Yes, Virginia, There IS Discrimination against Women in Technology

My work day started with a call on research design and ended ten hours later after I fixed a program that wasn’t working. I just resigned from my position as senior statistical consultant at a major research university so that I could concentrate on research. I’m on the technical staff on several projects, have a Ph.D., a record of scientific publication, am frequently an invited speaker on assessment, methodology and SAS programming. So, what am I whining about?

Who the fuck are you to say that I am whining?

That, my dear, is probably one of the reasons that I have been successful in this field, and one of the problems women in technology face.

I’m the size of the average twelve-year-old, female ,  Hispanic  and over fifty to boot. Despite all of these disadvantages, I am doing well in this field, thank you because I have a few …

Qualities that I don’t think should be necessary for women in technical fields, but they are….

1. I can be a straight-A dyed in the wool bitch when the situation warrants.

One day, I was sitting in a faculty meeting with the suspicion that women in our department were not being taken seriously. As a statistician, I decided to collect a little data. I drew a cross-tabulation. The rows were gender of the speaker and the column was whether the next speaker responded – questioned, followed up, elaborated – or ignored the comment as if the speaker hadn’t even said anything. Of the speakers, 80% were male (the department was about 50% female) and of those 20%, most of the comments were made by me. Near the end of the meeting, I made a comment and again, a male member of the faculty made a remark that was if I hadn’t spoken. I pounded on the table and said,

“I said something and God damn it, you are all going to listen to me!”

Then, I mentioned the data I had been collecting during the meeting (believe me, the chi-square was highly significant). The two department chairs present were somewhat embarrassed but no one argued with my data. We discussed whatever the topic was – I think it was reducing our mathematics requirement for general education.

Personally, I don’t have a problem pounding on the table and swearing if that’s what it takes. Three points:

  1. The men in the room didn’t need to be that way.
  2. Not all women are like me.
  3. Not all women should HAVE to be like me. I have a pretty high self-esteem but not so high that I think everyone must be like me because I am so perfect.

Women who support Arrington’s view on Tech Crunch that it isn’t men’s fault that there aren’t more women in tech because “After all, look at me, I’m not complaining and I’m doing great” are perhaps missing the point that they are doing well because they have certain characteristics that men don’t need to have.

In my copious spare time, of which I have none, I teach judo. In 1984, I was the first American to win the world judo championships.  One very important lesson it took me a while to learn as a coach is that not every athlete is me. Not every world class athlete is me. I would have been a better coach if I had learned that lesson earlier

2. I aggressively seek out mentors and figure everything out all by myself if I can’t find them.

I was discussing this with a young woman today. She’s probably my daughter’s age. We were working on a program and I commented to her that I had noticed she did not get the off-handed kind of help that the male staff members got. The men tell one another excitedly about new apps, new functions, bug fixes and other interesting and useful information they come across. She said,

“Now, I don’t understand this program at all, but you are explaining it to me where the guys would just be like – here, you’re not interested in this, let me do it. Or, you don’t know how to do this, so just go away.”

I know she is telling the truth because I have seen just exactly that happen to her many times. Maybe I should be more of a mentor. I feel a little bad about that, but she doesn’t work for me, and hey, I am busy.  I told her,

“Well, of course you don’t understand it! No one comes out of the womb knowing this shit. But you’re smart, you’ll get it. Just keep plugging away. If you have any questions, ask!”

The program she wrote in the end was very good. Women, much more than men, in my experience, need to be immune to subtle and not so subtle discouragement, to disrespect. While Arrington says that Tech Crunch goes out of their way to invite women, these are the women who have already made it. Where men generally don’t go out of their way, and in fact, don’t even think about it, is in the unexamined assumptions and treatment of women. Most of the men this woman works with are very nice people who like women in general and are married to one or would very much like to be some day. They don’t treat me like this because …

3. I got all the credentials

I have a Ph.D., two masters degrees, 28 years programming experience, articles published in academic journals and so on. There is an enormous body of literature on social psychology on bias. In brief, the same study done over and over runs like this.

The identical resumes are sent out. Half of them have experience but no degree. Half have a degree but no experience. Of the entire sample of resumes, half of them have a name (or picture) that shows them to be female (or black). The other have are white (or male). The two resumes with experience/degree , white/black or male/ female are then sent out randomly to a group of college students/ personnel managers/ or whatever group.

The results are always the same.  Overwhelmingly, the male (or white) candidate is selected. Those who choose the male candidate swear it had nothing  to do with gender, he had experience. However, the managers/students/whatever who had the reversed resumes swear it had nothing to do with gender, he had a degree.

This is why all those people who loudly proclaim “I’m not a racist” or “I’m not sexist” have me wanting to slap them.

I have experience and I have the degrees. I work with men who don’t have nearly the educational qualifications I have. These guys are SMART and they’re fun and I like working with them. I truly don’t believe any woman would get the jobs they have without a graduate degree – and guess what, there are very , very few.

The one you hear next, of course is, “You just wouldn’t fit in with our team.”

Despite the impression I might give, I actually believe that most people are genuinely good at heart and well-meaning, that the false assumptions and subtle discrimination is not intentional and they really would try to change most of them, if it was pointed out. Some people are just jerks, though. There are people who would never want me working for them because I “am not a team player”.

Let me give you an example of a person who said he would never have me work for him..

I had written a program that was, if I do say so myself, a pretty kick-ass awesome piece of work. As most things that are that awesome, there were other people who helped, who came up with design suggestions, reviewed the results and made recommendations for improvement. All of the coding was done by me. I don’t get the chance to just write code that much and I was justly proud of this product.

