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A Request to Women Working in Tech

more of a hypothesis really
A friend recently said something about which, as Shanna's father, I feel conflicted.

She said that as a woman working in technology, she wouldn't recommend that other women enter the field. She's a system administrator. So, while she's not a computer programmer like myself, she's in a very similar field with mostly similar interpersonal dynamics. That is to say, what she says almost certainly applies to my field if it applies to hers. And as an actual woman working in technology, her experience is going to be significantly more accurate than my from-the-outside impressions.

I'm not going to repeat her reasons here. Rather, I'd be very curious whether other women working in technical fields, especially system administration and/or programming, felt the same way. Anybody care to comment? When you comment, please let me know what you do/did in technology. For some of you, I'll know offhand. For many of you, I'll have forgotten. For anybody who comments, there may be other readers who don't know/remember.

Anonymous comments are turned on here. Technically I *do* log IPs and I don't see a quick way to turn it off just for this post, but you have my word that I won't attempt to match up anybody anonymous here with any specific person. If you're really worried for some reason, there are many fine technical measures to make that tracking ineffective at finding you.

Comments

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spaghettisquash
Jun. 1st, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)
I'm a sysadmin (and have been for over a decade). I would never actively recruit a young woman to enter my field of work - everyone deserves better than this. I support those that want it, and I am delighted when they complain about incredibly minor hints at sexism (if that bothers her, nothing like my work history could have happened to her - awesome!).

My perception is that female programmers (perhaps excluding operating systems programmers) have had a substantially more pleasant time of it than I have. The numbers mean that make more sense; my general sense is that there are a lot more female programmers (10-20% vs 1-5%?), so the dominant culture shifts from "expects some in a reasonably large group" to "expects none, even in a pretty large group (and there are no large groups)".

It is reasonable to believe that in 15 years, my field will be completely different than it is now - both the nature (or existence) of work and team dynamics.
noirem
Jun. 1st, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
It is reasonable to believe that in 15 years, my field will be completely different than it is now - both the nature (or existence) of work and team dynamics.

This. There are lots of "traditionally" male industries that women had a hard time breaking into. Things get better. Shanna wants to do everything her daddy does, so teach her as much as she wants to learn.
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bellaballanda
Jun. 1st, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)
I have permission to talk about a friend's experience. She's a sys admin on the east coast and the only girl on her team. Many a day I'm going to bed on this coast and she's still up/doing work. For some reason, even though she's not the lowest person on the totem poll, she's always the one doing work late, she's the one who stays till things are done. I don't know if it's her being female, or if it's that she's the one who cares the most. So yea.... I don't know if she'd recommend it for people in general who care the most about things and whether or not that correlates with gender, I don't know...
bayareajenn
Jun. 1st, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
It's too bad I don't get to hear this person's reasons. I wonder if I'm not seeing sexism.

I worked for a few years in Quality Assurance for an internet-based start-up. I wasn't the most technologically-inclined person on the job, with my bachelor of arts and all. Nonetheless, as a black box tester, I was very good at my job. I wasn't, however, paid very much. The boss could have said that it's because I didn't have any experience, but instead he said it was because at the time I was living with and dating one of their lead programmers, and since he was making lots of money, as part of that household, I didn't need to make very much. Is that sexist? I don't know. I didn't feel like I was in a position to argue, given my level of experience, however. A year later when I was still doing a great job but no longer dating/living with that guy, I held out for more money. I ended up getting a 10k per year raise (unheard of), but even with that I was still making 10-15k less than someone hired right out of college to do that job.

That was the only thing that might even be considered sexism that I noticed or can recall. Being good at my job probably helped keep that kind of thing to a minimum. Also, the people I worked with were intelligent and professional. Everyone worked long hours, male and female, except some of the folks with kids (male and female).

The only thing in my life right now that strikes me as maybe being sexist is when I take my car in to the shop and say something is wrong with it, and the mechanics downplay my concerns before even checking out the vehicle. Then again, it could be how they treat all of their customers.

As far as jobs in the past, well...I worked in fast food a lot and was always placed at the order/checkout stations and never on the line. I'm pretty sure that was sexist, as all the women worked the front and all the men worked the back. I think that's changed since I was in my late teens/early twenties, though. I did *a lot* of work in theater (paid and unpaid, on stage and off -- I have a degree in Acting), and never once experienced sexism. I wasn't always good at that work, either. If I was incompetent, I was called on it for what it was, and not because I was a woman. That said, I hate working in theater because so many people are so hypercritical and hypersensitive at the same time. It's a rough working environment unless you get just the right mix of people. Working in the animal care and training field, well I'd have to say the field itself is so dominated by women, I haven't seen any sexism other than the "I-wish-we-had-a-big-strong-guy-to-help-us-lift-this-heavy-crap" kind. Pretty harmless stuff.
karenbynight
Jun. 2nd, 2010 05:12 am (UTC)
I don't mean to come off sharp, but: your boss told you that you didn't deserve a paycheck that was commensurate with the value of your work because of who you were dating and you're not sure whether or not that's sexist? Was the boss telling that to any men? Did he change your salary as soon as the guy and you broke up, or did you have to ask? And, if that was the boss' logic, why didn't he pay you the full amount and cut the programmer's salary? After all, if his money was yours because you were dating, then your money was also his; it could have gone either way, right? But it never does.
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judith_s
Jun. 1st, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, there is sexism. But there is sexism in almost every career path, and especially well paying career paths which tend to be dominated by men. I've experienced some sexism. And probably caused some too, when I took time off when I had kids and reduced my hours so I could have a family life. My partner whose wife had a baby took off a total of 3 hours that day, and still works 12 hour days and many weekends.
karenbynight
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
I'd disagree. As a whole, our country has an entirely split personality on the subject of child-rearing and work; we can't decide if having and raising children is the most important work a person can do and so should be a higher priority than one's for-pay career, or if it's a selfish hobby that should no more interfere with your work hours than if you were, say, playing with model airplanes during that time.

