Amber Weinberg: Freelance Web Developer specializing in semantic WordPress, Mobile, CSS and HTML5 Development

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Women In Tech

Posted on 06/13/12 in blog, whateververse about , , ,

Forgive me, for this post is going to be really discombobulated and probably piss you off.. 

Women in tech. I really, really, really hate that phrase. Yes, I’m a woman. Yes, I think it’s important for anyone and everyone to be able to do what they want to do without having to worry about been oogled all the the time. And avoiding the “male gaze” as Aral Balkan likes to put it. But I hate that phrase. And I hate what it stands for.

A little background. In college, although I ended up with a BFA, I did pursue a minor in psychology. Psychology is one of my many hobbies, as I love studying how and why people think the way they do. Of course, you can’t miss “women’s studies” when working in psych. I bet you guessed it: I hated that class too.

I’m not a woman hater. I don’t think women should stand behind men, have their place, make babies, shut up and dress pretty all the time. I’m the anti “perfect women”. Yes I knit and love to cook and dress pretty. But I’m also an entrepreneur, a free thinker, a love of racing cars and mechanical things. A lover of science, computers, and anything geeky. That’s “man stuff”.

No More Women In Tech Please.

My issue with the whole “women in tech” thing is that it makes the divisions between men and women even greater, and thus harms what we’re trying to do – which is become equals. It’s similar to how I feel about race issues when I lived back in the states. Martin Luther King, Jr and others fought to become equal with white people and to not be segregated based on his race. It often makes me wonder how he’d feel if he could see how things are today – where black people purposefully segregate themselves into their own churches, their own parades, their own holidays. How would he feel? (In case you were wondering, I’ve had this same discussion with several older generation black people who seem to feel the same way  – but that’s another topic for another blog)

Similarly, how would the feminists of the previous centuries feel if they could see the tech industry? Would they be proud to see that we’re segregating ourselves into “women’s clubs”? That we’re demanding our own events because we’re scared of the men? Why should there be men’s events and women’s events? I somehow feel that Susan B Anthony would be shaking her head in anger right now. She doesn’t want “separate but equal” tech events.

I’ve been in this industry a long, long time – before there even was “an industry”. While I have been told an annoyingly amount of times that “I’m a pretty girl” or “I didn’t know women could code” or etc etc etc, I haven’t felt that anyone was actually trying to stop me from doing what I’m doing. Most of the old IT men who might’ve hated on women have already been replaced by the younger crowd. Heck, I’m only 26 and can tell that you free thinking youngins are already pushing me out the door.

Not once, in the 12+ years I’ve been here has anyone been nasty to me because I’m a female. I have seen it happen to others though, like Sarah Parmenter. Unfortunately this really does happen, and it really is sickening. However, it happens everywhere, no matter what industry you’re in. And it’s the very, very small minority who do it. We have a fantastic sense of self policing here, who tend to defend the weak and attack the jerks anyways, so we’re an army against that one asshole.

But just because there’s a few turds in this industry doesn’t mean we have a crisis. We don’t need to set up groups and events to entice women. Women will come. The tech industry is mild when you think of others. What do you think women faced when they wanted to break into the most manliest of industries – the military? How much hate and sexism do you think was there? (For an idea, watch the awesome movie, G.I. Jane, based on a true story). Yet, women came, they saw, they conquered. Women didn’t have special military events. They had to prove they were equal in every way and they fought tooth and nail to stand by men’s side in the military. What would they have thought if someone tried to set up a women’s military?

We women are a tough lot. We’ll do what we have to do to get what we want. And if one is deterred by the rare asshole in this industry, well I can go ahead and tell you that they weren’t cut out to be a developer or a designer anyways. Have you ever been to a design critique or dealt with angry clients? I would welcome a boob joke or an offhand sexist comment instead. This industry is hell no matter what sex you are and you have to have a thick skin or you won’t make it.

Insert Boob Joke Here

The problem with dealing with women in tech, is that there is so much to cover. In moving to Aral’s blog post about dealing with sexism and the male gaze – I agree with him in some aspects, but not completely.

