Let’s All Evolve Past This: The Barriers Women Face in Tech Communities


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Introduction

This subject has been on the minds of many tech women for years. The issue is discussed regularly, almost cyclically at times, as we spin our collective wheels to try to find causes and solutions. I was reluctant to write about it, since I find the subject matter daunting, and the problem almost insurmountable at times. But three different sources approached me simultaneously, asking for this article. This article feels as if it is manifesting through me rather than from me, as a collective opinion and observation from the many tech women with whom I’ve worked and spoken. So many factors are in play when discussing this issue that I can only hope to address many of them without writing a tome.

My tendencies are to pick up on patterns, in human interaction, in data, in almost everything. I am a computer science/math major, and my brain loves to seek out the unobvious patterns in whatever I am observing. One of my favorite pastimes is to figure out broken elevator algorithms: what event causes the doors to close too quickly, how are the cars distributed amongst the people requesting the elevators, etc. One of the not-so-favorite puzzles my brain likes to do is to pick up on patterns of human behavior from both men and women which affect how tech women are treated both on and off the job. This article is all about the patterns I and other women have found in human interaction, office and online environments, which make them less conducive to tech women participation.

The less obvious

I won’t be addressing the more obvious problems affecting women in tech environments such as the pay scale gap between women and men, the blatantly inappropriate sexism and personal harassment that has taken place, and persists. My reasons are because I feel these issues have been properly and effectively addressed by other women in tech (they’re not resolved by any means, but at least public awareness is rising). With this article, I am attempting to address the less obvious or unobvious reasons why some tech environments are intolerable for many women.

The material for this article came about through my participation in both women-only and mixed gender groups of many kinds. When I wonder why tech groups aren’t tolerable for many women, I look at the inverse of the problem: What makes women-only tech groups more tolerable for women? My observations follow.

Why do women-only tech groups exist?

Over the years I had participated in many different types of women-only groups. Women-only drumming groups, women-only political groups, women-only tech groups, have all provided what women consider to be a “safe haven” to freely learn these arts, share ideas, expose each other to paid “gigs”, and help each other accomplish tasks. Women in these groups usually had nothing else in common except for the fact that they (1) were female, and (2) shared an interest and experience in drumming/politics/tech. Their professions, ages, skill levels, hobbies, sexual orientations, life experiences, marital status, children/grandchildren/no children, everything else about these women varied vastly.

My brain began to try and pick up on patterns which would explain why all of these different types of women feel as if they need a women-only group, and what such a group can provide that a mixed gender group cannot. Here are my observations.

Community plays an important and prevalent role in women-only/women-friendly groups.

No matter the group or the reason for gathering, _all_ of the women-only, and most of the successful women-friendly groups to which I have belonged had a strong sense of community. They make a tremendous effort to communicate well, to be fair with each other, and to provide support related to the groups goals, sometimes even extending outside of the groups goals.

This mindset is so common that women come to expect it when joining these groups, and foster it once they have joined. The implied message is that a strong, focused, collective effort will be spent to run things fairly and treat all members equally, and collective discussion happens when this is not accomplished. This is the lure to women-only groups.

Communication style is directly affected by this sense of community

I have never seen a woman harshly criticize another woman in these groups. Never have I seen or heard anything like “You suck”, “You’re wrong, idiot” when women in these groups communicate. Differences are usually discussed in a civilized manner. There is the occasional strong disagreement or ousting of a member now and again, but it happens after a discussion involving the entire group, and an effort to work out their differences. I am sure harsh criticism happens somewhere in some women’s groups. But I am also sure that it’s not tolerated for very long by other female members.

This style of communication is directly at odds with much of the harsh criticism and disdain found in predominantly male public comments, especially in most public online tech comment spaces, unfortunately.

Destructive criticism is the best way to keep a site predominantly male. It implies that there is no concern about whether a person can learn from a response or not, or whether they would find offense. It is an outward display of ego, a territorial “pissing rite” in which most women do not and will not participate.

That being said, there are many men who flock to women-only groups for the same reasons as women. They do not want to be subjected to the predominantly male style of communication where there is no sense of community, or even just simple accountability. They grow tired of the “pissing rite”, the absurd declarations of false boundaries, the outward display of insecurity through harsh criticism, implicit claims of “my way, my expertise, my right, never yours”, and poor display of ego. This mode of communication is an unproductive waste of time, and many men realize this as well. “I feel at home here because I really don’t want to deal with that male ego bullshit”, one male member of our political group stated to me.

Men who seek out women’s groups are usually welcome, or a splinter group is formed to accommodate these men, once it is determined that they do not seek membership for the wrong reasons. Some of the wrong reasons are:

(1) “I will be the only male member, and will therefore have my choice of ‘chicks’”. Nope. It’s not happening.
(2) “I will be the only male member, and I’ll guide/help/protect these lost/vulnerable/endangered women”. This is not only unnecessary, but laughable. Women find the implications of these assumptions both offensive and so primitive that it is hysterically funny.
(3) “I will infiltrate because I hate women, and want to try to dissolve the group in some way” This is very rare, but happens. The good news is that the motives of both men and women who attempt this become very obvious very quickly.

Women-only/women-friendly tech groups and gatherings offer a level of awareness of and accountability for behavior not found in most mixed gender tech groups/gatherings.

Awareness of and accountability for behavior in women’s groups means a lot more than just safety from sexual harassment, or discrimination. It means that if one is treated unfairly or harshly in any manner that a person finds offensive, the entire community will hear your claim. They will give you advice, opinions, and will collectively decide if action should be taken.

There has recently been a call for all public message board admins to get tougher about removing blatantly discriminatory, harassing, or sexually objectifying comments. This is a very necessary, damned good start. But to genuinely make an online tech community women-friendly, it needs even tighter moderation against harsh/demeaning criticism, elitist commentary, and exclusionist statements, the three most prevalent and women-unfriendly types of communication found in almost all moderated online tech message boards. There is no better way to give women a message that their comments are not welcome than implying that: (1) this is forbidden territory, women have no expertise here (2) your comments are stupid, wrong, or ridiculous, (3) we’re so much smarter than you.
Discussion, constructive criticism, even heated debate happens in women-only groups, but these methods of communication are avoided.

Both online and off, I have seen men who communicate this way with everyone, and men who only choose to communicate this way with women. I have also seen this behavior tolerated or ignored for the most part. Here are my observations on why this happens.

Men are generally very good at ignoring bad behavior.

This is both a blessing and a curse. In my most recent office environment, we had situations where a male colleague’s behavior was abrasive in one of these three ways mentioned. “That sucks, doesn’t it?” I asked another male colleague. “Yeah, but I just ignore it. That’s just the way he is. He is always like that” He responded. This is what I’ve seen as the general male way of coping with this poor communication style.

It’s a blessing that many men can ignore it, in the sense that most men do not get caught up in deep analysis of why this person said a specific thing, and what this person could have really meant, etc. When almost everything is taken at face value, and not overanalyzed, the ability to ignore communication issues makes it is easier to resolve the simple issues, and move on. I have seen some women in office environments do the over analysis, and take offense when there never was one given. I don’t see men do this very often, and it makes communication quicker and easier.

Ignoring communication issues is also a curse because one obnoxious person is allowed complete freedom to make excessive noise, be rude and disruptive, or explicitly offensive. Most men, online or in the office, will ignore it. Most women will notice it but not say or do anything about it, for a variety of reasons which are tangential to this article. The offender often thrives on the fact that no one told them to stop, so they continue. Sometimes the offender is not socially adept enough to pick up on the fact that ignoring implies intolerance at some level. They somehow missed the message most three year olds learn: I’m ignoring you because I don’t like your behavior, so they continue the intolerable behavior.

This is so prevalent in online tech communities that it is the primary reason why many women do not participate. The poor communication and behavior of even one boorish, ego-driven, elitist, socially inept geek is just simply intolerable for most women. Women generally tend to assume that everyone will be conscious of and annoyed by this behavior. Men tend to assume that everyone will ignore it. This causes problems in offices as well as in online communities, where women will complain about such behavior, and men will issue responses such as “toughen-up”, or “what’s the big deal?” because this is how they cope with the problem. A female-friendly group addresses and tries to resolve these issues, while the average group ignores it until/unless the person does something heinous.

The sense of community fosters a protective behavior within that community.

If you do something awful to one woman in a women-only community, all will hear and know about it, and you are ousted. Most of the time this is first discussed and voted on by many group members. Many times the women’s group will even make an effort to explain the offense to the oblivious offender. But if the offender is still oblivious and/or offending, the offender is out. This is done to protect the interests and goals of the group. Many male dominated online groups don’t run this way. Most if not all women’s groups run this way, whether online or off. This relates to the awareness and accountability mentioned before. It’s an essential element of all women-only groups, and seems necessary for women-friendly groups to draw women.

Women’s groups generally have a few vocal, and many silent, members
The vocal few express their opinions, and either gain support or do not gain support. The ones who gain support usually implicitly become the spokespeople for the silent many.
The silent many usually let the vocal few, with whom they agree, do the job of ousting, protecting the sense of community, and publicly representing the silent many. The silent many support the vocal few. The community in turn supports and protects the rights and privileges of the silent many.

Why this happens is again a dynamic which is tangential to this article. But it seems that many women in group participation give either their silent support or rejection, speaking up only occasionally. Because of this behavior, if a communication problem arises in any type of group, whether women-only or not, and there is not a vocal few who will attempt to resolve it, the silent many will often silently leave. The silent many often don’t want to complain, for fear of having to deal with the additional frustration of the unaware/unconcerned “toughen-up”, or “what problem?” type of responses. For the silent many, it’s easier and less frustrating to just leave. I think it is important for groups that want to advertise themselves as being women-friendly, to be aware of this pattern.

One of the challenges of any women-only/women-friendly group is encouraging the silent many to speak up. Many women deal with demeaning and discriminatory behavior so often in their lives that they are too emotionally exhausted to deal with even the possibility of an online onslaught of anonymous discriminatory and demeaning comments. Many women spend time observing online groups before deciding if they will participate, for this very reason. They want to ensure that they will not feel verbally attacked once speaking up, and that their issues, comments and contributions will be heard and handled fairly.

Women generally do not arm themselves for battle during tech discussions

Women generally do not work things out through verbal battle. By the time they
reach that point of wanting to argue, they are already so offended that they are in pure self-defense mode. Women treat the discussion of tech issues like the discussion of many other issues. It’s not competitive, and they wish to bi-directionally share information.

Many tech men envision a technical debate as a battle, and celebrate the supposed victory, exhibiting classic “Alpha Male” behavior. I have personally seen it so many times in my profession that I brace myself for it when discussing tech issues with new groups of men. So many of them arm themselves with weapons of aggression, demeaning comments, and behavior which encourage more of a filibuster than a healthy debate. The supposed tech discussion becomes a test of verbal and emotional endurance, where whomever can argue the hardest and last the longest wins.

They can shake hands afterwards and congratulate each other over a “good fight” after a technical debate. “I like the challenge of a good argument, which is why I do that” one male colleague explained to me. “I like a good technical debate too, but I don’t want to feel verbally or emotionally abused afterward. Women don’t fight for fun, they fight for personal issues.” I explained to my male colleague.

Unfortunately, the anonymity offered by many public wikis and message boards encourages the worst behavior in people. Even moderated tech chat areas and comment boards are rife with elitist, demeaning comments encouraging “the fight”. Some of it is due to oblivion, lack of knowledge that this is offensive to tech women. Some of it, unfortunately, is very intentional.

Apparently there are males online, in tech communities, who still believe that, like the cigar rooms of the Victorian Era, tech rooms should be male-only. Back then, the predominant purpose of smoking cigars in a common room was to have male-only space, and similarly today, the purpose of the demeaning and fight-provoking attempts is to maintain the male-only presence of some online tech spaces. I know for a fact this happens with intent in some online chat rooms and message boards. It is not simply an act of oblivion, but a concentrated, misogynistic effort between like-minded men to keep women out.

When I discuss this with people and we ask each other how this can be prevented, I feel overwhelmed. How do we stop any/all of the human behavior which prevents us from evolving further? I have no answer to this, but I am certain that if less of this behavior is tolerated online, we at least squeeze people who discriminate into their own, personal hidden online spaces. There is no reason why we need to be subjected to every single person’s beliefs or comments in the name of the First Amendment. We all have a right to remove from our lives anything and everything which holds us back in some way, even that which is subtly harmful or offensive. Web admins have a right to remove useless, demeaning, even subtly harmful comments in the best interest of an online community. The operative word here is “community”, and the appropriate questions is: Does your public comment space contribute to a community, or is it just an open toilet that everyone can vandalize and pollute?

Did you know?

When it was illegal for women to publish writing during various times in history throughout various countries, women published their work under male pseudonyms. Today, many tech women still use male pseudonyms when posting to lists or publishing tech articles. The reasons are to have their work read without bias, and to avoid misogynistic “hyper-scrutiny” of their work. I have experimented with this myself using a male pseudonym to post articles, and being told that the articles are informative, useful, great. Six months later I republish the exact same article, using a different title and a female pseudonym, and suddenly the article is horrible, technically incorrect, useless. It’s a fascinating study. I would love to see some prominent male techs publish under female pseudonyms, and watch the responses.

Women find it awkward to brag about their writing accomplishments published under male pseudonyms. For this reason, most of this work never gets credited to the correct person, and is never acknowledged on resumes or during job interviews. “How do I explain to a male ‘potential boss’ why I have chosen to use a male pseudonym, without bringing up the whole discrimination issue?” is what one female tech friend asked me. I had no answer for her. I have also let my work published under male pseudonyms fall between the cracks, into oblivion, not knowing what else to do.

To make an online community more women-friendly, try these suggestions:

(1) Monitor the public comments. Treat the public comments interface much like the
front door to your home. You don’t simply leave it open for any idiot to waltz in.
You can be selective regarding who comes in, and what they do once they’re in.

Useless comments get deleted as quickly as they appear. Any non-technical,
offensive, destructive, or off-topic comment is removed. This gives a clear
message about will and will not be tolerated. As useful comments accumulate,
useless ones are much less likely to appear.

(2) The technically correct but aggressive/demeaning/overly harsh comment gets returned
to the sender, asking the person to re-word using constructive criticism.
Sounds like overkill, but it’s not. The “You’re wrong, here’s the right answer”
type of response constitutes picking a battle that most women won’t fight, or won’t even bother dealing with.

(3) Treat your online space like a community. The web admin should act is if they’re on the board of chosen freeholders, voting on issues which affect themselves and the entire community. Don’t just throw up the comment space and leave it abandoned for vandals and other jerks. Maintain it according to the rules by which you want everyone to abide, and stick by your decisions. Have accountability for comments. Create a space where open discussion happens as if it were in an educational surrounding, not a seedy bar.

(4) Explicitly state that your site is women-friendly. Doing this will encourage the silent many to speak up. Kick out the jerks who don’t want your online space to take this direction.

