Mansplaining Women in Tech

My manager at my first engineering job after college was a woman. In my second engineering job, my coworker was a female engineer. Years later I worked for a company where one of the two owners was a woman and she provided my first real training as a sales engineer. The other owner of the company, a man, handed me a stack of technical manuals and just said “read these.” However the woman trained me by example, setting a high bar for ethicality, professionalism, and technical expertise. Based on these experiences (and at the risk of “mansplaining”), here are a few of my thoughts on the situation.

It is 2017 and it is still pathetic how male-dominated the tech world is. My third job was working for a “progressive” engineering company. That environment demonstrated gender issues more typical of the high tech world where the few women employees were in “Marketing / Order Entry / Human Resources” roles while Product Development, Management, and Sales (everything else) were male. There were a few women though in technical roles, but they never had it easy as the only females in rooms full of dozens of men. Situations like these were a rude shock after working in environments for years where gender issues weren’t issues at all.

Most men would find it hard to imagine getting dressed in the morning and having to consider whether the clothes they were planning to wear were going to “send the right message” to the group of women they would be working with that day. “Is this suit too form fitting?” “Should I button one more button of my dress shirt?” The challenges would continue throughout the workday where they would have to monitor every comment to make sure they were coming across professionally and not “as a man.”

In my opinion, the solutions to deep seated gender prejudices start with both men and women not allowing thinly veiled sexism to gain acceptance in any way. Sexist jokes can be met with silent disapproval and “mansplainers” can gently be coaxed into more reciprocal verbal exchanges. The Taylor Swift trial is another example of how powerful women can use their influence to confront serious gender based abuse. However, despite her win, prominent news sources still published negative headlines such as Reuters’ “Despite losing trial to Taylor Swift, DJ insists he never groped her.”

It is also possible to not support companies that clearly violate gender equality standards. We now use Lyft instead of Uber. Uber is well known to have an openly hostile environment toward women. If you would like to take a deeper dive, the Accidental Tech Podcast discussed “women in tech” in a recent episode (at 45:34). Unfortunately, it was a couple of guys discussing it so if you would like to hear a discussion from female executives in high tech, then look no further than Kara Swisher, Executive Editor of ReCode, and Lauren Goode, Senior Technology Editor at The Verge, interviewing Niniane Wang and Joelle Emerson. It is over an hour of in-depth discussion on topics ranging from harassment in “hyper-masculine environments” to “Broflakes.” A Broflake is a man who has no trouble criticizing women, but then says he’s afraid to participate in an honest conversation about gender issues.

Ok, enough for now and we didn’t even get to the infamous “Google Manifesto.” However, so you don’t feel unsatisfied, here’s a link to the Vox article, “I’m a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you” written by a woman who “is a lecturer in computer science at Stanford,” “taught at least four different programming languages, including assembly,” and has “had a single-digit employee number in a startup.” Fascinating!

Gloria Steinem speaking with supporters at the Women Together Arizona Summit at Carpenters Local Union in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.