I’ve worked in web development for three months now. This is what I’ve learned:
- There aren’t many women around
- Men don’t let you know when your makeup has smudged
- A good studio has a full fruit bowl and a street fighter machine
My name is Lucy. I have no code skills. I’m not a designer. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I’m a writer. I’ve got bookkeeping skills, communication skills and I know how to run an office. I like football. I don’t drink. I’m terrible at Street Fighter. I like when people say my outfit is cute. My second biggest fear is having panda eyes and no one telling me. I’m not telling you my first.
The problem with writing about “women in tech” is this: we’re not all the same person. One speaker was brave enough to define a woman as “people who have menstruated and paid taxes” which was criticised by many as not a broad enough definition. Is it possible to address an *issue* if we can’t even begin to define what it is?
Gender isn’t a clear cut as male or female and ensuring ‘gender balance’ shouldn’t simply mean having equal numbers of boys and girls. If society can slowly evolve past the s/he issue and be developing a gender-neutral pronoun, how long will it take for “gender roles” to be a thing of the past? Traditional marriage enthusiasts may believe that men and women should play a particular role and there’s no way the role can be substituted by that of an opposite gender, but isn’t growing support worldwide for gay marriage evidence that this view is on the decline?
Here’s something else you should know about me. I’m a vegetarian. I’m passionate about animal rights. I donate money every month to organisations committed to closing down factory farms and puppy farms. And much to the judgement of other animal-rights activists, I adopted my beaglier, Shaun, from a pet store.
I’m a firm believer in not punishing the victims of crime. Puppy farming is despicable and needs to be shut down. But Shaun is a sweet, gentle, über-cute pup who has just as much right to get to a loving home as any other dog. The solution to the problem has to come from the policy - get puppies out of pet stores. Make it illegal. Make harsher punishments for people who treat animals cruelly.
Perhaps the solution to the “how to get more women in tech” puzzle starts at the beginning. Teach our children they can be whatever they want to be and mean it. Teach our little girls how to play with lego, build fences, fix the TV reception.
Of course it’s not that simple, nothing ever is. Because while I love my pup and try to be the best mother I can be for him, I’m also lobbying against the very people who brought him into the world. And a web development company can’t simply shake their fists and blame parents for giving their daughters dolls to play with, because we all know that’s not the cause of the problem either.
Sexism exists in technology. It’s also in our primary schools. In our hospitals. In the Olympics. It’s complicated. It’s awkward. It’s not easy to fix. And there are other types of discrimination handed out in our workplaces. Homophobia. Bullying. Racial profiling. It’s not the same as it was fifty years ago, sure, but you can’t be naive enough to believe it’s all an embarrassing part of our history as a society just yet.
I know I’m one of the lucky ones. The only difficult part of joining an all-male work environment was it also happened to be an all-geek work environment. Once I learned what y-combinator was I could fit in just fine. It took me a while to adjust to the different methods of communication, the constant #GSD, the only using one word to answer a question when three sentences would do the job just fine.
What’s smart is learning to work with people who are different from you. Who have different skills to you. Different strategies. Different systems. Throw a non-tech in the studio and what do you get? Better client management. Throw a female coder in the studio and what do you get? Another coder.
I’m definitely not saying there isn’t value in hiring female web developers. There is so much value. But not because she’s a female. Because she’ll have skills and different understandings and will come at a problem from a different angle. Because she’s a different developer.
Complicated problems don’t have simple solutions - but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. Whatever your opinions on the events at the recent PyCon, they certainly highlighted the difficult situations facing women in technology. I can’t close puppy farms by myself, but I can make people aware of their existence. We can’t make sexism disappear from an industry overnight, but we can continue to expose it, whiteboard it, talk about it, be better than it.
So here’s the deal. I am a woman in tech, but that’s not what defines me. I’ve established my role as “non-tech” not “non-male”. I’m also incredibly unlikely to attend any “geek girl” breakfast you invite me to, because I reject the premise. And to all my “non-female” colleagues - you don’t have to walk on eggshells around us, you don’t have to stop swearing when we walk in the room - just please tell us if our dress is tucked into our undies. We’ll do the same for you, promise.