I have been in the IT field for most of my adult life… in addition to several years of my adolescence. I have seen trends come and go, and I have seen technology evolve exponentially. We have evolved from 8-bit computing to symmetric multiprocessing 64-bit CPUs that would blow the doors off of anything that existed just a few short decades ago. Most of us walk around with computers in our pockets more powerful than the ones that launched Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981… and which are probably individually more powerful than every computer in the world the day Apollo 11 launched for its fateful encounter with the moon.
Why is it then that in so many ways our attitudes are so backwards?
A female colleague lamented that while her company forced others to accept her presence, her peers still belittled or ignored her input. When they realized she had several great insights, they adopted them and claimed full credit for them, completely dismissing her contribution.
Gatekeepers in IT, which traditionally has been male, let me say this one more time. The women you encounter in your field are often better, smarter, and almost always stronger than you are. I do not say this because of a bias. I say this because these women had to study harder, work longer hours, and fought through more than we did… all after a lifetime of hinting or being told that math and technology are not for women. They endured and persevered teachers, parents, and classmates telling them that they were not good enough, and that they should follow a different path. They made it when they were the only female – or one of a handful – in classes and programs dominated by men, most of which perpetuated the idea that they did not belong.
I know a lot of women who work in the IT field. I would bet a very nice bottle of wine that few if any of those women have not been objectified, sexualized, and harassed, or on the flipside of the coin ignored, belittled, spoken over, and rejected by her peers because of their gender. If they dressed nicely they are called sluts and if they dressed to hide their bodies they are called frumpy and dowdy. Guys in the field who do not look like models fit in perfectly, while women who do not are called ugly and worse… sometimes behind their backs, oftentimes to their faces. It is perfectly normal for male IT Professionals to wear torn t-shirts, go unshaven for days or weeks on end, and hardly ever introduce a comb to their hair. The female IT Professional who is not perfectly made up is mercilessly made fun of. A woman who accepts the sexual advances of a colleague is called a tramp or a whore, while those who reject them are regularly called myriad derogatory terms.
If you think that is it hard being an IT Professional as a man, consider for a moment what it would be like if you were a woman, and all of these things that I have called out (and several that I am sure I have not) are extra weights around your ankles. Unlike a lot of men I know in the industry, every female IT Professional has worked their fingers to the bone by fighting tremendous and ridiculous hardships to get to where they are. They are never ditzy or flaky, they are professionals and they deserve your respect.
Some of us, myself included, have lost out on jobs to women. I felt bad for not getting the job, but I never said – either quietly or out loud – that the woman did not deserve the job… even if I thought I deserved it more. I have never lost out to an unqualified woman, only to women who were equally or nearly equally qualified. Yes guys, that sucks… but it does not come close to the jobs that those women were denied simply because they were female… and I am sure many of them lost out to unqualified men who had two things going for them: They ‘had an in,’ and they had Y chromosomes.
If you have ever disrespected a boss, colleague, partner, subordinate, or anyone in the IT field because they were a woman then you should be ashamed of yourself. IT Professionals have a lot of ways that they can fail that are real… but women have so many more based solely on their gender. Stop it. Not only do the women in IT not deserve your mistreatment, they absolutely deserve your respect.