I used to play football. I wasn’t talented, but still, I loved it. Football is a team sport, and playing is not the only essential part of that. The other is the locker room.
The locker room has its secrets that cannot be revealed outside it. The locker room is homogeneous; you have to keep a standard line. The locker room is also filled with mockery. Hiding clothes, laughing at farts, that sort of thing. It’s hilarious; you can imagine.
Embarrassment of one is fun for others. Still, counterintuitively, all of that brings the team together. Of course, if you’re having fun. If you’re not a member of the pack. What happens next? You’re sidelined and don’t play. What’s the worst for a football player? Not playing. You don’t play; you get discouraged. You get discouraged, and you leave. Adapt or leave.
Mockery is a primitive initiation and onboarding process.
But meh, luckily, in IT, we’re not primitive; we have higher IQs, broader horizons and are above those masculine rituals, right? Right?
Did you have friends you liked but couldn’t stand the rest of their company?
Or, on the contrary, have you seen such a well-coordinated group that you wanted to be part of, but you didn’t feel cool enough? You tried to be chilled, made a joke and were only met with eye rolls and ignoring?
Some time ago, I was running the recruitment process. I realised that I didn’t get a single woman in the twenty or so job interviews I conducted. What’s more, I didn’t get any female CV either.
I was invited once to a big conference where the organisers gathered one woman out of about ninety speakers. There were conferences that created fake women profiles to cheat that they care about diversity.
Do you already know what I’m getting at? What am I wandering around?
I was raised with a conservative mindset. Respect for every person, but still very traditional. I was a prominent opponent of parities. I argued that putting quotas is unfair. I argued that we live in the 20th and 21st centuries, where everyone has equal rights. I asked why women do not choose women’s politicians since there are more of them than men. Why are they not in solidarity with each other? I repeated chauvinistic jokes, trying to show that I had some distance from them. I could have joked like that since everyone knew I didn’t think so.
Did lightning strike me that made me reevaluate my life and spread the good news? None of these things.
I am a programmer. I have an analytical mind. Sometimes, I overthink, especially myself. I analyze, I think, I conclude. That’s nothing special, nothing complicated. Sometimes, all it takes is a little reflection. Day by day. Positively. Little by little does the trick.
Eventually, I realised that it’s effortless to make wise statements when you’re a middle-aged man with a good job in a top profession.
It’s not like if someone didn’t manage to get to the same place, then it’s just their choice. It doesn’t mean that they could work harder or made another choice or that they didn’t want to be here. Sometimes, there is simply not enough enthusiasm to fit into a hermetic group. Sometimes, a person just doesn’t feel good enough. Only some people like to join a party without an invitation. Some won’t come without it. And it’s not because they don’t want to; they just don’t feel welcomed.
“With great power comes great responsibility”. Being a privileged person means we have a great responsibility towards less privileged people. There’s nothing wrong, by itself, with being privileged or having a better position. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just a fact where we are. There will always be someone with more power, more voice, etc. We should just embrace that. The issue, in my opinion, is when privilege is changing into gatekeeping. We should be the ones opening the doors and letting people in. Without establishing certain common-sense parities, we will not break this wall. We should not close our eyes, pretending we don’t see the problem. As men, we should realize that this is not normal. It just isn’t. Dot.
Are we the only ones to blame for this? Of course not. Women should also not allow themselves to be tunnelled by us. Real-world example from my project. We had an unplanned visit of the client to our office. The office manager from headquarters asked my colleague from the QA team to organise a meal for the client and other people. The colleague agreed to do so. What’s wrong with that? Both the office manager and the colleague from my team were women. And it’s not a rare scenario.
My women friends, you shouldn’t put yourself in this situation. Any other employee, including men, would have the same obligation as you to deal with such matters. Likewise, don’t let yourself be forced into stereotypical roles of testers, analysts or middle-level managers. Of course, none of these professions is worse than being a developer, but I have often encountered a situation where a woman, after computer science studies, even though she wanted to be a programmer, started with such roles “because it will be easier to start this way”. You truly are as capable as men, and you’ll do well enough or even better than us.
