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Tech industry stories

Another woman, another story, another example of bias. Sarah Parmenter has been getting the usual stuff: photoshopped images, sexist remarks, dismissal of her abilities because she’s a woman.

There’s many questions around why there aren’t more females speaking in this industry. I can tell you why, they are scared. Everytime I jump on stage, I get comments, either about the way I look, or the fact that I’m the female, the token, the one they have to sit through in order for the males to come back on again. One conference, I even had a guy tweet something derogatory about me not 30 seconds into my talk, only for me to bring up the point he had berated me for not bringing up, not a minute later – which caused him to have to apologise to my face after public backlash. I’ve had one guy come up to me in a bar and say (after explaining he didn’t like my talk)… “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all, I learn better from guys”. I could write a book on inappropriate things that have been said to me at conferences about girls in the industry so much so, it’s become a running joke with fellow speakers. I know other girls who could also chip in a fair few chapters but, underneath the humour sometimes found in these situations, lies a very real problem.

It’s no great secret that girls are a minority in this industry, you only have to look at the queues for the toilets at any conference, however, it’s forgotten that it’s not about female speakers, it’s about finding female speakers who have enough of a thick skin to want to stand up in front of an audience of twitter-trigger-happy males and public speak. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Then on top – when you finally feel comfortable with speaking, you get put into a big black pot and tarnished with the label “same old face”. This happened to me on my third ever speaking engagement, third? I was tarnished as a “same old face”. Since then it’s become water off a ducks back – I’m not going to let a label stop me from developing and growing my speaking skills, I’m by no means perfect and still have a lot to learn. We should be encouraging anyone who shows an aptitude or love for sharing their knowledge with the community.

Yeah, and we’ll just get the usual responses, that she has to toughen up and stop being a professional victim. How about if people stop being professional victimizers, instead?

Comments

  1. Nepenthe says

    Maybe professional victim is a good description, much like being a teacher could be described as being a professional paper grader. Being victimized by asshats seems to be part of the woman-in-public job description.

  2. glodson says

    How about if people stop being professional victimizers, instead?

    But it is part of the tech industry culture! Really, some will say that. Hell, I’ve heard that when I’ve tried to argue against sexism in gaming circles. It is exhausting and amounts to “this has always been for us men, and that’s why we need to keep the status quo.” Which is just as stupid as it sounds.

  3. says

    “I learn better from guys”

    Translation: Guys can’t do thinky when women are around.

    “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all…”

    Hey, none taken…PSYCH!

  4. sqlrob says

    I could write a book on inappropriate things that have been said to me at conferences about girls in the industry so much so, it’s become a running joke with fellow speakers.

    I wonder if a book might not be a small part of the solution to the problem. Shine lights on roaches, and with luck, they’ll scatter.

  5. glodson says

    @ 5

    In the long run, the more we shine a light on these problems, the more likely we’ll see it improve. Sadly, this has a cost. The attacks and viciousness against any women shining the spotlight will increase over the short term, as people unable or unwilling to accept any change or accountability will just fight harder to keep the darkness.

  6. Matt Penfold says

    In the long run, the more we shine a light on these problems, the more likely we’ll see it improve. Sadly, this has a cost. The attacks and viciousness against any women shining the spotlight will increase over the short term, as people unable or unwilling to accept any change or accountability will just fight harder to keep the darkness.

    And those shining the light run the risk of accusations that they are the cause of the problem of too few women in the industry; That their exposure of the sexism and misogyny will scare away women considering working within it. Bollocks of course, since exposing poor behavior is not the cause of the poor behaviour, unless your name is DJ Groethe.

  7. glodson says

    Getting the ball rolling is hard. But we are all growing up with this technology. I hate to think that my daughter would be encouraged to find other interests if she finds something to enjoy in any of these fields because the deck is stacked against women in terms of their treatment by their peers.

    And the excuse that “we’ve always been like this” is just total bullshit. The idea of “professional victims” is asinine.

