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Friday, September 03, 2010

Illegal Discrimination in Tech? Hardly

I have an overwhelming theme in the advice I write–and that is, stop whining and blaming others and take responsibility for your own choices. So, when I hear women whining about being discriminated against I always have to stop and wonder, is it illegal discrimination or different choices?

Most of the time, all the signs point to…drum roll please…different choices. Everyone wrings their hands and frets, “what can we do about the inequality in X?” Well, first stop and see if people are making different choices.

Illegal Discrimination in Tech? Hardly


Class factotum said...

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what sex you are, what politics you support or what color you are.

Which explains why you see those middle aged men who are bald on top but have skinny gray ponytails and who are wearing socks with their birkenstocks at the San Francisco airport (and who a friend, who is a VP at Sun, told me are rich, rich, rich). OBVIOUSLY nobody cares how you look.

PS And I want the women who leave work to pick up their kids at daycare every day at 5 sharp and who take a year or two off with the baby to quit whining that they are not CEO. Or being paid less. You're WORKING LESS, honey.

Mike said...

Yeah Class, right on. Women should have to choose whether to be successful or have a family while men can have both. Here's a hint for you - in nations that require paternity leave in addition to maternity leave those differences disappear.

So where are all these crowds of women that leave at the end of the workday (the horror! she only works 40 hours a week!) and complain that they aren't CEO?

While I take EHRL's point and will ponder on it, it's no excuse to throw out the baby with the bath water. A few months ago I found a peer reviewed journal article showing that Male to Female transsexuals found their wages declined while Female to Male transexuals had an increase.

Right there shows me that it's more than just "women whining" like you claim.

El Comodoro said...

I think CF is saying you can't usually make your bid for CEO while on flextime. Which is true.

But don't set up this false dilemma between family and success. We all know there are degrees of success, and degrees of family involvment. It's not an exclusive choice for one or the other. Men don't "have both." I think that's a complete illusion. Men that place career first invariably sacrifice far too much personally. But men aren't the interest group du jour. Women are. And that's fine, I guess. But it's where (see CF's comment) a lot of collective male eyeroll comes from.

I did chuckle when the article quotes the guy scouring heaven and earth "fretting" to snag women tech speakers, but "not just because they're women." Uh huh. Is it because they're triathletes? Left handed? Double jointed? Do they like polkadots?

I'm stumped.

Anonymous said...

It's not that complicated... you can't have it all - at the same time!! If you want to focus on your career, good for you. In the US, high levels of success require more than 40 hours per week! If you want to have balance, understand that this means more at home and less (success) at work. If your home matters most to you, again, good for you. Life is full of choices - each with pros and cons. It doesn't work to be a great CEO of a large company (regardless of gender) AND the world's best parent at the same time. At our house, we comment that a marriage/family can thrive with two jobs OR one career and one job, but not with two adults focused primarily on their careers - who's caring for the family or the marriage?

It's time for all of us to stop whining and own that our choices require compromise...

Evil HR Lady said...


If a woman wants to be CEO and have a family she CAN do it. Plenty of women have.

I'm an expat right now--because I quit my day job to follow my husband. But, when I'm standing on the school playground waiting to pick up my kids from school, there are plenty of men there who quit their day jobs to follow their wives.

It's a matter of choice. I chose to marry someone who wanted a wife to be the primary caregiver to the children. You can marry a woman who wants her husband to be the primary caregiver for the children while she climbs the corporate ladder.


Mike said...

@EHRL et al -

First off, good luck maintaining a livable wage with a family while having one breadwinner. It's possible for some, but median household incomes have remained stagnant when compared to per capita GDP for the past thirty years. But that's a discussion for another time so I won't derail further.

I'm not trying to make a point about choice, I'm trying to make the point that was outlined in the question I directly asked Class -

"So where are all these crowds of women that leave at the end of the workday (the horror! she only works 40 hours a week!) and complain that they aren't CEO?"

