Sexism in the technology industry

By Lauren Vaughn

Flickr/The Reboot

The place of women in high-paying, technological professions — especially in a time of economic insecurity where females are consistently under/unemployed — is worrisome.

What makes the rise of “Brogramming” particularly troubling is that it marks a distinctive shift from an industry of programming to an industry of solely male programming.

The damaging effects of branding this up-and-coming industry as exclusively male have already started to take its toll.

Fewer and fewer females are getting involved in the technology industry as others drop out due to the lack of employment options and the rampant sexism that occurs in the workplace.

Women in the United Kingdom (UK) are earning significantly less than their male programming counterparts, and in 2011 there were over 11,000 charges of sexual harassment filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) resulting in more than $52 million in settlements.

In a time when employment is hard to find, especially for recent college graduates, the gendering of one of the largest industries currently supplying jobs is bound to have detrimental effects for female employment.

One advertisement for a 2012 “hackathon” event held by Sqoot lists, a section for attending the event as “Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you” under the “perks,” making it abundantly clear who will and will not be doing the coding. The poster is really saying there is no role for women at such a male dominated event outside of decoration or servant.

Another ad by Geeklist features a female in underwear and a Geeklist t-shirt dancing — or rather bouncing — for a promotional video. The ads are clearly created not only for men, but by men, almost ensuring that the industry remains male-dominated.

This means that over half of the American population is not laughing.

Females of the technology industry are offended and are speaking out about it. Katie Cunningham, a female programmer and blogger recalls her personal experiences of sexism in the workplace.

Cunningham’s blog post from March of 2012 describes being the only one asked to take notes in a meeting, being the only one asked to organize a potluck and even receiving comments on her appearance during meetings, while men’s appearances were almost never commented on.

Cunningham, like many females who are tired of being told to “Lighten up!” eventually left the industry.

However, Cunningham has since returned to programming in large part due to the success of her blog to raise awareness of the issue at hand.

The subtle but denigrating presence of sexism in the workplace and at programming events creates an environment where no female, despite her programming and technological skills, would want to step foot into.

Despite the severe backlash that women like Cunningham, who spoke out about the “brogramming” issue have been met with, it has not been completely ignored by the programming community.

Sqoot, for one, offered an official apology that read, “While we thought this was a fun, harmless comment poking fun at the fact that (hackathons) are typically male-dominated, others were offended. That was not our intention and thus we changed it.”

This apology, perhaps the most insulting thing to come out of the “brogramming” issue, insinuates there was nothing inherently wrong with insinuating that a female’s only place at a hackathon was fetching the male programmers a beer.

It even goes so far as to say that the only reason they are issuing this apology is because some people were “offended.” Upon further backlash, however, they succumbed and issued yet another apology.

Take two of the apology read, “When we put together the original event page, we used language that we now realize was reckless and hurt efforts to diversify gender in tech. We immediately and deservedly received an enormous backlash. While we aimed to call attention to the male-dominated tech world through humor and intended to be inclusive, the gravity of our wording was just the opposite. Our words completely undermined our intentions and went further to harm the world we’re trying to have a positive impact on.”

Geeklist similarly responded with its own apology for its unfortunate and ill-placed bouncing female advertisement within a profession plagued by sexism.

It even went so far as “dedicating the rest of March and the entirety of April to focusing all of our efforts on helping to showcase and support women in technology.”

Now this is change.

But is it real, long-term change?

Long-term change will only come when females can speak out about these issues and any others without the immediate and intense backlash from the industry, their co-workers and friends.

Real change is closer to an environment where a female can wear a skirt to work and a boss’ first comment will be on the brilliant and insightful presentation she gave last week, instead of what she is wearing.

Real change might even entail Cunningham already finding work in a respectful and intellectually challenging environment where the “brogramming” culture and the sexism that goes along with it are largely absent.

The female bloggers out there are making things happen and are working towards change. They are using the tools at their disposal — or rather, the keyboard at their fingertips — and they are speaking out, raising awareness and weighing in on the “brogramming” culture.

Will you?

Lauren Vaughn is a Collegian contributor. She can be reached at [email protected]