Whichever way you believe should be true, the way this split gets played out in the workplace is sexist. If your work partner is to get any sympathy for only taking off three hours for his wife's baby, then we're in the world where kids have priority over work and you're entitled to your time off and reduced workload for having them. If we're in the world where kids are a selfish hobby, then your partner is *just doing his job* by not spending more time at home and shouldn't be noticed for it. But the double standard about it always makes the woman the selfish one and the guy the hero. (At *work*. I'm not talking about the child-rearing realm, which is incredibly sexist in the other direction.)
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datagoddess
Jun. 1st, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
Pointed here by a friend...
I've worked in tech for over 20 years, and while the overt sexism has gotten better (back when I was a programmer, in the early 90s, I was mistaken for a secretary by a client) there's still a lot of pressure to be 'one of the boys', to be able to handle the sexist jokes, the comments about being on my period if I'm having a bad day, at any sign of aggravation or aggression told to "calm down", things like that. Getting called "sweetie" or "hon". Being treated like I can't rack a server because I wore a skirt that day (let alone pull cables for the thing!).

Nothing that can be taken to HR, but a lot of being treated differently because I'm female. Since I started telecommuting 3 years I don't see nearly as much of it, since my interaction with co-workers is much more task focused than it usually is face to face, but I do still get it from various people.

I don't have to prove myself as much as I used to, but that could also be because I hold a senior position which I wouldn't have gotten if I didn't know my stuff. When I deal with the off-shore support people (in my case usually Brazil) I have to deal a lot with being talked over, with being dismissed, which annoys me because they're a lower support level than I am.

To give you background, I'm current contracted support by LargeTLA to support InternationalStoreChain, and I'm a senior SAN administrator. InternationalStoreChain has outsourced their North American operations to LargeTLA (multiple data centers, large environment). Of the tech people I deal with day in and day out, I would say maybe 2 others are female.

So while things have gotten better, I still would hesitate to recommend to a young woman that a tech career, or at least one in infrastructure support like I have, would be a good choice.
datagoddess
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Pointed here by a friend...
Oh, and the parts I forgot - presenting an idea that gets instantly dismissed, then having a male cow-orker suggest the exact same thing and have it listened to. That one always made me choke.

Having to have 20 bazillion certifications when I worked for the VAR just to be taken seriously. The number of customers who assumed I was male because of my name, and getting really tired of having to explain, no, it's Toni with an i.

When I was the MIS manager for a hospital, answering the phone and being asked for my predecessor, and when I say he's no longer with the company and can I help? being asked to speak to his replacement, and hearing the long silence when I said I *was* his replacement.

I could go on and on, but others are saying the same stuff I would if I did.
dangerpudding
Jun. 1st, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
So, being the woman/friend of whom you speak, I'm happy to make (some of) my reasons and history public.

I'm a sysadmin, have been in the field for almost 13 years now. I've worked mostly on the west coast (Arizona, Oregon, California) and western Europe (Amsterdam). Have been at a small local ISP, a large startup security company, an international non-profit, large governmental agency, consulting firm and now at a state university.

Saying that I wouldn't recommend that other women enter the field - that is that I don't know that I would encourage someone who wasn't already interested and fairly determined to go that route. It's a hard road, and often not fun. That's *not* saying that a woman who was interested and determined wouldn't have my full support. I've helped multiple women start in the field, I continue to do what I can to help women in the field, I believe that having women in the field is important. I'm currently working on a team of 7 and there's another woman on my team and I think this is *awesome*.

My reasons, though, are that I don't think things have gotten better, I hear constant horror stories, and I know my own history. I think I was one of the luckier ones, actually. I've *only* had to tolerate close (male) friends telling me flat out that I couldn't do this, being groped in the server room, being treated as the secretary, and nearly being fired for being fat while female, among other things. I've never been attacked in such a way that I couldn't defend myself physically (at work). I've not actually been fired (except that once, and there's nothing provable there). I've only had it implied in interviews that I wouldn't be hired if they thought I was interested in having kids in the near future, never actually said. I don't know of any rumors being started about my supposed sexual exploits with or around co-workers.

Some of these things happen in non-IT jobs, I know. But I know of very, very few women in tech who have been there very long who don't have some stories of this sort. I've learned to calibrate for certain things. At my current job, I didn't wear a dress for the first three months, knowing that dressing too nicely often gets you discounted technically. I don't back down in discussions when I know I'm right. I'm downright aggressive about handling my own hardware maintenance (aside from asking for help moving things that are too heavy, but the men on my team do that as well - and I'm cautious of who I ask).

I've worked at some of the best places for women in tech, all told. Even at those places, there were people I had to win over in ways my male colleagues didn't have to. I understand that a lot of this is invisible to the men around me, and even to other women, and I am very sensitive to it - but I have good reason.

All that said - there are parts of tech that are better than others. I hear that QA and support organizations have more women and treat women better, in general. Universities and research groups tend to be better. There are companies that are known to treat women better, groups at companies that are known for it. But overall, it's something you *have* to be aware of or you won't make it very far without deciding it isn't worth it.

rehana
Jun. 2nd, 2010 12:27 am (UTC)
Hmm. From the reasons people have given, I'm probably the wrong person to ask because I want to be "one of the guys," wouldn't even think about wearing (or buying) a skirt, and don't want kids, ever.