  8. says

    Yes, exactly, sonderval. And don’t forget, it’s a guy thing BECAUSE it’s a guy thing–not because receiving belittling remarks about one’s appearance, having assumptions made about your lack of competence, and dealing with unwanted sexual advances are what you might call “a gal thing.”

  9. RFW says

    The question to pose to the aggressors (let’s not use the cutie-pie euphemism “victimizers”) is this: what are you so afraid of? It’s precisely the same question one can ask the anti-gay crowd. In the latter case, if you were able to probe deep enough (no pun intended!) you’d find that their animus is utterly irrational, but oddly enough often based on fear of their own repressed homosexual urges.

    That explanation doesn’t work with the mom’s-basement dwelling social misfits who harass women, though. I don’t even want to think about the psycho-pathologies that lurk in the depths of their minds, but perhaps other Pharyngulites can make suggestions?

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    you only have to look at the queues for the toilets at any conference

    One genders gets an express lane.

  11. vaiyt says

    “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all…”

    The proper response to this is, obviously, “no offence, but you’re an asshat”

  12. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all…”

    We need to all agree to accpted response to this is to cup our hands and swing our arm up and down miming “jerkoff” whenever that person opens their mouth

  13. mythbri says

    In the interest of beating some of the apologetics to the punch:

    1. Since there’s no legal barrier keeping women from going into tech-related fields, any problems a woman has in her career cannot be explained by sexist bias. No siree.

    2. Since there’s no legal barrier keeping women from going into tech-related fields, any disparity in gender representation in the field itself and prominence in tech conferences must be due to biologically-determined aptitude for the subject matter.

    3. Since there may be, on occasion, every once in a while, almost not worth mentioning really, a situation in which a woman in a tech-related field is harassed by a man in a tech-related field, she should really just grow a thicker skin and get over it, and you know women totally do that too.

    I’d post more, but my brain is crying.

  14. Anthony K says

    And, today, Rebecca Watson posts some of her *daily* mail. This one features a cartoon of her in leg irons, covered in semen, getting raped with a “$2″ sign next to her. The image is titled “Rebecca Watson is an object.”

    Jesus fucking Christ.

  15. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    I learn better from guys

    Someone has a serious learning disability by choice.

  16. frog says

    @19: that was my reaction, too. I was thinking that the correct response to “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all…” is “Wow, that’s a terrible handicap. You’re only half a person. Maybe you should see if there’s a government grant to help you get proper accommodation for it.”

  17. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all, I learn better from guys

    “Oh, dear, I’m really sorry. I often forget how very limited the attention span of douchebags is. I will try to go slower next time, and use more crayon”

  18. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    …I learn better from guys…

    I can’t learn a thing
    If you can’t make it swing

    Sorry.

  19. fastlane says

    There’s a conversation started on Linkedin recently asking “why is this such a male dominated field?” (I work in the aerospace engineering sector.) My response…about the 15th… was along the lines of ‘If these sexist responses are any indication, I wouldn’t want to work with any of you if I were a woman, either.’

    No one replied directly, but the vast majority of responses are quite sexist, with just a few of us noting that they might be the problem. It’s recently veered onto how the Old Testament justifies all this.

    If anyone wants links, I can provide.

  20. Fred Salvador - Colonialist says

    As CEO of The Company I would like to stress that Colleague satisfaction at work is our top priority. I was dismayed to learn that one of our Colleagues, Mr J. Random Bawbag, has raised complaints about some of The Company’s recent events, and as such I have instructed my Colleagues in the HR & Scheduling Departments to make the following changes to Company Policy, in order to prevent future discomfort.

    The Problem:

    no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all

    The Solution:
    In hindsight, the policy of allowing girls to speak at conferences was possibly not one of my wisest decisions.
    As a result of the complainant bringing this issue to my attention, from this point onwards, all speakers at Company events will be qualified adult females. ALL of them. Like… every single last one of them.

