be stuck dealing with unhappy customers, when I tried to raise awareness that there was an issue in the scoping phase. Fortunately I work with an awesome team, and have an awesome boss, so I don’t have to deal with the frustration of being ignored when I’m right about a tech solution. But I *have* been in those situations. There is never a feeling of satisfaction in being right, when you told them in the beginning something wouldn’t work, and then you are the one that has to clean up their mess.

So, no…social media is not the great equalizer for women in tech. Women in tech exist – we always have, from the very beginning. Maybe the great equalizer is women getting over the fear of dealing publicly with the anger that is a direct result of the way we are treated as a class in our tech society. And men accepting that changing the status quo may mean realizing the part they’ve played in reinforcing (even unwittingly) an environment that is hostile to women.

I’m convinced that if and when we – women AND men – work through this anger, we’ll have more women in tech.

One Response to Maybe its time for women in tech to get angry

  1. Pingback: G's view of the world | Why is everyone so scared to be angry?

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