I will say that I haven't run into much overt sexism, or any detectable suggestions that wanting kids mattered.
kalmn
Jun. 2nd, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
i was at a women's interest group meeting for my employer a few months ago, and brought up sexism in the workplace. one of my (female) coworkers said that it really wasn't as bad any more because team meetings weren't held at hooters, like they were at one of her former workplaces.

not having meetings at hooters is a very *very* low bar.

i wear tshirts and jeans all the time, and big stompy shoes. i wore sundresses to work twice last week, which is more times than my coworkers have ever seen me in a dress previously, but it was 95f here and i was going for dressing as coolly as i can.

my team lead still was explaining on the phone to someone else (about another coworker) that if the company wanted its employees to get married, they'd be issued wives.

the part where i'm pretty butch, and i don't care if you swear in front of me-- doesn't make the workplace not sexist.
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spiffikins
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
I've been working in technology for the past 10 years.

My experience seems to be different from other women, in that I've never had anyone either directly say anything to me, or suggest that, as a woman, I am incapable of doing my job. I've only had one co-worker ever make a sexist joke - and he's a dear friend of my, so when I looked askance at him, he apologized immediately and that was the end of that.

I've worked for the same company for the past ten years, a small software development company that I joined when I completed my programming course after college.

I took a 9 month programming class run by a school that made piles of cash off of people who wanted to get in on the dot.com boom. The school had something like 8 or 9 campuses across Canada, and much was made of the fact that the class that I was in, was nearly 50% female - out of the 34 people in the class, there were something like 16 women.

Of those 16, probably 4 or 5 really "got it" - the rest struggled to really understand the course materials. That being said, probably of the other 18 men, I would say 10 or 12 of them really did well.

When I was hired, the owner of the company had already hired a handful of people that had graduated from this program, and he was impressed enough that he was advertisting on the school's job board.

He mentioned in my phone interview that he was "actively recruiting women" because his daughter had said something to him about "why don't you have any women working for you?". My friend Marianne and I were both hired from the same graduating class, and another woman was also hired at the same time from another campus.

About a year after I started, the company had 19 technical people - 6 women in technical positions.

I was hired as a java developer, but the dot.com bust left us scrambling to find any consulting work - I did pl/sql development, I built web pages, I did java development and when that dried up, I became a DBA and the Release Manager/Build Engineer for our application. I'm a project manager, and a consultant who architects and writes code. I'm also the IT department, keeping our development servers up and running, as well as our server farm used for our hosted ASP customers up and running 24/7. I also run our technical support department and I am the person they escalate to when they cannot figure out the answer.

As a small company, that makes software that needs other well-known software packages to run (apache, tomcat, java, oracle/mysql/mssql) - we don't get to say to a customer "go ask Microsoft for help getting mssql working" - we get to become experts in *all* of the combinations and permutations of these software packages - and I'm the one who gets to troubleshoot customer installations.

I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago, and thought maybe it's because I've only ever worked for one company that I haven't been exposed to sexism - but realistically I talk to more IT people than anyone I know, because I talk to a dozen customers a week, troubleshooting their world.

And in ten years of doing this, I've never had anyone in any way show any reluctance to work with me, or any disbelief that I could solve their problem because of my gender.

On the flip side - I don't find very many occasions where the IT person on the other end of the call is a woman. When I do, I give a little cheer inside and *hope* very hard that she will be competent.

spiffikins
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:32 am (UTC)
Ran out of room!


Unfortunately, I talk to a *lot* of incompetent sysadmins. And because there are so few women out there, every one of them that is incompetent - makes me cry a little inside, because if you talk to 10 men and 5 are incompetent - that sucks...but if in the same period of time you only talk to 3 women, and 2 of them are incompetent...that's just painful.

We had one woman who worked with me, who ended up taking maternity leave twice in 3 years, plus scaled back her work to only work part-time, and from home.

The company wasn't able to replace her while she was out - so her job got dumped on me, in addition to my own work. When she came back part time - her job was not suited to part time work from home - but the company wanted to be "flexible" - and so her life choices again, simply made my life harder. I was resentful of the situation, and although I see it from all sides - *my* life was made more difficult for several years - which sucked.

This was an epic - but I guess overall, my experience has been that it's not so much if you're male or female as whether or not you excel at your job and are seen as competent.

That being said - I'm sure others have completely different experiences and perhaps I'm simply not seeing it in my case?
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warsop
Jun. 2nd, 2010 04:23 am (UTC)
I'm a researcher for a major technology company. I've been here for five years. Before this, I had a similar position with another major technology company. I've also done development, tech support, and system administration. My two undergraduate degrees are math and computer science; I've also got a MS in human-computer interaction.

Looking around my group of around 200 people, there's about 40 women. If I were to remove the non-engineering disciplines of marketing and user assistance, the number drops to under 20. One of my previous managers, who has been a manager at our company for nearly 15 years, told me that I was the first woman who reported to him. Someone else hypothesised up to 20% rates for female programmers, but that's much higher than my experience. In my current group, we're under 5% for female programmers and only slightly better for female testers. That's similar for my previous employers.

There's sexism. It's gotten steadily better than what I experienced when I was an undergrad (such as my first calc prof telling me that women couldn't understand differential equations), but it's still there. I've been told repeatedly that I'm more technical than expected. In a meeting a couple of weeks ago, one of my co-workers told me that I didn't know what I was talking about with respect to math (which, thankfully, resulted in another co-worker saying "ohnoyouDIDN'T" to him).