    The Problem:

    I learn better from guys

    The Solution:
    The complainant shall no longer be required to take direction from females. Unfortunately, since several of the complainant’s supervisors are female, it has been necessary to transfer the complainant to another department. As of Monday, Mr Bawbag will be Team Leader of the Giant, Screaming, Whiny Little Man-Baby Department; in line with departmental policy, Mr Bawbag will be required to wear the departmental uniform – slacks, black shoes, and a t-shirt with the words “I Am A Christmas Pudding” printed on the front, with a picture of an anthropomorphised Christmas Pudding complete with big, whiny, cartoon crying-face on the back. Failure to do so will result in summary termination for breach of contract.

    Thank you for your time.

    Sincerely,

    The CEO

  21. unclefrogy says

    most of the complaints really are weakness. the thing that surprises me is that they are not universally seen as the whining complaints of 6 yr olds crying that they can’t do it because girl cooties or something.
    it just seems so childish in the extreme.
    come on really why can’t they just “man up” about it any way and stop acting so pathetically insecure about the “girls”, just “take care of business”
    I guess I’m dreaming though, some will just have to through a fucking fit and waste the time they have on vindictive actions, such a waste.

    uncle frogy

  22. Caveat Imperator says

    I wonder how much of this chauvinistic culture in engineering/tech/science is encouraged and perpetuated at the industry level, rather than the educational level.
    (Anecdotal evidence incoming. Feel free to ignore at your leisure.)
    I just got my B.S. in chemistry last year, and I did research in the Department of Materials Engineering, so I have an insight into both the pure and applied sides of STEM. I was involved in student organizations in both departments. Both the student chapters of the American Chemical Society and the Materials Research Society had more female officers than male officers, more often than not. I don’t recall more than a few instances of blatant sexist sentiment in academic settings. (Non-academic settings, on the other hand…)
     
    If my university is typical (which may be complete bullshit), it is a sign that this behavior is becoming less accepted among the newest generation of graduates, and will disappear as the dinosaurs retire and die.
    It’s also possible that openly sexist behavior is more accepted in fields that have even fewer women, like computer science and mechanical engineering.

  23. says

    Good fucking grief. What is the proper term for this level of ass-hattery?

    During my corporate career, I was lucky enough to have several role models and mentors.

    The most-memorable male role model I had was a chain-smoking drunk who I never saw eat a morsel of “real” food other than the olive in his martini. When his health finally failed, they have to give him alcohol by IV drip, otherwise his heart wouldn’t have been able to stand it.

    My most-memorable female role model was the CEO of my company, who took a liking to my work ethic, intelligence, and capacity for learning. She grew me from a relatively junior staffer to Executive VP within the course of 5 years. Taught me a hell of a lot about business and life. I never had a better boss before or since.

    And Jesus Fucking Christ On A Stick, were all of these morans taught by only male teachers? Who the hell taught them to read? To tie their shoes? To add 3+5? A women, I reckon.

    Anyone professing opinions like this just ought to be pithed. Save the liver – we have need of those. The rest you can probably toss.

  24. leonpeyre says

    Wow, that’s sad. I do IT for a living myself, but I *like* seeing women in the field. I’ve known some very competent female techy types and learned a lot from some of them. Plus we need them–diversity is a good thing in any field.

    It also doesn’t hurt that I think smart women are sexy, and technically minded women are almost always bright.

  25. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    You know what’s sad?

    Wow, that’s sad. I do IT for a living myself, but I *like* seeing women in the field.

    That’s sad. Offering your personal enjoyment/preferences as a man as a reason why women ought be in the field. As if that has fuck all to do with it.

    You know what else is sad?

    It also doesn’t hurt that I think smart women are sexy, and technically minded women are almost always bright.

    That it doesn’t even occur to you that you’re participating in the same fucking oppression pointed out in this post—it’s just the flip side.

