A primer on sexism in the tech industry – by an actual girl

There have been 2 things I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. The first is to start a blog based on my experiences as a relative newbie in the web industry, and the second is to write a post on my opinions of sexism in the industry based on what I’ve experienced so far. Today I read this post on .net magazine purporting to be about sexism in the industry and it enraged me so much that I was compelled to finally write my own take.

I have many, many problems with this article. So let’s go through them one by one.

  1. This article is called ‘A primer on sexism in the tech industry’ and yet if you read it, it basically has nothing to do with sexism in the tech industry. There’s a super helpful glossary at the start (because clearly none of us know what any of those mean, we’re just THAT stupid), most of the article focuses on sexism in general culture, and it then goes on to talk about rape culture. Why? What has rape culture really got to do with sexism in the tech industry? I don’t know about you but I haven’t exactly read a lot of news about rapes at web agencies lately. Bringing the article down to the level of talking about rape is just complete sensationalism and completely takes attention away from any actual sexist problems that the industry may have.
  2.  The article is written by a man. Now I don’t want to say that anyone shouldn’t be able to write about anything they like based on gender, race, age, sexuality, or anything else, but frankly, basing an article off a few things you’ve read and a couple of people you’ve talked to is never going to be the same as basing an article off your own personal experience. Some research is great, but a lot of research is totally skewed to prove a point, and it’s not always easy to tell which is which. I was told by the author on Twitter after I commented on the post that his ‘research’ was far more important than my anecdotal evidence. Isn’t social research by its nature normally based on anecdotal evidence? And who is anyone to tell me that my own experience is not important to a debate?
  3. He makes an awful lot of assumptions about women, which in my case at least, are completely untrue. They may well apply to some women, but they certainly don’t apply to us all (I know that I’m not the only woman in the world that has this opinion). According to the article, all women find a male-dominated industry “less appealing” and all-male groups less welcoming. Bullshit. When applying for my job I couldn’t care less whether the industry was male-dominated or not, and in general I find that men are in fact, more welcoming. In my experience (in life in general, not just in the industry), I’ve found men to be more laid back, friendlier, and easier to talk to than women. I’m sure not all women feel the same way, but there are plenty that do, and you can’t just make these sweeping assumptions to prove your point (even if they are based on ‘research’). If you are going to talk about it, at the very least you need to preface them with ‘some research has found’ or ‘many women find that’. Otherwise you’re just drawing conclusions that are plain wrong to a lot of people.
  4. Similar assumptions arise when the article claims that “Every woman carries that historical weight [of violence] with her wherever she goes”. EVERY woman? Are you absolutely sure about that? I’m fully aware of ways in which women have been victimised in past times. Is that something I think about every day? Hell no. I don’t know a single woman to whom that would be true (though I’m not going to claim that no-one feels that way, unlike the author I don’t claim to speak for all women, in the whole world, ever).
  5. He uses stereotypes (ones that I don’t think even really exist any more), and then concludes that everyone else is put off joining the industry based off of them. He describes how when you think of a hacker you picture a fat, bearded, smelly white guy. Erm… maybe in 1997 I might have. Right now in 2012 when I think of a hacker I immediately picture Penelope Garcia, closely followed by Alec Hardison. (For those of you who watch a little less TV crime drama than I do, Penelope is (unsurprisingly) a woman, Hardison is black and works out). Frankly even if I did imagine a hacker as a fat, white guy that wouldn’t put me off if that’s what I wanted to do. Why would it? If I want to do something, I’ll do it, and I won’t give a shit about who else I think will be doing it. Perhaps that isn’t true for everyone, but yet again it’s making a general answer out of the way some people feel.
  6. It completely discounts that men can be victims of rape too. This has nothing to do with sexism in the tech industry (then again, neither does most of the post) but was just too terrible of a statement for me to ignore. Apparently, men are happy to make jokes about rape because “you never have, and never will, face the daily threat of real life, actual rape happening to you.” I’m sorry. WHAT?! Men don’t ever get raped? No man has ever faced the threat of rape? What a horrific thing to say, and in a post which purports to be all about equality. Yes, fewer rapes happen to men than women, but that’s the key word ‘fewer’, not ‘none’. When you read such ridiculous generalisations the legitimacy of the whole article is immediately put into contention, even if you agreed with the rest of it.

I could say more, but I would just be repeating the same points. The whole article is hyperbolic generalisation, seemingly designed more to make the author look like they care about the subject than to actually discuss any real problems with sexism in the tech industry. I can safely say that not one thing mentioned in the article that supposedly applies to ‘all women’ applies to me, a woman. I’m sure these feelings and problems are experienced by some, but claiming to speak for every woman (especially when you are a man) is both ridiculous and insulting.

To finish this article off, I’ll just speak a little about my experiences of the tech industry so far. I’m pretty new to the industry – I’ve worked in UX design for the past 6 months at Sequence in Cardiff, which has around 60 employees (of which I think 11 are women) and in that time I’ve attended 2 conferences and one mini conference. I’ve been friends with a number of designers and developers for several years outside of work too. I’ve by no means experienced everything this industry has to offer, but I am able to offer my insights as a newcomer on what I have found so far.

I can honestly say that I have never once felt that I was the victim of sexism in that time. Perhaps I have just been lucky so far and I’ll experience it in the future, that’s entirely possible. It’s also entirely possible that I’ll never experience any sexism in my job. Maybe South Wales is just a lot more inclusive than other places. I don’t know any of these answers and I’m not going to guess.

I have actually experienced sexism in a past job at a local council, both through comments about how I looked (which honestly I didn’t mind as they were harmless, it’s flattering to be told you look nice), and through being treated like a secretary (which ended in a tray of coffees being slammed on a meeting table and a letter of complaint to my boss). So, it’s not like there’s been sexism at work which I just haven’t noticed; I know what it’s like.

The point of this is simply to show that, unlike what the article will have you believe, it is entirely possible to be a woman in the tech industry, like your job, get on well with your colleagues (even when most of them are, shock horror, men), and be treated in a totally fair way. Articles which rely on such broad strokes and paint the experiences of some as the experiences of all do nothing to help actual problems which do exist for specific people, they are simply there to try and hammer home a point. In this case it had the complete opposite effect on me than was intended.