There's subtle things as well. If I raise a concern about something, I'm far more likely to be labelled "alarmist" than if it's one of my male counterparts doing so. If I have a disagreement within my team, I'm likely to be described as "shrill". If one of my male colleagues tells an off-colour joke and I just raise an eyebrow at him, then I'm "being defensive". If someone pisses me off, then I'm "on the rag". If I back up one of my female colleagues in a technical discussion, then I'm "representing the sisterhood". If I say that maybe using "rape" to describe a technical decision you don't like isn't really appropriate, then I'm "just being politically correct".

After getting married last year, I noticed that people started asking me when I might be taking maternity leave. Last year was a wedding year in my group, so I compared notes with my other co-workers who had also gotten married around the same time I did. The other woman reported the same experience as I did, but none of the men were asked when they'd be headed off on paternity leave.

All of this is why I mentor other women at my company. In each and every one of those mentoring relationships, sexism has come up at some point. The subtle forms of it are the ones that will drive you crazy because it's hard to identify whether it's actually happening or whether you're just being "sensitive" (another word often thrown at women).
kalmn
Jun. 2nd, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
in re: shrill-- yes. i get "why are you so angry?" a lot.
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charleshaynes
Jun. 2nd, 2010 04:31 am (UTC)
I have been active in trying to recruit more women into the tech companies I've worked for for the past 20 years. I've talked to a lot of women in tech during that time, I've taught classes in sexual harassment in the workplace, and I've tried to pay specific attention to this issue.

My impression is that things got better for a while during the 70s and 80s, but that they've been steadily declining since the mid 90s, and that right now things are worse than they've been in a while. I believe I'm relatively familiar with spaghettsquash's situation, and I recommended that she hire a lawyer, her situation was so bad.

I've known other women who left the company due to sexual harassment situations that I was sure didn't actually happen any more - a senior manager making direct and blatant sexual advances to women who worked for him.

Like spaghettisquash I encourage women who are in the industry, but these days my primary approach to getting more women in to tech is to try to improve working conditions in the companies I work for rather than trying to actually convince more women to work in tech - because until sexism in the workplace improves I can't in good conscience try to recruit more women into the field. (I do try to recruit women who are already in tech to companies I believe are good places to work.)

[ETA, an example. Yesterday in a meeting a woman presented a proposed hardware layout for a new system we're building. It includes a diagram of how the equipment should be installed in the hardware "rack." (it's called a rack diagram.) One of the (male) engineers said "Nice rack." I was shocked and said "You did NOT just say that!" The other males in the room all thought it was funny and presumably that I was a humorless git. (I'm in Australia, sexism is worse here.)]

Edited at 2010-06-02 04:34 am (UTC)
datagoddess
Jun. 2nd, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
I've had the "nice rack" comment made in front of me by a customer, when I worked for a VAR and did storage design. Given the "business consultant" with me is a sexist git himself, he laughed at it, too.

I've always felt like if I didn't act like "one of the boys" I was ostracized.

karenbynight
Jun. 2nd, 2010 05:03 am (UTC)
Female, unix sysadmin, senior.

I probably wouldn't encourage other women to enter the field, either. It's not the brutal experiences in sexism: the guys who were cabling the unix lab I managed who had extensive meetings with me about where I wanted the ports and then wished me a happy secretary's day; the interview where the guy told me that he hadn't wanted to interview girls today but it turns out that I was actually competent; the co-worker who harassed me for years after a bad divorce and the bosses who either did nothing or lied to the guy and told him they'd seen me crying over his treatment of me so couldn't he lay off it; the boss who tried to bring me to his viewpoint by saying "this is your dad speaking". Those brutal experiences invite brutal responses, and I know how to play political hardball.

It's not even the random experiences of gender disconnect: the new co-worker who had to take 30 seconds to process out loud about how I'm really technical for a woman as if I've never heard that before before he started to geek out with me like he would have a guy; the blog entries and speakers that went along about the common geek experience, lulling me into the sense that just maybe they understood that it transcends gender before they made a gendered joke, perhaps about how we're all the same in that the wife just doesn't understand about our need to packrat hardware, to remind me that they consider me an outsider; the constant use of "your mother" as the archetypical naive user as if some of their geek friends weren't *already* mothers. Those serve to remind me that a lot of people forget that it's OUR world now, too... but as an eternal optimist I have hope that with excellent work and a working sense of humor, we can remind them.

No, the thing that really gets me is that these all point to a fact that's immutable and beyond my control to change: as long as I am in this field, I have to constantly confront my belief that I get paid less and treated as a less valuable employee than my male co-workers of the same level. And that it's almost worse that that belief is likely to be untrue during some parts of my career... because the odds are, it's true much more often than it's false. And so I get to second-guess continually: would I have gotten that raise if I were born with a penis? Would my boss have rated me higher? Would my co-workers listen to me more? Would I be able to work a little less hard or a little less long of hours for the same result?
moominmolly
Jun. 2nd, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
Oh I can't even begin to get into the actual experiences of sexism I've had. It's not pretty and it just makes me angry. The fact is, I can turn people around relatively quickly because I'm Just That Good, but ... the number of times I've been mistaken for junior/admin staff is just embarassing.
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moominmolly
Jun. 2nd, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
here from vito_excalibur
Ever notice how women wind up in Product Management or testing or managerial positions? Not an accident.

I'm a woman working in technology. For a long time, I did very high-level support for enormous enterprise customers for a stuffy company you've heard of - the kind of support where for half a million dollars a year, you buy my time, and I have root on your servers and find your bugs and get them pushed through my engineering department and talk to your VP about our strategic plans and basically just make everything go.

I would not recommend it for the faint of heart, but it has been rewarding for me.

