Last year at FooCamp I went to a panel about women in tech (I believe I was the only guy) for two reasons:
1) I have no qualms about offending people if I feel my point is valid, and in fact enjoy being in situations where I risk such things (I find it incredibly rewarding to have meaningful discussions about things that are considered taboo).
2) To find out what the problem was
Let me clarify #2: I didn't see a problem within my circles other than the fact that there were few women in startups. I didn't see blatant sexism, I didn't see harassment, I didn't see something that I was comfortable changing to encourage women in my industry. I still occasionally quote South Park or make a dirty joke, but nothing targets women specifically: I just can have a crude sense of humor. Was that what women were concerned about? Were they offended by my jokes, expecting me to be stiff as a board to avoid offending them? In my opinion that's expecting special treatment and is sexism in and of itself.
In my YC class the 4 women were respected and treated like peers. Yes, I'm sure there was some flirting, but I didn't see anything that I wouldn't consider more offensive than I've seen guys do to each other on a regular basis.
What I learned was actually very interesting: from their perspective I was not the problem. Somehow in the middle of the media hype about sexism, I had assumed I must be doing something wrong and was trying to figure out what was inappropriate about my behavior. It turns out there's a whole group of men in tech who are blatantly offensive, harassing, and generally sexist towards women just because they were women. I genuinely think most men are in the better bucket: we aren't offensive, and provide mostly non-hostile work environments. We are not part of the problem. On the other hand, I bet a lot of us aren't part of the solution.
This needs to not be a "men vs women" battle: this needs to be a "people vs jerks" battle. There are a few sour apples poisoning the environment for everyone, and it needs to stop. I do think the only way to fix this is for there to be a social change, but most men just need to change the way they act towards other men. Don't allow it to be ok when one guy crosses the line, and don't just assume HR will take care of it. Call him out on it. I'm confident that that's all 99% of guys need to (and can) do to help with this problem.
I thought the same thing, and argued (I felt persuasively!) on behalf of that perspective for many years. Then I watched my wife Erin, who has as many years of experience in this industry as I do, interview for tech jobs. Please take my word for it that this is not a "few bad apples" problem.
Sorry, I didn't mean to imply the lack of magnitude of the problem. I don't think the problem is as prevalent in YC, one of the main circle of startups I know. Maybe that's because JL does a good job filtering out jerks, or maybe it's something inherent to the YC-compatible startups.
Out of curiosity: was she talking to larger companies or startups? I am curious how prevalent the problem is in the larger startup community, as I genuinely don't know what % of valley companies with < 10 employees show signs of sexism (though I believe that question may be too vague and ill-defined to answer properly).
Very common problem: interviewers asking questions about who was going to take care of the kids.
Actually happened: an interviewer displayed a picture of himself not wearing pants. That interview was in Chicago; I was in Michigan at the time, thankfully.
I see no correlation between company size and occurrence of this stuff.
I have friends who happen to be both notoriously successful in the tech field and female. They are all extremely touchy about this subject. They are touchy because crazy shit like this happens to them all the time.
There is, I think, no magic solution to this problem other than consistent public declamation, and of course being prepared to fire people who engage in this kind of behavior. People who harass women or act out on the belief that women are inferior to men or somehow likely to have obtained their position through anything other than merit have no place in any company I'm affiliated with.
""I have friends who happen to be both notoriously successful
in the tech field and female. They are all extremely touchy
about this subject. They are touchy because crazy shit like
this happens to them all the time.""
This is very true. unbelievable crazy batshit stuff happens to me -all the time-. Like "Police report filed" crazy. Like "I no longer open up any letters or packages unless I am positive I know who sent it" crazy. Like "I have to make sure that wherever I live, there is a camera at the doorbell and multiple doors before they can get in" crazy.
Its not a majority of guys, and some even 'mean well' but you only need to have it happen to you once to decide that the stress of knowing something crappy will happen to you if you attend X event, is not worth the benefit of attending X.
ah, you are conflating two things. the hacker scene is full of assholes, but they are not the batshit crazy people. so all the fucked up people you're thinking of? no, i'm saying there are other people, and they are /much much/ worse because they dont even have a 'scene' with basic social pressures and 'outing' them has no effect
I ask this not to argue, but because you seem both pleasant and informed/opinionated and will likely have something useful to say: what as a male hacker am I supposed to be doing about the issue in this thread?
Let's assume what I know's not true for many men - that I am not even slightly coming on to or harassing or creeping on anyone and am very polite to women personally, or abusing position over them, etc. (I used to be treated like some kind of rapist by many women for prosaic things like opening doors or walking down the street, I guess from inherent suspicion of single men - now that I am usually with my wife when I'm outside of work/home, nobody looks at me twice or gives me dirty looks, which is vastly less awkward).
