Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”
You guys, I don’t even know where to start. I am so angry after reading Emily Chang’s EXCELLENT Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley.
That book, combined with Caroline Emma Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, has me questioning everything.
Basically, my entire professional life, I have thought I was the wrong one. That there was something about me that made me a bad fit for corporate America. That my personality – my way of being and working – was off.
And if I could just find the secret to doing it right, I would find professional success.
But I have never found the secret to doing it right. I have always been a mid-level minion who has not been promoted. I have been told I’m intimidating. (Are men intimidating?) I have gotten feedback from my boss like, “You need to stop using such big words because it makes people feel stupid.”
When I asked for examples of
- Big words I should not use
- People who felt stupid because of my Big Words,
I did not get an answer. A co-worker later explained, “Our boss is the one who feels stupid.”
I have been told to be quiet. I have been told that I am too loud (by another woman – and she didn’t mean volume, she meant that I expressed my opinion, an opinion she did not agree with). I have been given feedback that has made me feel like I am so, so wrong. That everyone else is right, that they know a secret I do not know, and that there is something wrong with me.
And then I read this, from Criado-Perez’s book. All the things that are bad in women? They are good in men.
And the things that are good in women are Bad. Don’t do them. In Chang’s book, she interviews a manager who was told to be “less nice!” Even though her team got results!
“I feel like Google cares a lot about diversity, but I feel we have a very singular view as to what leadership means,” says Laura Holmes, who was promoted to senior product manager in 2015 and is one of the rare female managers at Google. “I’ve been coached to be less nice. I have a collaborative style; it works for me. I wish that when we went out to the promotion committee, there was more of a look at results than there was about approach.”
I think we have all experienced what Susan Wojcicki, a Google founder who has accomplished amazing things (Forbes ranked her as the eighth most powerful woman in the world), has experienced at Google:
“I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men.”
This is the woman who has made youtube a success. Did you know about her? I did not. Why do we not know about her but know about all the jerks, like Steve Jobs?
I have experienced this, as well – the attempt to select for extreme self confidence. Which, alas, I do not have. I had an interview in grad school with a consulting company. They called me – I did not sign up to interview with them. So clearly, they saw something they liked on my resume.
But they asked me some BS question and my answer, instead of a made-up answer, was, “I don’t know. I’d have to do some research on that.”
The recruiter told me (I still remember his exact words), “Texan, I love you to death but I don’t think you have enough problem-solving ability.”
Which is so wrong. I am a great problem solver. I go way out of the box to figure things out. (Example: The little rubber thing had fallen inside the part where you inflate the car tire. Mr T was trying to use car tools to retrieve it. I looked and said, “I think a small crochet hook will do the trick” AND IT DID.)
But those stupid questions? They really were trying to find people who could BS without knowing anything about the topic. And how well has that worked out for tech? (Looking at you, crash of late ’90s.
And also looking at Uber and Lyft, who are burning through investor money and losing money on operations? I cry no tears for investors – if I can figure out that the Uber and Lyft model as it is now is not sustainable, then millionaires can, but really?)
Recall those brainteasers that Trilogy and other major tech companies used throughout the 1990s and into the next two decades. There has never been any evidence that they were useful in measuring who would be a good programmer. Yet it took until 2013 for Google to finally stop using them. “Brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Google’s longtime former head of HR Laszlo Bock admitted to the New York Times in 2013. “They don’t predict anything.”
Well, maybe not anything useful, but they might have been good predictors of the sort of hyper self-confidence men are more prone to. When an employer asked something like “How many golf balls can fit into a double-decker bus,” he or she was basically saying this to prospective candidates: “We are going to ask you a question that has no relation to your job and one you’ve had no training in how to answer. Do you have the chutzpah to pretend that you can?”
Men are far likelier than women to take risks like these and feel comfortable doing so….Other researchers have found that women won’t apply for jobs unless they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men will apply as long as they have 60 percent of the boxes checked….How well, then, could women be expected to fare, on average, in the dot-com world of the 1990s, where success almost required a willingness to be an imposter? Companies were worth what investors believed they were worth, and investors based their assessments on the founders’ claims, often wild and fanciful, and their aplomb.