I hate the idea of PC (political correctness for those of you who aren’t politically minded). I hate that we can’t laugh at ourselves and make jokes without the fear of offending someone. Let me tell you, coming from someone who tends to speak her mind about everything, you’ll offend someone no matter what you say. Do we really want to become a vanilla society of monodromes because we’re afraid if we reference things like “real men”, “boobs” or “blow jobs” that someone will be hurt (let’s add those to the thousands of other words we’re not “allowed” to say)?

No, it’s never okay to turn to a female speaker and make an innuendo about her pleasuring the crowd (see Aral’s post again). That’s never right. That singles one person out and humiliates them. But making a joke about a real men being X, or about a general group? Why can’t we learn to laugh again?

I think the issue is that there’s a fine line to walk between being funny and hurting someone. How do we do it?

Being into hobbies that were traditionally “guy’s stuff” meant that I grew up with having guy friends. I didn’t have a lot of women as friends, so maybe that’s why I have a thicker skin that others. I’ve heard every sexist and boob joke there is. And I can laugh it off. Why? Because I can laugh and hurl a joke right back at them with equalness (not a word, I know). I don’t get all huffy every time I hear a blonde joke or a Jew joke (I love you, South Park), so why would I get upset at hearing a joke against women? Life is too short to get offended at everything and people need to start relaxing and start laughing more. Perhaps we wouldn’t be fighting so much if we could.

Ok, Ok, Keep Your Panties On

After all of my grumblings, what solution am I proposing? None.

I just know that if I hear the phrase “Women In Tech” one more time I’m going to barf. It’s offensive…

Amber Weinberg specializes in clean and semantic HTML5, CSS3, responsive and WordPress development. She has over 15 years of coding experience and is super cool to work with. Amber is available for freelance work, so why not hire her for your next project?

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  • Tricky subject!

    Like you, I’ve experienced very little sexism myself, but I don’t think that developing a thicker skin is the answer. There are plenty of harmless jokes, and a lot of people need to lighten up, but one of the biggest issues is that a lot of people are completely unaware of what constitutes actual sexism, a harmless joke or an ironic joke. I worry that telling people to lighten up might give those who are _genuinely_ sexist (and usually this is through ignorance, not malicious intent) the idea that making women, or men or particular religions or races in similar situations, feel uncomfortable is acceptable.

    However, I completely agree that segregating ourselves as women in tech is often counter-productive. The assumptions that we’ll get along better because we’re the same gender is bizarre, and being given special privileges based on our gender is not likely to do anything to make everyone feel equal.

    Despite this, I think that trying to get more women into the industry is a good thing, I’m not sure we can be certain that they will inevitably turn up anyway. We need to work hard to show that our industry is one where people are treated equally and that it’s a good place for women to work. You and I both are lucky and maybe we can be positive influences by telling people how we’ve had good experiences, and how the men and women surrounding us are kind, considerate and treat each other with respect.

  • The subject is definitely a tricky one. I think I’m just tired of hearing “Women In Tech” “100 Women Developers” etc etc etc…..you never see anything for “100 Men Developers”…why should we pull people out based on sex? I think that’s what grates on me the most, and ruins the real issues of sexism for me.

  • You are looking at this as someone who is happy to be one of the lads. I’m the same, I always had more friends who were boys than friends who were girls. Even as a dancer I could usually be found in the crew room or the pub chatting to the crew rather than hanging out with the other dancers. I am not a girlie girl so have no interest in women only groups.

    I have worked as stage crew, where my physical ability to lift heavy stuff (and my ability to drink men under the table …ah to be young again!) was what enabled me to fit in. You can be sure that plenty of jokes were made about “the girl” in that environment! However just because these jokes don’t bother ME, doesn’t make them ok generally and that everyone else should grow a thick skin. There is also a huge difference between the in-joke in a team who all know each other and something said generically about women for example.

    Perhaps women only groups/lists etc. show that women can still be feminine and into girlie things and an amazing programmer or designer. That you can still have a group of female friends and in this career. Showing a teenage girl that there are loads of women out there enjoying this career and who are not laddish is important I think. I’m not into positive discrimination, but I see no wrong in highlighting women who are working in the industry to show it in a positive light.