For the men who care: Tips for communicating with women in Tech environments, online and Face-to-Face

(1) Tech women usually express great enthusiasm about their work. They do what they love, and they love what they do. When a woman gets enthusiastic about her work and shares that enthusiasm with you, it has absolutely nothing to do with you, or sex. I cannot tell you how often I have seen this. Some men mix up their incoming signals, and a women’s enthusiasm at work somehow translates to someone flirting with them at a bar. I have no idea how this happens, but it’s profoundly sad to see it happen again and again. If you’re lacking something in your life, please do not look to your female tech colleague to fill that niche. Do not even presume her mind is there even if yours is not, because hers is not, and your signal indicator needs serious recalibration.

(2) Leave your libido at the door. Please. Women tech colleagues want to be appreciated for their brains, their technical expertise, their contributions and accomplishments. Tech women do not give a flying shit about what their male colleagues think of their attire, their make-up or their body parts. Believe me when I say this is true. Women may give you a polite response, but on the inside they are offended, seething, and considering whether or not to go to their attorney. They will ask other women in the office or field if they too suffer from this problem, building an alliance against men in their company who do this. And soon you will have a legal problem. Leave it at the door, pick it up on your way out. No one else wants it.

(3) Some tech women dress up for work. It is NEVER for you. Many tech women wear clothing which makes them feel good. For some, comfort is paramount, if for example the tech female is crawling through the ceiling, moving dusty panels and running CAT5 cable. For other tech women who would not get their clothes ruined at work, they like to dress up. “It makes me feel confident. I look at myself in the mirror and I feel good.” my female colleague told me. For tech women at work, feeling “good” does not mean “sexy”, and it is not for you at all. It is entirely about self-confidence, self-encouragement, and giving one’s self the extra strength to prove they know their stuff in a technical environment. Note the emphasis on “self”: it is entirely for her, by her, and your reaction is entirely irrelevant.

I have heard males say horrible things in professional environments like “Well, you wore that dress, you do look great in it, that must be the reaction you wanted. Isn’t that why you wear that dress?” The answer is no, fool, get over yourself.

(4) Tech women are generally open-minded about what is commonly called “guy humor” and “guy socialization”. Guaranteed, many of them, myself included, have male friends with which they hang out on a regular basis, so this is far from a foreign concept to tech women. Chances are, the tech women of your group would enjoy your jokes and would like to be invited out for beers, as long as points (1) through (3) above are met. I personally enjoy and share many of my own raunchy or lewd jokes if I feel safe around the people with whom I’m joking. I enjoy hanging out afterwards over a beer or two, or going out late with “the guys” to a bar to welcome the “new guy”. These things could be fun for everyone if (1) through (3) are in order.

(5) To the men who do not do any of this: Thank you so much. We notice, and greatly appreciate this. I have been fortunate to work with some excellent men in tech, and I wanted to thank you and the many others for not being this way.

(6) No, women are not perfect. This article doesn’t imply or suggest that women are close to prefect and men are far from it. I know there are female stereotypes not mentioned in this article, mostly because I personally don’t find them in tech environments. Your experience may vary. All of these points can be applied to both genders. But the fact that I was asked by several different sources to write this article proves that there is a recognized gender divide in many tech spaces. All of what I have posted is what I and others have observed and experienced. None of it is fiction.

(7) Is someone making you feel uncomfortable? Speak up! If someone at work makes you feel uncomfortable, tell them so. If you feel discomfort coming from another person, and you think you’ve caused it inadvertently, say so. Make it clear and shove it out of the way as quickly as you can, so work can continue. This applies from/to men and women.

(8) But isn’t creating a women-only group, and using terms like ‘male behavior’ reverse sexism? Doesn’t this defeat the very goal you wish to achieve? My response is no, not if these tools/verbiage are used to try to ultimately achieve equality. If it’s used for mudslinging, or through some act of elitist exclusion, yes, it is reverse sexism.

Credits: Many thank yous to Carla Schroder for sharing her infinite wisdom and encouragement. A huge thank you to all of the women at LinuxChix.org for your tireless support of the cause over the years. Thank you to DevChix.com for giving my wayward articles a very worthy home. Thank you to the many readers who have left constructive criticism and comments.


129 Responses to “Let’s All Evolve Past This: The Barriers Women Face in Tech Communities”

  1. Sarah Gray

    Gloria,
    This is a great piece. Your points and tone are right on. Thanks for publishing it.

  2. Pia Waugh

    This was an incredibly insightful read, and well done for hitting many of the important points for both creating a positive and productive community as well as tips for not turning women off. It really does in online communities come down to community leadership through the people involved and useful tools like codes of conduct and such. It isn’t about women getting special favour, or treated better, but rather about not treating us different.

    Nicely done.

  3. Valorie Zimmerman

    Kudos on a GREAT summation of the issues. You cast light, and no heat, which is welcome, given lots of tender feelings in many tech communities at the present time.

  4. gloriajw

    Geeez, thank you. The information and material for this article has been spinning in my mind for several years now. I was hoping one day it would congeal, and finally it did.

    This is an emotional topic for me, but I did my best to put it down and walk away from it when I found myself getting worked up. I made a _huge_ effort to remain unbiased and see this problem from all perspectives. It was a hell of a lot more difficult to write than the tech articles.

    Thank you for the support and encouragement.

    Gloria

  5. Mackenzie

    Wow, this was great! Point number 1 for men made me think of a very uncomfortable situation a little under two years ago. A conversation with a random person in a bookstore in the computer section resulted in a middle-aged man asking out 17-year-old (at the time) me. His reasoning was “I’ve never met a girl who knew about computers before.” Also doesn’t help that he was a customer where I worked. My manager said he’s pretty sure the guy was married, which adds extra to the creepy factor (you know, aside from “I met you 10 minutes ago,” over 20 year age gap, and me being total jailbait).

  6. Danny B

    This is quite interesting. I sometimes go under the pseudonym “Amy Rose” and am treated differently–guys on IRC often assume I know nothing about Linux and hit on me, for example. I am a guy doesn’t fit in among other guys because I don’t understand other men. I only get along well with women. Your suggestions make a lot of sense.

    Sadly, however, I don’t know how many guys are going to read those. :(

  7. Terri

    Great article, Gloria! It really covers a lot of the things I’ve seen in a straightforward manner without being angry. That seems to be hard to do on some of those points, and I really appreciate the time you’ve put in to writing it this way.

    The only thing I wish is that you could have a condensed version somewhere. I think a lot more people would make it through the whole article if there were a summary at the top detailing the highlights!

  8. Trish

    This is one of the best descriptions of the dynamic I’ve ever seen. I’m particularly taken by your coverage of “Women’s groups generally have a few vocal, and many silent, members” – a lot of things came together when you pointed that out.

    Thank you Gloria!

  9. Andy Price

    You’ve made some very good observations. I had a few “ah-ha!” moments while reading the article when I realised that I’ve noticed the patterns before, and also some “uh oh” moments when I looked back on situations I probably could have handled better. I’ve certainly had some heated male ego pointed in my direction before, and it isn’t pleasant.

    Thanks for writing a very insightful article.

  10. Angie Chang

    Good work on deconstructing the women-only community! I completely empathize with #3.

    How do we fix that thing about using a male pseudonym? How can we slowly work to turn that tide of misogynistic high-scrutiny for tech articles that happen to be written by women?

  11. Kevin Mark

    Great article. I was recently pondering something similar wrt the reasons why women are less represented in FLOSS than in the corporate world or academia. From you comments, I made a further refinement of my theory: it’s about ACTIVE enforcement of a community standard. In womens’ groups, any negative comments are responded with all members of the community using a similar standard of behavior. In non-female-friendly groups, the community standards that is enforced is ignoring a problem or minimizing its significance or the commenter. In corporate/academic environments, women have a method of enforcement that can lead to the person being fired or having a superior reprimand them. This threat of loss of employment/income is not valid for volunteer projects where you can not (usually) have your income affected. Also, corporate/academic environments have policies about harassment (now) that can be enforced whereas most FLOSS communities are testosterone-filled free-for-alls where verbal prowess and technical skill are all that matter. There are exceptions, of course. There is also the use of text-based, low-bandwidth communication where everyone is assumed to be male unless otherwise stated and most males are psychologically desensitized to peoples’ feeling in text-based communication because of the inherent limited ability to communicate feeling, emotions or body language.

  12. Zrusilla

    Thank you for a wonderful article. I have forwarded it to Feministing.com, and hope they pick up on it.

    I am a champion of civility in technical discourse. There is never a reason for rudeness. The company or group that fosters a culture of incivility and disrespect does so to its detriment.

    Baiting is also unacceptable. No matter what our views, we all share a society and must show a minimum mutual respect to make it work. I once declined an opportunity because the person I would’ve reported to engaged in testing behavior. He dropped a racist comment here, and a sexist one there, and watched how I’d react. I saw where this would lead–I would politely tolerate it until the day he crossed the line, when I’d roar at him to STFU; then he’d act all hurt: “Whaaah? Are we politically correct now?”–and I decided not to go there.

  13. lauren cooney

    Thanks so much for this article. Just recently at JavaOne *many* of these things happened to me – and the lines that come up in normal tech dialogue that refer to something that should not be referred to never cease to amaze me. It’s like some people can’t even hold a civil conversation once they have a beer in them and they’re outside the normal constraints of their own work environment.

    I think it’s great that you put this out there and let’s hope that those that need it take your advice! /LC

  14. David B.

    I read it. This is really informative. Guys who let themselves get in the way of everyone’s lives are jerks. Good write–unfortunately the only people reading this are the people who already know it is.

  15. Melanie

    This is a great article – much needed and should be read as widely as possible.

    You may have chosen to leave it out as it is a contentious issue and clearly you were concerned to avoid confrontation but there is another issue that it would be useful to discuss: the plight of the woman who challenges aggressive behaviour. From personal experience and from discussion with many other women who have had similar experiences, there is a double standard at play. Women on groups/lists (tech or otherwise) who finally snap at the sort of aggression which the men ignore from each other, and which you describe so well, will find that it is their own challenge which is characterised as aggressive while the ongoing male aggression gets totally ignored/justified/explained as ‘normal’ etc etc. In my case I was told by one man that the aggression was a necessary aspect of controlling contributions to the group but that I was merely being unpleasant myself. The challenging woman is typically treated with derision/suspicion/dislike and woe betide her if she dares to return fire in a comparable manner. Outraged male egos await her – most especially so from men who think themsleves clued up about gender/equality issues.

    Men only groups (whether by default or design) are not intrinsically more worthwhile so we don’t need to feel ‘excluded’ in rejecting their aggresive working ethos where that occurs. We can do our own thing and have all the necessary authority to assign validity and relevance to it ourselves. But it does leave two questions outstanding: whether we are all losing out because of this widespread failure of mixed gender groups to function well and how we should support women who try to do something about it in the face of extreme hostility. If we dont come up with some effective way of supporting women in real life situations, a change of attitude is likely to be very slow. I fear that many men reading your article will fail to recognise that a lot of what you describe applies to them, for instance.

  16. sarah h

    To be honest, I think the article is very confused and makes the mistake of an absolute genderisation of behaviour. While agreeing that there is an awful lot of macho-geek behaviour in tech circles, some of the perpetrators are women and some (many!) of the victims are men.

    One good example of where I think the article goes wrong is where it deals with men ignoring improper communications. According to the other masculine characteristics presented in the article, men are supposed to be more assertive and aggressive – how is this squared with this other characteristic of them letting bullies walk all over them? Answer is that it doesn’t. In most of the tech places that I’ve worked in, almost everybody allows bullies to get away with their thing – those who don’t are sometimes men, sometimes women, but it’s not a particularly genderised thing.

    In summation, not every behaviour can be analysed as an expression of gender roles. Some people are just assholes and we unfortunately get assholes of all genders.

  17. gloriajw

    Sarah H, you make good points, but you misread the article, probably though your own experience.

    This is not meant to be an absolute gender-labeling of all behavior. I personally do not believe, practice, or live by strong gender stereotypes. If you read this article as trying to portray all men as being too aggressive, you have read it through your own filtering. It is not expressed that way, not intended, and it is not my point. I know many _people_ who are aggressive, I know quite a few _people_ who are assholes, both men and women.

    A good point to make is that female aggression is almost always read as bitchiness while male aggression is considered more palatable. Why is this so? Why is Hillary a ‘bitch’ because she’s running for president? Can people genuinely tell the difference between assertiveness and aggression? Are women in high profile roles still too much of a perceived threat to both men and women?

    Mother Jones wrote about this a few issues back, and it was fascinating:

    http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2007/01/index.html

    I did avoid the bad female stereotypes which we all have seen: the catty coworker, the bitchy boss. It seems tangential to the point of the article.

  18. Nicholas Bolibruch

    hehe – I don’t even know where to start with this. I’ve been totally sincere with women, trying to keep them involved in tech projects, and instead I get reactions of suspicion, distrust, and who knows what else… meanwhile, I would be ultra careful to not wink at them in some sort of flirtatious manner, or touch them – like even on the shoulder, or call them by some other term besides their actual name, and I’d still feel like I was being treated with suspicion. Half the time I don’t even get a chance to tell them that I have a girlfriend already, I’m just guilty of breaking some unwritten rule because I tried to encourage female participation.

    It’s all very confusing and really I stopped caring. I joined an optical engineering society a couple years ago, and when it came time to renew my subscription, a journal called “Women in Optics” was offered for free. Since I am all for more nerd women, I thought I’d sign up to get the journal just to see what they’re writing/discussing. I’ve been reading anarchist websites for years that basically cover issues of gender equality, and figured I could learn something. At one point I was mailed a membership list for the Women in Optics group, and it turned out there were more men in Canada listed as members than there were women!!!

    I guess in the closing of this comment, I’d like to point out a couple things. Yes – just because women get excited about a technical subject doesn’t necessarily translate into “I’m getting into this because I’m interested in you…”, which makes sense, hence the reason you’re involved in the first place. I’ve met many women who feign interest in a topic just to get closer to a guy, which is an effective way of getting into his pants. It usually becomes obvious that this is the case quite quickly though, and the faking stops.

    And I’m sorry if some of us are actually interested in the appearance AND brains of a woman, like – is that so wrong?? Heck, I personally am more interested in the women that don’t dress up considerably, but are smart.

    And how are guys supposed to show interest in nerd chicks without telling you in one way or another? If we say something hinting that we’re interested in something beyond being co-workers, just say “sorry bud – it ain’t happening.” if you really aren’t interested. Not every nerd guy wants a nerd girl, but the few of us that do, can you please cut us some slack. Otherwise we’ll just not show any interest at all, and settle down with someone who isn’t going to keep running away once a hint of interest is shown.

  19. gloriajw

    Nicholas, you’re missing a vital point to this article. This is not about how to pick up women at work. It’s about the need to turn off your interests in women at work, so that everyone can work together comfortably. This is not about dating at all. Get it?

