Women Working in Technology… How Safe Do You Feel?

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Have you ever been out in public making jokes with your friends that you thought no one would hear? That’s what two men thought they were doing at PyCon, a tech conference, on March 18th, until Tech developer Adria Richards overheard them and let’s just say she was far from impressed (read Adria Richards’ story here). As a result of her publicized outrage there has been a fierce and angry backlash in the tech community, especially regarding women. Richard’s controversy has risen the question: in a male-dominated tech industry, just how safe are women?

Since Richards’ story was released many people are commenting that discrimination of women in tech has been blown out of proportion. However, those people substitute the time they use to comment with researching about women’s workplace complaints, they may be surprised.

Julie Pagano, a software engineer at Google is a woman who has decided to blog about her experiences as a woman in the tech workplace. Pagano’s accounts, all before her time at Google, offer some first hand insights about what she has endured at work.

One of her posts states, “[t]his is the same job where a very senior engineer I had respected told me it didn’t matter if I was good at something because I was nice to look at. An early reminder that to some I was never going to be seen the same as my male colleague.” That statement caught me off guard because NO ONE should go to work and belittled in that way. It also makes me wonder what my female tech counterparts deal with on a daily basis?

In another post Pagano explained a case where she felt there was a double standard:

I’m asked to take notes in meetings where I am a technical lead and should be actively participating. Male coworkers make comments about stalking women on facebook and looking at images of booth babes in work meetings (some later apologize). Others say that front-end development isn’t real software engineering. I suspect I’m paid less than male colleagues (perhaps paranoia, perhaps real — it’s a hard thing to verify). Problems are easiest to resolve by finding a new job — this is what I do (thankfully the new job is much better). A thousand paper cuts for the working world.

It is clear from her description that she was not being treated fair let alone in an environment where she felt like an equal. How many women do you think feel that way at work and never have the courage to say anything?

In a contribution to BuzzFeed, Courtney Stanton, a game developer, admitted that while she didn’t agree with Richards posting a picture of the culprits on twitter she does understand that things probably would’ve been swept under the rug if done quietly. To read all of Stanton’s thoughts click here.

Nevertheless, the head of quality assurance at the link shortening site Bitly, Carol Mirakove, confirms both women’s sentiments. The leader and veteran of the tech industry says while her current job is a great place for women that has not alway held true. Mirakove recalls that at previous jobs office chat rooms and email lists would be filled with sexual and misogynistic jokes and images. Why is something like this deemed acceptable?

In conclusion, I’m not saying every tech job has a bad environment for women. In fact, my own job is a very welcoming environment. However, incidents like the one at PyCon make women afraid to enter the tech arena. If the tech industry wants to get more women to not only be interested in the these roles but actually stick around, companies need to ensure they have a sensitive and encouraging environment where women feel safe enough to work and voice their opinions.

What do you think tech companies can do to ensure women feel comfortable at the workplace?

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