    Your preferred sexiness has nothing to do with whether woman can, should, or ought be found in any field. WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS WHO DON’T NEED YOUR GODDAMN STAMP OF BONER APPROVAL TO BE ANYWHERE OR FREE FROM HARASSMENT

    If you’ve got the urge to protest and splutter, don’t. Think for a while about what you said.

  26. says

    It also doesn’t hurt that I think smart women are sexy

    Are you sure? Are you sure it doesn’t hurt, I mean? Are you positive that evaluating your colleagues in terms of their effect on your boner isn’t hurting your ability to take them seriously and deal with them as equals? Are you sure that sharing your boner’s opinion about bright women isn’t hurting the overall cause, which is to combat the idea that a woman’s worth is determined primarily by her ability to make boners pop?

  27. Steve LaBonne says

    @27:

    It’s also possible that openly sexist behavior is more accepted in fields that have even fewer women, like computer science and mechanical engineering.

    I’m afraid that my sister the professor of developmental biology has encountered plenty of it in her theoretically more female-friendly field. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about the fact that there continues to be a disheartening amount of this shit in all fields of science and technology.

  28. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Inorite Sally?

    It’s just too much. It’s everywhere. It’s so deep. Almost no one sees it. It really is the fucking matrix.

  29. leonpeyre says

    Um, Josh, don’t be so quick to jump out of the saddle there. I like seeing women involved in the tech field because they’re as good at it as we are and the industry would be squandering talent by maintaining arbitrary barriers to half the population. Not to mention it’s harmful to society to pull that kind of sh*t, and that sort of thing hurts people. Like I said above, the women I’ve met in my field are talented and I’ve learned a lot from some of them (including a best friend).

    The bit about personal taste and all that is just extra. Apparently I gave the idea that was my primary focus; I’ll try not to do that next time.

  30. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Leonpeyre–thanks, as far as it goes. But back up. You’re still casting this in terms of what Leon likes. That’s the problem. It’s not about women getting access because of what you *like* or what any man likes, whether it’s sexual or not. The fact that you can’t come to this conversation without framing it as revolving around your preferences is symptomatic of the deep problem.

    You’re not the only one to do it, so don’t feel personally picked on. But please stop, step back, and re-examine. There’s no way it’s ever appropriate or helpful to talk about your personal preferences (be they sexual or not) vis a vis discrimination against women.

    Shorter—it’s totes beside the point what you think. Women don’t deserve this because they’re sentient humans. Full stop.

  31. Caveat Imperator says

    leonpeyre,

    You may think you’re being egalitarian and enlightened, but that’s not how your statements look to us. They look patronizing, as though the presence of women in technical fields is somehow special, instead of the way things should be.

    Don’t take it personally. Take it as a learning experience.

  32. says

    The bit about personal taste and all that is just extra. Apparently I gave the idea that was my primary focus; I’ll try not to do that next time.

    You thought it was “just extra” but you would be wrong. Privileging the opinions of men’s boners, treating boners as something inherently worth paying attention to, even in a jokey, casual manner, when the discussion is about women’s full and equal participation in realms economic, social, and political, is precisely the problem.

    You did not give the idea that it was your primary focus; you gave the idea that you considered it relevant and at least slightly important. Bringing your boner up AT ALL is the problem. If you want to do better next time, don’t give your opinion on the sexiness of women in a professional setting or context. Period.

  33. Caveat Imperator says

    I’m afraid that my sister the professor of developmental biology has encountered plenty of it in her theoretically more female-friendly field. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about the fact that there continues to be a disheartening amount of this shit in all fields of science and technology.

    Out of curiosity, where has she encountered it the most? Hiring decisions? Promotions? Funding? Attitudes at conferences and talks?
    In other words, in your sister’s experience, is the sexism spread out, or concentrated in a few powerful individuals and it trickles down to the rest of the community? (Supply side sexism…now that’s a fucked up concept)
    If it’s anything like Ms. Parmenter’s experiences above, I would guess the first case.
     
