This is a response to a piece I read the
other day several months back that I had a lot to say that a simple Social Media share was not adequate to express the level of feelings and thoughts that I have on this topic.
If you haven’t already done so, please check out Sandi MacPherson’s “I don’t know how to be a woman in tech”. Which is here.
Okay done? Welcome back. This is a topic that, even as she identifies that’s been getting a lot of thought space with recent news. As companies such as Google, VMware and smaller companies are disclosing their numbers of women in technical jobs within their companies. It’s great really to see that these companies are now willing to give people a peek about their numbers and also as a way to have conversations about how we can improve diversity. However, there’s also another side, it’s about how we are trying to have these conversations and how the media is trying to start them.
Everytime someone talks about this topic, the articles go a few familiar paths. We get Woman A who gets quoted in the article with her struggles being a woman in a very male dominated field. How she has been harassed, how she felt being the only girl asking where the ladies room was, etc. Then they zero in on how she grew up, as if putting these events under a microscope are going to provide an “AH, HA!” moment and finally reveal the perfect recipe to get women into STEM careers. If there is more than one woman we focus on, it’s now Woman B’s turn. Woman B either has to be very agreeable to the set of circumstances laid out or disagree entirely and say it’s not all women who live through this treatment. If she agrees, the comments fill with how one sided this all is with these women and their negative experiences. If she disagrees, the comments are now all about why she couldn’t support her fellow woman and how downright awful she is for dismissing other women for simply saying it doesn’t happen to her. There rarely is any middle grown, or other voices heard throughout the article. There’s some statistics sprinkled in for good measure. Then both groups of women are asked about what needs to be changed. I mean they suffered through all of this to be in the field, so clearly they now know what goes through the mind of every woman out there… Right? Yet, no thoughtful conversation is started from these. Our media acts like they moved mountains, but nothing has changed.
Is it because these women just failed and “didn’t know how to be a woman in tech”? Nope. Is it because the media was out to get all the women? Nope. It’s because it’s a complex issue that doesn’t have an easy button to address and it’s an issue that doesn’t exist for just women or just for the tech industry. We could probably be having a very similar conversation about male nurses, women welders, and any other field suffering diversity issues. And it also doesn’t just apply to gender but race too.
Sandi MacPherson feels useless because everytime one of these pieces comes out, it seems to focus in on these women as if they have the road map or insight to fix everything. If we’re always the one looked at, how else are we supposed to feel? I’m sure as women in the field we can share our experiences but all of it is anecdotal and as such there’s only so much to be gained from it.
You know how you fix this? Not knowing how to be a woman in tech.. Scribble that one word out there and become a person in tech. Because we as tech industry are a team. If we want to be a more diverse team then it will take management, recruitment, educational professionals, companies, employees, and consumers all together to make change. Men and Women, techs and non-techs. We need to be better human beings to one another first and foremost and use this to solve the rest of the issues. We need to listen to men and women both and talk more about it. We need to have tech events not cost more than what a college student pays for a credit hour at school so we can hear more of what people have to say. But most importantly none of these things should be the express burden of any woman in the field because it’s not our fault and not what we study. We are amazing technology professionals, let us be good at that. Let HR, psychology, and any other professional involved with identifying trends in industries the ability to study the issue and provide solutions based on their collective expertise.
Women should want to encourage other women to be there. And doing this does not always mean women have to give priority to other women. We should want to invest in startups, but we should never HAVE to just because it’s a woman lead startup. Putting these feelings of inadequacy on women for not doing X to fix this problem isn’t making the tech industry more innovative or more diverse. It will however start to make women feel inadequate, which is creates another problem while failing to resolve the original.
Let’s start making the field awesome regardless of gender while also helping fix the diversity issues. So, regardless of who you are, you want to work for a tech company because it gives your heart joy to walk into work each day. That’s a good starting place and then diversity becomes easier to make possible if everyone’s beating down the doors to work on these jobs.
Sandi MacPherson is a woman in tech, but she’s also a person. I’m glad she’s a fellow lady in the field, but I’m happier she’s another passionate person in the industry who loves what she’s doing. Lets worry about that and worry less about what eggshells we should walk on to fix a diversity issue that we did not cause. We just decided we liked doing this for a living, went to school for it, and worked entry level positions which ate our social lives to get to where we are now. Diversity can be addressed if we start to make women more comfortable in the industry instead of being the center for these discussions.