I don't often see situations where women are being harassed these days, so I don't even have scope to act like some kind of gender-police hero. Nor is it always called for, that I can see; I like to reassure or express solidarity with people who are getting treated in a normally dickish way, but usually not in the form of a giant "you are a huge asshole" confrontation, which can be bad for one's career and such, especially when 'the hacker scene is full of assholes.' But if I noticed sexual harassment or implicit threats or something I would already try to make sure something was said.
So what else is there? Should I just admit some kind of privilege and say it's really bad and then I don't have to do anything else, or is there some specific thing I should be doing? Because I can't get a specific reading on what I ought to be doing and sometimes suspect in these conversations that I am just supposed to feel bad and say something submissive, which really isn't satisfying when I have honestly spent my whole adult life consciously trying to be nice and even-handed to women.
Keep learning, keep reading, keep building empathy and understanding, keep piecing together an understanding of what people mean when they say privilege and why they think it's important, learn more about the history of feminism and of the different approaches to feminism, skim some articles about intersectionality; over time you'll notice more subtle forms of sexism, develop a better vocabulary for identifying it, and develop a better instinct for what you should do.
Examples off the top of my head: sometimes it may be as simple as noticing that people keep unconsciously interrupting a female coworker for no real reason, so you casually and non-condescendingly form a pause so she can finish talking - or maybe you're helping pick speakers for an event and you've thought of a person who happens to be a woman who would be great to round out the day, but she hasn't submitted a proposal yet or whatever, so you email her to ask if she's interested. And of course you also keep a friendly non-condescending eye out for men who similarly may be getting unfairly ignored or underestimating their own skills, but that kind of subtle social support often already comes naturally for people dealing with their own gender, and it's also somewhat less common for men to be randomly assumed to not know what they're talking about, etc.
In other words, being an active feminist is just generally being a decent human being, to women and to men, but also including a well-informed eye toward the biases left by generations of discrimination.
Crazy stuff happens to women, I'm don't think that is anything specific to the tech field. My girlfriend and most of my ex-girlfriends (non-hackers) have been harassed in one way or another at some time in their lives, yes even in the batshit crazy ways that you mention.
I wouldn't know what to do about it though, society is kind of messed up that way. If you attract any attention as woman, IMO doesn't matter in what kind of group, there will be assholes.
Personally, I might put a picture of myself not wearing pants (in boxers, of course) in something if I were making a joke about a relaxed work environment, that kind of thing. It would be pretty damn inappropriate to just say "Hey look at this" to a female interviewee, of course... it's all about context.
Well that question on kids sure is illegal to ask (I imagine an Anthony Weiner shot is also illegal come to think of it :-P).
I understand the touchiness on the subjet, which is why I enjoy frank discussions about it. However, I think it's harmful to the cause to make this difficult to talk about. The most powerful opponents to abuse are victims who can speak openly and frankly about their experiences. Touchiness, while entirely justified and understandable, is less effective than enabling intelligent discussions about sexism without the risk of being labeled "intolerant".
Agreed on the solution: intolerance for intolerance is the only long-term solution.
> Very common problem: interviewers asking questions about who was going to take care of the kids.
Not to excuse this, but it made me think of a rather terrible mistake I recently made, which I am glad has not come back to bite me. I was the last interviewer for a guy who was Jewish and didn't use technology on the Sabbath. As I was walking him back to the lobby I mused out loud that that was interesting since we have pager duty and I wonder what other teams do in that situation, since surely we wouldn't be the only team at the company who employed someone with that or similar restrictions. It wasn't until my wife pointed out to me that that was probably completely illegal and could have had serious repercussions for me that I thought I had done anything but muse about something meaningless out loud.
Sometimes people just don't think, I guess is my point.
I doubt that this is illegal, but it is the kind of thing that can get lawyers involved.
It's much better, one can say with hindsight, to say something like "Just so you are sure, I'll make sure this point about no tech on the Sabbath doesn't count against a good candidate like yourself, actually I think it's great to be able to regularly get your head out of your job, but this doesn't fit with how we are working here. If you get the job, you'll need to be active in figuring out how to make sure that things that are your responsibility can be dealt with by other team members if something urgent comes up then."
>Very common problem: interviewers asking questions about who was going to take care of the kids.
how the interviewer would know about the kids to start with? Did he ask about it? That question is already illegal. Or was the fact of having kids brought up by the candidate? Then the candidate got what s/he was asking for.
>Actually happened: an interviewer displayed a picture of himself not wearing pants. That interview was in Chicago; I was in Michigan at the time, thankfully.
was he doing it only to female candidates? Do we know it for sure? Or may be we just promoting and reinforcing the stereotype that women are intentionally targeted?
Candidate on the interview says "I have kids". It sounds like the candidate is bringing on a condition that the candidate considers as potentially having some relation to the proposed employment (otherwise why would the candidate mention it?). It is only reasonable for the interviewing person to ask how the candidate would manage the condition that the candidate brought on in a manner and situation that strongly suggests that the candidate may consider the condition as potentially related to the proposed employment.