    But seriously, BIOLOGY? The discipline that, for as long as I can remember, has been stereotyped as the scientific field that women have been encouraged to study? (Though the fact that this stereotype exists is another problem entirely.)

  34. Pteryxx says

    The bit about personal taste and all that is just extra totally harmless.

    Now do you see the problem, leonpeyre?

  35. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    I wonder how many single, totally not indictative of an epidemic harrassment stories from women will need to be out there before the hyperskepticism crowd finally has their “evidence” requirement?

    11 billion? 100 billion?

  36. mythbri says

    “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all, I learn better from guys”

    Translation: “My brain turns off when women make talk-noises with their mouths. If it’s not a ‘yes’ in answer to the question ‘Wanna come over to my place?’ then I don’t care.”

  37. echidna says

    “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all…”

    I find that treating this type of commented as an unwarranted play at dominance is quite effective: I pause, look directly into their eyes, and simply ask “Why not?” in the tone I would use if I were their line manager or higher. I don’t break eye-contact. I carefully keep my face and tone neutral: not aggressive, dismissive or submissive, and fully expecting a reply.

    The response I usually get is a splutter, and a red face.

  38. echidna says

    Sorry for the typos, but I did want to make the point that this stupid type of comment is ubiquitous, and Ihope that somebody out there finds my comment helpful in some circumstances.

    Like most sexism, racism and anything else that has a pecking order, it’s all about power.

    Leon, your comments reflect a male-dominated environment, with special emphasis on the dominated. Even if you are feeling gracious towards women, it’s not graciousness that’s appropriate. It’s realising that women belong in the environment just as much as you do, and this is not contingent on how men feel about them.

  39. says

    Re: 1 jackiepaper
    4 February 2013 at 10:24 am (UTC -6)

    When women stop referring to themselves as girls? I don’t know. I do it, I can’t help it, it’s part of how I speak about myself. It’s part of signaling that I’m not a mother/prominent/important woman. I’m by definition, irresponsible and small.

  40. says

    Whenever I hear such crap out of guys’ mouths, I ask them if they want my steel-toed boots up their ass or down their throat.

    Nothing pisses me off more than idiots dismissing women in the tech industry – and generally, these guys will have little if anything under their belts. So they don’t deserve even begrudging respect for their work.

  41. says

    Thanks, Sally and Josh, for being fuckwits who’d rather assault commenters rather than have allies.

    I mean it, you really make the place warm and inviting. Not.

  42. eoraptor013 says

    SallyStrange & Caveat Imperator

    I think I follow your arguments — particularly the “Women don’t deserve this because they’re fully sentient humans — full stop.” But, in fields that exhibit a significant degree of sexism (apparently, most fields) isn’t there some value to the statement that I do better with women as my supervisors and immediate colleagues? I realize, of course, that it must say something, perhaps unsavory, about me. Nevertheless, in the course of being a federal regulator, a lawyer, and now a software engineer, when I’ve worked for women, it has been an all around better experience than working for a goodly number of the men. Consequently, it is perfectly true that I *like* working for women better than working for men.

    Naturally, neither my experience nor my preference add to, or detract from, the basic, axiomatic, proposition: all sentient human beings, regardless of sex, race, religious belief, sexual orientation — or any other irrelevant distinction — should be treated as just that: a sentient human being.

  43. says

    Thanks, Sally and Josh, for being fuckwits who’d rather assault commenters rather than have allies.

    I mean it, you really make the place warm and inviting. Not.

    I find spaces where people are called on their bullshit a hell of a lot more inviting than spaces where comments like leonpeyre’s go unremarked. That’s why I choose to hang out at Pharyngula. I can read people spouting clueless privilege just about anywhere.

  44. says

    Thanks, Sally and Josh, for being fuckwits who’d rather assault commenters rather than have allies.

