What's next after sexist high tech?
August 7, 2017 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm a woman in high tech. I am very rapidly burning out on working for my sexist boss and souring on the industry. What is my next move?

Let me give you an example from Friday.

I was the only female member of an eight person interview panel that interviewed a white male candidate from a Very Large Tech Company. The candidate received six hires and two no hires. I gave a no hire recommendation because the business results delivered in his proudest achievement were unimpressive. I was informed that at Very Large Tech Company, where all of my male colleagues on the panel previously worked at one point, it was normal to define success in this low manner. I suggested that I would like to see a different candidate, perhaps one not from Very Large Tech Company. The other panelists laughed, and my boss said that it was "impossible" to find a candidate like that in the geographic area. My boss proceeded with a "hire" recommendation for this candidate.

After this meeting I emailed my boss and his boss, stating that I didn't appreciate having my ideas laughed at in a large meeting, and told them that this is how a diversity problem is perpetuated. I forwarded this email to HR. To my boss's boss credit, he stopped the hire for this candidate and agreed to look at a more diverse pool. But this is exhausting, I do this every day.

I can't just quit and move around in the industry to solve this problem (exhibit A - google manifesto). I have been in software for over a decade, I'm tired of fighting this battle. The problem is that I live in an expensive city, I earn a salary that is aligned with high tech, I can't move due to a shared custody situation, and I can't afford to take a massive pay cut to do anything else due to my ongoing spousal and child support obligations. I spent all my non-retirement savings on my divorce. I feel trapped.

To put icing on the cake I also struggle with mental health issues, which have gotten worse lately. My job relies on good executive function and cognitive abilities, which go out the window when depression strikes. My performance at work is suffering. I am seeking medical treatment for this. The drugs are working as well as they could at this point. My extended medical has no more coverage for therapy (so I would be paying out of pocket), and my last therapist was unhelpful in dealing with workplace discrimination anyway. I'm fairly convinced that from a cost/benefit standpoint, my mental health improves more by hiring housecleaners than by hiring a therapist.

What is my next step here? Job search? Where? Take medical leave? For how long? Vacation (I'll take a week soon)? Wait for my boss to get fired and keep pushing? I don't know if I can. Others?

I am out of ideas. This whole situation is making me sick and demoralized. Where do people like me go when they are done with this whole thing?
posted by shock muppet to Work & Money (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think there are definitely therapists that can help you properly deal with this situation, either by giving you the techniques to deal with dealing with the abuse, or the wherewithal to understand how to extricate yourself from it. There's no easy way to find a good therapist, but you can have initial (free) conversations with some, and probe them for knowledge. Do they know about the Google manifesto? Do they know about the GitHub bullshit? Do they understand how pervasive sexism is, and is that a focus of theirs? You may have to screen quite a few, but I think you'd be able to hone in on one without paying a lot.

Speaking as a white male working in tech, I sincerely apologize for this, and I know it's pervasive and real. I have worked for people that have perpetuated the problem, and worked for people that didn't. Even when I see gender diversity (rarely), I don't see cultural or age diversity.

But people who recognize the problem do exist, and though they're not the norm, they can be found. I bet you could work with a therapist to figure out how to phrase your need to be properly respected for your skills in an interview.

Also, note that bigger companies negotiate better health care plans (not a rule) that pay more for therapy. If you're having trouble getting your insurance to pay for the mental health care you need, that could be your short term goal. I've personally seen a correlation between good health care plans, powerful HR organizations that enforce policy, and respect for diversity among managers. Powerful HR orgs whip middle management into line regarding official policy, and most official policies wouldn't stand for the bullshit you're dealing with. Maybe large tech companies with HQs on the east coast? They might not be suffused with the Silicon Valley culture.
posted by Pacrand at 2:32 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]