By indicating that there is some group of women that do nothing but complain about not being CEO while having the audacity of leaving work at the end of the day and having the occasional kid, Class (inadvertently I'm sure) trivializes the real problems many women face that men like me never have to deal with.

Yes, we all know lazy people and we all know people who complain without a good reason. But don't focus on them - focus instead on those who aren't getting the fair shake that everyone deserves.

** I understand the following is tangentially related, so feel free to ignore, though it might make for an interesting discussion in the future. **

Another point I'd like to make is that you shouldn't need more than 40 hours a week in a typical job to be successful. Somehow one can be successful in plenty of nations across Europe where normal work hours range in the 35 hours/week while including much longer vacation periods. Yet instead we read stories in peer blogs about having to be on call 24/7/365.

Maybe I'm just crazy, but are the rest of the folks here actually ok having to regularly work 50 hours a week or longer just to "remain competitive"? Often with no overtime or additional pay? Are you guys really ok with making those sorts of sacrifices to an employer that treats you as a "human resource" than a person?

Sure, you can "find another job", which will have the same expectations as the one you had before.

El Comodoro said...

Appreciate the comments. But remember, the cost of a mandatory 35 hour workweek a'la France, and there certainly is one, is staggering unemployment among younger adults. Add to it the relative impossibility of changing jobs once you're ensconced in your French Telecom Cubedweller gig, and the pricetag is steep.

It's easy to talk about a "living wage" whatever that means in your context, and how we mean old Americans don't provide that to our poor. But the fact is, we do that better than any other place does.

Americans work too much, on the whole. Some work to complete extremity. Anybody that's done time in i-Banking or as a doc or a legal eagle knows that seemingly rational people will (with straight faces) talk about "work/life balance" at the 80 hour per week level. Or more.

It's completely insane.

What it also is, on the whole, is economically productive. And I'd rather work higher hours in dog-eat-dog land than while away hours at the Greek national teleconglomerate until my required retirement at 50.

To me, it smacks of infantilism: the more the state takes care of you, the less you remember how to handle that yourself. Now to some, it all sounds great. But a Europensioner's ease is a prison of our own making.

I'll take our rough 'n tumble any day. Yay America. Play ball. George Washington.

Mike said...

@El Comodoro -

I'll do some research later on so I can properly source my claims but two very quick points.

1. Be careful which types of unemployment numbers you happen to be comparing. Here in the US we have six different numbers published (U1 through U6). U3 is the number you most commonly hear, which doesn't include those that have given up looking for work or who wish to work full time but can only find part time work (aka underemployment). France certainly has some serious issues (issues regarding immigrant labor immediately come to mind) Safety net issues also come into play, but I promised I would be short. ;)

2. My fault for lumping Europe together as one homogeneous unit when that clearly isn't the case. England and Germany immediately come to mind as nations that have good fundamental economies and yet don't have to sacrifice nearly as much of their time as we in the United States do.

If I may leave you with this thought: no one has ever sat in their death bed and wished they had spent more time working.

Perhaps we as a society need to take those ideas about family values and keeping things simple and take them to the workplace.

Ask a Manager said...

Mike, you asked: ""So where are all these crowds of women that leave at the end of the workday (the horror! she only works 40 hours a week!) and complain that they aren't CEO?"

There are plenty of articles and people and conference speakers out there bemoaning that women aren't getting ahead or getting promoted at the same rates as men. As EHRL points out, in many, many cases it's because of choices women have made -- related to fields of study, or profession, or lifestyle choices. Not in every single one -- there are exceptions, of course. But much of the time, that's the explanation.

Dawn Lennon said...

Bravo! I've never bought into the excuse-making, the blaming, and the bashing! I worked over 20 years in a male-dominated energy Fortune 500, where "they" were engineers and I was an English major. There were only a few women senior managers and I was one.