    That said I do think it a shame if we constantly go on about the bad stuff that happens, as a lot of the time this industry is fantastic for everyone involved.

    A couple of things I’ve written that are relevant, the Pasty Box last month (http://the-pastry-box-project.net/rachel-andrew/2012-may-11/) and an old post after a particular nasty issue (http://www.rachelandrew.co.uk/archives/2010/02/13/women-and-the-backchannel/)

  • komiska

    You have me on your side as well!

    I was confronted with sexism on a rare occasion,and never ever thought of it as a “threat”.

    And if there was a hint of it, i always considered it the problem of a person who is sexist,not mine.

    There were some gems, of course (Example:
    “People love working with you because of your female charms,but… (insert any complaint about anything professional)” Clad as a compliment, nice! )

    But mostly, there was actually more positive effects , somehow, i have clients who actually feel , they can communicate better with me “because , you are.., you know, a woman” – LOL! – is this actually a sexist remark? hmmmm ….)

    I believe , the subject is an artificially groomed side-show.

    (My comment to Ian Devlin’s post on the matter of positive discrimination ( women in tech, yes,*barf*):
    http://www.iandevlin.com/blog/2012/05/opinion/a-comment-on-sexism-and-the-web-industry/comment-page-1#comment-8746)

    It’s more about bad clients and bad bosses, no matter the gender,the race,the age.
    And it’s more about getting paid.
    Yes, keep throwing sexist remarks into the air, but that’s your problem, mister.
    Invoice payable upon receipt, thank you for your order!

  • Hey Amber,

    Interesting that you should mention race issues in a similar context to “women in tech”. I am a non-white woman in a (still) very white-male industry who has also gotten the “you’re a woman and you code?” kind of quip over the years, and who also, unfortunately, sometimes run into a combination of racist and sexist encounters. Like you, many of my closest friends are men, but I retain my femininity (with pride!) and I actually, have, professionally successfully led all-male teams — make that all-male *tech* teams.

    I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by smart men who gave me the confidence that I can succeed, but I have also the privilege of older, techie women mentors who showed me I can grow old doing this sort of “men’s” stuff—and be just as good, if not better at it. So every time I run into someone who reminds me I am a “woman in tech”—sexist or not—it still surprises me. The truth is, we haven’t gotten over this issue yet. Many other industries have not, but it doesn’t mean we should tolerate it any less.

    While I am not countering your argument, I’d like to point out that specifically on the issues of race, there’s been some research work that points out “color-blindness”—by pretending the problem doesn’t exist—does not actually help, because it means existing biases are swept under the carpet and are not openly addressed in a constructive way.

    I think we can draw a similarity with issues women encounter working in the tech industry.

    We have this weird notion that “women” are one group of people with the same needs, but we (as women) can probably do a better job to remind everyone that many women are very different in what we need to succeed. Some women need more peer support than others, whereas others can survive fine without. Some women are naturally more passive, whereas others are go-getters. (Just like men, we are human!) I’d like to think that in order to improve the equality issues, we need to understand and cater for needs of all women who are wanting to make a living in this industry—not just ones like you and me who grit our teeth and have grown a thicker skin. Most importantly, we want to make sure that these biases don’t have a negative impact on opportunities and salaries.

    So, maybe as women, even we need to remain more open-minded ourselves.

  • I don’t consider myself laddish at all though – like I mentioned above, I can be very, very girly in certain things (knitting, fashion, vintiquing, etc etc). I just think it’s wrong to continuing pulling aside people based on sex and not on ability. For example – we shouldn’t be seeing posts on ‘100 Women Developers of All Time’, we should simply be seeing ‘100 Developers of All Time’…I wouldn’t want any newcomers, women or men, to this industry to see that we emphasise sex instead of ability.

  • Haha I feel the same way! I’ve actually had women clients who’ve come to me and said they prefer working with a woman, especially on women-themed sites. Honestly, I don’t think it really matters what sex you are when it comes to coding – the code is no different either way.