    I mean it, you really make the place warm and inviting. Not.

    I’m just doing my part. Thanks for the compliment.

    If the kind of comment I made about boners scares you away, then good. You don’t belong here anyway. There’s a whole wide internet where you can talk about how sexy women are sexy, hur hur hur. Go on, get to it.

    This place is warm and inviting to marginalized people and anyone who cares about justice and equality. It’s chilly and hostile to those who promote apathy and indifference in the face of injustice.

  45. says

    But, in fields that exhibit a significant degree of sexism (apparently, most fields) isn’t there some value to the statement that I do better with women as my supervisors and immediate colleagues?

    This sounds like a rhetorical question, yet no answer is springing to my mind.

    I realize, of course, that it must say something, perhaps unsavory, about me.

    Perish the thought!

    Nevertheless, in the course of being a federal regulator, a lawyer, and now a software engineer, when I’ve worked for women, it has been an all around better experience than working for a goodly number of the men. Consequently, it is perfectly true that I *like* working for women better than working for men.

    Wow, so your office must be really crowded, what with the 3.5 billion men and 3.5 billion women working there.

  46. Koshka says

    But, in fields that exhibit a significant degree of sexism (apparently, most fields) isn’t there some value to the statement that I do better with women as my supervisors and immediate colleagues?

    What possible value could that statement have? If you work better with women and prefer working with women then you should, where possible, work with women.

    But surely you can see a difference between liking working with women because you work better versus because you find them “sexy”.

  47. Steve LaBonne says

    Out of curiosity, where has she encountered it the most? Hiring decisions? Promotions? Funding? Attitudes at conferences and talks?

    All of the above at one time or another. Including a senior colleague in her department given to boasting about how his wife stays in the kitchen, and a (now deceased, sadly much too young) provost- coincidentally, my old Ph.D. advisor- who, while being in other ways a good guy, bitterly opposed even considering extending the tenure clock for faculty (given the social realities, it would of course be mostly women who would need this) with small kids because it would be so “unfair” to tenure candidates not so situated. (His wife, of course, stayed home with the kids when they were young.)

    We’re still a long way from the point where complacency would be appropriate. I do agree though that it seems to be getting better in the younger age cohorts. But still not good enough.

  48. Ben Klaasen says

    I wonder if a book might not be a small part of the solution to the problem. Shine lights on roaches, and with luck, they’ll scatter.

    Such a book exists; it’s called “Gender Codes”. If you work in tech and think that the field is failing to reach its potential because of the lack of gender diversity, then pick up a copy to understand the true insidiousness of the problem.

    http://www.amazon.com/Gender-Codes-Women-Leaving-Computing/dp/0470597194

  49. Larry Clapp says

    no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all, I learn better from guys

    Horseshit. If the presentation was in a foreign language, he wouldn’t go, ’cause he knows he wouldn’t get anything out of it. He claims to know he wouldn’t get anything (or not as much) from a “girl”, but goes anyway, and then complains about it. Pants on fire.

  50. Caveat Imperator says

    Crissa,

    Thanks, Sally and Josh, for being fuckwits who’d rather assault commenters rather than have allies.

    I mean it, you really make the place warm and inviting. Not.

    You must be new here. Let me put it this way. This place is like grad school, and we’re all professors and students at the same time. We always call each other out on bullshit. If someone expresses a view we disagree with, we argue. Even with the regulars. Even with the hosts. It’s part of the place’s charm. We don’t brush bad opinions aside.
     
    So if you have any intention of sticking around, lurk for a while and learn what the place is like. It will prevent you from making mistakes like that again.
     
    eoraptor013,
    Your opinion is stated better than the one from leonpeyre , mainly because you you don’t claim things like that smart women are sexy. Nothing in your post comes of as particularly objectifying, at least to me.
     
    Steve LaBonne,
    Oy fucking gevalt. You and your sister have my sympathies.