This week, three ladies at SEMrush recorded a podcast for our Women in Tech Week on the blog.
Being part of this lovely panel of ladies in tech and digital marketing was a great experience. Since we only had so much time to work with (we easily could have gone on for another hour or two!) I decided to expand on four things we discussed and one topic we didn't have time to touch on, but is still very important to me.
[Ed. note: I haven't experienced brogrammer or female-unfriendly culture in the workplace. I speak as someone who's participated in blended tech events and worked two post-college digital marketing jobs with more men than women.]
1. Ladies Work in Tech Support — Really!
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"First things first, I'm the realest."
I talk about this story in the podcast: our one-time customer success specialist, Maggie, G-chatted those "Fancy" lyrics to me when someone on the phone asked to speak with tech support ... after Maggie had already identified herself as a tech support worker. Unfortunately, this happened pretty frequently.
I belong to a local women in tech group and participate in its online forum. I posed the question, "How do you respond to, 'Oh, YOU'RE in tech support?'" to group members. Here are two responses I received:
I worked in tech support for about five years. Over the course of that time I got:
1. "Hi, can I speak to the tech support guy?" (over the phone, after I picked up and introduced myself) followed by, "No, I want to speak to the tech support guy." (I was the only woman in my department.)
2. "Oh, we weren't expecting someone like you."
3. "You remind me of the women I dated in my younger years."
Most of these people don't mean to be malicious. ...Once people knew my work, they were never surprised to see me and respected me as a professional. It was just when people were unfamiliar with my work that they questioned it. In general, being firm with where I stood on their assumptions helped in my case.
"...Yeah, it turns out half the people in the world are women, so my department decided to hire some of them."
Try to be aware of your own biases, and apologize if you mistakenly assume someone works a specific role based on his/her sex.
2. LinkedIn is Not a Dating Site
I used to accept just about every request to connect on LinkedIn.
Then on one winter afternoon, I received a request from a man who didn't have any real reason to connect with me. At first glance, he was in a different industry, we had no shared connections and he didn't write a personal "request to connect" message. Regardless, I decided to accept it.
I received this message shortly afterward:
The rest of the message (referred to forever since as "Creepy LinkedIn Poem" was a first (and, thankfully last) one for me. (For the full text of the creeptastic poem, listen to our podcast.)
During recording, I was shocked to learn that Maggie and Tara had received worse on the platform designated as a professional social networking site. This was an all too common theme on Facebook anymore, especially in the "Other" section under Messages. But not on LinkedIn, or so I thought.
(Warning: if you're a female who hasn't ventured down that rabbit hole, prepare for messages from strangers asking how tall you are to inquiring if they can lick your shoes; "Weird" and his cousin "Disturbing" live in the Facebook "Other" Messages section.)
Stick to OKCupid, and keep the dating/flirting-type stuff off LinkedIn.
3. Jerks are Everywhere
The tech community isn't filled with a bunch of women-hating and -trolling men. We know that.
In the podcast, I relayed a story where one woman was rude to me after I ran into her and praised her questions during an earlier women in tech panel. What can you do? Some men and women are just, well ... jerks.
However, if I had been new to the tech community, that might have dissauded me from approaching other people or attending other events. And that's an unfortunate thought.
The Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated.
4. Language in the Workplace
Throughout high school and jobs in college, I had teachers and older employees who referred to young men and women as "son" and "hon." It's old-timey and kind of cute. It's something I, personally, never minded.
However, in the professional workplace, it's something I've noticed continues with women, but not-so-much with men. I've heard women called "dear," or especially "sweetheart" or told to "act like a big girl" publicly as a means to put them in their place by other employees.
The scary thing is, I don't think some people recognize this as sexist behavior. At a recent event, Scientist Tim Hunt remarked that women in laboratories "fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry." He said this. At a STEM conference. And then apologized because of the outcry ... and even then, only sort of.
In the social media age, it didn't take long for his comments to travel quickly, and spark reactions like this one from a female Neuroscience PhD student:
— Louise Marshall (@LouiseNeuro) June 10, 2015
Think about your workplace. Are jokes about "that time of the month" fair game? If John is called "passionate" during the heat of an argument, while Jane is referred to as "whiny" (or worse), do you step back to think about the implications to the rest of the staff?
(Not-so) Easy Fix
If you're interested in providing more than lip service, create an environment where employees can discuss issues and concerns, and (I realize, "ideally") not face ramifications.
5. Why Is This Still a Thing?
There wasn't time to discuss this in the podcast, but women leave the workforce (not just in tech, but as a whole) in part because of no mandatory paid leave for new moms and expensive childcare in the United States.
I just turned 28 and am in a long-term relationship. While I have no immediate plans for marriage or kids, it's realistic that I could be a mom in the next five years. Is this something I think will be properly addressed, fixed and tied up neatly in a bow by then? Sadly, no.
Especially when I read comments on articles about paid maternity leave and still stumble upon attitudes like this:
Thankfully, there are strides for both women and men in this regard: Richard Branson recently announced Virgin is giving employees in London and Geneva a year's full pay for shared parental leave.
Help enable your hardworking employees who are also parents by giving them adequate paid leave and flexible work schedules.
I hope you enjoyed our podcast! Agree or disagree with my thoughts? Please leave a comment, and let's discuss.