    W.R.T. the suspicion, ask a female geek one day over lunch if you’re doing something to cause that suspicion. She may feel comfortable telling you, then you will find out if it’s a body language issue, or some miscommunication. If you really don’t want to be interpreted this way, but you find that you repeatedly are, it is most likely something you’re doing unconsciously.

  20. some tech guy

    This is a silly comment:

    ‘Never have I seen or heard anything like “You suck”, “You’re wrong” when women in these groups communicate.’

    In most fields, but especially technical ones, it is very important to say “You’re wrong” anytime the situation warrants. Either your coworker tells you, or the laws of physics/computing will tell you (after you waste hours/weeks of work). Even worse, the customer will tell you.

    Your feelings are less important than the business. Anyone who disagrees doesn’t belong in computing.

  21. Pupeno

    Hello,
    Thank you for writing this. I always wondered how I could make my environment more women-friendly and now I have more tools. It is not just a matter of not making women feel bad but about not letting others make them feel bad.
    I’ll be paying more attention and try to stand up if I see the behaviour you describe. Because actually I’ll be building a better environment for men too.
    In other words I am disturbed by the same things that disturbs women and I end up being among the silent majority that just leaves. I’ll try not to do this anymore, you gave me a lot of tools.

    Now, something that may be interesting but may be contradictory to the purpose is to make shorter version of this article, no more that 500 words, that can be read in little time, with a simple URL to point out to people that is hurting the community and making it less friendly for women. Like RTMF is said to those that ask instead of reading, something to say to those that insult or degrade other people instead of being civilized. YAHTC: You Are Hurting The Community; or something like that.

  22. John

    One thing that I disagree with is that men consciously attempt to exclude women from groups. I won’t say it never happens, but I’ve never seen such a thing in an online programming-related community.

    I will also say that while I do understand the reason for a male pseudonym, I wonder if it is actively hurting acceptance of females in such circles. Yes, men can be territorial jerks. It happens. However, saying that “women just can’t handle that” seems like a bit of a copout and avoids dealing with the issue. If you find yourself in such an environment, you’d do much better to point it out than simply walking away or starting to post as Bob Jones.

  23. Nicholas Bolibruch

    Yes I understand this isn’t about picking up women at work. But there’s these certain biological functions that keep ignoring these desired workplace habits, and maybe more helpful in explaining the alpha male tendency you encounter instead of thinking that we’re all assholes trying to make you feel awkward at work. You equally make us feel awkward leading us to do irrational things.

  24. gloriajw

    Tech Guy: Agreed. You’re taking this one line out of context. I realize that it may not be clear based on how it’s worded, so I fixed it. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Feelings do matter if you’re offending each other in the name of better business. You have to spend 8 to 10 hours a day around people who you may be offending. Tell the truth, but in a civil manner, whether the customer is being civil or not. The truth does not offend, the tone does.

    Nicholas, not all men are assholes. Also, not all men feel as if their hormones control their lives, they way you feel. If you’re telling us that you cannot control your behavior, maybe you need some counseling and/or the proper meds. I know for a fact that not all men share your experience at work.

  25. chris

    Someone, please tell me how the comment, “you’re wrong” is harsh and uncivilized when accurate.

    “There is no better way to give women a message that their comments are not welcome than implying that: …(2) your comments are stupid, wrong, or ridiculous,”

    Not everything is hunky-dory with every post. Some comments are factually incorrect. Some are inane, or at least appear to be so. If you take a position, be prepared to defend it. You may be right. But I think you’re wrong.

  26. Nicholas Bolibruch

    *sigh* I’m not describing myself this way. I’m saying that human behaviour has a biological basis for this. I can control myself almost too well.

    And i don’t think any of this requires medication. Society has been sedated enough as it is.

  27. LV

    The point about not being able to ignore certain things was eye opening. I felt a great deal of sadness actually, about it.

    I wonder though, whether a woman only group can gather specificially to create some piece of free software. As more of these groups form, awareness is raised and steps can be taken for a proper blending of both male and female perspectives to better accomodate each other.

  28. gloriajw

    Glad to hear that you are not describing yourself, Nicholas. Re: your point: Human behavior also has a biological basis for war and murder as well. But unlike wild animals, we have a well-developed frontal lobe, and the ability to reason. Like I said, let’s all evolve past this.

  29. gloriajw

    Pupeno, this is a great suggestion. Please feel free to create that 500 word cheat sheet. I am terrible at summarizing this article. I have tried and failed.

  30. chuck

    There are a lot of good points in this, but I get the feeling that it suffers from a common fallacy that the way to get women more involved/interested/comfortable is to make all the men quit acting like men.

    For example the stuff about competitiveness and arguments. Competitiveness isn’t strictly a male trait, but it’s more predominantly one. It’s the result of thousands of years of human development and biology, and it evolved that way because has been useful. It still is useful: men argue over tech issues because generally one answer to something actually is better than another, and it is to everyone’s benefit if which one it is can be figured out. Demonstrating a better understanding of the issue lends credence to your position, because the better your understanding, the more likely you have the better answer. So you compete over who is smarter on the given subject. Trying to force everyone not to be competitive will result in a stagnation of ideas.

    So if you ascribe competitiveness as a male trait as you imply, then I’m afraid that just trying to make men stop being men is not a real answer.

  31. gloriajw

    Chris: agreed, and again, it’s about tone. Not every post is right. But this does not suddenly make the wrong person a punching bag. Truth matters, and tone matters. I think you have the right intent but express it incorrectly.

    John: As I said, it is pointed out, only to then be flooded with responses like: “Toughen up”, “What problem? I don’t see a problem”, or “Hey baby…”

    It’s so easy to comment on this problem when you’re not affected by it.

  32. hmm maybe I'm a woman

    Thought-provoking article, even if I disagree with much of it. Likewise the comments! I’m glad you stuck to “the less obvious”, even if your “tips” section came back to the demon of sexual harassment.

    I don’t know .. by these characteristics most of the (by circumstance, whatever) male-only or male-dominated tech groups I’ve been involved in over the years are very female. Community *always* plays a vital role. There is *always* a silent majority. The vocal few almost always deal with trolls in a manner such as you describe.

    Honestly I often see two vocal majorities: one that communicates very aggressively, and another that tends to stay clear of the former’s discussions and contribute meaningfully when there’s a thread that’s not obviously going to degenerate. And I’ve seen women in the former group as well as men in the latter.

    Also, sometimes ignoring bad behaviour is the best way to deal with it. RTFM on “internet trolls” and why you don’t feed them.

    Maybe I’m a little defensive but I hate to see such false dichotomies between women and men. Especially when sexual harassment come into it you’re just confusing too many issues: I look forward to Pupeno’s efforts to summarise this article and extract the core points. Perhaps the terms “women” and “men” can remain but be better understood as abstractions that don’t neccessarily denote gender.

  33. Timmy Jose

    Interesting. Can I join? Hahahahaha.. just kidding. Most points made good reading. Though I do feel that you might have generalized quite a bit too much at times. No doubt men are built to be more aggressive than women, but then hey, give the nice guys some credit too. What say?

  34. Paul

    Overall I like the article. But I think that the issue of dating in the workplace is a bit too quickly brushed over in the article and comments. You imply that it is simply not right to express attraction in the office at all under any circumstance. Men cannot make the first move, and cannot be trusted to interpret signals, so they must wait 100% passively until a woman asks them out.

    Is that really what you’re saying?

  35. gwenhwyfaer

    gloriajw, after reading ‘Never have I seen or heard anything like “You suck”, “You’re wrong, idiot” when women in these groups communicate’, I found my jaw dropping when I read two of your responses to people who have disagreed with you: your blunt insistence that Sarah H misread the article (are you sure the fault is hers?); and your direction that Nicholas seek therapy for his “problem”, which is precisely the meeting of an abstract disagreement with a personal slight that you seem to deem “male group” behaviour!

    The fact of the matter is that both “male” and “female” group dynamics, as you characterise them – I recognise the styles, but would dispute the nomenclature – have horrid worst cases; whilst you characterise those of the former perfectly, the latter should be acknowledged too – the very “group protection” instinct that you describe can go horribly wrong – where dissent or divergence themselves become the enemies of the group. Your local high school would illustrate the worst cases of any gender grouping perfectly, of course. :)

    The only real solution is that groups, whatever their gender distribution, are founded on a basis of genuine mutual respect and acceptance of difference; when this isn’t there from the beginning, the worst cases (in whichever style) develop until the group dies completely. Sentiments like “you suck”, “you’re an idiot” or “if you feel that way, perhaps you should avail yourself of therapy” all belong firmly on the outside of such a group; but statements such as “I fundamentally disagree with you”, “you have contradicted yourself” or “you have hurt someone” should always be acceptable, because they distinguish the person from their deeds, and show respect for the former whilst challenging the latter. Unfortunately, too many people confuse the two kinds of statements, both when making them and when hearing them, which causes an awful lot of bad behaviour; the nature of the bad behaviour might be broadly generalisable by gender, but the confusion itself is all too universal.

  36. R Mutt

    This is a useful and interesing post.

    However, I do think it’s a little bit one-sided.

    The thing is, women have been conditioned by their culture to behave and interact in certain ways.

    However, the culture that has done this is old-fashioned, traditionally sexist, and assumes that women have only a minor presence in the workplace.

    Therefore, women’s cultural conditioning is, in effect, designed to make them ineffective in the workplace.

    The article focuses on the many ways men should adapt themselves to women’s cultural conditioning.

    However, it has to be a two-way process. Women also have to adapt themselves to overcome the cultural stereotypes designed to keep them compliant and subservient.

    Women in the workplace have to become more assertive than traditional culture would like.

    They have to be prepared to shoot down bad ideas quickly, rather than waste hours letting their owners down gently.

    They have to be able to deal with (or “ignore”) minor unpleasant traits. In a workplace, everyone is there because they have a role: you can’t just “exclude” people for not fitting in.

    In particular, I find these extracts pretty disturbing:

    “Sometimes the offender is not socially adept enough to pick up on the fact that ignoring implies intolerance at some level. They somehow missed the message most three year olds learn: I’m ignoring you because I don’t like your behavior, so they continue the intolerable behavior.”

    and:

    “Many times the women’s group will even make an effort to explain the offense to the oblivious offender. But if the offender is still oblivious and/or offending, the offender is out.”

    If you have a serious problem with someone’s behaviour in the workplace, you need to address it directly: come out and say it.

    Instead, this article seems to suggest that the way to deal with it is to silently ostracize the offender without saying anything at all.

    That may or may not be the way women have been conditioned to deal with these problems. But it’s simply not appropriate to try to deal with a workplace problem that way.

  37. gmlk

    Saying “you’re wrong” is directly directed at the person. Never do that. If posible ignore the mistake. If ignoring is not posible then whatever you do, never embarrass the person who made the mistake.

    Maybe you could thank them for their input? It takes courage to speak up. Praise them for that. Then use all the good parts of their comment and add the correct information as gentle as posible. More a clarification then a correction.

  38. Peter

    Great article, and summs up exactly why I like to join Women’s groups, although I think your ‘For men who care’ section went a bit too far – women do still have some of the responsibility! (I work with one who’s perfectly happy to flirt her way to promotion)

    I spotted one spelling mistake while reading through:
    “When most everything is taken at face value”
    which should read either “When ‘most..” or “When almost..”.

  39. gloriajw

    These are good points,everyone thank you.

    Absolutely, women are to blame as well. They need to speak up, and stop tolerating behavior that holds them back. The women who use their good looks as superpowers to get what they want need to stop. The men who tolerate this need to stop. Lots of awful human behavior needs to stop.

    Re: Ostracizing offensive people: I don’t recommend it unless it’s absolutely necessary. My only recommendations in this article are listed at the bottom of the article.

    Re: Dating in the office, I know it happens, and I don’t address it here. The best way I’ve seen attraction handled in the office is one person asks if the other is interested. If the other say no, it’s done, never to be brought up again, and it’s not an issue.

    gwenhwyfaer made a good point. I am not perfect at constructive criticism. I do have a male style of not being able to separate the person from the problem in some cases. I have my own bias and judgments I struggle with, and at times it’s take a superhuman effort to detach person from action. Thank you for pointing this out.

    I’m going to add to the article based on reader’s comments. Thank you all for this learning experience.

  40. gwenhwyfaer

    gmlk, what you cite as a preferable approach can actually come across as false and condescending – the phrase “thank you for your input” is already widely understood to mean precisely the opposite, probably because it’s used by too many people to mean “you’re wrong and you can’t cope with hearing it”. I agree that “you’re wrong” is too loaded a phrase for use in debate – but the problem I have with it isn’t that it is humiliating; it’s that it is judgemental and dismissive. It’s a phrase that concludes, rather than stimulates, debate.

    It’s also easily avoided. If one disagrees, one can say “I disagree with … because …”; if one finds a factual error, or that someone’s conclusions do not follow from their bases, “Isn’t it really the case that…?” will suffice. Neither is condescending or dismissive; both communicate respect whilst also clearly stating the point of difference; both allow debate to continue rather than drawing it to a close. Even qualifying “you’re wrong” with “I think” renders it comparatively harmless.

    Of course, if the other person responds to such a challenge as though you called them a horse’s arse, you’re probably free to stop worrying too much about their feelings. :) But my point is that mutual respect isn’t hard, even in the face of complete disagreement; but it grows not from how one regards anyone else’s opinions, but from how one approaches one’s own – and no amount of window dressing can fake it.

  41. gwenhwyfaer

    gloriajw: at the risk of belabouring the point, when you say “I do have a male style of not being able to separate the person from the problem in some cases”, I must point out that I have seen that particular issue manifested equally in both styles of group interaction. I think it’s a universal human trait, which merely finds different expression in different people.

  42. Jules

    Could you please provide proof for your claim that you get different responses if you post under a male pseudonym? I don’t believe you. I for one rarely read the name of the poster of an article, and I don’t care about the sex if I do.

    If someone is wrong you should tell him/her just that. If you’re not absolutely sure you should say something else. I prefer a helpful but harsh response to a kind but unhelpful response.

    But please, don’t post a reply that explains why this person is wrong, mentioning all obvious details. An example:

    Some person asks help because his code doesn’t work. Some other person tries to correct this code, but this person posts incorrect code too.

    Now you can say this: “This code produces an error when you input X”, or you can explain that the code doesn’t work and tell this person that it isn’t his fault because it’s a hard problem and it was late when he posted that, you were trying to be helpful, etc. The second way may make some people (mostly women, maybe?) feel better, but it makes me feel worse. The first response only criticizes the code, but the second response indirectly tells you that you’re incompetent. I’d prefer someone saying “you’re incompetent; this code doesn’t work”, because this is a half-joke.

    Say “don’t be such a jerk” or “I find your comment offending” if you think it’s offending. This is much better than just feeling offended.

    I find your article offending, especially the last half.

    Why aren’t there “men only” groups? I find “women only” groups slightly offending, a little like “whites only”.

