Am I a brilliant jerk?

We’ve all read all the conversations around “brilliant jerk” amongst the tech community. If you’ve read those stories, and are wondering who these jerks or those people are, then please read on.

I am not going to talk about overtly sexual episodes that occur in our industry on a daily basis. Those are horrible — and yes, they happen more often than you would like to believe. Today, I am going to talk about manifestation of subtle biases that most women in the industry encounter on a daily basis, and often just “deal with them”.

Here are some examples, that I have personally experienced, and by virtue of polling a very small group of women, gathered.

I am an engineer. In pretty much ever company I have worked in, I will be having a technical conversation with an engineer, and he will either try to “dumb it down for me” or mid-sentence, stop and ask: “Are you technical?”

If I ask a semi intelligent question, or write something semi intelligent (and yes, I am being sarcastic here), the comeback is: “Who wants to know?” Or “Who wrote this?”

There are two co-workers — both vocal, opinionated. When describing the female co-worker, the adjective “aggressive” easily rolls off the tongue. But for the male co-worker, you refer to him as “intense” or “ambitious”.

When in a meeting with a mixed gender group, you never make eye contact with the women, ignoring our very existence, and instead just talk directly to the men.

Worse. When a woman says something, it doesn’t register. But her male counterpart, repeats the exact same idea, and you are all for it.

A female engineer gets multiple job offers, and your automatic response is: “Of course, she’s a woman!”

Know that in writing this, and citing these examples, I am not assigning blame. For all of the encounters above, I don’t believe that these men were being sexists. They were simply being who they are. But you know what? Maybe no one has ever told you this. The reason we remember these encounters, and many more like these, is because they were uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable and demeaning.

If you’ve been wondering who “these” brilliant jerks are, look in the mirror. Know that even if we didn’t tell you at the time, we didn’t like these. We did not feel appreciated. We did not feel welcomed. We definitely did not feel like we belonged. And we believe that you said these things only to us, women. And that you’d never say these to a man!

So the next time, you want to call a woman “aggressive”, think if you would do the same to a male co-worker. Next time you want to ask if she is technical, ask yourself how many times you have asked this of a male boss. Next time a woman gets a great job offer, appreciate her for her skills. Because guess what? We do not want to get hired for our gender. We just want to co-exist, without having to deal with this on a daily basis!

If you are reading this, please do me a favor. Put yourself in these situations and think of how you’ve acted in the past. Next time you are in this situation, please think …. think about whether you would react similarly towards a man. If the answer is “no”, then alter your behavior. Don’t be a brilliant jerk! Let’s, together, change this industry for the better.