I have spent a lot of time being the only woman in any given room. I had to adopt a policy of not ever wearing interesting clothing. When I dress up to go see a client, I wear a suit and tie; it sets an unusual tone and they don't know what to expect from me, so I find that I don't get pigeonholed as quickly. For a while, I had blue hair, or pink, or orange, or cherry red, for exactly the same reason. If you don't throw them off, they will speak over your head, until you establish your position as the smartest person in the room.

It always helped that I had the backing of my entire team, and that people at my company looked up to me. That way, the customer would quickly see that I turned internal heads and commanded internal respect, making it easier for them to see that maybe I knew what I was talking about and they could listen to me without second-guessing.

I was a sysadmin for a while, and would actively discourage women from doing that. Holy fuck but there's a lot of dicksizing posturing crap.

Being the lone tech person on a crew, or one of a very small handful -- that's the way to go. Or QA, or even development in some places (but not others). Never system administration. You wouldn't believe how many people fall all over themselves when I mention in passing that my home laptop runs Ubuntu: either they want to goggle in amazement that a GIRL could run LINUX (dude, it's just ubuntu, calm down - I remember the excitement of compiling 2.2.0), or they want to prove that they know more than me. That shit gets old. Fast. Sometimes, I just want to run Ubuntu because it does a couple of things I like without having to immediately become a fantasy geek girl.

karenbynight
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
Re: here from vito_excalibur
Sometimes, I just want to run Ubuntu because it does a couple of things I like without having to immediately become a fantasy geek girl.

Oh, god, yes. I am so damn tired of defending my choice of home computing systems because it doesn't fit someone else's fantasy of who I need to be in order to be geeky enough for them.
Re: here from vito_excalibur - moominmolly - Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: here from vito_excalibur - hitchhiker - Jun. 2nd, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
telophase
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
Here via vito_excalibur. I'm a tech person in a slightly different environment - I'm a systems librarian at a university. That means I'm part of a team whose job is to keep the catalog running (it's more than just the computers you look books up on, we do inventory, purchasing, and a number of other things with it), to maintain the website, to write apps that manage our course reserves, manage the computer lab and wrangle the printers, and basically to be the first line of defense for the computers in the library, before we have to kick things over to the Technology Resources department. (I'm the web developer, blog admin, and a baby sysadmin for our servers. ETA: And the new server I'm getting soon is going to be Linux! I think I earned a geek badge there!)

The library field has also traditionally been heavily female. Our library is about 75-80% women, with the usual tendency of the men to be in higher positions, except that of the three highest positions (dean, assistant dean, and the director of administrative services), the two highest of which are filled by women. I think it's a function of the library field being traditionally loaded with women that I've never experienced any sexism in this job (and also a function of working with surprisingly nice people). My department has the highest proportion of men - out of eight of us, there are two women - but that wasn't always the case: when I started, there were four of us, three of which were women. The third woman transferred to Technology Resources. The three most recent hires were men, but they're primarily lab managers who work overnight shifts, which again tends to skew male instead of female, and they don't do any of the programming or admin work. We also recently hosted a conference for the user group of our catalog, attended by a bit over 500 systems librarians from around the world, and judging by my quick look around the lunchroom, I think it was about 40-45% women.

Having not worked in a technical field outside of libraries, I can't say anything about experiences there, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend women go into systems librarianship. Naturally, as with most professions that are traditionally female and/or nonprofit, the salaries are lower than doing the equivalent in a private company (even though we're a private university), but the benefits tend to be greater - I get more vacation and sick leave than my programmer boyfriend does, and I know for a fact that my job is essential to the faculty and students (because we hear about it when things break!), so I feel that I'm a vital part of the organization, which helps a great deal with job satisfaction. Unlike my boyfriend who keeps getting pulled aside to work on his boss's personal projects instead of the code that the company was designed to create and support.

The only time I've experienced anything that I think might be related to sexism, and which might not be, was when I spoke to a professor in my department in library school. I explained that I was thinking of switching my concentration from digital imaging to systems, in part because I liked working with techs and programmers, and he said "oh, no, no, no! You won't be working with them!", and he never said anything like that to any of the male students.

I currently daydream about going back to him and saying "Eff you, Professor, I have root!!"

Edited at 2010-06-02 03:11 pm (UTC)
noirem
Jun. 4th, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
This is an interesting point. My experience working in tech was in a library where I reported to a woman (Linux sys admin) and she was assertive enough for 10 men. There was one guy, hired to a position that was senior to me but junior to my supervisor who was patronizing in his dealings with me, but I figured (and still do) that it was because I was in a junior position not because I was a girl. Oh, and I had a trainee who was also a girl. Of the four senior-level positions when I left two were women and two were men and the junior positions were all filled by women.
(no subject) - telophase - Jun. 4th, 2010 01:18 am (UTC) - Expand
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kest
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC)
I absolutely recommend other women enter the field. Since you didn't repeat her reasons, I can't speak to them directly, but the common complaints about such a thing tend to center around it being male dominated and chauvinistic, and to be completely honest, you can find misogynists in *any* field, and the best way to change it is to have enough kick ass women in it that they are eventually forced to admit that women have brains too. In some ways, technology is a *better* field for that, because geeks tend to be very happy to judge you on what you can do, so as long as you can step up and play ball, they will respect that. (And yes, this may require being better than them, not just equal, which sucks, but they may be less likely to have the 'you stepped on my ego' reaction when you are.)

In my opinion, the best thing you can do for your daughter is give her the confidence that she can do *anything*, and down with the haters. The sexism that women tend to run into these days is subtle and often takes the form of 'you can't do that: you're a girl' interspersed with 'do what I tell you, because I'm better than you'. Women tend to be taught (or naturally want, depending on your conception of where gender comes from) to please others and make them happy, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, except when it comes at the expense of themselves. It's like democrats vs republicans - sometimes, dear nurturers, you need to stand up and put your foot down.