4. Have the luck to have awesome bosses and mentors

We had a matrix management model at the time and the project manager, who was not my boss, came to me and wanted to have UMF review all of my work and “check that it is correct”. Now UMF is male and fits the stereotype of what a programmer should look like, which, I could gauge from this is not a Latina grandmother. UMF also is complete waste of oxygen as a programmer. Think the absolutely stupidest code you have ever seen written and that is UMF. I did not make up the acronym UMF. This is how he is referred to by the other programmers. The U stands for useless.

I said,


Short version of long story, the project manager weenie went to my boss and told him that,

“AnnMaria says she’s not going to do this.”

to which my boss responded,

“Well, I guess that means she’s not going to do it.”

Dr. Richard Eyman was my doctoral advisor. He spent endless hours teaching me statistics. When everyone but me dropped one of the upper level doctoral courses, he taught it to me as an independent study. He introduced me to his friends who were profoundly competent in psychometrics, people like Jane Mercer. He made sure I took courses from people like Keith Widaman and Lew Petronovich.

It was just luck. I attended UC Riverside because I was pregnant with my second child, my husband had just taken a job at Rohr Aircraft in Riverside and I didn’t want a blank spot on my resume while I was out of the job market having a baby (which turned out to be two babies in thirteen months).

5. I’m not bothered that no one in the room looks like me.

Being in judo probably helped my career. I’m startled by the number of female judo competitors I meet who are in the tech field. It’s kind of ironic that a non-male, non-Japanese American would be the first from the U.S. to win the world championships because that is certainly not the demographic of U.S. judo competitors. I’ve spent so much of my life being the only woman in the room that I am used to it.  It’s actually gotten better. I remember 28 years ago when I was pregnant (hence needing a bathroom every 30 minutes) at a meeting in an aerospace plant where NO ONE knew where there was a women’s restroom because all of the people I was meeting with were male engineers. I finally spotted another woman, grabbed her and said I KNOW you know! Turns out she was just visiting, and, in fact, did not!

Whether it should bother you or not that no one is like you (that you “just don’t fit in”) is a separate issue.

My point is that there are a number of characteristics that women must have that men don’t need to be successful in technology.

These are but PART of the reasons I see that there are few women in technical fields. And why, exactly, is pointing this out called whining?

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  1. “4. Have the luck to have awesome bosses and mentors”

    This is what women are concerned about.

  2. Rightfully, so. Anyone who doesn’t think there is discrimination has had a very charmed life – but that HAS been the case for some people.

    I think many people who have been successful fail to realize the role that luck does play. I know PART of my success has been that I have been fortunate to work with some really good people.

    One suggestion I would make to women who find themselves in a bad situation with unsupportive bosses is LEAVE! Don’t use the economy as an excuse. Look for a different job and go where the reward your talent and effort. We don’t have indentured servitude in America any more. If they treat you poorly, get the hell out.

  3. You Betcha, there is DISCRIMINATION against women in the IT workplace! I see it everyday and have personally experienced it. The latest as a 47 year old who has been working in the computer technology industry since 18. It has been a real self-esteem knocker. You get told to write the position above you (of which you have been performing for the last 4 years) so that it can afford you the opportunity to be promoted and be amongst the group of all white male Technical Experts. When you learn that you will not have a chance in hell for that position because they want to “hire from outside.” There are very few people qualified in this particular global sized environment. I’d like to take that bet it’ll be a white male that gets the position! The first couple of candidates I’ve seen are. So much for working extra hours, always being on call, presenting innovative technology and years later the white male gets to run with the project. No kids here, just a mother and husband that are dependent upon me. We’ll see how it goes, I should have “jumped ship” a few years ago. Another company was trying so hard to get me to be innovative and grow them but personal responsibilities kept me hopeful that my hard work would pay off if I stayed. Doubt the discrimination of age and gender will be reduced any time soon. Now we even have to compete with H1Bs.

  4. I’m 43 and a TS M/F in the IT field. As a female which transitioned into my life while in IT and can assure you that gender discrimination is alive and well still today. I lived as a young white male for 1/2 of my career, after my successful transition I’ve worked in total stealth in my new gender role. What an amazing eye opener the last 10 years has been. I myself have pounded the table in frustration as my comments and ideas were simply replayed in meetings and acted on by my male counter parts as if I’d said nothing.

    I’ve been fired for being outspoken and demoted for being direct and aggressive. All the while my gender was never questioned, just my actions toward what I called blatant discrimination. I’ve always called males on it, but even females in my corporate jobs told me not to rock the boat. I’ve been told by females, this century to “Let them think it’s their idea”. Shocking folks, totally shocking

    Concerned Female

  5. Thanks, Jane, for a unique perspective.

    I had an older woman advise me a couple of years ago that it was a good idea in meetings to admit not being able to use the projector because it gave people the chance to see me as needing help from them and not so much as an authority!

  6. I did an experiment a while ago. I have a BA in ITS and MSCE/CCNE LPI lvl3. I’m basically a linux enthuistist. I’ve been running my own projects for years. I love to code and mess around.

    When I was applying for jobs I basically heard NOTHING. I was struck with an idea. I simply changed my name to Dave Jensen. I got several calls back. When “dave” showed up to the office for an interview it was LULZY. But I simply demostrated to the hiring mangr that he was a sexist. He was put off and kind of angry. But I got multiple replys from various positions under my alias. I wish I had a name that sounded androgonous unfortunately my real name is Kate. If I was alex or sam I could pull it off. bugger.

  7. Why don’t you just put Al or Sam on your resume and when they call you in explain that your name on your ID says Kate but everyone has called you Al for years because you looked like Alice in wonderland in the books and it’s your nickname.

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