Speak Up Or Step Away

I recently attended #ILookLikeAnEngManager at OSCON 2016, in Austin, Texas. It really raised my consciousness about sexism in technology. I naively thought that world-culture as a whole was discouraging women from science, engineering, and technology. It literally hadn't occurred to me that the technology industry was pushing back on women.

I was outraged! When I got home and "informed" my wife she calmly, and patiently asked me how I could possibly not know that. It has been a rough path of introspection since then.

So how did I not know?

  • I'm a man and didn't have any recent exposure to sexism in the workplace ("sexism? that's so 1990's!").
  • I like working with women.
  • I naively thought that working for an "equal-opportunity employer" implicitly demands that we be equal-opportunity employees.
  • The most-competent software developer on my team happens to be a woman, and I have an excellent team.
  • The women in my life perceive me as non-sexist.

The last one might be the most important. I hypothesize that sexism is so bad that women don't want to alienate the "good" men by daring to lump them in with the "bad" men. I'm a middle-aged, white man. I'm not rich. My great power is in influence and as many in my demographic know:

"...with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!." ~ Stan Lee

Expecting trusted, "good" men in our life to do more isn't too much to ask. Men have a responsibility to do good not just be good - no excuses! Sexism isn't rare. Men don't have to donate money, join organizations, or go on a crusade to make a difference. The least we need to do is pay attention to other men, and when the time comes (and it will come), speak up or step away.

This whole experience has forced me to own my role as a man. I don't get a free pass because I'm not sexist. I feel like an ass, but now I have my next steps: listen, learn, ask, and listen some more. Beyond that, I have no idea what I'm doing, so I reached out to Women In Linux.

1 Comment

This sounds like it was an interesting presentation. Too bad it's not available on Youtube or some other place so others can watch it. This is why conferences are no longer useful in the internet age.

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About Jonathan W. Taylor

user-pic Long-time Perl Developer. Casual hardware hacker. Father. Husband.