(I'm a web developer.)
angelbob
Jun. 2nd, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Since you didn't repeat her reasons, I can't speak to them directly

She commented with several of her reasons on this post, actually. Her LJ ID is dangerpudding.
tenacious_snail
Jun. 2nd, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Female, not in the IT industry/not a tech worker.

When I was in law school, it was routine for women who were interviewing for jobs to be asked questions about what contraception they are using and about their plans for children.

I worked in an office in which the temperature of the office was controlled by the one man (at the top of the chain of command) and appeared to be based on trying to make nipples be erect and visible, if one were wearing sheer, light-colored clothing. The break room had several boxes of sex toys and porn videos stores in it for a few weeks. This was the only evidence that I ever saw being stored in our office.

Being appreciated and valued because we are smart and competent can be a struggle for women in *any* industry and in every profession in which "smart and competent" are valued.
judith_s
Jun. 2nd, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
I second that, every industry, especially every well paying industry has its problems. (EE, software programmer, now a patent lawyer.) I certainly never heard any interview questions like that, but then I present pretty butch, so maybe they assumed I didn't swing that way.
(no subject) - rightkindofme - Jun. 2nd, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
rbus
Jun. 2nd, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
i do lots of sys admin work.
i work with two wonderful women.
both far more competent than yours truly.

when we're in meetings we play this game:
the women make a suggestion that everyone ignores. we wait a couple minutes. i make the same suggesting with the same exact words and everyone listens.

we see this *all* the time with the other technical people (all men) who won't even *respond* to emails the women send.

if it's imporant and time critical then it has to go thru me.

if my 17 year-old daughter wanted to work in computers i'd encourage her to start her own company that caters to female clients.

then again...

if my 17 year-old daughter wanted to be an automobile mechanic, i'd give her the eame advice.

generally speaking, i think there's a million-billion dollars out there to be made for *any* kind of business that doesn't treat women like jackasses!
desdenova
Jun. 2nd, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Here via vito_excalibur
I am a physicist working in industrial research and development. I don't know how my field compares to computer-related fields in terms of gender representation, but believe you me, physics is very much a male-dominated field. In school (starting in high school), I was more often than not the only woman in my physics classes, and even when there were other women, we were always <10%. At my current workplace, we have ~25 employees, 7 of whom are women--one is a business-person, one is an accountant, two are lab techs, two are biologists. I am the only physical-science/engineering woman--the people I work with directly are all men. This has been the case for all of my education and professional career.

I have rarely experienced anything I would regard as malicious sexism or harassment. Having said that, a big part of the reason why is that "not being full of sexist dickbags" is one of the criteria I apply to potential places of employment. I'd never go so far as to claim that there is no sexism in my field.

A bigger issue is unconscious sexism, and it's true that I sometimes feel I have less room to be mediocre than a male colleague might, and am judged slightly more negatively for being aggressive than I would be if I were a man. But, I don't think that's a reason not to be doing work in a field I find interesting and challenging (and financially rewarding).

As for myself, I'd much rather be in my situation where I have to deal with localized instances of sexism, but where I get respect for what I do, than be in a field which is devalued throughout society because it is female-dominated (e.g schoolteaching, nursing). At least I know how to fight back against assumptions that I am a secretary and not a scientist.

I am not a parent, but I have been a child, and one thing I have never told my parents (because it would make them feel bad) is that I clearly remember several instances from when I was a kid, where they subtley (and unintentionally) discouraged me from pursuing certain paths, because I wouldn't fit in. If I'd listened to them, instead of following my desires, I would not be as successful as I currently am.



vito_excalibur
Jun. 3rd, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Here via vito_excalibur
(unsurprisingly) I basically agree with you. Women's choices are

1) working in a male-dominated field, in which they will probably have to deal with sexism at their work
2) working in a female-dominated field, which will be valued and paid less - which counts as dealing with sexism
3) not working, which is not really an option for most people throughout their whole lives.

There's no easy option, so you might as well do what you want.
Re: Here via vito_excalibur - noirem - Jun. 4th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC) - Expand
dangerpudding
Jun. 2nd, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
I actually, upon reflection, think it's important to say something else here.

I've been speaking about how I would or would not encourage, and how I might explain things to, another adult.

What I might encourage or discourage in a child is a very different thing. Someone else mentioned ignoring their parents trying to discourage them from places they might not fit in. My parents generally didn't discourage me, quite the opposite. I think this was terribly important - and has little to do with what most of us are saying. As parents, your job is to give your child the confidence to fly, anywhere she wants to. I have that, and it's one of the things I wouldn't give up for the world. I have a lot of friends who didn't get that from their parents, and have struggled with making up for that lack.

Speaking to Shanna frankly about sexism when she's old enough - sure, of course. Explaining that some fields might be more struggle and heartache then they're worth, again, once she's older, yes, that's kind and reasonable and all of those things. But as a child, give her the confidence that she can do anything she wants to, because she's smart and strong and determined. Give her the resources to learn anything she's interested in. You know these things, you're already doing it. Don't let our bad experiences change that - just keep them in mind later, to be sure she has all the information when making real world decisions.
judith_s
Jun. 2nd, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
Yes! This! Thank you for saying it.

Although I said elsewhere, I'm not sure what challenging and well paying jobs aren't a heartache.
slinkr
Jun. 2nd, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
I spent the first decade of my career as a software engineer, then moved into product management about 3 years ago - software engineering was a great career for my twenties, product management has given me some growth opportunities I wouldn't have gotten in my previous line of work.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend software development to American students (regardless of gender) as a long-term career option today. It could be a good short-term option for getting a foot in the door in a specific industry, and it might be fun for a few years, but a lot of software development is getting offshored/commoditized and it may be hard to find great software development jobs in the US in 10-15 years. For people who are really passionate about creating software, I'd encourage them to look for a growth industry (clean energy, healthcare, etc.) and develop some strong domain knowledge to go with their tech skills.