I have to say that to me (a non-native speaker, a youngling, a geek) there's nothing offensive about "who's going to take care of the kids". If I had kids and a working wife, then got asked that question in an interview -- I better know how to answer it, if only for the sake of my kids, no?
I'm also now scared that you get offended while I really don't want you to; that's not why I asked. I might be missing some connotations, or the specific tone that goes with that phrase.
It's important to personally know how you'll take care of your kids, but it's inappropriate for an interviewer to ask questions about a person's personal life outside of work, especially about legally protected topics like family status. It's just not relevant, and these topics are specially protected because there's a long history of discrimination based on them (such as employers avoiding hiring married women because they assume the women will not be productive employees since they have to take care of children).
Very True. It's nice to think that we can't be all bad, and so, many men
make excuses to pretend we aren't part of the problem. The idea of "all
99% of guys need to ... help with this problem," is also true, but most
lack the fortitude to ever bother. When you add conflicting profit
motives into the mix, taking a stand can actually be bad business.
Personally, I've black listed companies for using booth babes at shows
in Vegas. I care more about how equally and fairly they present
themselves in public, than I care about the bottom line of my company or
if their products could benefit my company. --Some say that I "take
things too seriously," but of course, I disagree and I refuse to change.
Being "the dude" who takes a stand on such things has undesired side
effects, but sadly, there is even worse reputation damage of being known
as the female who "complains" about sexual harassment.
Also, your location is a bit notorious. Visiting Chicago from the Valley
in the late 80's was a shock for me, both the sexism and the racism.
It was my first trip east of the west coast.
It's great that you're not the worst offender, but all people commit acts of sexism. All people. People who have been victims of sexism often do it less, but sometimes respond by paying sexism forward. People who put in effort to understand sexism tend to do it less. But we all do it, even the most dedicated of us.
Imagine I asked you to write a page of code to do some specific thing, but told you not to run it. Then I say: Go find as many bugs in your code as you can. You come back with none, saying you've never really noticed bugs in your software. There are two possibilities:
1) Your code is naturally bug free. You are just that special.
2) You stink at finding bugs.
In this case, you're saying you don't see any bugs in your gender programming. How certain are you that #1 is true?
You're absolutely right, and I hope I didn't commit hyperbole in my previous comment. I chose the word "blatant" in "I didn't see blatant sexism" carefully. Honestly, I make offensive comments all the time, but I contextualize my comments to the people in the room. I wouldn't make a joke about the Holocaust to a survivor. However, in the context of my close friends, or coworkers who I know fairly well, it might be OK to mock people who call Obama "literally Hitler". Has some comment I've made offended someone who overheard it? Absolutely! However, I don't consider that "blatant sexism" the same way I wouldn't consider most bugs in my code "blatantly poor programming".
This attitude towards the problem has always struck me as counterproductive. It's true, of course, that everyone has biases, but it's possible to address those biases without putting such a strong emphasis on their permanence. (I won't go into whether or not they are permanent here.) That emphasis seems more likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else.
I'm only speaking from personal experience, of course. Take it as you will.
Any individual sexist practice isn't fundamentally permanent, but because of time constraints, some will turn out to be, in practice.
I think it's counterproductive for people to shift attention onto the things other "real" sexists/racists do, rather than Do Their Own Work. That's why it's productive to point out that everyone has work to be done.
Um, why not? Sorry, but that is over the top. Maybe it surprises you that I have in fact talked to women in real life before. I even asked them questions occasionally. Most didn't falter from that kind of "aggression".
Also I didn't even look at his username, so the gender really played no role.
Damn: I missed the edit timeframe on my comment. I just realized that Skud was actually at the panel I went to. She was one of the main people I had this discussion with, and I have a "geek feminism" sticker from it sitting on my desk. Small world!
I think that was probably me with the stickers. Skud and I had vaguely similar hair for a while. I am the one with the wheelchair so while people have confused us, actually it's quite easy to tell us apart!
Personally I never saw that problem in all the companies I worked, but I can see how making yourself more prominent in tech can lead to harassment,
Would this not be the same in any industry or even worse?
We are probably the most vocal community and thus generating more conversations about it, but I don't see a lot of women in the construction fields, and I can picture them having a pretty bad experience there. What about any industry where the boss is a jerk that want to get laid?
I'm kind of joining some of you guys in wondering what the movements about getting more women involved in tech is about, I don't really think it needs more or less,
Like probably no one would start a movement to get more guys in a predominant women profession? frankly who cares?
The construction industry having a sexism problem isn't a reason for another industry to stop striving to be better.
> Like probably no one would start a movement to get more guys in a predominant women profession? frankly who cares?
That kind of wrong-headed, "Why are there no MOWO awards?!!" reasoning doesn't help either. The situations that the different genders find themselves in with regards to employment aren't really comparable.