  43. gloriajw

    gwenhwyfaer, this is insightful. What is the correct way to tell someone they’re wrong without offending? I still haven’t figured this out. What if the person is wrong but persistent, even defensive? Doesn’t there reach a point where you tell them abrasively to stop, and that their wrong? I struggle with how to do this, irrespective of gender.

  44. Ravi Mohan

    Gloria,

    I came to this site from reddit. There was a link there to one of “Gloria’s” comment threads.

    http://programming.reddit.com/info/1vqx2/comments

    Is the above url one where you commented? It seems that there is nothing very gender specific about making dismissive comments, if the above is a valid example of your online “style”.

  45. Ravi Mohan

    “What if the person is wrong but persistent, even defensive? Doesn’t there reach a point where you tell them abrasively to stop, and that their wrong?”

    Of course! the problem arises when such “abrasive” styles are identified as (emphasis mine) “I do have a ***male*** style of not being able to separate the person from the problem in some cases”.

    Huh? “male style”? this is (reverse) sexism isn’t it?

  46. Jim

    > What is the correct way to tell someone they’re wrong without offending?

    “You’re wrong”. That’s only offensive to people who think they are immune to criticism.

  47. gloriajw

    Jules, if you’re offended, imagine how people who are subjected to this listed behavior very often, in many tech environments feel. They are profoundly offended. It is a shame that groups who suffer from discrimination feel the need to hide and form their own group, but what better solution is there, until people become enlightened, and discrimination ceases? Where else do you find the support for your ultimate goal of equality?

    Ravi, you are correct, I am dismissive to people who seem to react rather than discuss my articles. I have been told by other people that this is a ‘male’ behavior. Many people seen to categorize it as such. I personally don’t practice strong gender stereotypes, nor not I cleanly fit into any male or female stereotype. So this labeling of my dismissive response to reactive, possibly fight-provoking comments comes from others, not me.

    I don’t enjoy categorizing things as distinctly male or female. But I am (1) aware that so many other people do, and (2) there is no better terminology in my vocabulary. Some behavior really is more predominant in many men, some is more prevalent in many women, some is not. How do I address that without saying ‘male’ or ‘female’?

    If you have a better way, show us.

  48. Angel Dobbs-Sciortino

    Jules said ********
    Now you can say this: “This code produces an error when you input X”, or you can explain that the code doesn’t work and tell this person that it isn’t his fault
    <snip>
    I’d prefer someone saying “you’re incompetent; this code doesn’t work”, because this is a half-joke.
    ****************

    Jules, I would much more prefer someone using the first response by telling me that the code produces an error when inputing X. I think it’s a lot more helpful than just saying the code doesn’t work and calling someone incompetent. I do not see anything joking about that, and it’s unnecessarily aggressive.

  49. Jeff

    I can see partly where Nicholas is coming from. Work is not that different from any other social interaction. If you are looking for a relationship, whether you are male or female, you will evaluate other people for their romantic/sexual potential. You can’t turn off your reactions to other people just because you’re at work.

    What you _can_ do, is be very careful about how you act on your feelings, and whether you are actually getting signals or not.

    You have to bear in mind that as a place to meet people, work has distinct disadvantages. If you act on an attraction that isn’t mutual, you’re going to make both the other person and yourself uncomfortable for the rest of your working relationship.

    A reasonable percentage of romantic relationships start at work though, because that’s where you meet and get to know people.

    Gloria: I don’t intend what I just said as a contradiction of any of your article, which I thought was very good. Just that in the comments when you said “turn off your interests in women” you might be being a little unrealistic.

  50. gloriajw

    Jeff, I agree 100%, and the best way I’ve seen it handled is to just ask, and get it out of the way.

    “Do you feel anything? No? OK, no problem, it will never come up again, and won’t be an issue.”

    or

    “I feel something coming from you that is making me uncomfortable. I don’t feel this way, can we please start over, without this vibe, so we can get work done?”

    or the positive reaction, which is always so much easier to deal with, and not worth addressing.

    These are great observations, thank you. What I failed to mention is that a lot of tech women experience these advances and vibes from married men, which is awkward and quite the mess. Yech.

  51. GuruJ

    Gloria, great article.

    Comments:

    (1) I’m sorry to hear that there are (still) so many guys out there who can’t look past gender in their co-workers. I actually think you should never make a pass at co-workers during work hours. Arrange a *social* occasion — lunch or a drink after work — if you are interested in them.

    (2) You ask, “What is the correct way to tell someone they’re wrong without offending?”

    I always think the best answer is, “I disagree, and here’s why: …” The worst answer is “You’re an idiot, and here’s why…”

    One can become a constructive learning experience. The other is a personal attack.

    (3) A big +++ to the comment by gwenhwyfaer about the fact that *both* communication styles have their drawbacks.

    I have great sympathy for women who prefer to communicate in a masculine (direct and functional) way. Too often they end up being ostracized by other women precisely because they don’t embrace a participative, consensual style of communication — and they *still* get most of the male discrimination and sexualisation you talk about.

    (4) Ravi said:
    > Huh? “male style”? this is (reverse) sexism isn’t it?

    Well, say “masculine style” if you prefer, but the concept of “masculine” and “feminine” behaviors is well established.

    The trick is to never *assume* that just because someone is male or female that they will exhibit the more common masculine or feminine of their gender.

  52. gmlk

    Gloria,

    Your right. One should only give praise if one really feels it’s justified, and even then only if one is able to give praise in a sincere manner (this may take a lot of practice).

    Like you pointed out, praise should never become an empty automatic gesture; That would indeed be demeaning. It’s always beter to keep silent than to give evidence that one is indeed insensitive.

    My main point was that people should avoid language which could embarrass someone. Especially in a public forum. It should be more about maintaining a peaceable environment then to win an argument or to demonstrate how much we know more then others. We should leave our ego at the door.

  53. paul

    The “For the men who care: Tips for communicating with women in Tech environments, online and Face-to-Face” seems more like a rant about your
    personal experiences with men in the office.

    So you have very strong feelings about romance (or attempts at it) in the workplace, thats fine. You
    have a right to your opinion, but i’m sure all other tech women have their own opinions to, which is why you shouldn’t make general, sweeping statements about their attitudes.

    Another interesting thing is the over analysing of
    comments you talked about. So if a woman has a
    dress on or a nice new hairstyle that looks nice and i mention that, it automatically means i
    think she did it all for me? Or if i show interest
    in a woman its all because i thought she was flirting with me? Sometimes a man is just interseted because his interseted, not because he thinks you’re interested too, and sometimes a dress is nice because its nice, not beacuse i thought you put it on for me. Enough with the over-analysing already!

  54. gloriajw

    Paul, the ‘rant’ comes form a collective, not just me.

    I don’t hear any women here standing up and stating that this so-called rant is wrong. Hmm, that means something.

    What does this mean? “Sometimes a man is just interseted because his interseted”? So women are supposed to be the ‘receptacle’ for all unwanted comments and affection? This is not looking too good for you, Paul.

  55. OldLadyDeveloper

    Very interesting article; gave me some new ways to think about this problem and I’ve been part of the IT community since 1970.

    One thing you didn’t mention is women just being ignored. All the tech women I know who’ve been the only woman at a meeting have had the experience where they offer a solution early in a meeting that is simply ignored. Then later some male comes up with the same solution and is given the credit and the praise.

    I’ve had this happen in online discussions as well.

  56. Jim

    > I don’t hear any women here standing up and stating that this so-called rant is wrong. Hmm, that means something.

    Gloria, the workplace is the most common place people meet their spouses.

    I totally understand that sometimes you get unwanted attention at work. But the idea that male attention is *always* unwanted is simply false.

    > What does this mean? “Sometimes a man is just interseted because his interseted”? So women are supposed to be the ‘receptacle’ for all unwanted comments and affection?

    No, that obviously wasn’t what he meant.

    You were talking as if the only reason men are interested in women is because the men think the woman has deliberately provoked interest in some way – the way she dresses, for example.

    Paul was pointing out that men can quite easily find a woman appealing without being under the impression that the woman is trying to seduce them.

    I have to wonder if you would be so quick to assume that you’d react so negatively towards Paul’s opinion and misread him so much if he’d posted as “Polly” or “Pauline”. He was being completely reasonable and you’re making him out to be some kind of sexist pig.

  57. gloriajw

    OldLadyDeveloper: yes, you are right, I forgot this issue, even though I have been affected by it.

    Paul’s meaning was not that obvious. There is something Jim’s statement implies with is one of the points I am trying to make, which is, many women do not want men to find them ‘appealing’ in the workplace. They want to be found to be intelligent, a valuable contributor to a project, and an asset to the company. ‘Appealing’ is not a compliment in the workplace, it is a problem. It doesn’t matter who started it, who caused it or didn’t cause it. It is an issue. I hope this clarifies.

    Paul is not a sexist pig. He is assuming, like Jim, that women want men to find them ‘appealing’ at work. Most women don’t want this at work. Thinking that they do, makes your judgement look questionable. If you find a woman appealing, did you notice how smart, hard-working, or valuable she is to the company, or are you dwelling on the dress? This looks bad, not perverted. Understand the difference?

    Women at work are not receptacles for unwanted attention. Find out if she wants that attention or not. Don’t assume she does. It is safer to ask, off premises, than assume at work.

  58. Shelley

    “I don’t hear any women here standing up and stating that this so-called rant is wrong. Hmm, that means something.”

    Actually, because we’re disagreeing with much of it elsewhere. And hesitant to comment here because you don’t seem present a persona comfortable with disagreement.

  59. Jacek

    Dear Gloria, I read your article with interest, and also the comments were very helpful. I consider myself fairly socially inept (and male), but keen on learning the ways, so please allow me a few questions.

    On “women don’t dress up for you, just for themselves to feel good”: when I dress up, I generally do it for myself, to feel good. Why do I feel good in something that’s not as comfy as it could be? Because I get noticed and appreciated. The whole idea of “changing into something less comfortable”, as some movies put it, is to get noticed, for a number of reasons. If a woman wants to feel good because she likes what she sees in the mirror, she should not be surprised when others like it as well, especially in an office environment full of jeans or suits (depends).

    Then there is the manner of expressing it, of course. “Yeah baby!” is not good, but why should “Nice dress!” or “You look good!” be bad? I’d say it on occasion to co-workers, both male and female. I’ve had it said to me, and it pleased me. Why is it that the females could get hurt by it? Or do you suggest it should simply be ignored? If I dressed up and was ignored, I’d be hurt.

    And on the “women are often silent many and vocal few”: I’d put this differently, especially after reading the preceding comments.

    It seems that in any situation, there are those who care and those who don’t. The latter can go away or be jerks, both to be ignored, or they can observe silently in case they’ll start to care. If they go away, it is not a signal of a bad situation. Those who care, on the other hand, should get involved. Involvement can be vocal and calm, articulated, respectful or even friendly. Involvement can be silent, expecting someone vocal to “be my spokesperson”, I could say. And involvement can be vocal and aggressive, expecting to win by being the loudest. Both the silent and aggressive sorts are wrong, though. If you have something to say, don’t present it as a fight. But if you do have something to say, for goodness’s sake, say it, don’t expect the others to read your mind (or expression, perhaps). And certainly leaving because things don’t go your way is also wrong, unless you honestly stopped caring.

    And on “women don’t want to be found ‘appealing’ at work”: is it because they assume that once they are found appealing, they can’t be found smart, hard-working, or valuable? But to say “you’re appealing”, the usual way is to say something nice, like a compliment. To say “you’re smart, or hard-working, or valuable”, the usual way is to give a lot of respect; perhaps this is harder to pick up on the receiving end, so one could get overly focused on how many compliments one receives, as opposed to how much respect.

    Btw, whatever it may look like (and my words often end up looking wrong), I mean this as a discussion piece, not criticism.

  60. gloriajw

    Shelly, please do not misread my forthcoming communication style as unaccepting. Explain the circumstances under which you’d like this attention at work, and the circumstances in which you would not. Clarity is a good thing, and I think this needs to be well understood, so I’d like to hear your opinion. Please post it here. Also, don’t be afraid to offend me. I am not the authority on these issues. I am simply a conscious observer stating my observations, in a purposeful manner. If you offend me, so what?

    This raises another point not mentioned anywhere yet. Why are women afraid to offend each other, at the cost of expressing their opinion through discussion? I wish this would not happen.

    Jacek, thank you, all good points. I don’t claim to have all of the answers. I also very hesitantly fail to mention that a lot of tech women I have spoken to are hit on by married men, or receive questionable comments, or maybe a bit too much attention from married men. This is a problem, the big problem I found unapproachable, the real one I was trying to address. It is still awkward for me to address this. It happens, many of us would like it to stop. That was my real point.

  61. Jim

    > many women do not want men to find them ‘appealing’ in the workplace. They want to be found to be intelligent, a valuable contributor to a project, and an asset to the company.

    Why do you think they are mutually exclusive? I can’t speak for anybody else, but I certainly don’t find stupid people attractive.

    Just because a man finds a woman attractive, it doesn’t mean he thinks that they aren’t intelligent, a valuable contributor or an asset to the company.

    I’ve heard some intelligent, attractive women complain that they find it hard to be judged on their own merits because the other *women* in their company assume that their attractiveness is what gets them ahead instead of their brains. Are you sure you aren’t unwittingly contributing to that by pushing this false dichotomy?

    > Paul is not a sexist pig. He is assuming, like Jim, that women want men to find them ‘appealing’ at work.

    Neither Paul nor I said that. Paul said nothing of the sort, and I said that *some* women want *some* men to find them attractive at work. I’m taking issue with the idea that it’s a black and white issue, that women are “seething” whenever any hint of attraction comes up.

    If you really disagree with that, then how do you explain how common workplace romances are?

    > Find out if she wants that attention or not. Don’t assume she does.

    Please don’t assume that I need to be told that merely because I point out that workplace romance is not exclusively a male pursuit. Women have libidos too, they don’t suddenly become androids when they set foot in an office.

  62. Shelley

    “Shelly, please do not misread my forthcoming communication style as unaccepting. Explain the circumstances under which you’d like this attention at work, and the circumstances in which you would not.”

    I felt like saluting with that last sentence. But here goes:

    You put much emphasis that the primary problem facing women at work is sexual attraction. I’d say this is probably one of the least of the challenges facing women in technology. We don’t have any more problems in this regard than any other profession, so no, that’s not a particularly good area of focus when trying to figure out why more women aren’t in tech.

    Do many women post using assumed male names? I’m not personally aware of any women who are, but I imagine there are some. However, most of the women I know post as themselves or a nickname based on their name.

    As for discussion areas, you all have to find your comfort zone in your space, but I’ve never once had to ‘return a comment’ for editing in mine. I find the thought to be offensive — I assume my readers are adults, and treat them accordingly.

    “Women do not work things out through verbal battle” — have you ever heard Hillary Clinton speak in debate? Women are just as effective and capable of strong debate, which I take your verbal battle to be. In fact, women are very capable of getting into a drag down knock out fight when it comes to that, too.