I would look into moving to a different company -- or maybe even a different department within your same company -- if possible. While you are right that these problems happen in many tech workplaces, I also feel like it can be possible to find places that are better than others. Although I'm not in tech specifically, I also work in a field where sexism issues are huge, and for a while figured it was just something I would have to put up with if I was going to stay in the field. However, I have happily found a workplace that is amazingly 50-50 gender balanced (rare in my field) and also has a really positive environment and I don't have to worry about harassment or even just weird comments and situations. I think one big thing to look for is workplaces with a better-than-average gender balance, and both women and men who have kids (not because you're necessarily looking to get pregnant in the future, but because places that will only retain/promote single/childless women tend to be very toxic).
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:35 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]

Data Science. Focus on the marketing end and you'll be surprised how different the meeting makeup and decision hierarchy is.

There is plenty of room for high tech knowhow in planning how a company goes to market.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:03 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]

Also, if someone says that they believe this is the best candidate that they are willing to hire and I disagree, I confirm that my goals are not tied to this person, and then I shrug and say 'Caveat Emptor.'

Personally, I do not care for their hiring approach: it does not make for the best candidate, nor for a good team building experience as a hiring committee should, but if I am a hiring advisor and am not absolutely hamstrung by a candidate being brought in, it is the chucklehead's problem - not mine.

I am seriously nonplussed by their behavior towards a coworker they think highly enough of to include in the hiring process but that they would devalue and tear down... are they seven?

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:17 PM on August 7

I've also been having a hard time with this recently. I work for a Large Company that handles the situation better than most, and feel I've been pretty lucky in that regard. But maybe I've internalized everything as normal when it's really shouldn't be - I'm not sure anymore. I've also been, as a woman, "one of the guys" for as long as I can remember... at this point I'm not sure if that's been my coping mechanism or is actually who I am. Additionally, on top of the the gender issues, I'm now also over 35 which in this industry means age-ism issues as well. I've had a decently successful career to date, but I have no idea what the future will hold. I do know though that I've been thinking long and hard about entrepreneurship and freelancing and basically doing my own thing. Right now, that's my exit plan. I spend what little free time I have with my "side hustle" (which utilizes my tech skills), with the knowledge that at some point in time I may make the switch to focusing all my full time energy on that. This alone has been slightly damaging for my career, because it's time I'm not spending "coding" and reading all the books and learning all the frameworks and making code my life, which apparently means to some I'm not as dedicated to my career as I should be. Whatever. To me, that's a significant issue - in some circles if you're not coding 23 hours a day, you're a slacker and not serious. Don't even get me started.

So my TL:DR version? Be your own boss, and do what you're good at, for you. Easier said than done, I know.
posted by cgg at 4:47 PM on August 7

Start the job search, even if it's a soft search to start. If you have healthcare industry in your area (NOT direct care or insurance right now, probably, but like medtech, biotech, pharma, equipment etc) start there first, that's one of the industries that skews way more diverse and family-friendly (which, in my experience, is usually the opposite of bro culture even if you don't specifically need that level of family-friendliness) compared to high tech/software.

Also yes to data science, if that's something you might be able to pivot to, which means you can get into a tech department at a non-tech company, which is no guarantee of happiness but broadens your options. Everyone I know who's done that, even the ones who've gone to large national headquarters for retail, have found that there's so much more oxygen to go around there.

Spend some time on Glassdoor getting a feel for what's really good in your area and then form a plan of action.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:39 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]

If you are in Seattle, try to find a company that was founded locally, not in California. Or a smaller company. The culture has a better chance of being less sexist. PM me if you need a sounding board about any of the companies you are looking at.
posted by matildaben at 7:15 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Capitalism and sexism are intertwined thus. You would like to work in a less sexist industry, but that would mean struggling to find a job (let alone a job with comparable wages).