It's all about choices, as you say, and figuring out how to build trusting relationship, deliver the goods, show and expect respect, say "yes" to the right assignments and "no" to the wrong ones. Then stick your neck out when the time is right, demonstrate courage, laugh, and take responsiblity for your mistakes.

If women would just do that, they'd find that they would be demonstrating capabilities that most of their colleagues don't, men and women. Business isn't that complicated: It just comes down to doing great work. When isn't working for you, move on!

Terrific article, Suzanne! Thanks for giving this topic a strong

Lisa said...

Evil HR Lady, I love your blog, even though my first comment here was vehemently disagreeing with you and this, my second, will do the same. I think you're a great writer and you usually have brilliant insights.

In this case, though, I think you're extrapolating your experiences and making the assumption that they're the most common or the only experiences women have. I'm pleased to hear you haven't experienced sex discrimination in your career. I don't think I have either, and I'm in high tech.

But you and I aren't everyone, and the reductive rhetoric of "choices, choices, choices" isn't something you can preach to the entire gender as a whole. It's one thing to tell one woman, who you know personally, whose experiences you understand to be a result of her choices, that she needs to buck up and make tough decisions. To say that to all women is belittling.

Workplaces are still, by and large, designed in a patriarchal way. Why should mimicking the stereotypical behaviors of men be the only route to the top? I don't buy that it's impossible for a woman to be a leader without trying to make herself more like men. We women are strong creatures already--um, childbirth?--and we have a lot more to offer when we bring a new perspective to the table than when we just teach ourselves to walk, talk and act like a bunch of Don Draper clones with female anatomy.

No, I don't really think we need to go around shouting "illegal!" every time an aspect of workplace culture is designed to let only a few women through, if any. Often a conversation is all that's needed, particularly if nobody intended to prevent women from getting ahead, but that was a side effect of a female-unfriendly policy. We need to be cautious of demeaning and belittling the thousands of women in the high tech industry who are still encountering glass ceilings that can't be moved no matter how hard they push.

Also, you act like there's an unlimited pool of husbands available who want to be the primary caregivers for children while their wives seek corporate power. Not my experience. I'm sure they're out there and they're great men, but men are still belittled by their peers for making that choice--much as women can be our own worst enemy when we belittle each other, as this post does.

Anonymous said...

EHRL, I really respcet your opinion. But this time I think you are way off. I am one of those tech women that live in Silicon Valley, and I work in the only field where women earn more than men - software. Yet I can tell you that discrimination is alive and well. And not so subtle as you would think.

I am considered a top performer, and highly successful. Yet I can also tell you that I've had to deal with issues most men would not have to. For example, trouble supervising men from countries that do not respect women. Tech is filled with men like these. And it is a true issue. Of course there are other issues, such as being socialized to "play nice". But it isn't all that.

There have been several tests where work has been marked down when it had a females name on it, and marked up with a man's name on it. One of the most extreme examples was that of transgendered scientist Ben Barres:
He found that when he was a man that people judged his work more highly - even though he was the same person! In fact, one person said he was a way better scientist than his "sister". He authored a paper on gender bias in science.

As far as start ups go - it all depends on getting venture capital. That means convincing the "right" people to give you money. And it has always been harder for women to get money. I'm not saying it isn't getting better - it is! But I'm sick and tired of hearing that it is life choices. Because studies show that when these are accounted for, there are still inequity problems.

Anonymous said...

EHRL I've been following your blog for a while and have always enjoyed it but I was very disturbed reading this post. The sweeping generalizations and snarky tone seemed so different then your other posts.

I don't know what it's like for women trying to find work in the Tech industry, and it seemed clear from your post that you don't either.

So as a woman I'm not going to "whine" or blame others, I'm going to take responsibility for my choices and stop reading this blog.

Evil HR Lady said...

Lisa--if workplaces are patriarchal in nature and you don't like that, you have the option to start your own business and make it matriarchal or whatever that means.