    “this raises another point not mentioned anywhere yet. Why are women afraid to offend each other, at the cost of expressing their opinion through discussion? I wish this would not happen.”

    “…affraid to offend each other…”, all I can say is, you don’t know me very well. Let’s just say that, no, this woman is not afraid of such.

    I find I don’t agree with much of what you write, other than yes, I would believe that most women’s groups probably do have a strong sense of community. As for harsh words, I bet you’ll find that men in men’s group don’t typically exchange harsh words with each other, either. That’s one of the reasons most people join groups.

    However, what women can have in women’s groups is a chance to speak and know that if people disagree, its typically because of what you say, not your sex. And to know we won’t be ignored, discounted, and disdained because of our sex.

    You got people talking, and people noticing DevChix, and that’s good. It’s unfortunate, though, that this ended up being focused on sex and the office. As a gay tech wrote in comments in my space, rather a broad assumption to make that all men in an office are sexually interested in the women.

  63. gloriajw

    Jim, I understand where you’re coming from. Here is what’s bothering me:

    “workplace romance is not exclusively a male pursuit”

    Why is this a ‘pusuit’ for either men or women? If a relationship forms as a side-effect of working together, so be it. Friendships form this way too.

    It is the ‘pursuit’ that makes many people, men and women, uncomfortable at work. It’s inappropriate. This is why so many companies have policies about dating others in the company. A lot of tech women would not like to be ‘pursued’, but instead respected for their brains, talents, etc. I hope this clarifies.

    “Pusrsuit” is problematic, happenstance cannot be controlled.

  64. gloriajw

    Shelly, good points. Here are my observations:

    (1) Many women are good are verbal battle, but usually only with each other, not male co-workers. It is profoundly difficult for many women to do the drag down knockout fight with a male co-worker. So many tech women face this problem, and spend lots of time talking about it, which makes it noteworthy. Hillary is awesome, and I admire her for her ability to do this.

    (2) Women over the years have been ‘infiltrating’ predominantly male tech environments, often being one of the few or only females in the group. The issues that arise from tech women who infiltrate these once-male-only groups are openly discussed amongst ourselves, and this is what percolates to the top. It is by far not all-encompassing, but these are common enough to make them noteworthy.

    (3) No piece of my article is meant to to be all-encompassing in any way. It brings up some suggestions to resolve the issues most talked about, most wrestled with by many tech women I have spoken to, in these specific environments.

    I do not address sexual orientation discrimination, age discrimination, reverse gender bias, similarities to any/all other environments, so many things are purposely not covered by my article. It falls outside of the scope of the issues.

    I assume no sexual preference of anyone. I only address the men who have heterosexual preference in my article, simply because these are the common complaints of many tech women.

    As a reader, you can’t even assume you know my sexual preferences, because I haven’t stated them, and they may surprise you, you never know.

    If anyone feels as if they were not addressed in this list of recommendations, it is a good thing. It means no one is complaining about your particular situation, preference or orientation. That is good.

    Finally, your best point of all: “It’s unfortunate, though, that this ended up being focused on sex and the office.” Amen. Why do the majority of the complaints from tech women about tech environments narrow down to this? I have no clue and I find it hugely disappointing that these issues are the biggest ones.

  65. Jim

    Gloria,

    Perhaps that was an unfortunate choice of words on my behalf. The word “pursuit” has multiple meanings; I was using the word in the sense of “endeavour”, not “chase”.

    I agree that people shouldn’t be chasing others in the workplace, but I don’t think it’s feasible to expect people to avoid romance altogether, so long as they can take a hint when the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

  66. Shelley

    “Why do the majority of the complaints from tech women about tech environments narrow down to this.”

    They don’t. I would say you have a fixation, and its clouding your perception. As long as others who read this post are aware of that, not a problem. However, if men in tech come into this and assume that all they have to do to make things ‘better’ for women is not compliment their dress, then a huge disservice for women has been perpetuated in this space, and I would find that incredibly disappointing.

  67. gloriajw

    Shelly, I only wish that were true. The majority of the complaints from many tech women in many tech offices are these issues.

    For you to dismiss the many stories I’ve heard and witnessed because you do not have exposure to this information is doing a tremendous disservice to the many women who suffer in these situations today. I can’t allow you to dismiss it that easily under some false pretense you hold. Sorry, but you are incorrect.

    This isn’t all people have to do to make things suddenly better. Somehow you assume my article is all-encompassing in every way, and that is incorrect as well.

    Instead of complaining about the information I have found, collect some of your own and post an article here. If you see different ways to make a tech environment more women-friendly, enlighten us.

  68. Aidan Kehoe

    Thank you for this article; lots of what I’ve read on this subject has been heavy on the prescription and light on the analysis, and your approach is refreshing.

  69. paul

    Gloria,
    The point i was trying to make, which jim correctly got, is you seem to read too much into situations, as in “thats a nice dress Gloria” is filtered through your head as “thats a nice dress Gloria, i know you put it on just to impress me because i’m THE MAN and i recognize and appreciate your effort”. If Jim came in wearing a nice tie and i complemented him on it, god only knows how you’ll interpret that.

    You said women don’t always dress up for men, which is true, but you also need to realise that a mans attraction to a sexily dressed woman usually has NOTHING to do with why he thinks she dressed up that way. She is hot because she is not, not because “i think she dressed up that way because she wants me and i’m gods gift to women”.

    You need to face the fact that a lot of the anger and resentment you feel towards male advances in the office is due to the negative motives you ASSUME are driving that interest.

  70. murhaaya

    As said in some comment before, changes have to take place on both sides. Men must accept women as equal “pitcher of ideas” etc., men must overcome “it’s wrong because you’re a woman” stance, but women must overcome the “you’re wrong because what you’re saying is wrong” thing.

    If you or anybody else says something that is obviously wrong(like sun is blue), then it’s wrong and nobody can’t blame me for pointing that out. I’ll not use “I’m sorry, but what you are saying is wrong.” because I have no reason to apologize to you (or anybody else) for not knowing that fact. This statement “I’m sorry but…” should be used when the problem isn’t that obvious, or maybe even “I think that works in this way…” should/could be used. But “RTFM” type answer receives many users regardless their gender but regarding the answer.

    To get to the core, for many elite geeks almost everything is obvious, and vulgar response such as “RTFM” is expected. They get really (even I do) harsh when dealing with lamas, or “users that aren’t as skilled as we are” even more, if the answer for stupid question is as far as typing google.com to the address line or using FAQ. You have to ask a right group (right people) depending on the question, you can’t ask “what is linux” on some “super advanced linux geek forum” and be suprised or offended with the “RTFM” answer. This applies to men and women regardless. And sometimes I get the feeling that if I say “RTFM” to woman, she thinks that its becaues she is woman and is offended, meanwhile men says “you asshole” and go somewhere else.

    The thing is, that thanks to the society and it’s tradition, most women are treated differently. Boys plays with cars and girls with pink ironing boards (I consider this very wrong!) thus women are not equaly prepared for the tech/geek world so there seems to be more “woman lamas” than “man lamas” because of the their respective backround. Men tend to be more technical because they are supposed to. Due to this, women often expect inequality in treatment based on their experience and they are biased as well (but we can blame only another men for biasing them).

    This indeed does not cover every aspect of the artcile, only a part of it.

  71. murhaaya

    I wanted to add something that my father told me. My father work as a chemist-scitentis his entire life and he never expericed inequality in his work. In this field, it’s more common for women to be proffesional and they are accepted equally.

  72. paul

    Maybe i wasn’t clear enough again & you missed my point, so let me try again…

    It’s monday morning, and Gloria, the serious minded IT proffessional has arrived early, and is already working at her desk. Paul strides in a few minutes later, and waves hallo as he walks past Gloria’s cubicle, then abruptly stops on his tracks as he notices something different about her today. He takes a second, longer look then gasps “nice outfit! It really suits you!”

    Gloria fakes a smile and says thanks, as Paul happily marches on to his cubicle, unaware of the fact that his comment has left Gloria seething with rage. She tries to get back to work, but ends up glaring through the screen infront of her. “That sexist, male chauvanist pig” she silently fumes.

    “I am a tech woman,I want to be appreciated for my brains, my technical expertise, my contributions and accomplishments. I do not give a flying shit about what that egotistical jerk thinks of my attire. I don’t need that kind of attention! Why is he acting all attracted by me? Is it because i’m a woman? Why isn’t he giving his male collegues the same kind of attention? sexist pig! aaaarrrhhhgggg!”.

    Meanwhile, Paul has got to his desk and is settling down. He steals a few more glances at Gloria, he is thinking “what a lovely dress! I wish I could ask her where she got it so that I can get one for myself”. What Gloria and the rest actually don’t realise is that paul also likes to secretly wear womens clothes. Paul also wears women wear clothing which makes him feel good and feminine, and its obviously not for anyone else because he makes sure no one is watching.

    Back at her desk, Gloria is slowly recovering from her latest attack of jumptoconclusionisitis and mindreadorrhea. It wont last long though, not in this office filled with so many conclusions to jump to and all this tech men.

  73. gloriajw

    Paul, understood, this is a good example of something really fringe. I myself can find so many valid fringe examples. Another one would be: “I love that dress. I sew, and work with fabric, and that material is great.”

    Once again, this article is not meant to cover every single case, just the bulk of cases many tech women complain about.

    I have actually shared a sari with a man once. It looked lovely on him, and I loved the way he moved in it, so I let him keep it. This did not happen at work.

  74. murhaaya

    To the dressing issue. If woman looks into the mirror then she cares about the way she looks and she can’t blame others, male or female colleagues that they mentioned that.

    For example, here in Czech republic (that’s right in the middle of Europe) the head of State Office for Nuclear Safety (SONS) is a woman. She names Dana Drábová. I used to work in SONS as an IT guy and I’ve met her bunch of times. But the way she dresses is just awful, she is (every time I’ve seen her at work) usualy wearing some old jeans and some lumberjack shirt. Of course, when she is on TV, she dresses better.

    The point? I don’t wear tight shirt to sho my masculine body, you can’t see my underwear through my pants or even outlines of them. You can’t see them even if I bow down for something. You can’t see my chest becuase of the cleavage, you can’t see my belly button, I don’t wear tight pants, tight around my crotch and/or butt. I don’t put makeup on every day to LOOK good and then be suprised somebody is LOOKing. I shave my face once in a while to not look bad (also it depends on position, but since this is about tech and not PR or customers care the look is less important).

    When I wear a suit or nice shirt and somebody mention that, I’m glad and reply something like “thanks, I’ve picked it myself.” No big deal.

    I like wearing a ragged clothes, often with holes in it, but I don’t wear them to work even that I like them and makes me feel good and they are comfy. There is plenty of ofther good clothes that do the same but are not full of holes. Work is not an dress exhibition, you should wear clean, moderate, useful clothes. If you really like that dress because of the look wear it when you’re not in work or realize that comments you are receiving is because you are wearing clothes that are made to be looked at, to be commented to draw the attention to you.

    I’ve seen many women wearing regular clothing that looks good and does not attract attention of any kind (and I don’t mean a lumberjack shirt), you can look good and not draw attention easily (plus these clothes are often more cheaper).

  75. gloriajw

    murhaaya, thank you so much for the comments. Even while writing this article, I realized that all of my observations many only apply to people in the US, because of cultural differences regarding women’s dress and the mindset around this topic.

    It is a different mindset, to think that women ask for certain attention by wearing certain clothing. The problem I have with this is that I don’t believe in ‘implicit consent through clothing’ of any kind.

    For example, I don’t think that showing cleavage means implicit consent for attention. I think women are aware of the fact that showing cleavage at work could make people uncomfortable, which to me, is the valid reason not to do it at work. But I do think that women, when outside of work, and showing cleavage, don’t mind respectful attention, but expect people to behave in a civil manner, and not suddenly turn to whistling, drooling, groping animals.

    This site is dedicated to embarrassing people who annoy women with this unwanted attention:

    http://hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/

    I know this is cultural, I have heard women in Paris say that if you show any skin below the neck, and you get fondled, you are ‘asking for it’. This mentality was very prevalent in the US up to the late 1970′s/early 1980s. I don’t find this mindset to be common in US cities anymore.

  76. murhaaya

    gloria: Many women wear certain clothing to get the attention (beside prostitutes even various sellers do that to get the attention at to change the man into the drooling animal). I just wanted to state this.

    I’ve never been to US, but I watch CNN, NBC and get various info, but I don’t know how things really work there but saying “this dress really fits you” is far far away from drooling animals. And sometimes these harrasment lawsuits seems to be ridiculous. We also have harrasment laws, and I consider them wrong because the accused must prove that he is innocent which is against the presumption of innocence. I know that women are in bad position also. But from this and the distorted info I get and from harrasment cases here, I would rather speak with everybody with some fair witness.

    I know that mens can and some of them are acting like this, but they have some sort of problem and they have distorted perception of a woman. I personally know a guy (we went to high school together) who viewed women only as “things to fuck”. He was dusgusting by this behaviour and I did not want to be seen with him in school (we were 30 boys in class no girls – it was elektroengineering high school) not to mention walking with him at street. But not all men are like that and so you must differentiate between normal man saying a compliment about your new dress and drooling animal that in fact says “your sexy body look better in this”.

    In general public, on the street everything is different.
    But now you are somewhere else. Original discussion is about something else.

    Another thing if you, as my co-worker would came to office dressed in short latex dress with high heeled “fuck-me-boots” (thats a term) I would probably be
    a) speechless
    b) staring
    or c) I would say something like “holy cow”. But this is extreme. By lowering the level of clothes extremity and you get smaller number of co-workers turning into animals. If for example you came to work naked even a gay co-worker would say something to you… this aplies to men as well. If I would came to work wearing a tight shirt showing off my muscles, flexing them all the time then duh I would receive comments and looks.

    You’ve said: “I don’t believe in ‘implicit consent through clothing’ of any kind.”

    If I get this correctly, you believe, that you can wear almost anything that you want, and men should not respond at all? Seems a bit unfair to me.

    Does any of your male co-workers dress in the way, he would makes him self more sexually or visually atractive to women? Like does he wears tight t-shirt with short sleeves showing off his tattoo on well build mascuilne arms? Does he wears tight pants, so his crotch creates a bump? I’ve worked in czech branch of big corporation. Every man there was wearing either suit or normal clothers, slightly loose, nothing tight. Women were wearing some nice women suit (I don’t know the right term) that were very decent, even the lowest secretaries wore such clothes (jeans and shirts for example) that were good looking but did not drew attention.

    Also many of these corporations have a dress code and they can prevent these situations.

    I think Chris Rock said in one of his stand up performance about women “That I look like a whore does not make me a whore… You’re right, but certainly is confusing.” We men, don’t read minds and also, only the forementioned men with distorted perception of a woman can think that female co worker dress ups for him. For me, as a regular, thinking male that is just ridiculous. Not even my girlfriend dress ups for me(beside the situation that does not belong in here). If he has a little bit of common sense and you are wearing some nice sunday clothes, he compliments you and/or you clothes, I would not think that it has anything sexual in it and if it does, he would be more active in this way than saying only “good mornin Gloria, nice looking dress.”

