I remember the first time a man I worked with told me I was biologically inferior to him.
I was 22 and fresh out of grad school, and he was a Sr. Engineer who had been at the company a lot longer than me. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I vividly remember how it made me feel. He told me, with the kind of bravado and confidence only a late 20-something straight white man can, that women were biologically inferior to men when it comes to math and science. This was a fact, he stated, and that’s why not many women work in tech. My face flushed, my adrenaline spiked and I started stammering out a defence of my entire gender.
I didn’t have documentation at my fingertips like this, or this, or this, to prove his bullshit sexist pseudo-science opinion wrong. I didn’t have the confidence or the language to defend my intellect and abilities (not to mention those of 51% of the population). That day he made me feel very, very small.
The toll of the “women in tech” news cycle
This newest Google-bro manifesto scandal brought back every feeling from that day, and every interaction I’ve had with a similar over-confident sexist bro since, as I’m sure it did for you.
I wasn’t at all surprised, I was just really, really tired.
The summer news cycle has been full of stories of VC sexual harassment, abuse, Uber’s ongoing misogyny, the gender pay gap, and now this crap that’s making the he-man-woman-haters-club of the alt right wing of the internet giddy.
It’s good that this stuff is making the news, but for most of us it isn’t new. We read the latest post and say “that happened to me too” and it all comes back. We tweet, blog, and feel just a little more worn down than yesterday. This shit is exhausting.
What can we do?
Like all crappy situations, there is a light at the end of the tunnel — each other. We can act as a support system when this kind of news breaks, and we can take steps to make it less common.
1. Founders and Managers
Support women— No, this didn’t happen at your company, but it is impacting your staff. Women in your organization deserve your support, so make sure you deliver. Book one on ones, provide space for them to tell their stories and talk about the manifesto’s impact. Ask them how you can do better, listen intently to their answers, and take action (failing to follow up is not an option).
Do Better — Unfortunately, a dude-bro like our friend from Google probably works for you. When you get feedback from women, people of colour, LGBTQ folks, or disabled colleagues, take it seriously the first time. Put structures in place (with input from your legal council and local labour laws) to appropriately escalate, and deal with reports of sexist, racist and homophobic behaviour. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen to you is to listen to the marginalized folks in your organization when they tell you what’s up, believe them, and do something about it today.
2. Dudes in tech
Your female-identified colleagues are wondering if you believe what Google-manifesto-bro believes, so let them know explicitly that you don’t (unless you do, in which case, I’ll see you in the angry comments, Brad). This is a very important time to publicly have your female colleagues backs. If you hear something that sounds off in private Slack channels or at all-dude-lunch— call it out, and then make sure you let someone know. Don’t just tweet your support guys, get in there with us.
3. Women in tech
Take a break. Seriously, don’t read about it today. Close your laptop and go get some air. Recent tech news is a constant fire hose of toxic shit— you don’t have to stand in it everyday. Remember to support each other, and look out for the marginalized young professionals in your organization. Take time to mentor them so that when they have painful experiences they have a safe space to go.
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