Many of us know that the software and tech industry is male dominated. The number of women in the industry has been dropping significantly since the 1980's and this has left many of us wondering why.
I read this blog post by Robert C. Martin called "Laughter in a Male Dominated Room". He is known as "Uncle Bob", an American software consultant and author who has been in the industry for many years. He shares the mistakes he has made in the past that have offended women. All of his offensive comments, pointed out by women, were jokes. Here is what he concluded from his experience from all of this:
"Is it laughter, at the expense of women, that's causing women to flee from software careers[?] Is it that laughter that, in the extreme, is driving that horrible harassment?
Could the women be fleeing from the laughter in our male dominated room?"
As I was reading this article, I was feeling some anger...remembering moments in my life where I also felt women were used for men's laughter. At the same time, I felt relieved that a male (a privileged male!) had spoken about this issue. We need to discuss this more, so I am glad this blog post has sparked conversation.
It is important to note that each time Martin made a joke that offended women, the women responded via social media or in person. For the longest time, I personally would never respond to sexist comments.
One good example was two years ago, at a Joomla Web Development conference in San Jose. I have used the Joomla CMS for years and I won a free ticket to the conference from a Facebook contest. I was super stoked and nervous. I had never gone to a conference like it before and I had never met other people who used Joomla to build websites.
A couple days before the conference, one of my friends told me to prepare myself to network and have business cards/resumes on hand. I thought it was a great idea and I wondered if there was a dress code. Should I go business casual, or is it just casual? Not knowing the answer, I sent an email to the organizer politely asking this question along with another one I had. He only responded to my other question, so I decided to not worry about it since he didn't respond. Then I checked my twitter feed. To my horror, the founder of Joomla, who I was following, had tweeted the following:
""is there a dress code for this event?" ofc only floral dresses allowed #jwc12" (http://bit.ly/1uS8NDg)
I was devastated. I thought maybe it wasn't my question. I read the email I sent over and over again...noticing I used the same words. That's when the anger came in. I couldn't believe the co-founder of Joomla could make such a sexist joke. How was I supposed to know what this conference was supposed to be like? And why floral dresses? Did he not think I followed him on Twitter?
My conference experience was less exciting because I was so angry. It wasn't the first time I had felt ridiculed. At the time, one of the male students in my programming class was constantly pestering me and telling me to go back to Art History class, so you can already imagine how fed up I was. The problem was that I never said anything. Martin was confronted personally by a young women who told him what he said was terrible for women. I should have done the same, but I was scared.
It wasn't until almost 2 years later that I responded to the offensive tweet of the Joomla co-founder. I was having a day of reflection and decided I needed closure. Ideally, I should have emailed him right away two years ago to let him know how offended and excluded I felt. I wish this was a perfect world where men in software and tech didn't say hurtful comments, but it's impossible. Now I know I need to respond to sexist comments/jokes and let the offender know immediately, because, as Martin demonstrated with his experience, they learn from their mistakes.