And no, I don't think there is a huge pool of men who want to be SAH Dads or even men who want to take the back seat to the wife's career. But, again, that's a choice each woman makes. Do I want to have children? Do I want to have children, knowing that I'll be expected to be the person who takes time off work when the child is sick?

What we cannot do is erase the consequences of our actions, nor can we expect others to take the consequences for us.

former Evil HR Lady reader said...

Wow! This piece was written with a rather nasty tone. It reminds me of the salesman I used to work with who used to rant openly about how feminism ruined the United States. What a shame that these 'whining women' are are the tech candidates and employees that you've met. Here in the Northeastern part of the U.S. office attitudes are much different than what you describe. The few women that I have worked with in IT are not hand-wringing complainers, but talented and confident technicians. Most of the men who had children also left early to pick up their kids if they had childcare issues. They were not penalized by upper management for doing so. To anyone who may read this comment and think poorly of office environments in the U.S.: there are fair and non-discriminatory workplaces out there that do not resort to backwards stereotypes of women and mothers and fathers the way unfortunately Evil HR Lady has with this particular entry.

Ask a Manager said...

Oh, come on. EHRL isn't saying that all women, or even most women, are whining or hand-wringing. She's saying that some do. And course some do.

This piece is working like a rorschach test where people are seeing things in it that aren't there, based on their own belief set.

The fact is, we all make choices. Those choices have consequences. We generally know the consequences of those choices when we make them.

That doesn't mean that there's no discrimination in the world. Of course there is. But there are plenty of cases where what's at work isn't discrimination, but rather choices with clear consequences. That's what she's writing about.

FrauTech said...

I'm really let down by this post EHRL. It really depends where you work. I used to work in non-profit and I kind of thought like you did. Women who complained about sexism were responsible for their own problems. Choosing to stay home with the kids has its consequences and you can't have it all. Then I started working in a male dominated industry.

I've seen guys with less education and less experience get put into roles that I had to wait for. Told I needed to be more patient, less "uppity", that if I "played nice" good things would happen to me eventually. My colleagues like to tell me not to "become a bitch" when I move up in the working world. I doubt very much they give the same warnings to male colleagues. And you know who complains the most about moving up around there? The old, white guys. I can't even count how many times old white guys complain about how they are discriminated against for their age, or how a "token minority" took some job they wanted (there's no AA here, so I doubt it), or how it's so -easy- to be a woman or a minority these days. You get to just fill a slot.

As for real discrimination I know another guy who sexually harassed no less than six women and was not fired. He was finally let go when he loudly shouted at another male colleague. The six complaints lodged with HR did nothing to damage his career. I've had higher ups say things like "you do this, women are good at organizing and taking minutes" despite the fact that I'm in a technical role. There was a woman who had been brought up as potentially getting a promotion. When a higher up heard she was pregnant he said "nevermind, we're going to lose her anyways." Well she came back to work, and never knew she missed out on the promotion. This is all stuff people said straight to my face, not joking banter I overheard. Yes I know it's a lot better than it used to be. But if you were a woman and complained outloud about how hard it is to be a woman where I work you wouldn't be working there anymore. If you so much as brought it up you'd be shuttled off to a no man's land and eventually fired. Women who've been victims of sexual harassment eventually transfer to other departments to get away from the offender while he keeps his job, pay and nothing changes.

It's not something I sit around thinking about the time, and certainly nothing I verbalize. I usually write about it on my blog because that's honestly the only outlet. You may think getting more female speakers for something is trivial. But if the percentage of women working in an undustry is something like 20%, and 0% of the speakers are female, what does that say about who's choosing the speakers? Men are very visual. And they make instinctive decisions about who is good or bad at their job. The fewer women in tech they know to be good at their jobs, the fewer they will promote. So visability is important. I don't know where all these women are hand wringing and complaining. I do know plenty of women who joyfully say "i'm not a feminist" or "i can work with men just fine." Sometimes it's out of ignorance. Sometimes it's a misplaced effort to fit in with the boys. Pretend you're not the bad kind of woman with an opinion, but a nice, subservient woman whom they can get along with because they think they'll give you treats in return. Let me know how that works out for you.