Having said that, I would never tell a woman to choose a career based on sexism avoidance. If you care about having a job that you find interesting and rewarding, and your interests lie in tech, you should go for it. The opportunities are there. You may have to work harder to get taken seriously, but you can do it. I worked on teams of 30 people where I was sometimes the only woman (and when there were multiple women, guys named Steve still outnumbered the women), and I was able to make it into a leadership role and get recognized as a top performer. I did feel like I had to be much better than my male peers to get recognized, but I used that as motivation.

It's not the right environment for everyone, and there's a risk of burnout (having female peers and mentors can really help with that). Having a competitive streak really helps, as does working in an environment where the culture emphasizes respect for technical skills. If you go in prepared to prove yourself, you can make it work. I really thrive on that challenge, but not everyone does. It goes against some pretty basic female socialization, and you'll hear some men say that you're arrogant or not nice, but it won't stick if the culture rewards you for knowing your stuff.

I'm probably making it sound kind of brutal, but in general I think that women should approach corporate America as if they're going to war. I haven't found it to be terribly different now that I'm over on the marketing side of things, except that now my skills are less important than results and relationships. But in most corporate environments, men and women have both been socialized to discriminate against you, often subconsciously, and you have to fight for recognition and compensation. It's tough, but if you pick a field that really interests you then you'll get to work on some fun stuff.
miss_mimsy
Jun. 2nd, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
Late to the party...
I worked in tech for 10 years. I did low level IT, Database Admin, and lots of product support.

I have never earned as much money as my male peers. There have been numerous times that I was passed over for a promotion for a male colleague. I am good at my job, so why am I treated this way? I have children and I put them ahead of my career.

As has already been revealed in the comments, sexism is not limited to the computer field. According to the Harvard Business Review, only 2.6% of the Fortune 500 companies are led by women (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2009/12/women_ceo_why_so_few.html)

According to Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics "In 2010, 90 women serve in the U.S. Congress. Seventeen women serve in the Senate, and 73 women serve in the House. The number of women in statewide elective executive posts is 72, while the proportion of women in state legislatures is 24.4%." (http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/fast_facts/index.php)

What really frightens me is that this is progress. Women have only been allowed to vote for the past 90 years.

I feel that a woman going into any field that isn't traditionally a woman's job is going to face significant challenges. Heck, going into teaching, a "woman's field" I am facing challenges since men tend to dominate the administration jobs at the high school level since many female teachers don't get their doctorates, instead having families. In this job market, male teachers have an advantage. They are a longer term investment and are more likely to stay in education, even if they have families.

I don't know if you were thinking about your daughter when you asked this question, but I know I thought of mine when I read it. I went to Mills because I wanted to get away from the boys and it really changed my perspective. I will encourage my daughter to consider a woman's college, because she will have a chance to earn her degree where her ideas will be respected and she will be allowed to speak. Further, she is more likely to find a job that will attempt to be equitable if she is starting from said college.
skamille
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
I don't have the energy for a long response, but my feelings can be summed up as thus: misogyny is everywhere in American culture, in every profession. Is it worse for women in IT? I would say that it has barely affected me at all, but I have spent my career at very large companies with serious commitments to diversity and decent HR departments.

The place where I feel it most is in the comments on tech-focused blogs and bulletin boards when topics related to women come up. Slashdot is so bad I had to quit the site. HN is pretty much only ok because the topic rarely comes up, but even pg has expressed the kind of juvenile "yuk yuk I prefer when entrepreneurs aren't 'PC'" sentiment that serves to encourage bad behavior and silence criticism of it. He has lost a significant amount of respect in my eyes, and left me very wary of the startup scene in general.

But in the end, It will never get better if women avoid the profession. I would like to believe that most of the men in the field actually do respect women even though, when presented with a totally male frat house working environment, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. But tech is in my mind one of the areas women need to embrace if we really want to achieve economic equality. It is not a glamorous profession most of the time, it is hard, but it is a profession that you can raise a family on. I would absolutely encourage any young woman I knew to go into tech, although I think the "sys admin" job is a poor choice because that is a dying breed.
spaghettisquash
Jun. 3rd, 2010 04:20 am (UTC)
I recently stopped working at a very large company with PR that suggests they care about diversity in the workplace. I was at "one sexual harassment incident per month" (not all of which I bothered reporting) for most of the 3 years I was there. People in other groups remarked that my experiences were extremely atypical. (I have had only mild sexual harassment at other employers - I think it was more that my colleagues were older and had families.)

I do not actually believe "it is stressful when I need to wonder if my salary adjustment will be affected by [false] rumors of my sexual exploits with management in my group" counts as respect. Slashdot reads like the colleagues I had at that group.

It is hurtful to suggest that someone should enter a toxic relationship. I would not suggest that person should enter a toxic work relationship any more than a toxic romantic relationship.
(no subject) - skamille - Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
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loop
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)
I've been a unix sysadmin for over a decade. I've experienced some well meaning but clueless "trying to be inclusive but highlighting that I'm different" type stuff, some annoying personal interactions when chatting over lunch. But nothing even remotely close to what other women here have experienced, and nothing that I felt affected my status at work, my potential for advancement, or pay raises. My managers have all been respectful (well, the one that wasn't also treated my male coworkers very badly too). I've always felt like I was perceived as a valuable member of the team.