Basically, being able to lie convincingly is rewarded. But in general (and please, no #NotAllMen and #NotAllWomen arguments), women are more cautious in talking about what we can do and what we cannot do.
And we have all experienced this crap – that what? THERE ARE WOMEN HERE? AND THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AS MEN?
Uber ordered leather jackets for all the men on the engineering team but not for the women. When Fowler complained to the head of her section, he emailed her, saying that because there were so many men, Uber could get a discount. But he couldn’t get a bulk discount on the women’s jackets, because they needed so few of them, so the could not justify placing an order for Uber’s female engineers. “I replied and said that I was sure Uber SRE could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men,” Fowler wrote.
And all of you are nodding your heads because you, too, remember the times that you asked the person in charge of ordering shirts for the trade show to please order women’s sizes because even a men’s small is too big and even if you cut off the bottom 12″ of the shirt and tuck in the remainder, you still look like you are wearing a shirt you borrowed from Andre the Giant.
And you remember the person in charge saying, “But our vendor doesn’t stock women’s sizes!”
And you say, “BUT IT’S 1999! WOMEN HAVE BEEN IN THE WORKFORCE FOR DECADES!”
So we all remember this. And that was then. Twenty years ago. And then the Uber story (I spit on Uber) gets even worse. Because THIS IS NOW.
“The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets.” After all, he continued, it would not be “equal or fair” to give women jackets that cost more than the men’s; therefore the women should look for other jackets at the same bulk-order price.”
This is where all of you are saying, THIS IS BULLSHIT.
And so did Susan Fowler. She talked to HR, who quickly resolved the situation.
OH WAIT NO THEY DID NOT!
Fowler forwarded “this absurd chain of emails to HR” and a meeting followed. “The HR rep began…by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem.”
So we women are the problem. We’re the problem for complaining and making noise.
In 2016, a Silicon Valley industry group published the results of a survey they had done with Stanford of women in Silicon Valley and their work experiences. The study was called, “The Elephant in the Valley” and you can see more details here.
But here’s one that resonates.
I, too, have been asked to coordinate the potlucks. To be less assertive.
Good for the women who refuse. I tell young women starting out not to volunteer for the social activities at work. Not to help plan the holiday potluck. Not to help prepare for it or clean up after it. I tell them not to bring brownies or cookies to work.
I tell them do not do one single one of those things if you don’t see senior men doing that kind of thing. If the men aren’t cleaning up after the potlucks, neither are you.
At my previous job, even though less than ten percent of the office was women, it was 100% women preparing for and cleaning up after events. (Not me, though.)
I leave you with this from an interview with Anna Wiener in the Washington Post.
There’s this sort of bait and switch that happens in tech, where a lot of these companies tell stories about themselves being different, where they’re non-hierarchical and they’re anti-establishment and they’re doing things in a way that’s new or merit-based or creative in some way. But what that does is just creates space for all these structural problems to flood in under a different sort of artifice. So different hierarchies emerge, whether that’s the distinction between soft skills and hard skills and people being put into those categories based on qualities that have actually nothing to do with their skill set or contributions to a company.
I feel like I just wasn’t taking a wide enough view, I was sort of dealing things one by one. There was this situation — it’s not worth really going into, but I was not initially offered equity, and a man who was much less qualified than I was for the same role was offered equity right off the bat. It wasn’t until like 2017, when I was talking to a friend about this, and I was like, I think it’s because he had a computer science minor in college, even though we were both sociology majors. Or no, that wasn’t even it. He had some web-coding side project or whatever. And my friend was like:
I think this is a personal failure, that I’m always trying to look for the good in people and ignoring the structural explanation that would be clarifying in so many ways.
I don’t know that it does me any good to realize that maybe it’s not me, it’s the system. How do we even fight this? I’m just so tired.