Ah, this is a topic that I have pondered a lot in the past few weeks. I have a vested interest in the answer to this question considering I want to become a game programmer. A recent situation has left me in a place where I began to question my goals.
I have been helping casually with a video game project in my spare time. The task has been intimidating simply because it is new, but I have learned so much and I have found the experience wildly beneficial. More importantly, I was able to kick my feet up, so-to-speak, and be myself. I am the only female on the team, but I haven’t considered that as an issue or even a negative reflection of the company whatsoever.
Recently, during a casual conversation with another team member, I experienced a situation that made me furiously frustrated. Probably more frustrated than furious. We were having a morbid conversation about how odd it is that we did not have a choice to be born [a general conversation about how funny and random life is based on one choice]. But this conversation quickly escalated to a discussion about gender inequality. I mentioned that if I had a choice, I would have been born male.
Yeah, awkward. I mentioned that in my situation, I truly believe that my journey would have been much easier had I been born male. I said this because I have always been driven and have found myself in management positions and moving up ladders. As a result, I have personally experienced the issues that females face in certain areas. At this point in the conversation, I was not expecting a “discussion” in gender inequality, especially because of the light hearted nature of the conversation in general.
Here is where I was wrong. This person proceeded to say that women have it easy in many situations “like when reporting rape and in the law”. Um, what? So, you mean I have to be raped or a criminal in order to gain an advantage? Sweet, let me jump right on that. Oh, it gets worse. I decided that I did not want to get into that conversation, so I conceded on that point (Yeah, I know), and proceeded to take the high road and mention that I was solely speaking of my personal experiences. I wanted to make it clear that I was NOT speaking for the general female population, just me and my insignificant speck in the spectrum.
Since I did not want to get into personal experiences with this guy (some of these experiences had zero grey area, I was blatantly discriminated against), I decided to mention the standard obligatory wage discrepancy in an attempt to get out of the wormhole. He then said, “women can use sex to get promotions.” He then states that we only complain about the bad things and ignore the many things that we have going in our favor. At this point, I couldn’t recall complaining, but again, I did not want this conversation to be escalated.
Ok, let’s sum this up. In order to get an advantage, I would have to 1) be raped, 2) commit a crime, 3) use sex to get a promotion. I’m feeling better about myself already. I should get started on this “to do” list immediately, let’s start with becoming a criminal >.<
Yeah, it doesn’t stop here folks. My sarcasm kicked in and I say something close to, “Oh, right women are just sexual objects here for men to use as they see fit.” His response was “exactly”.
Now, I have been a child of the internet for the majority of my life, and I am quite aware of what a troll is. We shall get to that a bit later, but I thought I would mention that right now.
How did this situation make me feel?
Well, immediately I felt like I did not have a place in that environment anymore. I felt as though I did not want to have anything to do with him and that I had lost my “safe haven”. I know that I will have to deal with situations like these in ANY field that I enter. I know that conversations such as these can and will happen in ANY work enviornment. One person sharing their views, whether they were being a troll or not. BUT since I do not have to interact with this guy, I decided not to interact with him anymore.
How is this a “Female in Technology” issue, and not just a normal “some people are just naive” issue?
Here’s where I have to share more of my personal experiences. It’s not a female in technology issue. Yeah, I said it. It’s a female inequality in a male-dominated environment – issue. I’ve read several blogs about situations where there is shortage of females in technology field. I’ve read articles on how there is a pipeline issue and how there is an environment issue in many of these places. I’ve seen the same infographics visually depicting statistics of women who leave tech positions to do other things.
I’ve also seen the responses to these blogs from men in the tech positions saying that “women need to just suck it up” and “any statistic can be used to demonstrate a point”. I’ve also seen responses of men that agree that there are issues and that the situations and environments can stand for an overhaul.
Well, there’s a world of resources out there where people can get statistics. You won’t find that here. But what I can share are my personal experiences. I have seen the shortage of female representation in other male-dominated industries. I have sat in meetings where I was the only female. I have sat in even larger meetings where less than 10% of the population were female. My view on the topic is not from being someone on the outside looking in. My view on the topic is from both experiencing several blatant examples of female discrimination and from the “thousand tiny paper cuts” phenomenon. Because there is such a major misrepresentation of females in STEM professions, the situations persists.
My attitude to these situations has ALWAYS been that they have made me stronger. My skin is thicker and I am able to face many situations head on without turning back. It is with this attitude that I decided to follow my dream of becoming a software engineer. I have NEVER made excuses or even complained about the situation. I have had the mentality that it is pointless to cry over spilled milk and that I’m better off making lemonade out of lemons.
One thing that I experienced firsthand is that in many (NOT ALL) cases, men did not want females to infringe on their comfy environments. I observed that often, this did not even happen intentionally. When you work 60+ hours a week you tend to communicate with those with like interests or someone that you can be comfortable around. In many cases when I was initially being excluded, one tap on the shoulder to remind my peers “Hey, I’m here”, resulted in welcoming, inclusive arms. But it takes one of two things, men with the mindset of proactive inclusion and/or a female that is not afraid to speak up. I could write an entire blog post about this mini topic, so I will stop there.
