Sometimes men in tech and women outside of tech ask me what it’s like as a woman engineer. It’s hard to say – I’ve been in industry since before I was an adult, so I really don’t have a lot to compare it to. However, I saw this video a few months ago and it was a revelation. “Hello m’lady” illustrates what it’s like as a woman when a seemingly nice guy refuses to get a clue that you don’t want to be in a relationship. And not in a physically threatening way – just in an annoying pathetic way. THAT IS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A WOMAN IN TECH. I mean, it’s not ALL of what it’s like, but it’s SO common and relentless. Throughout my twenties, before I had an obvious partner-now-husband (who worked in my office, btw), I dealt with this stuff every day. Every woman I’ve met in tech has had to deal with this at some point.
Why is it like this for women in tech? Put relatively few women in a room with many socially awkward men. Presto! Hello m’ladies abound. I wish I had known this was a common thing and not just me. I really did feel guilty all the time for the relentless unwanted attention, even though in retrospect it was completely not my fault. Given that Amy Schumer made this, it looks like plenty of non-tech women deal with this too, so it’s at least heartening to know we’re not alone.
I’m not unsympathetic to the perpetrators – they think they’re being nice and can’t understand why women don’t respond to their passive aggressive overtures. But they fail to recognize, whatever their intentions, that their behaviour is unwanted. To presume the right to behave this way is straight up entitlement. These gentlemen would be better served to take no for an answer and move on.
Women in tech, as a topic, has been popping up in the media I consume more regularly these days. In most cases, the observations are from third parties and almost universally frustrating to observe as a first party woman in tech. Case in point is Jon Ronson’s take on the PyCon 2013 sexism incident, which is included in his recently released book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In his book, Ronson examines the rising phenomenon of large-scale public shaming via social media, the primary example of which is the Justine Sacco incident wherein Sacco makes a tasteless tweet about her susceptibility to AIDS on her upcoming trip to Africa. While I’m ambivalent to Ronson’s commentary on the Sacco incident, I think he goes off the rails with his interpretation of the PyCon incident and completely overlooks the resulting positive shifts in tech towards supporting women and diversity in general.
To refresh: During PyCon 2013, a technology consultant (Adria Richards) tweeted about two men behind her during a conference session who were making juvenile and sexist jokes. Ultimately, both Richards and one of the men making the jokes [Details]. Ronson reframes the issue with a highly contested recounting of events and equates Richards’ tweet with Sacco’s thoughtless attempt at an Africa AIDS joke.
To me, Ronson’s assessment is completely tone deaf to the struggles of women in tech and the tremendous positive impact Richards’ brave actions have had on women in tech since the PyCon 2013 incident. Even more galling was that in that same podcast Ronson acknowledges the importance of public shaming for movements like #blacklivesmatter, where long-standing practices of police brutality towards African Americans are finally being regularly covered in mainstream media.
To me, the PyCon 2013 incident is much closer to the #blacklivesmatter movement than to Sacco’s shitty joke. While women in tech are not being murdered (though Richards’ has received death threats following PyCon 2013), we are being discouraged from and pushed out of an industry that, when it’s good, is both professionally fulfilling and economically empowering. Anecdotally, I have felt a positive shift in the tech industry towards women following PyCon 2013. There is also data to back this up. Consider the Google Trends results for “women in tech”:
Google Trends Graph for “women in tech”
PyCon 2013 was in March 2013, which coincides with roughly double the interest in “women in tech” as observed through Google search requests. While that spike was temporary, the rate of interest in the topic has increased at a faster rate than pre-PyCon 2013. Last month, searches for “women in tech” essentially matched those of May 2013, though that peak is no longer an anomaly in the overall trend for the topic.
The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computer Science – the largest conference for women in tech, almost doubled in attendance following the PyCon 2013 incident (2014 was the first GHC organized following PyCon 2013):
Source: GHC 2014 Impact Report
In addition to increased capacity, GHC 2014 had much more visible male participation from the mainstream, including the first-ever male keynote presented by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Nadella’s keynote contained some of his own tone deafness, but the response and engagement that resulted emphasized a real shift in our industry to acknowledge and address the challenges faced by women in tech.
