Podcast About Sexism in Tech: What I Learned
I had the pleasure of discussing with fellow members of the PHP community a very sensitive topic: sexism in tech. I have been invited to a special episode of Voices of the ElePHPant with Elizabeth (Beth) Tucker Long, Elizabeth (Liz) Naramore and Laura Thomson. Cal Evans was the host. The podcast’s page features links for some of the topics discussed.
The purpose of this post is not to transcribe the podcast, but to share with you what I learned from this conversation and what I personally took away from it.
The Culture and the Issues
Although many say that the culture does not make women flee or prevent them from joining, Laura argued that it may, at the very least, prevent women from contributing. While it would seem that the culture doesn’t want to change, Liz said that many men participate in criticism against sexist behavior, which shows that the community actually cares for an attitude change. She also supported empathy and respect as opposed to only increasing the number of women in tech, which is also a big part of the desired change.
I have a problem with the way some of the sexism issues are brought to attention. I believe Twitter to be a poor medium: no body language, no intonation and only 140 characters at a time. When someone is being impolite or curses, a dialog is hard to establish and important issues often get overlooked because of that. Beth agreed with me that swearing and getting confrontational is not helpful, but we do need to address the problems regardless.
Brand Hygiene and Admitting Wrongs
We agreed that the nature of the brand or the gender of the perpetrator do not matter. Having women dancing around in underwear, when associated with a brand, will project a certain image of that brand. It’s up to the brand to decide whether it is the image that it is looking for.
I came to understand that no matter in what manner issues are raised, they should be treated as basic customer service issues. A company should not take it personal. Implied economic threats (by bringing employers into a discussion) are unethical and need to be avoided at all costs.
Liz taught us that it’s ok to apologize, even if we didn’t mean to offend. “When you bump into someone on the street, whether or not you meant it, you say that you’re sorry.” I hope that nerds will find it easier to admit a wrong with this analogy in mind.
Will the Industry Mature?
Liz argued that if left to our own devices, no change will come. Beth stated that sexist behavior is not appropriate, no matter how young you are. “Young people have the same capacity to reason as older people.” Also, such behavior is not limited to young people and it’s unfair to blame it all on them. In the meantime, Laura said, we must be allowed to be creative and enjoy our industry. That means calling out people who step out of line.
We have come to an agreement that spending all our efforts criticizing bad behavior takes effort away from doing something about it. It’s alright to point out something inappropriate to help people recognize when they have done something wrong. According to Beth, the real way to solve this problem is to “mentor and encourage people who are feeling excluded or discouraged and help them out, be it women or other minority group that’s feeling left out”.
It’s good to have groups that help these minorities, as long as it doesn’t exclude others, because then they will be separated once more. One such group is PHP Women.
I will personally be presenting a PHP Workshop for Women with the support of Montreal Girl Geeks next month. I will post a link as soon as we have details about the venue. I’m still looking for training assistants as well. Tentative date is April 26th.