I don't think there are any easy answers, to be honest. Keep fighting the good fight, try to relax while doing it, search for individual pockets of less asshat-ness within the tech industry in as far as that is possible. Some day things will be better.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:45 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]

I'd start going to local "women in tech" type meetups. Ask around about who's good to work for. In the SF Bay Area I could point you toward managers/companies to avoid and managers to pursue. I think any woman in the industry would do the same.
posted by bendy at 12:43 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

On reading your question again:

Going to meetups with other women would also give you perspective and remind you that you aren't the only one facing the conflicts you are. Support and advice can only help.
posted by bendy at 12:46 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]

Take that vacation for some breathing space, then job search. Some companies are better than others. Find and follow prominent women in your industry on Twitter, they will post about decent companies, help with resumes etc. I'd recommend @hacks4pancakes as a good place to start.
posted by corvine at 12:56 AM on August 8

This is going to be depressing to read at first, but it has a decent ending.

Story I rarely tell because of what I became: I started out as a piano performance major at our School of Music (university). Awards, concerts, regional (as in the west coast of North America, not just the US) recognition at my level, I was already earning money for it – no doubt I could have made a living. At the end of my first year, they congratulated me and said they were moving me to the top prof, a guy whose achievements I won't describe not only for anonymity but because it matters little next to what happened. Because there was one caveat, I'd have to sleep with him. "Because he slept with all his top students." It "contributed to their artistry."

I also played baritone saxophone in the top ensembles, was facing rank sexism in those as well, and having a professor I respected tell that to me for piano, my beloved instrument since age three, literally broke my heart. Twenty years later, my heart still breaks for my young self thinking of it. I long wondered if I made the right choice leaving music as a career; now I know I did, so the break itself has healed, but the scar will always remain.

So I focused on my French major and became a freelance translator. Jesus H. Christ on a stick the misogyny. As a freelancer, eh. Have you ever noticed how it's always men shown in "learn a new language in 5 days!" stuff or blogs by men that are touted as the reference in linguistics? yeah. I got tired of being home alone dealing with misogyny behind a computer screen. If I was going to face it, it was going to be in person at least.

I transitioned into IT as a career – had been doing it since childhood for fun, had created the first marching band website (anywhere, yes, the first! yeaaaah), the first cat blog, specialized in tech translations, so it came pretty naturally.

I've had good, decent, cruddy, bad, terrible, and nightmarish experiences with sexism (and racism and xenophobia) in IT. A lot depends on the people you work with. I too would suggest trying to change the context first, whether that's the team or the kind of work you do – of course the kind of work will naturally mean a different team. It can make a world of difference. One of the things I like about being a consultant is that it means the teams are always changing, for instance.

The thing that stands out, as a 40-something woman who's been through a lot, is that it's everywhere. The cheap, facile, egocentric sexism. Everywhere. Do what you love, to the extent you can. (I don't mean the blind type of love, but the type where sacrifice and compromise are on the table because of the satisfaction you get from it.) If you really enjoy your work, try a change of context first.
posted by fraula at 1:30 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]

Just want to second bendy's suggestion that you go to women in tech meetups. I (pushing 40, woman developer at an OK-but-not-amazing-gender-wise tech company) go to one every couple of months find it hugely helpful for perspective and encouragement. The one I go to is focused on one programming language and attracts non-male-people at a variety of places in their careers; there are others that are organized by industry, or by career level, or whatever.

The meetups are great because in my experience they:
- provide you with a place you can safely vent
- let you know that you're not alone
- give you awareness of companies to seek out and companies to avoid
- help you connect with male allies/warn you off prominent douchebags
posted by mskyle at 4:40 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you know what, I think fraula is on to something. The working world is shitty towards women*. I used to be a librarian. Misogyny manifests differently in a woman-dominated field than it does in one dominated by men, but imagine if, instead of *you* not getting the respect you deserve, it was your department, or your organization, or your whole freaking profession. That sucks too. At least in tech I get paid better.

* not JUST women, obviously, and it's shittier for some women than for others
posted by mskyle at 11:06 AM on August 8

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