    If you don’t like compliments and you do like wearing nice clothes, then you must show this somehow. Say it to him, because as you’ve said about “you’re wrong” thing, you must let him know why and what is wrong, don’t just silently walk away, you certailny know the term “feedback” and this is the part where the feedback is needed. If he is doing something wrong while thinking how he complimented your choice of dress and makes this better places for you to work in, he’s is in fact leaves you raging inside, you must tell him. Even if he is acting like that because he is an animal. You have to “sweep in front of your house first” (this is translation of czech saying). You can then say “I told him that I don’t like it, he knows about it and he keeps doing that, now it’s obvious that he is doing that for purpouse and I want to sue him.” Beside, you can’t expect that animals think.

    I want to stick just to this issue {about the look] because once you start discussing men/women relations in general you get nowhere.

    By saying compliments about your look they, as I think, don’t mean that you have nothing else to complimet. In fact, the can comliment you about your look and your inteligence(when you come with good idea). So if the guy is normal thinking guy, when you come up with good idea you will receive compliment about the good idea, when you come in a good dress you receive compliment about the dress. If not, then he is a jerk.

    So what’s the big deal? Maybe I’m missing some viewpoint that is obvious for american society.

  77. murhaaya

    And I don’t like speaking in general like “men tend to be more vulgar” or “women tend to this and that” but in clothing this “line” is pretty obvious and does apply. I belive you’ve been to prom ball or any other social dancing event (I don’t mean dance club but a reall ball), then wat you see is this:
    Men wearing tuxedos varing in color, but 99% of them wearing a tux or a suit
    Women wearing hudreds variations of dresses, colors, cuts,skirts,corsets…

    So nobody can tell me, that men and women have equal choice of clothing for social events or work. Men can choose from suit or informal clothing if he is in position of that allows it. But women can choose from vast set of clothes and they can found always something that fits them and also fits the event.

  78. gloriajw

    The naked at work example is a good one, because similar situations have happened in the US. On occasion someone, usually male, will attend all college classes naked, in an attempt to raise awareness of some social issue. I have _never_ heard of the naked guy being raped on his way back to campus after lunch. But I would bet that if a women did this, for the exact same reason, many people, too many people, would read it as an invitation to have sex with her, whether she consented verbally or not.

    The point is, even nudity is not implicit consent. This is an enforced rule at most nude beaches.

    I don’t like general terms either. None of the statements were generalizations of every situation. They are just pointing out common complaints and concerns among many tech women.

  79. murhaaya

    But now you pinpoint out the only aspect of my article and just the part where I took thing ad absurdum.

    Attenion is drawn in both cases. Male being raped by another male that also happens. You’ve said that “you bet” so you can use this as a real life argument. By the way there are diferences between male and female body, male arousal is more visible than female. Women raping men – there are some technical dificulities (unless it’s perfomed the same way as male – male rape is).

    But I would like to hear reply to my comments that are about the main issue. This is to far away from original topic. I’m not saying that it’s not worth a discussion (that surely is worth a world wide discussion).

    And by the way such actions in our university would be highly inapropriate even that our perception of nudity is far less prudish (hope that’s the right word) than in general american public.

  80. Diane

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling a woman that her dress is flattering. The trouble is, though, that after I once told a male friend this. For this story, I will call him Moron. Moron decided to say the following to a co-worker:

    “That dress is really flattering on your bust!”

    Moron got a talk with human resources. So I explained to Moron (and he was genuinely wounded!) why he should compliment the dress and stay away from comments on his co-worker’s body.

    So the next day Moron went to a different co-worker and said:
    “That suit is very flattering.”

    Which would be nice, except Moron told her this with his eyes glued on her chest. I should have specified that he should be looking at her eyes when he said this. He got another lecture from HR.

    And female geeks are not immune to this. I once told a girl to be more assertive with her crushes. Don’t just smile at him from across the library and expect him to get the hint. So she tracked down his home and office and sent him flowers at both of them. And she blamed *me* when he accused her of stalking. Dude, all I wanted was for her to approach him AT THE LIBRARY and ask him out for coffee. It was my fault though. I wasn’t clear enough, for her level of socialization. I apologized to her.

    And that’s the problem.

    While not all techs are socially inept, a good number of them are. This means that when one makes a mistake, it is hard for both parties, the transgressor and the one transgressed against, to communicate exactly what happened. Especially as these are often left brained people who hate working with messy concepts like emotions. The transgressed against is unable to clearly verbalize how they were hurt. The transgressor has trouble believing in the existence of the harm, because it is not tangible and it is being poorly explained. They begin to believe that the transgressed against is simply “being difficult” because they enjoy torturing them.

    But there was a serious breach of behavior, and just because it isn’t being explained clearly, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

    Disclaimer: I love techies. I’m married to one. I love geeks of all kinds. I know not every geek fits the stereotypes. Some techs do fit into the stereotype, though. Flirting in the workplace requires finesse, and if you don’t have it (I don’t!) then you might as well keep your mouth shut, and your eyes on your co-worker’s face.

  81. bogo_lode

    Interesting article.

    I wonder about the dichotomy of those you’re friends with vs those you’re not. I’m not sure its possible to escape that and view actions on either side of that line in equal terms.

    Most of what the article discusses is along the lines of social interaction, and it is worth pointing out that you’re always going to notice strong and especially negative interactions. Positive interactions don’t have a similar impact and you may have many but you’re unlikely to measure them equally. Also, preconceived notions carry a lot. If you think I’m a stereotypical male who will hump everything in sight, you’re going to view my statements through that. So a pleasantry, such as “nice dress,” becomes innuendo. If you know someone, and you have established roles in which you communicate, the boundaries do shift and evolve over time. What was acceptable today may not be tomorrow, or may not have been yesterday.

    And to a certain extent, this is a complaint that there’s an existing club, and it’s not welcoming you. Which is basically true. However, an existing social group has evolved to be what it is. It takes time for things to change. The avenues available are either setting up alternative organizations or doing what it takes to be a part. And I do think that one of the major issues is that people are rarely going to speak up and rock the boat. And the people who do are often “the usual suspects” of the group. Which leads to less change or a closed cycle of change.

    If you do have a problem, if you expect it to be addressed, you need to speak up in the appropriate place. Be aware of your own bias and your own blindness, or as aware as you can be. You may view something as a great wrong, but if it isn’t an issue within a culture, it may not be. For example, if a couple has a dom/sub relationship, while it may offend your sensibilities, it isn’t necessarily wrong. Your perception of wrong may or may not be viewed as valid by other people. But if you are unwilling to say what you think, no one knows what you think. They may not agree. They may not change a thing. But at least you will be noted by some people.

    I guess the last thing is just, it takes time. Being different always takes a while for the norm of a group to shift to include it. I’ve read and heard a lot of talk about women in technology, but I think its easy to forget that it takes a long time for things to really change. And to a certain extent, society resists change unless it is extremely gradual. Your hoped for changes aren’t necessarily for yourself but those who follow you.

  82. Anthogna

    Gloria–

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to offer some words of praise.

    I thought this was an excellent distillation of the typical gender-related challenges in tech, as well as resonating with the non-tech industries.

    I see that the comments thread degenerated rapidly, like those about most feminist postings, into a battle of wits between yourself and a few people that don’t seem to understand the bigger picture of feminism. For the sake of the latter, I’ll quickly state it as I understand it, in the spirit of extending the olive branch:

    Feminism is not about hating men.

    Feminism is about challenging the Patriarchical environment that pervades all aspects of life in the feminist’s world.

    In my experience, feminists don’t need to hate men, because the Patriarchy does a pretty good job of that itself.

    (An example for those needing one: The misconception that a male is somehow obligated to drool and lust over a female for any one of a multitude of reasons from clothing to intelligence to professional inclination is absolutely ludicrous, and an example of the Patriarchy in action.)

    And as much as this article can be seen as having a faint overtone of antagonism, I brush that overtone off entirely due to the fact that it’s very hard to overcome antagonism when challenging an antagonistic force.

    Besides which, I thought you did such a good job of overcoming it, that the failings are so small as to be disregarded.

    And to comment on a excerpt that seems to ruffle a few feathers:

    “Sometimes the offender is not socially adept enough to pick up on the fact that ignoring implies intolerance at some level. They somehow missed the message most three year olds learn: I’m ignoring you because I don’t like your behavior, so they continue the intolerable behavior.”

    Snaps to you on that. It was, quite literally, what I was thinking about at that exact moment. People with this behavior pattern still acts like the spoiled three-year old through their entire life, the only time-tempering is in the way that it manifests itself.

    And a word to those who may be inspired to attack my comments: I’m not sure if I’ll be making the rounds to defend myself, and if it helps you understand that better, just think of it as “I’m exercising what you see as the inalienable right to say ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’”

  83. james w

    Thankfully I work in an environment where I don’t feel threatened by a sexual harassment lawsuit by just looking someone in the eyes when saying hello. You know, like forthright, open people do.

    I’m not sure why you felt compelled to make three bullet points about innuendo.

    You would get better traction for your ideas if you let go of the dead horse that all men are walking freaks who can’t keep it in their pants and would put it into anything with a pulse.

    And honey (I’m going to say it like this just because I know its going to grate at you, or you’re going to come back with some caustic expression of pity, or some other way to feel superior), software and hardware isn’t going to hug itself into existence.

  84. cdog

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  85. gloriajw

    People, take note of the two stereotypical misunderstandings and responses above. This serves to justify the need to bring these issues to light and discuss them.

    Heat = supposedly acceptable aggression in the workplace.
    Hug = The stereotypical response some men think that women have as a problem solving tactic.

    Notice the vascillation of extremes: The irrational fear of lawsuit at every turn, vs. the ridiculous ‘hug’ mentality at work.

    Many people who hold these misconceptions about women in the workplace think in the extremes, and cannot see the rational midpoint. These misconceptions could, and do taint the work environment. You can help to put an end to this extreme thinking and these gross misunderstandings.

  86. Hamish

    Good article. And interesting to see some of the responses piling up …

    I’m a male geek and my social skills are a lot better than they once were. So I can remember being generally bewildered by how to start a relationship with a woman – I can relate to the people saying “I want to be good and nice, but I also know that relationships do start at work, so how do I combine these two things?”

    I never tried in the workplace, but I was involved in various activist groups, and on occasion I (very clumsily) attempted a pass at a women in the group who I’d become friendly with. They would quickly withdraw, and looking back I can see why, and I can imagine that I made the group seem an unwelcome place.

    After one incident where I’d made a pass while in a position of (minor) power, I was pulled up by others from the organising group. I am very grateful to those people for having a chat to me and pointing out that behaviour to me – I was acting out of ignorance, and did not know how to act better. I would encourage others who observe inappropriate advances going on, and who know the person making the advances, and have some faith the advance is not malicious, to have a quiet word with the person. Looking back I am amazed I did not see how my actions must have seemed.

    So how do relationships start from work? I would say that friendships start in work (or your group or …). If the friendship goes beyond work (and by that I mean more than work socialising, down the pub after work does not count), then maybe you might wonder about if there is more to it. But concentrate on the friendship. And as mentioned by others, direct questions are good if you are finding yourself unable to stop wondering about someone.

    On how to disagree, it depends on how well you know the person. If I am working with someone who I’ve worked with for a long time, and we both know we have respect for each other, then “No that’s wrong” is fine. But not when you don’t know someone (as on a forum or email list).

    If you are exploring a problem, then “My understanding is …” or “Have you considered …” are good ways to jointly explore a problem without getting someone’s back up rather than “no, you’re wrong”.

    If you want to grow the gnu/linux community then “RTFM” is not going to help. It doesn’t take much more effort to write “sorry, this is not a suitable forum for your problem, try http://www.ubuntuforums.org/

    And I absolutely disagree that this is about making special allowances for women. It is about creating good online communities for all.

  87. Cailin Coilleach

    Gloria,

    I’m going to thank you for writing this article because it has made me think about my behaviour over the past years. I will also be talking to a number of former colleagues to verify whether I irked them in any way or not.

    However, I strongly disagree with some of the points you make. It may be down to your choice of words, but some of it just sounds overly angry.

    Also:
    > Notice the vascillation of extremes: The
    > irrational fear of lawsuit at every turn, vs.
    > the ridiculous ‘hug’ mentality at work.

    Irrational fear? Irrational fear? Please excuse me when I say that you yourself have contributed to it simply on this page! Does the following ring a bell?

    > Believe me when I say this is true. Women may
    > give you a polite response, but on the inside
    > they are offended, seething, and considering
    > whether or not to go to their attorney.

    With quotes like that you make it sound like every woman will grab for their lawyer at the bat of an eye.

    Which brings me to the following: on this page of comments you have displayed rather interesting behaviour yourself. You encourage people who share your opinions, while you use a very different tone with the men and women who disagree.

    Let’s use the first quote I used as an example. You switch from a friendly disposition to a formal and analytical fashion of writing. You actually sound like a psychologist who’s taken one of her subjects in front of a study group. “Notice here the abhorant behaviour in the patient …” etcetera.

    This makes it seem like you are rather closed to other opinions and that you are unmovable in your own convictions. Unfortunately this also deters that “silent majority” you waxed lyrically about from speaking up.

    Anywho… Thanks for making me and a lot of people think. I’ll be writing an introspective based on this discussion RSN and post it on my blog.

  88. murhaaya

    I kinda agree with Cailin.
    For example from my article you pointed out the irelevant extreme example of going to school or work nude instead of responding to some relevant things. It looks like evading the answer (since you replied you obviously read it and had time to respond).

    I’ve worked as an IT guy. I was outsourced to the the company where I’ve worked so I’ve always acted with some distance and I’ve never had any problem. Those were the morons that could not use Excel so I’ve never tried to be more friendly than “good day, so show me what is the problem.” But if you are part of the team you can’t act like that. And by the way I would rather be in male only group when saying “hello, what a nice dress you have today” to my female co worker would mean she is going to her attorney. I would really like to see these situations in real life. We czechs don’t sue anybody’s ass just for the hell of it because you can sue for ten years easily. Maybe I’m as a man missing something that is obvious for women and maybe I’m maybe missing the american (I suppose that you are american, right?) viewpoint.

    About the “you’re wrong” or “RTFM” thing. I consider RTFM or STFG or in words “Search the freakin google” as a sufficient hint for the person, because in online communities, these replies gets the most stupid question that are asked because the one who is asking is lazy and thinks that somebody will sum it up for him in nice package. That’s not gonna happen. If the question is relevant, then I you are not dealing with absolute asocial geek you will receive a relevant answer. On every other discussion I see people asking questions that answers lie as far as typing into google or using wikipedia. So if you receive a RTFM then you are
    a] asking question, that does not belong there because of the level of complexity
    b] the one who answered is total asocial geek and only communication respond to is pure binary, pure hexa or leet speak.

    in first case you are ought to use another forum that fits your own level of understanting the problem. In the second case, you can’t get mad because of some trekie is trying to raise his ego. (no offense I like star trek to). And of course, there are many nicer ways how to say it, but why bother if the person asking did not bother thinking or using search engine? Escecially when you have to respond many times a day.

    That’s about it to online communities.

  89. gloriajw

    Cailin, thanks for your comments.

    Yes, I do state some of these points harshly. Yes, there are grey areas of “your dress looks nice” which are acceptable, even completely different based on cultural differences. The point is, if you’re not sure, either (1) don’t comment on the dress, or (2) explicitly state that you’re not trying to offend or create an awkward situation.

    I am sure many men read this and thought to themselves “I don’t have this problem in the office, even though I compliment women on their attire.” They understand the subtleties of offending others. Some people offend, don’t realize it, and create the awkward situation. This is common in tech environments.

    Yes, I respond dismissively to people who dismiss the issue. I response harshly or analytically to those to respond with what appears to be the sole intent of provocation of an argument. These two responses, to me, only serve as examples of why we need to discuss the issues. They are perfect examples of the very issues we discuss here.

    I have met many women who are under the impression that they always have to be kind and understanding, irrespective of how they are being treated, or the responses they receive. I am not one of those women. My responses will fit the situation as best as possible for me, maybe not for you. Your experience will vary.

  90. gloriajw

    murhaaya, sorry I did not get to respond to all of your points. I ran out of time. I just hope that you realize that (1) I don’t have every answer, (2) my goal was to raise awareness, and that succeeded, (3) there’s lots of grey area, (4) we’re not going to agree on every issue.

    Re: the RTFM, again there are happy mediums. Once I saw someone post to the Postresql users group, asking what a database was, and why they’d want to use it. I was so pleasantly surprised when no one flamed this poor guy. He was directed to pages on the net, and asked to post those types of questions elsewhere. Both goals were accomplished: the person got help, and they gently nudged the person out of the way of the other topics being discussed. It was handled perfectly.

  91. Cailin Coilleach

    Oho! I am really rather grateful to one of your readers (and fellow tech women), a Ms. Cheng.

    I had asked her for some feedback on my behaviour as a visitor of her blog, after complimenting her on such-and-such before. Luckily I’ve never stepped on any toes. But the most important thing that Ms. Cheng did was opening my eyes to a new train of thought in this subject.

    It had never occured to me to take into account the factor of how well you know someone! I’d failed to weigh in whether you work with someone closely, sporadically or even never. Ie, how well are the two of you acquainted.

    And yes, I now see what part of the problem you describe is! If someone random in the office compliments you out of the blue it could definitely be “odd”.

    This luckily confirms my suspicions that I’m not an “icky lech” for being open, attentive and close to a few women I know and have worked with. You’d gotten me worried with your article! But after talking to them they all reassured me that they felt very comfortable around me. :)

    And thanks to Ms. Cheng I now realise that that was because we were actual -friends-. She was also the only exception (so far), being indifferent to my compliments as we are naught but faint acquaintances. In her case I will definitely tone down my communications a bit.

    The reason why the message -did- hit home this time, was because she worded it differently than you. There was no vitriol, there was clear reasoning and a patient tone. That got the message across :)

    Anywho… Now that that part of the conversation is done with I can go focus on the rest of your article :D

  92. murhaaya

    I think that I’m finally kinda getting to it. Cailin wrote:

    “If someone random in the office compliments you out of the blue it could definitely be “odd”.”

    I did not see that perspective, of “some guy from cubible all across the hall which name I don’t even know” compliments me… Then it’s very odd and since you don’t know him, or you’re not friends or whatever such behaviour raises questions and it sounds more like “you are one sexy lady and I want your attention” than just complimenting. Because he would approach you in some other way if he wanted to discuss some work related issue. That guy have to realize that because you work on the same floor or in the same building or in the same company, you are not his “next date”.

    I did not realize this perspective since I would not behave in such way. I think that I’ve missed stating this relation in your article, but it’s possible I’ve forgot about it.

    I hope I got that right.

    P.S. about the “RTFM” that also depends on temper and time etc. That reply you’ve chosen as an example is very nice and I maybe won’t be so harsh next time somebody asks me a stupid question.

  93. Cailin Coilleach

    And then, on the way home, I realized something. I -do- make an ass of myself sometimes.

    While I may not actually approach strangers and compliment them on something, I am guilty of whistling. I’ve always known that it’s frowned upon in the back of my head. But after giving the whole subject a lot of thought the past two day I’ve decided that it stops. I’ll keep my appreciation to myself and I’ll even cut down on the gossiping about “hot women”. I’ll just keep it between me and my best friends. You’re right that it has no place at the office.

    And that’s the last on that. Now I really am going to go over the rest of the article with a fine-toothed comb :)

  94. Brad Fults

    This was a great and informative read from a different perspective. I (male) have been part of predominantly female communities before and I’ll agree that issues are handled in a different manner than those in, say, the majority of IRC channels. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of the female community if for nothing more than the common distaste and intolerance for trolls and bigots.

    That said (and as a few previous comments have touched on), dealing with gender differences in the workplace can be more complicated than you seem to admit. First and foremost a workplace relies upon its culture when issues arise. If any member of the workplace is not in tune with the established culture, regardless of gender, there will be problems. Think of a tech startup filled with sociable twenty-somethings butting heads with a stuffy, middle-aged and socially inept “senior staff” member.

    Assuming then that a female fits in with the established culture of a workplace, things are much more likely to go smoothly. This includes things like sense of humor, lack of prudery, audacity, social prowess and, of course, technical ability. Assuming a female worker is on the same page as her male coworkers on these dimensions, the chances that problems will arise is significantly reduced. Realize also that these same criteria apply for any member of the team and any new hire…this is part of the reason that it’s so difficult to find new team members who actually fit with the existing team.

    After all of that, though, there is still the simple biological fact of gender difference. There are certainly social codes that can guide behavior in the workplace, but that will never make a hot girl (or guy) any less hot. There is something hardwired into most humans that causes physical attraction or at least awareness of another person’s attractive qualities. It may be undesirable for a woman to have ten sets of eyes track her through a room as she minds her own business, but that is a fact of life that will not soon change for people who are not well acquainted.

    Situations like that do change, however, with experience and time between the affected parties. The more that a team works with and grows to respect a woman as a peer, the less any hardwired biological fact will stand in the way of just hanging out and being productive in a healthy work environment. I think as long as tech women understand that the initial shock and awkwardness of entering a male-dominated team will wear off as the men gain respect and familiarity with them, it will be easier for women to assimilate and feel comfortable in such a situation.

    Obviously it should go without saying that any misogyny or lewd behavior should be dealt with swiftly and immediately from all angles (superiors and peers alike). Unfortunately I think the women who endure the necessary trials and understand the fundamentals of becoming part of a male community are vastly outnumbered by those who simply think that “boys will be boys” and leave misogyny unchecked and disgustingly common among typical male tech workers. I often lament about the abuse that wives of tech workers suffer without an obvious care or worry about the way they are treated.

    I’ll stop rambling now and maybe write an article about this later.

  95. len

    “Do not even presume her mind is there even if yours is not, because hers is not, and your signal indicator needs serious recalibration.”

    Well so much for the species… I guess fish ascend.

    As I wrote to Lauren Wood, this is a Chinese finger puzzle. Some things are observably certain:

    1. Both sexes will continue to engage in sexual behavior at work. Don’t even think you can change that without creating opportunities for a power struggle based on fear. Fear of the opposite sex is at the root of the problems you described, Gloria, not ardor.

    2. It is a problem for both genders and learning how to handle that is part of maturing. Some do. Some don’t. The men don’t talk about it as much among women but they do talk about it. Maybe they should describe all of the compromising situations created by inappropriate behavior by women in the office. It’s a touchy subject but to not take it up is to enable a mau-mau climate.

    4. Every profession everywhere has the same mixed gender issues. Do other professions handle it better?

    No one has yet isolated a compelling case for why the computer science industry has fewer women but until it has been compared to a sufficient number of other professions it isn’t even reasonable to assume it is worth changing anything.

    No one gets out of a finger puzzle with both sides pulling in opposite directions. The reason this topic never resolves is in all too many situations, both fingers like that and in no human puzzle has that ever been more true.

    My advice: women should treat men less like territory and men should treat women less like appliances. True in all social settings.

  96. David Nesting

    Gloria, this is an excellent piece and I appreciated reading it.

    Regarding online forums, I suspect most of the abrasive content that you read comes not from typical men, but from typical immature men. In a more educated workplace (with fewer fresh college hires), you will not find this behavior, and I suspect most forums where these types of participants are in more of a minority, you’ll also find disproportionately fewer comments fall into this category. (They feed off of each other, and when they see comments like theirs, they are encouraged to post their own.)

    I love the suggestion of more aggressive moderation of online forums. But who has the time?

    With the above praise out of the way, I want to also note that I do not agree with some of your comments made afterward.

    We are all guided by our emotions and hormones. It is NOT POSSIBLE to purge ourselves of them. While we are indeed “evolved” by the standards of our distant ancestors, it’s unreasonable to expect that all of that (evolved) instinct can be instantly and perfectly suppressed. Most men should be capable of at least making it APPEAR that way, which is usually all that is necessary to keep a work environment professional and productive. A minority of men may be less capable of doing this, and may do inappropriate things in the workplace. These individuals are not sick and in need of medication. They are simply less suitable for work in a professional environment. If these attributes make them undesirable employees, then they should be replaced.

    Your advice here is good advice. Please don’t let it become clouded by suggesting that women are all perfectly rational beings and men need to be medicated to be more like women. Good integration in the workplace requires acknowledgment and respect of these differences from both sides, though I understand and respect that it is frequently the *actions* and behavior of men that make the women they work with uncomfortable, and not the other way around. The logical solution is to work to make men more aware of the effects of their behavior (as you’ve done an exemplary job of here), but also to make women aware that men are men, and that they shouldn’t be thought of as “bad” simply because they are different from women.

    Absolutely, men should make an effort to be more empathic and understanding. But women should make an effort to assist by communicating in terms that men can better understand. Simply “feminizing” men is insufficient to achieve your goals here.

  97. gloriajw

    David, your points are excellent, thank you.

    My goal is not to feminize men. I don’t consider being aware, awake, and conscious of how one offends others as either masculine or feminine. I don’t even consider aggression to be entirely masculine, or compassion to be entirely feminine. Nature just doesn’t work that way. My goals are to raise awareness of existing issues, and encourage people to discuss these issues.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that women are not perfect, and need to speak up more when they are offended, etc. Realize though that historically, this has been hard to do because women have been treated worse, demoted or even fired for speaking up, “rocking the boat”, revealing the poor behavior of a person wielding great power. Hopefully the climate is shifting, but unfortunately this still happens.

  98. len

    “Realize though that historically, this has been hard to do because women have been treated worse, demoted or even fired for speaking up, “rocking the boat”, revealing the poor behavior of a person wielding great power. Hopefully the climate is shifting, but unfortunately this still happens.”

    And it happens to men as well. That’s why this is a finger puzzle. Build an environment where the men are afraid to relax with the women or vice versa based on harrassment and the power will rock back and forth depending on local judgement calls without strict blinders on enforcement.

    So then it comes down to the judgements of the local managers and their ability to see past personal involvements and administer policy without regard to offender status or their social relationship (Arthur to Guinivere: “I must be your judge in this matter…”) and the results can often be worse.

    It is better if all sides give toward the middle and if they can avoid situations that start the rumble.

    A thought experiment: Gloria, you are the manager of a married female employee that comes to you to tell you she is being harassed by a male colleague. You are also informed that this female employee is widely rumored to be engaged in an office affair where there are separately reported instances by senior staff of misbehavior with another married colleague? How do you proceed?

    Men: You are the manager of the male accused of harassment and the male engaged in the alledged affair. You are aware that the manager of the female employee declines to investigate the on-the-job affair even though policy dictates that having relations on company time is grounds for dismissal. You are warned by the female manager that unless the harassment stops (so far unproven), that this will be reported to HR. You are also aware that the manager of the female is a gay female who takes trips with her female employee and their are weaker but repeated rumors of involvement.

    Note to both: All you have as evidence are senior staff reports of the couple in the same office afterhours and during the day although they work in separate buildings, and the single complaint from the female. There are no separate complaints of misbehavior from other staff.

    It isn’t about rocking the boat, Gloria. It is about ruining lives, reputations, destroying careers and so on. Enforce the rules under those circumstances. How do you proceed?

  99. gloriajw

    Hi Len,

    Like so many other people, you’ve mentioned fringe circumstances my article does not cover. If you were burned by someone manipulative and horrible in this way, I am sorry to hear this. There are so many fringe cases not covered by this article.

  100. Peter Seibel

    Hi, hope this isn’t to terribly off topic. I just heard about this site in some of the comments on a post over at Burningbird about the lack of female contributors to O’Reilly’s new book _Beautiful Code_. I happen to just be starting work on a book of interviews with notable programmers which will be published by Apress. I’m in the stage of gathering a huge list of names of potential interview subjects and am trying to come up with more women. If any DevChix readers have ideas take a look at http://www.codersatwork.com/ to see the current list and send me email at peter@gigamonkeys.com if you’ve got suggestions that aren’t on the list yet. Thanks.

  101. complich8

    (directed at gloria)
    If you define your problem narrowly enough, then you can discount every situation as outside the problem scope and thus irrelevant.

    I think that Len’s thought experiment is needlessly complex, encouraging you to discount it. At least, it was complex enough that I got bored trying to figure out what the point of it was.

    But it’s important to realize that outside of the uncomfortably narrow band of behaviors that are strictly proper (ie: the band that your article defines), there is a much wider scope that, while not strictly proper, is in general acceptable. And outside of that, there’s an even wider band of behaviors and patterns that are acceptable so long as all participants welcome them.

    For example, it’s not strictly proper to have any personal relationship with your coworkers (romantic or otherwise), but it’s pretty much universally acceptable: you grow comfortable and interested in the people in whose company you spend a half of your conscious time, particularly when you don’t have someone else to spend an equivalent amount of time with at home.

    It’s not, perhaps, strictly proper to comment on a coworker’s appearance, but there’s a HUGE difference between “That dress looks good on you” and “That dress looks good on you, but it would look better on my bedroom floor”. An innocuous compliment is, in general, acceptable. However, an innuendo-laden pickup line has no place in a professional environment, regardless of context.

  102. len

    It’s a character test, Gloria. You posed an article that presumes

    1. More women would be in computer science jobs if men weren’t sexist.

    2. We need to evolve past this.

    Many responses I am reading across the blogs make the points that

    a) There is a lack of interest in this profession among some number of women and that this may have more to do with the numbers than sexism.

    b) Among women who are in this industry, they handle these situations well.

