Mindfully Shutting the F^%& Up
What Men Can Do To Welcome Women In Tech.
Women in Tech: Oh God Yes, Please!
I work in the computer/internet/future-robot-overlords industry, which is deplorably, ridiculously lacking in women. Since I’ve worked mostly on the web site of things, I’ve had the good fortune nonetheless of having many female supervisors and project managers. I’ve had the most career success on those projects where the team was not all-male. And I know very well why:
An all-male team is not a team; it’s a pissing contest.
A woman on the team, in any capacity, usually means that one person on the team is getting valuable work done, sharing information, taking care of problems, and not constantly showing off. I’ve observed that, in a professional environment, such adult behavior is contagious. Before long, all the “superman boys” on the team start acting like Clark Kent: professional and mature.
Why so few?
Yet, the tech industry is still very male-heavy, to a shameful degree. You don’t remain this void of women just by virtue of being geeky. You maintain that level of sexism by acting in sexist ways. The majority of the tech industry, as nerdish and dweebish as it is, is also frequently dickish.
The fact that women make you uncomfortable doesn’t excuse the reverse.
Awareness must be raised, until things change. Some people in the industry need to be shaken out of their complacency, and made to recognize that there is a problem, and that their behaviors contribute to the problem.
But there are levels. There are multiple problems that need to be addressed, individually, separately, and differently:
A small group of people behave like psychopaths, abusive people, perverts. At that level, it isn’t even about sexism anymore, it’s about the no-asshole rule, and it affects everyone. The solution is obvious. Let’s keep the clarion call clear and resounding:
Rule #1: No assholes allowed.
More insidious, and the crux of the problem, is those a-holes who limit themselves to female targets. They’re a-holes to women, but respectful and nice to their male colleagues. Too frequently, when the female target steps forward, the men find it hard to believe her characterization of the Dick, since he’s always been so nice to them. That is one of the biggest obstacles to change right now in the tech industry’s attitude toward women.
It is every man and woman’s job to get rid of the Dicks in Tech.
Some men in the industry, young or old, are functioning on obsolete, flawed, misguided values and attitudes, and they need to be confronted. They are the paternalistic ones, the ones who think that encouraging women in tech means treating them differently. They make a great show of gallantry and exaggerated inclusiveness, because they see women as inferiors who need help, as if they were fragile special-needs children.
While their behavior is benevolent and well-intentioned, it is based on such a flawed viewpoint, a dehumanizing viewpoint, that it is in the end deeply offensive. They need a perspective shift. They need to learn to treat their female colleagues as colleagues first. They need to learn to see “person” first, gender and other attributes second.
The intention is the baby. But the perspective is bathwater.
Grandpas are trying to be nice, but clearly don’t understand or respect women as whole persons. If they’re able to treat men with respect, then they should be able to do the same for women. They just have blindfolds that need to be removed. Without these blindfolds, they can turn into:
Modern men understand that each person is quite unique, and that you have to get to know people before you treat them with anything else than courtesy and professionalism. Modern men don’t feel compelled to act like children all the time. Modern men understand that there’s plenty to joke about besides stereotypes, plenty to compliment people about besides their looks, and that very little can be safely assumed about a person based purely on their gender.
Modern men are aware that their current attitudes, behaviors, and general disposition are inextricably linked to the current state of gender relations. They understand that even with their current level of awareness and sensitivity, they’re benefitting from inequality still. Like all who want gender equality, they know that it’s hard to even know what that looks like, when our cultural evolution has been sexist for millennia.
These men are fighting the good fight. They want their daughters as free and strong as their sons. And just like feminists, they have to grit their teeth often and remember about patience.
And just like feminists, they need to honor impatience too, at times. When some women complain about sexism and discrimination, and sometimes paint all men with too broad a brush, modern men are okay with suspending their judgement, ignoring their discomfort, and just listening.
In tech, men have amassed a huge debt of listening. It’s time to shut up & pay up.
Speaking out and shutting up
The two best behaviors I can think of, in order to reverse the shameful trend that’s pushed women away from the tech industry, are to speak out against the assholes, dicks and grandpas, and also to shut up and let women speak.
It takes conscious effort, because as boys, most of us were encouraged to be assertive and dominant, while girls were trained to be polite and subservient. The result is that in meeting after meeting, the men interrupt the women, speak over them, and avoid eye contact with them. These behaviors come as naturally as breathing. So I need to constantly watch myself and consciously, mindfully, keep my mouth shut.
Here’s the bonus: Whenever I shut up and let a woman speak, I learn something useful.