  • I agree – both on race and sex. I don’t think we should just pretend the issues don’t exist either – but I don’t think that segregating ourselves help, and in fact, I think it really, really harms – both that it causes resentment on the “other” side as they’re excluded (and fell that the others are getting preferential treatment). I think as a “white woman who has Jewish blood” I feel like I’ve been on all sides. As someone who’s born white, I felt excluded and that other groups had preferential treatment – but as a woman (and someone with a Jewish name, though have never been practicing at all), I’ve also been in the minority – so I think I can understand both sides. Not sure if that makes sense or not.

    I think we need to find a way to highlight these issues without excluding and self-segregation – and without being namby-pampy about it as well 😉 I like my jokes!

  • Amber – I agree with a lot of what you are saying. i’ve been in tech 20+ years, and I’ve never experienced poor treatment because of my gender. When I hear stories about what other women have run into, it just astonishes me. (But yes, some of it is serious bad treatment, and some of it is just people being PC.)

    I struggle with how I feel about women in tech events. On the one hand, I agree that segregated events are generally not the answer. And I’m not interested in events where women are sitting around feeling sorry for themselves – like “we are so oppressed”! Yuck.

    On the other hand, we have two kinds of events here in Minnesota that I still think are good. First, we have a local Girls in Tech chapter. We put together quarterly happy hour events with 25-40 attendees, and these include both men and women. They’re fun, and they aren’t about segregating us, and you get to meet new people. To me, they are a great opportunity for students and people new to the industry to meet some new people.

    The other event we have here is the annual She’s Geeky unconference. Honestly – the first time I went, I expected it to totally suck. It is women only, and I was afraid that the unconference format would mean the sessions would be really stupid. Instead, I found it to be very inspiring and I’m hooked. With the unconference format, the sessions end up being what everyone else wants to talk about. There weren’t sessions that were women whining about how they are treated. But here’s why it works: a lot of women (not you, and probably not me, but many others) aren’t as open about their issues and concerns when they are around men. The all-chick format provides a safer environment for those women to talk about their experiences. We’ve talked about imposter syndrome, how to manage failure better, how to find great speakers for conferences, being an entreprenuer, project management, and lots of other topics not specific to women. And non-tech topics, too. I brought my niece last year, and I think it was great for her to see some techy-girl role models. (She went to sessions on Doctor Who and some geek culture things.)

    I guess what I’m saying is: a little segregation occasonally is alright with me, so long as it doesn’t involve a lot of handwringing and victim thinking.

  • Your comment took the words out of my mouth on how I feel about the situation. Jokes can be intended to be harmless, but again, what’s harmless to one person is not necessarily harmless to another. I’ve seen jokes, and then I’ve seen inappropriate jokes.

    I haven’t noticed any serious sexism directed toward me up until recently. It’s a suspicion, and I won’t talk about it publicly, but it has upset me quite a bit. Oddly enough, it has nothing to do with anything that’s been said, but rather, what hasn’t been said.

    While it’s important to get women involved in tech, it’s definitely possible that segregated events could, in the minds of others, be counter-productive, as you mentioned. I’m not sure what the answer is.

    Personally, I’m just going to concentrate on doing good work, and encourage ALL people who show interest to get involved in tech, regardless of gender, age, or race. Helping each other, being open, and staying positive is probably the best way I know to combat any sort of negative situation that the industry can throw at us.

  • Amber – great post. I also get annoyed that there are any destinctions made – why should there be – anyone, female, male, not sure or otherwise can code. Many years ago my younger sister did degreee in proper coding – not the easy stuff we do on the web – and I admired her for it (and still do) because it was way beyond what I could do. I was proud of her because she was my sister of course. Where I work now gender and race are not issues – we have core standards and don’t allow them to be – we cannot afford to ignore the best people whoever they may be.

    Topics about “women in” anything make me uncomfortable – because sometimes positive descrimination is just as unhelpful as any other descrimination (as it would be with “men in” anything). But if they help redress a perceived missing balance then so be it. I think its more likely that there are less women in tech because it just doesn’t appeal to many.