So why is this seemingly insignificant situation getting to me?
First, I’m saying that this situation is “seemingly insignificant” only because in comparison to some of the things I’ve encountered, it truly is. This encounter is getting to me because it triggered my “walk the line” response. In the past, whenever a situation such as this occurred, I had to ask myself if it was worth fighting for? I had to choose my battles or I would have been typecast into a role that I didn’t want to be placed in. I had to choose whether or not I would perpetuate the issue by doing nothing, or to stop and make a stand. Sadly, more times than not, I chose to ignore the offense in an effort to keep my job and to keep the peace.
With this recent situation, I didn’t want to have this feeling in THAT environment. I wanted to enjoy feeling included and apart of something bigger than just me. Women in these situations walk a line every day. I know I did for a good portion of my 10+ years in management.
Oh, but the problem goes far past gender inequality…
But first, I have to say that no matter how awesome and lovely it would be for me to be a crusader for change, I have to admit that I have zero desire to do so. Deep down, I know that I need to advocate for others and to try my best to be strong enough to create more inclusive environments. But, really what I want is to feel welcome and included. I’m not saying that I won’t do everything I can to change the status quo, but it would be nice to not have to do so.
I don’t think that the problem will ever be fixed by women: 1) “Complaining” about the current status quo, 2) Leaving STEM and other male-dominated careers in search of asylum in more welcoming environments, or 3) Not bothering to enter a STEM field simply because of fear and the stories of others. For me (and I stress this is for me), I want to focus on my reaction to these situations. Do I walk the line? Do I mention my feelings about different situations? Do I assess how the situation actually effects me in the long run? Ultimately I still have to choose my battles, but do a better job with choosing them.
I’ll choose to live with the fact that there are inequalities everywhere…
A friend of mine is a new dad and was irritated to find a lack of changing tables in the majority of the mens restrooms that he visited. Another friend spoke to the awkwardness of taking his young daughter to the mens room for her to use the bathroom. Yet another new dad spoke to how hard it was to find “manly” diaper bags. I’m not even going to dive into other areas of inequality, so I’ll stick strictly with the issues in gender related areas. Now, we see more and more “family” restrooms or rest rooms that can be used by both men and women. This makes sense considering all we really need is a toilet and a sink. The situation doesn’t stop there, whenever a male enters a female dominated field, there are stigmas and similar situations. I have a friend that is a male nurse and some of the stories he’s told me would shock the masses. There’s more of these fields: nursing, administrative assistants, social workers etc.
No, a lack of changing tables in the mens room can in no way be compared to severe cases such as sexual harassment or unfair pay. But this situation can be seen as a less eye rolling (i.e. rape, crime and sexual advances) example of how compensating in one direction can be harmful and uncomfortable to the opposite sex. But that’s just it, there are unequal situations all over the place, is it right? No. Should these inequalities hinder me from successfully entering and staying in a STEM field? Absolutely not. Nothing compares to how great it feels when I figure out new concepts in programming. Just as a male who chooses to be a nurse or a stay-at-home dad will have to live with the inequalities in order to do what he loves, I will have to face different mindsets and opinions going into the STEM industry.
As for my team member, here’s what happened and what I have to stay about it…
He sent an email apologizing within the hour. This gesture was both unexpected and appreciated and I genuinely accepted the apology. Parts of his apology stood out to me because it mentioned “trolling” and in the same sentence, “not meaning to offend”. It made me try to recall a situation where someone wasn’t meaning to offend someone by trolling them. Again, this concept is something that I encounter on a regular basis being a gamer. But even so, I believe that the apology was sincere and I appreciated him taking the time to apologize.
I am still not sure how I will handle the situation, initially I just decided to remove myself from the situation so that I could assess my reaction to it. Now, I simply wish that the conversation never happened. At the same time, I have to respect his opinion, regardless of how distasteful it may be.
What I am taking away from this…
The planet is massive. There are over 7 billion of us co-mingling and attempting to interact authentically. Each of us attempt to carve out a sliver of this planet to call our own. We spend our days with things that we are obligated to do mixed with the activities that simply please us. Each of us are unique. We present ourselves as a cultivation of different ideals, skills and talents, all influenced by different ethnicities, nationalities and upbringings. We are the physical representations of uniqueness.
Because of our uniquenesses. We will clash. I will clash. When I do, I can only respond authentically and adjust accordingly. For those that ignore that there is in fact an inequality problem, you’re definitely entitled to your opinion. For me, I’ve experienced it firsthand and regardless of the statistics that are floating around on this website and that blog, I know what really happens in certain environments. As for females in technology, it is and will be an uphill battle for the near future. But the battle will strengthen our resolve and make us stronger people in the long run.