I have also witnessed progress within Google, much of which isn’t publicly shareable, though the releasing of diversity stats has been a good step forward. The fight for women in tech and diversity in general at Google continues to be an uphill struggle, but I have felt the conversation switching from “is this really an issue?” to “how do we fix this?”. Which is why Ronson’s perspective is such a regression – he takes the conversation from “how to fix this?” all the way back to “is it polite to complain about the struggles of women in tech?”.
Polite or not, Adria Richards sounded an alarm that has been heard by and industry that has a deserved reputation for tone deafness to diversity. If tech can get it together to ask the right questions, I certainly hope Ronson can catch up as well.
The pay gap between men and women in America and beyond is widely recognized, but poorly understood. I count myself among those who don’t really know what the reported stats – or at least I did until I started looking into the data. CBS News reported that “(a)ccording to the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns just 78 cents for doing the same job.” . Turns out that’s both incorrect and insufficiently alarmist.
First: “just 78 cents for doing the same job” – that’s completely wrong. That statistic comes from a comparison of the median income across all women vs. the median income across all men. There’s no telling which job that represents for each gender – it includes CEOs, truck drivers, accountants… everyone. But it most certainly isn’t representative of any wage gap between men and women in a specific job. As the graph below shows, income disparity on a per-occupation basis varies wildly – from 60% all the way to 107% (ProTip: women should consider careers in baking over sales)
The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics does provide finer grained comparisons by occupation, but the comparison remains based on median income and doesn’t account for differences across ranks, companies, or geographies. For instance, both an entry-level software developer at a cash-poor start-up and a Distinguished Engineer at highly-profitable tech giant would be grouped into the same category. More on this in future posts, but suffice to say “just 78 cents” is certainly not “for doing the same job”.
Second, measuring the wage gap based on medians for broad categories understates the economic disparity between women and men in the US. The median gives you a narrow slice of wage earners without information about the higher wage earners who, for better or for worse, hold more power in the economy. And unfortunately, when I graphed it out, it’s the worst case scenario:
Women’s incomes skew way low, and men are overrepresented in the top half of the spectrum. Coupled with women’s lower workforce participation (44% of the US workforce), women earn only 38% of the dollars earned in the US. That amounts to 61 cents for every dollar men earn – the 78 cents at median is deceptively high.
When we’re earning only 38% of the dollars, it’s no wonder policies on pay equity, reproductive rights and women’s access to capital rarely advance. It’s also a compounding problem: women are poorly represented in the top tiers of business, politics, and culture; to advance takes money in the form of investments and donations, and women have relatively little money to share compared with their male counterparts.
It’s lame. Next, I’ll consider how moving more women into tech-based occupations could impact the women’s economic disparity.
I am Emily Johnston, Google Software Engineer and, as my name implies, a woman. Throughout my career, I have observed an occasional popular interest with Women in Technology (WiT), often as one-off pieces written from an outsider’s perspective talking to other outsiders about how rare and special it is to be a woman in technology, and wouldn’t it be great if there were more women around here? I full-heartedly agree (Spoiler alert: if you don’t, you will probably find this blog pretty tedious), and I would like to take that conversation a little deeper.
I’m not trying to hate on the non-engineers who are trying to tell the story of women in engineering. It’s wonderful! I’ve also found there’s a lot of coverage of women entrepreneurs, which is another rare find in industry, but it’s not quite the same story. But when I was in high school wondering what to do with my life, or even now when I wonder what I’m doing with my life, I wish there was more depth to the women in tech experience that shows up in the media.
To be clear, there are some fantastic ongoing blogs and feeds from some great women in tech. This morning I discovered Gail Carmichael’s Blog on her experiences as a PhD student in CS… and that’s about all I’ve got. Please let me know if I’m missing fantastic women in tech blogs! But I have looked and looked, and they are rarer than a woman in a CS class.
If you are a woman in tech that I already know, beware that I will be coming for your contributions. If you are a woman in tech and have something to contribute, let me know! Oh, and like the Grace Hopper Celebration and Smart Girls at the Party, we’ll end a lot of blog posts with a Dance Party!
In the spirit of changing women’s minds to join tech, I’m partying to Let Me Change Your Mind by Zed Bias feat. Jenna G: