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Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Featured, Society | 13 comments

#1ReasonWhy Women Avoid The Sexist Tech Industry

[Updated Wed]
On Tuesday a Twitter hashtag — #1ReasonWhy — spread like maple syrup in the hot sun: runny, sticky and far-reaching.

The catalyst, an innocent-sounding Monday morning tweet:

Folks, mostly women, responded to Luke’s question and by the afternoon, the hashtag had emerged. Then the longer, personal posts. Then paid media bloggers amplified the story, which touched a nerve with many. Here’s one of my posts on Facebook:

I think this story tapped into my weariness with the tech field and what feels like its extremely protracted adolescence. I did not/have not faced the raw hostility evident in the women’s stories I’ve read associated with #1ReasonWhy. Maybe that’s why this one got under my skin. Or maybe I’m simply tired of women still needing to claw their way to respect, in general.


1reasonwhyI was a late comer to feminism.

I was (am) a tomboy. My first career goal, at about age 5, was to be a mechanic like my daddy. My second, at about age 10, was to be the first woman jockey (after my momma took me to the Kentucky Derby). I joined the Eagle scouts the first year that they allowed girls. The only girly thing I did in high school was become a cheerleader my senior year. (I was trying to figure out how to be popular – but that wasn’t enough.)

I have worked (and studied) in male-dominated fields and industries most of my life. All that means is that I have a propensity to like topics that have a male label. And I was fortunate to have a mother who told me almost every day that I lived at home that I could do anything, anything, that I set my mind to.

Nevertheless (or as a result), I spent my early 20s in the narrative spun by Ayn Rand, one of “merit” winning over … whatever the alternative was. I ignored sexual innuendo, drank my Scotch (what real journalists drink, I was told in all seriousness at age 17) with the best of ’em.

The narrative that I internalized, and that I saw a lot of today on Twitter and Facebook, is that if a woman is just hard-assed enough and strong enough and good enough (which means N times better than the guys) … then it “all works out.” Whatever “it” is.

I decided a while back that I was deluding myself. I’m not alone.

My Storify documents how the meme played out, is playing out. But how is it going to end? Where are we in the “backlash” cycle and how many of these will it take before merit truly is the deciding factor in employment, career success?

[Edited Wed 10.30 am; “today” replaced with Tuesday and contents re-ordered.]

[Updated Wed 12.15 pm; the Storify now includes an excellent analysis from The Guardian and a list of #1ReasonMentors]

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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • roro80

    Loved this article, Kathy. Thanks for writing it.

    #1reasonwhy sounds difficult — I could list 10 reasons why there aren’t more women in tech in just a few minutes, as I’m sure you could as well.

  • ShannonLeee

    Video game or in IT?

    careful how you label people.

    My first job out of college was in IT, as a computer programmer. My boss was a woman, her boss was a woman, and so it went all the way to the CIO…who was also a woman. Half of the middle management in the IT department were women.

    and this was in Kansas!

  • roro80

    Be careful of using your own experience as common, Shannon. Here’s some stats:

    Sounds like you were quite lucky, in any case.

    Women in video games industries are also very uncommon. I’m in high-tech, where women in technical roles are scarce. Heavy industry — same story. Pure math or science — yep, still very few women, generally becoming less common the higher up you get. Academia, all forms of engineering, math, science, IT, gaming, public, private, manufacturing jobs, repair, geek culture in general…it doesn’t really matter how you define “tech”, women are still gravely under-represented.

  • Thanks, roro80 — and I agree with your assessment that ShannonLeee was lucky. I’ve been in all sorts of “tech” and have had three women managers: once when I was writing documentation (no real surprise here) and once when I was at a consulting firm (again, no big surprise). The surprise -> at Boeing on a not-on-any-org-chart-exactly skunk works type team. She wasn’t techie at all, but she was a damn good manager in a company where female managers of any sort (even traditional pinkish areas like HR or communications) were rare. All three were exceptionally skilled at negotiating with other managers for resources and for shielding the team from the choppy waters outside our bubble.

    Programmers, DB administrators, game designers? Here in tech-heavy Seattle, almost all male in my experience. Not all male. Just almost. Ditto traditional “IT” management.

    Like I said, I’ve been lucky not to experience the blatant hostility shared by women using this hashtag.

  • roro80

    Absolutely, Kathy. I’ve had 3 technical positions in my 7-year career, 1 in a group that actively sought out women, and 2 which did not. In the one that did, the group was roughly 35% women. In those that did not, I was/am literally the only woman in each of those groups. In school, I was one of 10% in my major, so it’s not all that surprising, I suppose, that there aren’t more of us in the workplace.