Some say that women just don’t want to be programmers. That’s just untrue. Our industry was one of the most feminine engineering industries for a long time. It changed in the 90s when men realised they could earn much money by being programmers. Read more in The Secret History of Women in Coding and Proportion of Women Programmers. It’s also not surprising that more women are working as frontend developers than back-end, as many developers see it as less prestigious. Read more in Is Frontend Web Development Sexist?.
If you don’t think that’s as bad as I picture, then rethink if you just didn’t look around.
I heard from men that parity like The European Women on Boards Directive are bad because “you need to have a one women in the board before you hire competent people.” Which is, of course, a pure chauvinism that can be inverted to “you just need to find a single competent woman and then you can hire the rest of incompetent men”. Of course, enforced parity in the perfect word should not exist. But our world is unbalanced, and we need to break the unwanted status quo.
When I often talked about the woman from my team, other devs or managers instantly assumed they were QA team members.
In one company I’ve worked, I asked at the managers’ meeting why we had only two women out of 60 people in our group and what we could do about it. I got the answer from the top manager: “Okay, fair, let’s get some good-looking apprentices and raise them followed with a cackle.
I once had to go to the CEO after learning about several cases of harassment made by managers to their female employees. And I heard and read similar stories like that.
This shit is real.
So now, my fellow men, am I urging you to make a revolution or turn your worldview upside down? I wouldn’t dare. I’m not one of those who tell others how to live. I encourage you to reflect and consider what you can do with this topic. What would I, such a smartass, suggest?
- Pay attention to how many women are in your company and if they’re paid, respected equally to their competence.
- Look around and see if your environment is open and friendly. Consider whether you would like your wife, girlfriend, sister or daughter to work in such an environment.
- Listen more carefully to what you say and what others say, whether the jokes are appropriate and really funny.
- No, conferences and meetups are not places where women are coming to be picked up.
- Ask HR about the candidates and their CVs. Ensure that they’re inclusive.
- Consider whether you treat every CV equally, regardless of gender. Are you looking for a woman for QA and a man for DEV roles? I know that’s not easy; there are some techniques like Blind Hiring, but they not always bring expected results if we’re not doing it sanely.
- Pay attention to others when they misbehave.
- Be proactive; don’t expect it to happen magically by itself. Don’t let yourself fall into the this-is-a-wider-issue or it-will-take-years mentality
I always tried to make my teams diverse. Not only because of the higher goals but also because of pragmatism. Diversity just works better. The best-performing were those that were most diverse. Different perspectives improve our design; we can predict more scenarios and complement our skills. Women bring a lot of elements to the team that men often ignore: pragmatism, striving for consensus, and rationality.
As I wrote, I started on the ground level. But I’ve made my way; it’s doable. You just need to open your mind, observe, try to make small steps and improve.
Read also more in:
- The Secret History of Women in Coding
- Emily Bache - Proportion of Women Programmers
- Rachel Thomas - If you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention
- Guardian - We can teach women to code, but that just creates another problem
- Harvard Business Review - Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women
- Lisa Harvey-Smith - More women are studying STEM, but there are still stubborn workplace barriers
- Lian Buan - Insidious, expensive: The massive, hidden cost of keeping women offline
- J. Terrell, A. Kofink, J. Middleton, C. Rainear, E. Murphy-Hill, C. Parnin, J. Stallings - Gender differences and bias in open source: pull request acceptance of women versus men
- B. Trinkenreich, I. Wiese, A. Sarma, M. Gerosa, I. Steinmacher - Women’s Participation in Open Source Software: A Survey of the Literature
- Barbaño González - Why Women Are Underrepresented in Open Source
- StackOverflow Podcast - Jon Skeet Wants You to Be a Feminist
- Matt Wynne - Feminism
- Jasper Spanjaart - 20 ways to hire more women into engineering and combat the gender gap
- Heather Wilde - How to Close the Diversity Gap
- Gergely Orosz - A Tech Conference Listed Fake Speakers for Years: I Accidentally Noticed
- Fempire - A list of women tech speakers & organizers
p.s. Ukraine is still under brutal Russian invasion. A lot of Ukrainian people are hurt, without shelter and need help. You can help in various ways, for instance, directly helping refugees, spreading awareness, putting pressure on your local government or companies. You can also support Ukraine by donating e.g. to Red Cross, Ukraine humanitarian organisation or donate Ambulances for Ukraine.