Silence is Not the Answer

How advice from an expert on teens and bullying could be applied to the tech workplace to make everyone, especially women, more welcome.

Most of us first saw it in our childhood, on a playground. Maybe we spoke up for the person being bullied, maybe we didn’t. Either way, we didn’t like it.

At times, maybe we were the bully. We made fun of another kid to gain something that seemed important at the time: laughs, high-fives, or a seat at the table with the cool kids.

At its essence, bullying is using power or strength to make someone feel worthless. It comes from a position of privilege. And it doesn’t matter what the privilege is: taller, funnier, wealthier, or the right gender or race. With this privilege, the bully has power.

Perhaps you’ve also seen bullying in your professional life. If you’re a woman in the tech industry, you may have been at the receiving end more than once.

Workplace bullying can take many forms. A colleague who takes credit for another’s work. A steamroller who hijacks meetings to further an agenda. A guy who arranges a male-only ski trip. A boss who yells at subordinates. A manager who uses different criteria for men and women during performance appraisals. A friend who doesn’t speak up when a conversation shifts to strip clubs. A founder who removes a co-founder’s status. The list goes on.

Rosalind Wiseman, an internationally recognized expert on children, parenting, and bullying, has advice for parents and teachers: When you hear or see bullying, “pierce through it” by speaking up. Say things like, “Don’t use <derogatory word> in my classroom” or “Don’t call people names in my car.” Kids need to see adults putting their foot down to put-downs.

As leaders, can we pierce through workplace bullying by speaking up? By pulling someone aside and saying things like, “Don’t talk over other people in my meetings” or “Don’t yell when you’re working with my teams.”

Speaking up may not be the only solution, but it’s got to help. It’s got to help with the micro-aggressions that women and other underrepresented minorities face in the tech industry on a regular basis. It’s got to help send the message to those in a position of privilege that you’re not going to stand for it.

© 2015 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of smarnad /