    Most of the sexism I’ve encountered was not really “blatant” (with a couple exceptions in school), but more soft bigotry. Low expectations, lots of man-splaining, being treated with kid-gloves, being left out of decisions I clearly should be part of, being hit on, being ignored where a man would not, etc.

    Funny, one thing I think is interesting is to look at women who ARE in technical fields and ask them about themselves. Almost to a one, at least among those I’ve talked to, they have a father who is in a technical field AND they have no brothers — nowhere for dad to funnel all that math and science and hands-on learning except to his girls. I’m certainly in that category, and while my own dad would hold up a woman’s ability to be every bit as bright and successful in technical fields as men, I am in no way convinced that that would have been the case before my sister and me existed.

  • ShannonLeee

    Not just mine, but other professionals in my field. While I am sure the attitudes that women are not technically capable do exist, they too are slowly disappearing. Engineering in general is a good example. Biomedical engineering an even better example.

    but again…I also worked at Sprint for a while… women in management everywhere. Maybe Kansas is an island of equality?? not

  • roro80 –

    Almost to a one, at least among those I’ve talked to, they have a father who is in a technical field AND they have no brothers — nowhere for dad to funnel all that math and science and hands-on learning except to his girls.

    Now that’s an interesting line of inquiry. I’m an only. I wonder if it’s a similar pattern among women motorcyclists?

    Hmm. What about single-parent households (granted a newer demographic – well, not newer but more of them today than 50 years ago)?

  • Also — you, two, please feel free to suggest stories that fall under the “tech analyst” rubric. I’m @kegill and kegill at gmail.

  • roro80

    Interesting, Kathy. I have no idea! It does seem that a love of motorcycling might be easier to acquire than a love of math, but I could certainly be wrong, not being into bikes myself. As far as single-parent households, again, no idea. But I would guess it’s not too common, as single-parent households are almost always headed by women, and, again, there just aren’t that many women in tech to push their kids into such professions.

  • roro80

    Shannon, I’m not sure where you’re going with this. I am an engineer. I went to school with roughly 10% in my major during undergrad, more like 15% in grad school. I do NOT consider it a good example of how sexist attitudes toward women in tech are lessening. Working as an engineer, my group consists of 10 males and myself. The article I linked is about how there is a wide gender gap in IT specifically. And Kathy’s article has the topic of numerous reasons including but not limited to the idea that “women are not technically competent” that there are fewer women in technical fields. I think it’s great that the company you worked for had a good balance; my guess is that the balance existed because women were specifically sought out for leadership roles in that company. But not only is that not a common thing world- or country-wide, but it’s not just a Kansas thing either. Type “Kansas Wage Gap” into google and you get all sorts of articles about it.

  • I’ve been in IT for over 20 years. I don’t see the sexism being portrayed here. Our company’s IT staff is minority-women, true, but they are fairly well represented through management, including our CIO.

    BUT our company has a clear and decisive, AND accurate based on my observations, “no tolerance” anti-discrimination policy. We are constantly reminded to respect everyone’s input, that people communicate & think differently (not “badly”), that having different viewpoints makes a company stronger, that no one hould be treated badly, and that actual performance is really all that matters. I’ve seen people – including high-level people- walked out the door for racial & gender discrimination.

    It takes effort & attention to squeeze this type of thing out of a company. It doesn’t “just happen.”

  • ShannonLeee

    I was just joking about Kansas. My hometown is still stuck in the 50’s. We still have the Klan.

    I am not denying the existence of a problem, nor that nothing needs to be done. I am just saying that things are getting better and that there are companies out there that are working hard on getting better.

    Here is one question for you… if only 10% of all engineering grads are women, what percentage of women in engineering leadership positions do you expect? 50%? Would 10 be reasonable? 20%?

    Some schools do show that their top 5% does get split 50-50 across gender, should that translate to 50-50 upper management positions?

    just so you know my background… my wife is the youngest female professor in the history of her university. She is 1 of 3 female profs in a medical faculty of 50+ professors. Not only does she get disrespected because of her sex, but her age…even amongst other women!…is disrespected. I understand sexism, even though I personally do not have to deal with it.

  • ShannonLeee – I don’t lump “engineering” and “IT” and “programming” into the same buckets. They aren’t the same. I’m pretty convinced that IT people shouldn’t manage IT. I’m only partially joking — the person who is managing IT in my current org is NOT an IT professional but he is a good manager.

    Barky – I appreciate your comment but it would carry more weight if you were one of those few women.

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