Sunday, November 16, 2014

“They didn’t understand how men could not see these problems, but it’s because so many of us are being so goddamn quiet.”

“They didn’t understand how men could not see these problems, but it’s because so many of us are being so goddamn quiet.”  What's it like to be a woman in the tech industry?  Are there few women in tech because the experience is so bad?

I don't know Randi Harper; to the best of my knowledge I've never met her or talked to her.  Reading her description of her current job makes me hope I have the chance someday:
Cat herder, spine of steel, puzzle master, obfuscated code whisperer. I complain a lot about things that go bump in the night. Then I track down the monsters and kick them in the junk. I could solve world hunger with a 200 line perl script.
That's a geek with a sense of humor :)  And about as DevOpsy as you can get...

The quote at the beginning of this post is Randi's, from a two-part piece she's written that's guaranteed to have provoke a strong reaction:
Still Here, Part 1: A Memoir
Still Here, Part 2: Call to Arms
I spent 34 years in the tech industry, from 1979 through 2013 (I'm not counting my 6 years in the Navy).  I did a lot of different things, including starting my own businesses, working as an engineer, running datacenter IT, and executive management.  Over those years, I worked with a number of women: peers, superiors, and subordinates.  There were far fewer of them than there were men, to my disappointment (because I like working with women).  Just like the men I worked with, some of the women were good at their jobs, some not so good.  No woman I've ever worked with has told me that she had experienced anything like what Randi describes in Part 1 – but that obviously doesn't mean it didn't happen.  I have had the unhappy experience of investigating accusations of sexual harassment leveled by a subordinate.  Most of these were real, but (so far as I'm aware) isolated instances not part of a pattern the women involved were experiencing.  Certainly none of the women I interviewed ever asserted anything otherwise.

If Randi's experience is actually widespread amongst women in tech, I am appalled – on multiple levels, but in particular because it must mean that some women I worked with were subjected to it.  I wonder what I could have done differently that would have encouraged these women to simply talk with me about it?

Randi's onto something here, I think.  I'm uncomfortable with the inevitable inference that this is somehow the victim's fault, but ... speaking as a former manager, I can guarantee that if a manager doesn't even know about something, they for damned sure can't do anything about it.  Any halfway decent human being (and yes, I'm including managers in that group), if presented with this sort of abuse, would want to do something about it.

I'm no longer in a position (because I'm retired) to help anyone directly.  But I'm hoping that Randi's call to arms will help motivate others to speak up if they're being subjected to the sorts of horrible behavior Randi experienced...

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