Sexism and Gender Bias in Tech
Recently, I attended an Advancing the Careers of Technical Women (http://www.act-w.org/) conference. At one of the panel sessions, a woman asked the question that was on all of our minds on a semi-regular basis. “Have you ever experienced sexism?” The panelist laughed and responded, “Who hasn’t?” This of course made everyone in the room laugh. I wondered why we were all laughing. I was as guilty of it as the next person. But the laughter wasn’t because it was particularly funny. It felt more like nervous laughter.
I have found myself thinking about that incident a lot since then. Why was it okay to laugh at this? It was a serious problem, right? It prevents a lot of women from entering and staying in the tech field. What can be done to prevent it from happening?
I was fortunate to work with several women at my first job in tech. The sexism was less obvious. On several occasions, I’d make a suggestion, and I’d hear something like, “That won’t work.” Then someone else, a male, would make the exact same suggestion. “Oh that’s a great idea.” My reaction? Usually, I’d say nothing. My brain would be screaming, “WTF?!” I simply swallowed it and moved on, trying to shrug it off. During the conference, it was actually suggested that we all just laugh it off, but what will that solve?
During my last couple of weeks there, I actually spoke up. “I literally JUST said that, and you said it wouldn’t work.” The response I heard? “Well, I just now thought of it.” Ugh!
It’s incredibly frustrating to not be taken seriously. I essentially learned to re-frame my suggestions. “Why can’t we try X?” “Will Y work instead?” Essentially, I’d fallen into the mindset of letting the males in the room think they’ve come up with the idea — not me. I can only assume that this will ultimately be detrimental to my career. During my self reviews, I can’t say “I came up with this strategy, my team adopted it, and here’s the results.” Sure, it’s a silly thing, but it adds up. If women in general have a hard time talking about their achievements, I’m not helping myself by letting others take credit for my ideas and contributions.