  • Heya Amber,

    I completely agree with you about highlighting someone because of their gender. Personally I’ve always found it really strange to see “Top Female” lists when related to coding and development as I’ve always considered coding to be a skill that is completely removed from gender.

    I’ve read quite a few similar articles to this in the past, but you’re the first person I’ve found who’s wrote about hating the idea of things becoming overly PC at the same time. I try to always be careful about what I say so as not to accidentally offend anyone but at the same time I love having close friends (of both genders) that I’m able to share a laugh and joke with without the fear of causing offence.

    I think having a sense of humour is an essential quality in this industry!

  • Hmm that’s interesting – I guess I would have to go to one myself to see what I thought about it.

  • Really? What is it? You must tell me! I like my gossips 😛

  • I really feel bad for you men too, as I’m sure stuff like that probably makes you quite uncomfortable, yet you can’t complain because then you’ll be seen as a “woman hater”. It’s all quite ridiculous.

  • I sometimes think PC will be the death of culture – or will lead us into be a ‘1984’ society.

  • Yep – had second thoughts about saying anything here.

  • Well I own this here parts of the internet. And you’re allowed to say whatever’s on your mind. As long as I agree with it. 😉 😉

  • Ha, finally someone said it 🙂 I find it weird when I see these kind of stuff still happening. You always find a “strong woman” who demands equality (my university class for example ). Hello, it’s the XXI century. Do, work, study whatever you want regardless of your gender.

    Also, Amber, mind if I make an RSS app based on your blog? It’s brilliant 🙂

  • Not while groups like Steel Panther are around! 😉

  • Thanks 🙂 What kind of RSS app?

  • A windows phone app ( it’s my work phone ). A blog reader template is already done and I can send you some screenshots in the next few days to have a logo. Because WordPress is awesome, you already have RSS feeds for categories and tags so most of the work is done 🙂

  • *To have a look not logo

  • Hmm just for my blog posts? My site is mobile friendly ya know 😉

  • Web app vs native app discussion is still under debate 😛 But I can tell you this: it works offline and has notifications. Plus, if your using custom posts for your portfolio, you should have an RSS feed for that too…

    PS: Commenting from a mobile :p

  • One thing you didn’t mention was the failure of Fiorina and the upcoming failure of Whitman at HP. There was a career top executive at HP – I forgot her name – who was over-looked at HP. If she was a man she would have gotten the job.

    To me these women represent the worst of IT executives of either sex – politicos who climbed the ladder on the backs of real techies. Although Whitman replaced an executive who was fired, she is basically pursuing his strategies and if she achieves success it won’t be because of her creativity.

    My point is that women in IT management, unless they are real techies, are poison because that are going to overcompensate for what they are lacking with dirty back stabbing politics. While men are capable of the same behavior , generally they don’t follow this path with as much gusto.

  • Greg Robson

    It’s a fine line, I think The West Wing came up with a good few scenes based on it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpcBWA1K9Xw

    If you do everything in your power to avoid anything that could be misconstrued, then you basically have no sense of humour. If you are saying things behind people’s back and they are not included in the joke, then that’s just wrong.

    We should just be looking to find every great coder/designer, regardless FULL STOP If somebody isn’t getting a chance that should then we have to make sure they are included in the majority and are not given their own category just so they feel they have achieved.

  • Thanks for posting this, Amber. Being white, male, and heterosexual, I’ve been lucky enough to dodge most of the major -isms, but I do notice them appearing around me.

    I happened to answer the phone in my office today, and the guy on the other end said “I’d like to send something to your Finance Director. What’s his name?”. Of course I gave him *her* name, and he was embarrassed when he realised his inadvertent sexism.

    That’s the trouble; sexism is virtually as old as civilisation itself, and it’s only in the last hundred or so years that we’ve really moved towards equality. Because they’ve been around for so long, sexist habits have become embedded in normal human behaviour, and people who you would not categorise as sexist do them without even realising, all the time, like our guy on the phone today.

    The “women in tech” conversation can get a little tiresome, and not much changes – we all agree that sexism is bad, some people are too sensitive, some people are too dismissive – but it’s good to bring it up every now and again so we’re reminded to watch for it in our own behaviour.

    I agree that “positive discrimination” (the ultimate oxymoron) doesn’t help in the long run – clearly our industry has a very low ratio of women to men, but the answer is to make the industry appealing for everyone. Losing the “brogrammer” thing would be a good start.

  • Most of the talk doesn’t bother me, but there are extremists who seem to worry more about the grassroots campaign of ‘women in tech’ more than ‘good techies in tech’. We don’t need more women in tech. We need more good developers in tech. I don’t care who those developers are, purposely aimed affirmative action is a recipe for disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not voting women (or any group) *out* of tech, I just want all people to earn their keep.

    For example, when someone’s first comment on a conference is “only 3 of 10 speakers are female”, it’s a bullshit alert. “Were the speakers good” is a far more important topic. Having said that, if 3 speakers sucked and a person knew that 3 good women were turned down, that’s a separate (if related) issue.

  • See people using “his” when they don’t know about the person doesn’t bother me at all. I view it more as a neutral term in that case. I would definitely not expect someone to say “can you forward his or her information” or “can you forward its information”. That’s just a bid ridiculous 😉

  • Exactly. I really really roll my eyes when people start out with those statements. They make it sound like the conference leaders are sexist but they have no clue what went on. What if they’d tried to get women but none responded or wanted to do it? What if there were just not any great female speakers who wanted to talk? Should we pass on fantastic male speakers for mediocre women speakers just so we can say we’re fair?

    Growing up with a dad who worked in reinlistment for the military, and then HR afterwards, I’ve listened to him struggle with this my whole life. He was actually forced to not promote some great people due to “quotas”. It’s ridiculous.

  • thanks for this article amber!

    i am a girl/woman/double-x-chromosome-creature (choose the political correct title you like) in tech myself and i 100% agree with every single sentence 🙂

    also, nobody ever mentions the other side of the story. quite often i am the only girl in a team and in my experience this comes with a lot of perks 😀 i call it the “princess-factor” and it’s so easy to take advantage of it.

    so on the one hand it might be a bit harder to get respect as a girl in IT but on the other hand we get so much attention because the guys are so happy they (finally) get to work with a girl.

    i really can’t complain and I am very happy that i ended up being a nerd.

  • I myself very much understand your feelings. We should be “geeks” or “technology science folks.” Not men or women in tech. We’re all people, we all love and feel, eat, and share our passions with others. We should be sharing further and developing bonds.

    The focus should be on passion and contributions, not race or gender. That’s what it is to have fun and grow! Whenever I’m in a classroom or at work, I never think of anything in particular being men or women. I just think these are interesting and good people, I enjoy being around them and I like that they care about what they’re doing.

    When you fixate on the trivial things, you miss everything that actually matters. The tech field itself suffers from a lack of women and some say the perceptions of the field itself lead to this, while others say it’s a male dominated industry. If we are all connected and empowered, we’ll become embraced. But we must first trust each other and share, then discover ourselves. Everything will fall in place after.

  • I agree with this post a lot. I’ve only really experienced sexism once (I probably experience ageism more since I’m the baby at age 24 in many places). The rest are harmless jokes, and I dish it as much as I take it.

    Yes, I’ve taught workshops for girls in junior high who are interested in tech, which I do think is important so they know that a career in tech IS an option, but once you’re in the industry, everything should be equal. Most people only need a few minute conversation with me to realize that I know what I’m talking about, and I know it well. I’d rather have the opportunity to show off how much I know to someone (regardless of gender), than feel like my voice was only heard because I was helped by some initiative to bring women into the techie workforce.

    So, yes, I suppose I feel like Women in Tech events and such make it seem like I can’t hold my own against the guys, when pretty much the opposite is the case.

  • I feel for you girls. There is positive discrimination, like the “100 female developers” and then old fashioned sexism.

    The first will probably always exist as we are a male dominated industry and the later will die out within our generation, I’m 32 and I see no sexism within my age group or below, it is definitely the older generations.

    So maybe the resolution is more female developers!

    (of course the exception to this is the usual internet trolls – but everyone gets those, right!)