I'd say that my socialization as a women/my personality has probably played a bigger role in slowing my career advancement, rather than external factors. I've avoided high profile jobs due to my perception of expected overtime and high stress, I've stayed in a technical role rather than advancing to management because I didn't want that responsibility. When I was more junior, I'm sure I doubted my abilities more than a man of similar experience would.

Working in IT can be demanding, thankless, high stress, disruptive to your personal life (long hours, being on call). So, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it on those grounds. But I wouldn't cite sexism as a reason for a woman not to go into IT, based on my own experience.
vespid_interest
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
[Here via Vito]

My sister and I both work as programmers in a "Casual Game" company. I asked her this question and she says she *would* encourage women to get into tech fields, with full knowledge that they'll be a minority and some things may be harder. But she says it is worth it.
She says the key is to interview the company as much as they interview you. Look at the other women working there to gauge the environment. A single jerk in a position of power can make the place unbearable, but if that isn't the case then things will be fine.

A story I did not know: our floor has the tech people and the floor above us has finance/HR/customer-support/etc. people on it, and she can tell the difference by the hallways just inside the bathrooms. Our floor looks normal but the other floor has pock-marks all over it from women's high-heeled shoes. So in some ways she has more freedom as a woman programmer than if she was in a more traditional "woman's job."
icecreamempress
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
Our floor looks normal but the other floor has pock-marks all over it from women's high-heeled shoes.

There's nothing not "normal" about women wearing high heels if that's what they choose and enjoy.
(no subject) - vespid_interest - Jun. 3rd, 2010 05:31 am (UTC) - Expand
netmouse
Jun. 3rd, 2010 11:24 am (UTC)
Still worth it, but "people skill" development is important
Hi. (Here through Vito, like several others). Female and I've worked in various kinds of tech for 18 years. In college I was a computer user consultant and started to do web design, studied physics, comp sci, history and tech theater, did summerstock theater as a tech, had an internship in QA for biomedical development & engineering. Post my BA I worked as a web designer, then went back to school and got a Master's in Systems Design Engineering focused on human-machine systems interface design and cognitive ergonomics, and eventually worked for the last 5 years as a human factors engineer, working with programmers, cognitive psychologists and visual designers, and more recently with engineers who make electromechanical systems. So a lot of different kinds of tech.

I have definitely dealt with sexism - most blatantly in tech theater, but blatant sexism is in some ways easier to deal with. If the question is whether or not you're strong enough to help load and unload a truck, you can prove yourself. Much more difficult to deal with is the more subtle situation of having a manager or supervisor who is male and is uncomfortable with women, especially if they are essentially unaware of their own attitudes and issues. Talking with the women around me, I've discovered things like profs who didn't know how to answer questions posed as being about our own understanding, the way women tended to ask them, but could help us if we focused on questions like what is the next step in doing a problem. I've had managers who assumed that women seeking mentorship in the workplace should logically get it from other women (even though women higher than us in the organization were few), and I've faced more than one case where assumptions about what I had and had not been trained in caused programmers or other technicians to bridle when I've made suggestions. One manager (who was eventually fired) only worsened a situation like that when he shared a complaint I'd made to him with "the guys" without telling me.

That wouldn't prevent me from encouraging women to enter the field. In point of fact, I think we fail to teach all of our children how to deal with being mismanaged and how to establish our place in a complex team; in general our educational system does not prepare people for how to operate within a business environment. We teach that the path to promotion is good performance when often it requires recognizing and negotiating your way out of a situation in which the person evaluating or guiding your performance shouldn't be in charge of you at all.

Above all, I recommend any woman pursuing education in a technical field seek out mentors and professors who excel, and who are rewarding to work with. There are many of them in technical fields.

My experience, btw, is that electromechanical engineers age 30-50 are *less* likely to react to me in a sexist way than computer programmers. The culture is different. Also of note is that I've been working as a military subcontractor for five years, often interviewing soldiers and diplomats to gather systems requirements. Though a couple of times my managers expressed concern about how well I'd be accepted as a woman in that context, I never had any problems from military personnel. Of course, I studied hard on terminology and documentation and can "talk the talk", which no doubt helps, but the service men and women I've interacted with have always been respectful and forthcoming regardless of my gender.
rightkindofme
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Still worth it, but "people skill" development is important
I've actually heard from other people that the older engineers, as you say 30-50, are tremendously better as well. It seems that most of the complaints center around younger guys in 'softer' professions and that is interesting to me. I kind of wonder how the intersection of current feminism is hitting younger guys. I am not by any means excusing the behavior, but I wonder why it is getting worse instead of better. I'm really interested in developmental psychology so it's quite a pattern to note. :)
(Anonymous)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
Oh for crying out loud ...
I've worked in IT for 25 years; I've been a sysadmin and all other sorts of things during that time (I now run security for a company). I've worked in some really conservative places, and I've seen sexism in action but never let it affect my choice of work. I would absolutely encourage women to enter the field. If you ignore any sign of sexism and bulldoze your way through it, it tends to go away (or the sexists nurse their quiet grudges, which is just fine with me). Don't go looking for it, though, and don't spend every day thinking "OMG, I'm a GIRL!!" Just do your job as best you can and leave your gender at home.

(Anonymous)
Jun. 11th, 2010 02:19 am (UTC)
Re: Oh for crying out loud ...
Personally I didn't find ignoring sexism to EVER bring my salary up to meet that of my less qualified co-workers. At one job where I was a senior sysadmin I made about $30,000 less than a co-worker with no skills and one year of experience.

And bulldozing got tiring. After 10 years of being a female sysadmin, I switched to a pink collar profession where I do the same work for half the money, and I don't need to bulldoze through anything. And I'm not tired of pretending the problem's not there all the time.
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