Misogyny in Our Industry

While most of my blog posts will focus on specific technologies and tutorials, every once in a while, I will talk about the culture and direction of the technology industry. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

For this first article, I’m going to address one of the ugliest parts of the industry, misogyny. This has been a problem for as long as the tech industry has existed, but recent illuminations of inappropriate behaviour by executives and VCs, as well as systemic sexism in a few of Silicon Valley’s well known startups.

Following the news of these poorly behaving executives, I came across news that was equally disturbing. An anonymous VC stated that he was cancelling meetings with female engineers because he was scared of ‘behaving wrongly.’ Two months after reading this article, I still can’t fathom how any grown man doesn’t have enough self-control to prevent himself from ‘behaving wrongly’ during a business meeting.

Uber’s Culture is Not Unique

Susan Fowler’s detailing of systemic sexism at Uber is widely known in this industry, and while she didn’t claim that these problems are unique to Uber, I’ve heard many people suggest that they are. However, a couple of months after this information was made public, Uber released their diversity report, which actually shows a greater percentage of female employees compared to other tech giants (although they do have smaller percentage of women in leadership and tech positions compared to most of the other firms). The numbers simply don’t support the idea that other companies aren’t the same. We need to look at the general culture of the tech world to fix it.

(Full disclosure: I do currently work as an Uber driver. This is not the reason why I don’t single out Uber for systemic sexism. Quite the opposite. I remain working as an Uber driver, because I understand that they’re not the only company with this problem.)

Remember the Gamergate controversy? Female game developers were being harassed, even to the point of receiving death threats and having their personal information shared online. Don’t forget the iLookLikeAnEngineer movement, motivated by people telling a woman that she couldn’t be an engineer because of the way she looks. It’d be nice if this problem were limited to one company, but it’s far worse than that.

Personal Observations

Living in Canada, and being a part of the Toronto tech community, I’m proud to say that sexism in our community isn’t anywhere near as bad as what it is in Silicon Valley. I’m lucky to know a number of women in the industry, who have well-respected positions at local companies. However, I won’t go so far as to say that our tech community doesn’t have sexism. I can recall one night where I heard a woman talk about sexism in the industry, to have a guy reply, “It’s a boy’s club, deal with it.” Sadly, I have seen far too much of guys not treating women very well, and making absolutely ridiculous excuses for it.

I don’t know how to talk to women!

By far, one of the most ridiculous excuses for inappropriate behaviour towards women. Women are people. There’s no reason why talking to them should be any different than talking to men. That female developer sitting to your left? You should talk to her the same way that you talk to the male developer sitting on your right. If you don’t talk to women the same way you talk to men, then your view of the world is sexist.

I’m socially awkward!

There are two reasons why being social awkward isn’t an excuse for behaving inappropriately towards women. First reason, if someone really were socially awkward, then they’d be equally inappropriate towards men as they are towards women, and I’ve never seen that to be the case. Second reason is, we’re adults. We know how to learn, grow and evolve as people. In the tech world, we’re constantly learning new tech skills, so there’s no reason you can’t learn social skills too.

The Rock Test

Possibly the most brilliant idea for my fellow heterosexual men on how to relate to women is The Rock Test. Blogger Anne Victoria Clark suggested this test as a way to avoid sexually harassing women. The test is simply this:

Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

This test even has the approval of Dwayne Johnson himself. If you’re ever in doubt of whether or not to say something to a woman, do this.

The Recap

For any men who may be reading these, let’s go over some key points so that you can be sure to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

  1. Women are people, just like men.
  2. Further to 1, when in any professional setting, talking to a woman should be the same as talking to a man.
  3. Building on 2, workplaces, business meetings, investment discussions and tech socials are professional settings, not pickup bars. Behave as such.
  4. If any thought pops into your head that you’re unsure of, put it through The Rock Test before opening your mouth, or moving any part of your body.

Edit: 2 days after publishing this post, I came across the news that Silicon Valley companies are looking to hire models for their holiday parties. Particularly, models with short skirts and cleavage. Seems that they’re not learning.