For decades, women in technology have complained of sexist treatment in the workplace — and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.
For nine women in the industry, the harassment and insults have become too much, and so they’ve recently published a strongly worded manifesto calling for change.
The women say they have all been groped at technology events. They have watched as men first assume they are secretaries or event planners, and then try to turn business meetings into dates. They’ve been pranked repeatedly, such as the time one left her desk and returned to find graphic pornography on her screen. Online, the women say, they have been called names, criticized for their looks and strongly encouraged to leave the industry.
“We are tired of pretending this stuff doesn’t happen and continue to keep having these experiences again and again,” the women write. “We keep our heads down working at our jobs, hoping that if we just work hard at what we do, maybe somehow the problem will go away.”
Women make up only about 30 percent of the technology workforce, according to LinkedIn. And they only hold about 15 percent of software engineering jobs.
Why aren’t more getting hired? Facebook’s (FB) chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said she has heard plenty of reasons. One executive told her he’d like to hire more women, but his wife worried he would sleep with them. He probably would, he added. Another man said he would hire more women if only he found some that were competent, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The issue surfaced again recently when one woman working for GitHub, a company that runs online communities for coders, quit and said she had been harassed for months. An internal investigation led to the resignation of the company’s CEO. Women also say it’s hard to find their footing in a “brogrammer” culture that trades in derogatory comments. Take those of start-up founder Peter Shih, who published an online rant that discussed women he called “49ers” — “the girls who are obviously 4’s and behave like they are 9’s.” And who can forget about Pax Dickinson, the former chief technology officer at Business Insider, who would tweet such insights as this: “Tech managers spend as much time worrying about how to hire talented female developers as they do worrying about how to hire a unicorn.”
The women behind the manifesto say they are angry, and that things have to change. To start with, they say they will no longer be quiet when they get abusive emails from men in technology. They won’t stand for sexist jokes. They will call out inappropriate behavior when they see it online. The women are asking people in their industries to promote diversity in the workplace for all underrepresented groups, not just women. They want people in technology to donate time and volunteer at groups that are focused on diversity. “We are tired of our male peers pretending that because they do not participate in bad behavior, that it is not their problem to solve,” the women wrote. “You might be surprised how few people want to help or engage on this still.”
Twitter users seemed to largely support the women’s efforts. “If you work in tech you need to read this,” wrote one man. “This industry should have no place at all for prejudice.” Another Twitter user added this: “You’re insane if you don’t think the lack of women in tech isn’t aggressive marginalisation.”
But some people had little patience for the group’s manifesto on the Hacker News site. One man said the women needed to take their crusade somewhere else. “If I get to choose between the male that just wants to develop software and the female who wants to tell me all about how terrible it is working in our industry as a woman, I’m going to pick the male.” Another man agreed, saying he didn’t care at all about the debate. “It seems that ‘the men’ can’t do anything right and guess what, many of us are (tired) of it and have just checked out,” he added, saying it’s “not our problem anymore.”