Charles said...

"This piece is working like a rorschach test where people are seeing things in it that aren't there, based on their own belief set."

Amen. I was thinking of how to say that and AAM said it perfectly.

violet said...

@Evil HR Lady—

I'm usually very fond of your writing, but this post seems to be a complete non-sequitur—as far as I can tell, precisely nobody thinks that widespread illegal discrimination is the reason there are fewer women in tech than men. Nearly everyone (including Rachel Sklar, who you misquote in your post) seems to think it's some combination of women's contributions being subtly undervalued and women choosing not to go into the industry, with the latter being a necessarily stronger effect than the former.

So, yes, it's mostly due to personal choices. But those choices aren't made in a vacuum. Girls are discouraged from going into maths, sciences, and tech, they see fewer women standing out in those fields, and if for some reason they do pursue talents in technology, they'll frequently find an unwelcoming social environment waiting for them.

You suggest that the higher initial wages of some women could explain this decision. “As long as I don't fall in love and get married,” the young woman presumably thinks, “…and also stay in a largeish city and don't have kids,” she continues, “I might make as much as 20% more than a guy my age until I turn 30! Screw this tech crap!”

Of course, she's saying this at the beginning of her college career at the absolute latest. Practically speaking, all the engineers I know, men and women, have pursued an interest in technology from a much younger age than that. You're essentially suggesting that, ten years ago, the 12-year-old girls who would be entering the tech industry today decided that their salaries would probably be higher elsewhere, and that's why they didn't join computer club.

That seems unlikely. It seems especially unlikely since over the last 20 years, as social barriers to women in tech have fallen—and as women working in tech have become more visible—a larger percentage of people entering the field have been women. I don't see any compelling reason to think that 1% was obviously too low and the result of negative social pressure and discrimination, but 10% is just the natural result of women making informed choices absent any kind of social pressure or discrimination whatsoever.

Evil HR Lady said...


I'm curious. When I was in high school in the late 80s and college in the early 90s, there was a constant push for women in the sciences. Lots of advertisement for "women in engineering" clubs, meetings, etc.

Has that all gone away?

I never saw a single group for "men in education" or another profession that is highly female.

I don't think 12 year old girls are choosing not to join the computer club because they know they'll be able to get good salaries elsewhere in 15 years. But, I think 25 year old women aren't branching out to do their own start ups because they have good jobs.

Anonymous said...

EHRL (and others),

Would you please, please read this fact based report from the Anita Borg Institute showing the REAL reasons there are still issues with women in technology?

Yes, there are SOME women that make decisions that eliminate them from acheiving success (and then whine about it). But MOST don't, and you are doing many women a huge disservice by failing to recognise what is really going on.

violet said...

WISE hasn't gone away, and I suspect it's even grown, since there are more women in science and engineering than there were 20 years ago. It's certainly not the first thing—or the third or ninth thing—that people associate with the tech industry, though, and the existence of mentoring and networking programs like WISE doesn't magically erase all the other barriers that exist.

If you haven't seen programs working to recruit men into nursing and education, my campus must have been very different from yours. I saw flyers for programs like these everywhere. (It's also worth noting that the situations aren't analogous, as stereotypically-female occupations tend to be lower paying, lower prestige fields, and men who do pursue careers therein seem to have certain advantages [The Glass Escalator, by Williams, Christine L., is worth a read.])

The issue with your hypothetical 25 year old woman is that she probably isn't in the tech industry, as it was decided several years ago that she wouldn't be in a technical field. There aren't many women in tech, and the number of people who leave unrelated fields to create tech start ups isn't large. It's unlikely that she has the skills or connections to launch a start up, even if she wanted to.