The Pocket Guide to Sexism in Tech

Today I had somebody explain to me on Reddit that they just didn't believe there was a problem with sexism in tech. Just flat out said it is not a thing. I explained things I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears in various jobs and events and still, apparently that was just anecdotal - which was somehow not relevant. He wanted cold, hard proof. This is me trying out a little thing called Google.

Today I had somebody explain to me that they just didn’t believe there was a problem with sexism in tech. They flat out said it is not a thing. I explained things I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears in various jobs and events and still, apparently that was just anecdotal and was somehow not relevant, because maybe I was lying? He wanted cold, hard proof.

Alright. I don’t normally play the burden of proof game with one muppet in a comment thread, but I figure having a resource that collates ridiculous examples of sexism in the tech community for me to link to in the future can’t hurt, and after I spent the time writing this up I felt like it could be put to use.

One of the first articles I remember really making me pay attention to the situation is a first-hand account by Sarah Parmenter. She is a very prominent figure in the community who was too scared to talk about it for a long time. If a well known public speaker is too scared then what about the other people with less of an established following? They must be even more scared to come out. They might think they are over-thinking it.

There was the guy that couldn’t get any interviews because his name was Kim, until he put a more traditionally male-sounding name on the CV and got a shitload of jobs.

There are TechCrunch hackathons that fail to screen anything being presented that have wanking applications and applications called “Tit-stare” on the same stage as a 9-year old girl presenting her app. I’m glad she won, hopefully that stopped her being put off the tech community.

There is the ongoing problem of girls being in such a low minority that they are picked on and harassed by boys at school, forcing many to drop out at a young level. Read the update on that one, the teachers wouldn’t do a thing about it.

Sure you might just label it as teasing, but its bullying and I had enough of that myself to know that it is not a motivator. I was bullied in physical education classes for years and used to get beat up regularly (along with plenty of verbal abuse too). That made me feel like crap, so I stopped going to PE. If 12 year old me was being bullied by programmers then he would have stopped programming.

This is something that I have heard from a lot of women. In some cases these bullying/harassment victims managed to overcome their early setbacks at a later stage and teach themselves programming. That often sets them back a few years, and maintains the “women are paid less and do lower level jobs” pattern that is oh so common.

There are plenty of surveys around about the salary gap between men and women. You can argue the sample base of that one is quite small, but it is representative of plenty of other sources. Studies show that even when women do negotiate salaries, they often ask for less. If they do ask for similar numbers to men, they have to deal with the “social cost” of negotiation which is unfairly biased against women who ask for higher salaries being seen as aggressive and not a “team player”.

Now and then there are huge figures in the community like Uncle Bob, who whilst being very well respected for his views on technology can’t help himself from making sexist comments. I’ve seen several apologies from him, and the most recent was sarcastic as hell until he updated it about 6 times (check the revisions). Tom Dale didn’t like the last one.

There was CodeBabes. Joke or not, it’s f**king terrible.

There was this whole post covering a few problems. That’s like a combo.

Hackers and Hookers costume party. Whothef**k signed off on that one.

Muppets on IRC shouting “boobs or gtfo” at women, and the fact that she had to think to herself “Do I have enough social credit to report this?” That is a massive part of the problem, and a huge part of why we don’t hear about things.

Technology giants portraying women as housewives who don’t understand how to computer, while the two guys obviously understand it immediately.

This PHP Framework has a heavy chested mascot. Not entirely sure what the point of that is. Update: I’ve seen designs for a new version of this pixie which doesn’t sport the same utterly ridiculous cleavage as the original.

The male startup founder who thought it was ok to send a female tech reporter he doesn’t know a basket of sex toys and tequila. Also how do you just have oysters in a basket?

In the gaming community it is a generally accepted fact that sexism is rife, from the developer/publisher companies through to gaming retailers too.

My main point here is that I am not some uptight, super offended, white knight lunatic that is trying to impress anyone by making a big point about how mean all men are to all women all the time. The point really is that you don’t NEED to be to be offended by the sexist nonsense that happens around our unnecessarily male dominated industry. I am furthermore absolutely shocked that anyone who actively participates in this community can not only fail to notice any sexism at all, but assumes that people are either lying or exaggerating when people provide personal accounts.

I was involved with an incident back in 2012, where I too quickly dismissed something. I saw it as an unnecessary pull request which could have had breaking changes. I guess if a woman had sent the PR and said she was offended I would have treated it differently than a guy saying something could be offensive, but again as we we didn’t have any testing at all back then I didn’t really fancy changing it.

If it was as simple as a documentation change then I would have been much more likely to speak up.

Regardless, these days I make sure I am not part of the problem. This article really helped me improve some of my views on the situation. There are more articles like it on Days Since the Last Tech Incident. Some great advice can be found in What Can Men Do?.