Being The Minority In The Room

Why I chose to join a mostly female run advisory board

Leon Chism| CTO, DialogTech |Advisory Board Member

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Becoming aware of the massive differences in experiences that I have as a man in technology and the experiences that many women in technology have was a process that was both gradual and sudden. Gradual, in that over time I became more and more aware of some the big and small ways in which women are judged differently than men and sudden, when a friend was directly impacted in a way that was very difficult to ignore.

I learned a friend of mine had been “doxed” — someone had researched her, found out who she was in real life, and published her home address and phone numbers, employer name, address, and phone number, and her family history online. Those people, and others, began harassing her at home and work, creating a massive disruption to her life and threatening her safety. The “reason” she was doxed and harassed was basically for having the nerve to have opinions on technology, to share them them online, and to be a woman. For doing something many men do all day every day, including myself, she was targeted in a terrible and dangerous way.

Once I’d come in close contact with such an obvious impact of gender differences it was easier to start noticing the small things all around me. Women getting interrupted in conversation far more than men. Phrases like “manpower” and estimates done in “calendar days” or “man days.” The frequency with which women have their ideas ignored, only to have them rephrased and validated when coming from a man later in the same meeting. Words like “bitchy”, “bossy”, or “intimidating” being used to describe women in the workforce who are just literally doing their jobs.

Then I started looking for other impacts, like how small signals in job descriptions create gender bias in applicants, and thus influencing the resulting workforce. I started noticing these things, and the more I noticed, the easier I found it to start pointing things out and taking the steps I could in my own personal environment to try to improve things. In those small ways, I hope my own personal awareness, and the awareness I can help build in others, can help improve the situation.

When presented with the opportunity to join Women Influence Chicago, powered by the ITA I was both honored and hesitant. I was surprised my meager efforts had even been noticed as I, and this community, still have a long way to go to get us all on equal footing. And I was hesitant, worried that having a man involved in an organization by and for women was more of the same old problem. Hopefully my involvement will help me be even more aware of the issues, be more of an advocate for women in my own environment, and help the larger community as a whole.

Leon Chism is the CTO, DialogTech and an Advisory Board Member for the Women Influence Chicago Initiative, powered by the Illinois Technology Center.