    So more to the point, because whether you admit or not, your point is ‘women good men bad’.

    How evolved is that? It is separatist. Ergo, devChix.

    In any situation that is real, there are responsibilities on all sides to work out the working arrangements or management will. In a culture that cannot, the consequences are unpredictable. It’s a loaded pachinko game in which it isn’t right or wrong or policy that will determine the outcome, it is local preferences.

    In the thought experiment, there is no single right outcome. It’s a character test, something of a Kobayashi Maru if you like. In rulebook HR circles, there has to be an immediate escalation policy (all cases of reported harrassment go straight to HR – no exceptions) and a clear outcome if violated (managers who don’t do this are reduced in rank – no exceptions; harrassment has a zero tolerance but a high burden of proof; on the job sexual relations are immediate dismissal for both parties).

    Do you think your working environment tolerates that? Or do you let it slide? If so, then in no way can you make a case for the “this gender abused – this gender abuser”. You are in a world where you are expected to handle it, and if you can’t bother to do that, then a retreat to a list like devChix is what you have left but if it isolates you from a mainstream, that is the price of being comfortable over being competent.

    In the end, evolution is a harsh game of survival in difficult circumstances. No exceptions.

  103. Carmelyne Thompson

    @len, I’m horribly dismayed that you summed up this article as devChix = bad. That’s what you think of women who does something to improve means for women? Had you read this article on a non-gender based blog, would you have concluded this without such painful colors? I doubt it. But thank you for your thoughts. I am sure others appreciate it. I surely don’t.

  104. len

    That’s not my summary. If it is a retreat, that is neither good nor bad. If it is a gender-based blog that says the other gender is putting up barriers to its chosen gender, that is a very serious charge and it should be discussed but it cannot be ignored that the charge is gender-based.

    Try working through the thought experiment. Then tell me how you resolve that. It is easier than it is complex. It will test the value of your values in a complex situation.

  105. Carmelyne Thompson

    @len, sure I can do that but I hope you go do the same and follow the same process. Let me know too how you resolved it.

  106. gloriajw

    Some people have assumed this article to be all-encompassing, covering every single situation. They have also read it with a bias, claiming that I have a bias. It is quite funny, and an interesting study in human nature to see how people behave when an article hits an exposed nerve. Some people, both men and women, see exposure to truths which they do not experience as a “threat”, and they react poorly.

    People who do not suffer from oppression of any kind have trouble understanding how an oppressed group ‘grows’ their ideals, and form alliances. Much like seedlings, these ideals need an isolated place to flourish before they are exposed to harsh environmental conditions. DevChix is that place, and serves that purpose for many people, men and women alike.

    I don’t care what anyone thinks. The large, mixed gender subscriber base of DevChix tells the truth, no matter who can or can’t see it.

  107. len

    Like this:

    1. The harassment charge and the policy violation are two separate issues until they can be shown to be coupled. A harassment charge goes straight to HR for investigation. The individuals involved are interviewed separately by HR. Information is collected and the responsible interviewer reports to a review authority (must be more than one and in different departments) who submit their reports to the HR head. A decision is documented as to proceeding to investigate further or drop the matter as unsupported. All parties are allowed to review these reports and contest or affirm them. The process next gathers more information from other parties to determine if a pattern exists in either parties behaviors. This is documented and forwarded to the reviewers who take one of several documented actions.

    2. The more serious issue is having any manager fail to forward such a complaint. If such is found to be the case, they are immediately reduced in rank and salary. The system has to be blind or it becomes one set of rules for one group and another set of rules of another group. That means there are no rules. If it is found to be the case that a company official has instructed another employee to disregard the process, that official is summarily fired for breach. This is a no-rehire offense.

    3. If the company officers have followed procedure and reported misbehavior, evidence will be gathered. Typically a misbehavior case requires more than one source. If it only comes from one source, the officer agrees to watch and asks that any subsequent incidents be reported and because misbehavior charges can be false or mistaken, the evidence given by the multiple parties still warrants more observations. Senior company employees will be discreetly and securely instructed that the situation is to be monitored. Logs of the day will be checked for co-occurrence patterns. Prior to this, parties under investigation are told discreetly and securely that the investigation is underway, that there is no proof (failing flagrante delicto which is an immediate firing offense, no exceptions), and that if no further evidence is found, no further actions are anticipated. A period of observation is provided and if the investigation fails to produce evidence, the action is declared closed and any documented references are destroyed. This does not become part of the employee record.

    The challenge is both instances is what constitutes evidence, not proof. While flagrante delicto is simple, behavior behind closed doors is easy to misconstrue. On the other hand, the remedy is easy. Employees are counseled that repeated cases of this are not professional conduct and advised against it. This is sometimes summarized as “take it off campus”.

    Harassment is much tougher. While there are examples of such behavior, proof that it has been committed is a he-says-she-says until there are third party witnesses and even then, further corrobation is needed. Because this can easily spin out of control into legal actions, the first course is to separate the parties and failing that, to detemine if there is a pattern of harassment. In a work-at-will state, dismissal of an employee isn’t a course seeking legal remedy. If a pattern of harassment or of making false claims or of creating an environment where harassment is likely continues, the employer usually terminates the employee. The difference is one of record but that is a much bigger topic.

    If a harassment claim is made to remove another employee for any reason that does not rise to the level of harassment, that is cause to make an entry into the employee’s record.

    Your turn.

  108. OldLadyDeveloper

    As I wrote before, I got a lot out of this article. I do agree, however, that it doesn’t entirely explain why women are not going into computer science in the first place, especially given that they are going into math and bioscience and so forth. So I had been thinking about this particular issue and happened just now to run across a short bio of Vint Cerf which explained how he got into CS.

    http://www.ibiblio.org/pioneers/cerf.html
    “He attended Stanford [graduated in 1965] and majored in mathematics, but continued to grow more interested in computing. ‘There was something amazingly enticing about programming,’ said Cerf. ‘You created your own universe and you were master of it. The computer would do anything you programmed it to do. It was this unbelievable sandbox in which every grain of sand was under your control.’”

    This quote exactly captures the experience that I, a female, had when I happened to take a short summer course in programming in 1970 (during which I turned 30) having (not unsurprisingly at the time) had zero prior experience with computers. (I don’t mean to imply that I’ve ever accomplished what Cerf has but this truly eye-opening experience did lead me to pursue a Ph.D. and career in computational science.)

    Much of CS or IT no longer gives me this feeling of control. Something started to erode in the mid-90′s. It now seems a collection of bits and pieces of boring and tedious contingent information. (Do I really need to know about Tomcat, say?) Perhaps what is surprising is not why women don’t go into CS but why anyone is attracted to it anymore.

  109. len

    Usually because it pays better than picking fruit and the office is air conditioned. Also, programming is addictive but I do get the point. Particularly now that web page building is a drag-and-drop task, unless one like requirements analysis and thrives of fast turnover of projects, this is not the market to be in for creatives. On the other hand, the tools for creativity are waaaaaay better using the computer kits, so there are some great places to be these days such as virtual world building. Fascinating stuff.

    But I think I got the answer I was looking for in Gloria’s post if that indeed is the purpose of DevChix. DevChix exists as an alliance of self-selected members claiming oppression and sharing information to some end related to that claim. Given the title, I assume these are oppressed female computer scientists, and that even if counter claims or evidence is presented that claims of oppression are overstated or false, Gloria, for one. doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Ok.

    One might note that not caring what anyone else thinks is sociopathy, but assuming that is really simply frustration with feeling misunderstood, then one might also note that claims of oppression made without supporting evidence is a pretty good way to be eliminated from other opportunities including job interviews. Since HR regularly searches blogs, it is well to keep in mind the value of values. IOW, you may not want to work for a company that does not accept that women developers are oppressed and you may narrow your opportunties, but you may also find yourself working for a company that agrees with you.

    Caveat vendor and good luck.

  110. Carmelyne Thompson

    @len I’m sorry if I’m not going to follow your deductive thinking away from the main topic of this article. I will get back on the issue, did I find this article helpful? I did but I’m lucky enough to work where I don’t have to worry about gender-based issues to an extreme. No male – married nor single – have approached me in the workplace in such a fashion that would make me feel uncomfortable. Having heard some of the stories brought up in this article, it made me think and I am not alone on this. Almost everyone on the blogosphere is now thinking and trying to either dismiss or support the article. If you have tips or suggestions on how to help on the issue of the declining rate of women in development from the male perspective, I would like to hear those too. I admire Gloria for putting up this article and her convictions though attacked, she remains true to her words.

  111. Carmelyne Thompson

    @len again. I am just one out of maybe 60 female developers thats a part of devchix. Gloria is another female developer with a Python background. We all have different backgrounds in this group. We are CLEARLY NOT this:”DevChix exists as an alliance of self-selected members claiming oppression and sharing information to some end related to that claim.” I can refer you to the About devChix page :) http://www.devchix.com/about/

  112. len

    You ask for suggestions:

    1. Don’t take universal positions. Some men and some women treat each other badly. A demonized subset evolves toward being a demon. It is the nature of the transaction that give rise to the type of the control. That is why I say this is a Chinese finger puzzle. Opposition strengthens the chain.

    2. Don’t assume an advance is sexual in nature until it very clearly is. That is why the HR people have a nightmare in these matters. I’ve had things said to me by women in offices that I would have been fired for saying. It has never been worth the trouble because as I try to show by that example, it is too expensive and I don’t care that they say those things unless they say them in front of my wife or children.

    3. The best rules I know of are simple: compassion, tolerance and self-restraint. The rules are easy. The practice is difficult. Reckon the cost for the reaction. See 4.

    4. Be deeply aware of the value of your values. IOW, not what you value but what having that value returns to you personally and then only as a member of some community. A community like any environment acts as a shaping force and only personal values enable you to know if being a member reinforces those values or diminishes them.

    We can be divisive, we all troll at some time or another, but I really don’t think the small number of women in the industry has as much to do with the behaviors of some small number of men but with the rewards some large number of women perceive as not being available by practice of that profession. That it may be a currently widely held misperception (a superstition that has become a cultural belief) or related to some value(s) that are uniquely female, I cannot say.

    In the early 1980s when there was a statisitical surge of women into the market, there was a widespread belief that this was a highly paid and elite industry. As that has become less the case, the numbers have declined. Are these coupled statistics, again, I cannot say.

  113. len

    complich8:

    I usually don’t reply to pseudonyms. My personal opinion is that it is a disreptuable posting practice, but for once, it might be worth it.

    “I think that Len’s thought experiment is needlessly complex, encouraging you to discount it. At least, it was complex enough that I got bored trying to figure out what the point of it was.”

    The topic isn’t simple, nor am I leading away from it. Until you grasp the mechanics of evolution, it is fruitless to believe one can ask others to ‘evolve away’ from any feature set in a domain. As I said, it is a values test.

    That it bores you is good. It bores the HR people too. It bores the other employees as salacious gossip eventually does. On the other hand, it is likely a more realistic and easily found situation related to how local culture and policy affect personal norms.

    But the costs? If the case of those people is not interesting, it is very likely that the complaints of women’s treatment by men where that treatment doesn’t rise to the level of breaking a policy or group norm has so little cost to the environment that it expend energy to evolve.

    So I think that other than provoking introspection, Gloria has yet to make a case that there should be energy expended past understanding the norms of some groups and how they come to be normal. Founder effects are worth looking at as well as how certain kinds of leadership (leader types) emerge and change or sustain transaction types.

    No I don’t think devChix is sociopathic by type. Can it evolve in that direction? Certainly. It is separatist by title. I don’t object to gender-only or gender-centric groups. I don’t enjoy them. I came to this topic because it is part of a wider discussion occurring in society today.

    Try that thought experiment in terms of personal value of values as Dianne did and then look at the situations with refreshed eyes.

  114. Kevin Cantu

    (I haven’t read all the comments because, well, there are too many.)

    I wanted to add that I’ve seen these exact same issues play out in a bicycling group that purported to welcome riders of all abilities with all kinds of bikes. In practice, people without road bikes were just abandoned on rides. (“Well, we did wait for you!” Yes, but two miles ahead, down the road…) People who were talking about the fact that there was a problem were ridiculed on the message board.

    I’ve skipped two meetings, and think there’s a good chance I’ll never go back. Is it any shock that my first meeting, several months before, had ~40 people, and my last had ~10?

    *sigh*

    I’ve also been linking this article everywhere I can. Well said! :D

  115. Mark Aitken

    Very good piece to read (if a little long for a blog post!). Well worth taking the time to take in.

    Something I also notice from a male perspective. The females who actually trust you to not be a sick perv but someone to collaborate with are always the best critics. There isn’t a feeling of one-up-manship from their comments.

    I’m sure we all see this too, but male to male conversations have a similar type of problem of ego. Many males simply don’t want to say they are wrong or that you might know better than me.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this down.

  116. Geoff Swift

    I don’t wish to argue whether it’s right or wrong to have male/female only communities. But the arguments used in this article seem rather hypocritical to me. In particular it lambasts “harsh/demeaning criticism, elitist commentary, and exclusionist statements”.

    The author’s expectations of netiquette are clearly unrealistic, and therefore elitist. Her criticism of men, was something I found to be rather demeaning. A female only community is by definition exclusionist. If these are things which should be censored, let the author begin with censoring herself.

    I can well understand the bad experiences the auther has had. But it is regrettable that the author finds it difficult to relate to men, as she has chosen to make a life in the male dominated world of IT.

    In the world of IT, “people” skills are in relatively short supply. And these bad stereotypes discussed are out there. I feel it’s better to learn to deal with such people in an effective and positive manner, rather than seeking refuge.

  117. gloriajw

    You said, incorrectly: “But it is regrettable that the author finds it difficult to relate to men, as she has chosen to make a life in the male dominated world of IT.”

    Says who? I get along well with men who don’t do the things listed in this article, and often complained about by many women in IT.

    You presume a lot, and read this article with your own bias, as your comments reveal. That is a shame, because once one does that, the message is lost on that person.

  118. SP

    Group 1
    There are men and women who display behaviors that are termed by some people as “territorial male jerk-ness” or “mean bitchiness”. Also, the meanness is not necessarily directed only at people of the opposite sex. There could be many reasons why this phenomenon/perception/reality exists.

    Group 2
    Also, there are men and women who do not display this kind of behavior. They generally choose the people they debate/discuss with very carefully and the tone of the debate/discussion is such that there is hardly even a chance for anyone to get hurt.

    I dont know much but I think its an individual choice to make to either be in Group 1 or 2. But one wonders what happens if an individual had to deal with Group 1 and Group 2 for different aspects of ones life. Then, may be like the saying “Be a Roman in Rome” while in Group 1, be a “group1-type” and while in Group 2, be a “group2-type” and everyone might be happy :)

  119. brodaigh

    I read this article up to the chapter; “Women generally do not arm themselves for battle during tech discussions”.
    I dont agree with much of what i read at all.
    Could you leave me out of it, please.

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