Lately, more and more women are speaking out online against the stereotypes they face. Hearing these stories are simultaneously depressing and comforting. It's gratifying to hear my experiences being echoed by others and knowing I'm not alone or crazy for how I feel, but at the same time, the pervasiveness of the sexist attitudes out there are so ingrained that it feels hopeless that it could ever change.
I don't have any answers either, but I hope by reading this, maybe it might make people think and see things from a different perspective. And if you know anyone who does this kind of offending behaviour, maybe this will help you change their minds.
The inspiration for this post came from a recent survey done in Silicon Valley, the heart of tech culture, chronicling the experiences of women in the industry. I encourage you to read all the results and stories from the survey, but for now I'll just touch on the ones that affected me the most.
I've never been accused of being too hard, but across the board I've been called too soft. I naturally have a soft voice and combined with my small stature, I've been told a lot that I lack "presence" or even that I spend "too much time working with others" - however, many of those opinions are changed after actually working with me and instead change to compliments of how "competent" and "efficient" I am. I'm definitely a quiet person, but quiet can be powerful. You can't listen if you don't shut up once in awhile.
I would also agree that women are often tasked the "menial" tasks of organizing and basically babysitting their male coworkers - scheduling meetings, booking lunches, sending out meeting notes. C'mon guys, you are just as capable of opening your calendar as anyone else and isn't this just more proof that women are just as, if not more, capable if we can do your menial shit as well as being kick-ass at our own jobs, all in the same hours of work?
This one is tricky to argue with, but I've definitely felt excluded from social activities at work. Whether it's from Mortal Kombat or NHL tournaments, football pools, or playing sports, there is just a lack of activities that I'm interested in participating in, or even worse I'm never even asked as it's assumed I won't be. I can understand that HR needs to plan according to the majority, but if encouraging women is really a focus of companies, introducing a greater variety of activities would help with inclusiveness.
This one is also very common. I've interviewed potential employees and been in countless meetings where there is always someone who avoids eye contact with me. Even when I'm the one asking the question, very often the answer is addressed to my male colleague beside me. Am I invisible? Am I emanating some ethereal light that makes it hard to look at me? Maybe it's too much highlighter!
These are just some of the small incidents I've come across and there are big incidents which I won't get into, but even the smallest things can wear you down. Have I considered leaving it all? Oh yeah, lots of times, but maybe it's stubbornness or just the fact that I do enjoy what I do, that makes me keep at it. You can't be the change if you quit. You can't show those idiots what you're made of if you disappear.
Despite its downsides, working in tech can be incredibly rewarding and it's a place that truly aims to honor creativity and intelligence - maybe even more so than other industries I've heard about. I hope that as more men and women engage in these conversations and be open to truly examining the uncomfortable truths, that life for both sexes will improve and what we can do together get even better!
I'd love to hear your stories - does this happen to you in your work or school? How do you deal?