Politics? Again?
I haven’t written on politics in a while. A couple of months ago I was working up something on feminism based on another entry I’d read on the subject of feminism. A male blogger whose name and article I don’t have to hand suggested that feminism is a strange word because supporting the rights of all to equal treatment under the law should be the default position. My aunt Karen, a professor of law and long-time writer on matters of gender, argues that there are three related terms: feminism, as above; antifeminism, the position that women are somehow less than men and should occupy only limited space in family, law, and discourse; and pre-feminism, the position of those who don’t yet recognise that women are disadvantaged by dint of gender in more ways than we know how to count and with one or two eye-opening experiences will move to the other side. She discussed a male student of hers (possibly in a family law course) married to a female naval officer – not a man likely to overlook or be daunted by a capable woman. I don’t recall precisely what Karen said her lecture covered, but the man was compelled to change his views on not only the issues faced by his wife but of all women struggling for acknowledgement in the working world. (My conversation with Karen was almost two months ago and I was certain I had notes on the matter, but I have lost them.) 

 I was alerted by a facebook link to http://tableflip.club/. This page contains a manifesto of sorts for women leaving the tech industry. I would direct you to read it – it runs about 500 words.

On a certain level I’m fascinated (and horrified) by the treatment women receive in the tech industry. The main thing that surprises me about Tableflip is that it hasn’t happened sooner. I’m pretty sure Ellen Pao’s recent court case has a lot to do with it, but that might only be because the verdict seemed so egregiously wrong, and it was so well-publicised. 

The writers also explicitly push back at the whole Lean In concept. When that book came out, I heard a couple of interviews with its author, Sheryl Sandberg. While astoundingly accomplished and obviously brilliant (Harvard, McKinsey, Google, FB, etc.), she seems generally unaware of how hard most people have to work to get even a tenth as far as she has. So I’m not too surprised that equally brilliant women who haven’t had quite Sandberg’s career path are keen to do something about it. 

 I’ve been in tech for about 15 years now – I started in customer support for a hot cable broadband firm that tanked in the year I worked there (coincidence is not causation). I was then mentored into technical documentation by a fantastic and fantastically capable woman. I did mostly contract work for a couple of years before I moved to Europe. In Prague I spent a few years at Systinet (now a subsidiary of HP), surrounded by about a hundred mostly young, mostly male developers out of CVUT (the Czech technical university). I recall three women: reception, HR, and a brilliant, intuitive Slovak woman named Bea. The company was ecstatic to have her – at one point she left to spend a period in Australia with no plan to return. When she returned to Prague about a year later, she didn’t have to ask twice. They may have asked her which team she wanted to work with. Alas she died of a very swift illness several years ago. Never got to see how far her brain would take her.

I don’t think Systinet mistreated its one female developer, but they didn’t work too hard to recruit more. 

I moved from there to Sun Microsystems (now a subsidiary of Oracle). I had a large number of female colleagues there – I think Sun nurtured its female staff, but most of the politics went on in California. I knew people who’d been with Sun for 10, 15, 20 years, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t subverted in their quests for advancement and equality. Just that I didn’t see it directly. The dozen or so mostly white males at the top of the company probably say enough about female advancement there, however. 

 In Nederland, I’ve worked primarily for two relatively old firms in which the same story plays out – very few female developers and no women above a certain level on the food chain. A couple of product owners, a few developers. My current company is a 30-year old producer of enterprise resource software. I’m pretty sure the highest woman there is a bold brash Afrikaner who holds a bespoke position between the product owners and the management team. I’m not sure whether the scenario plays out the same way here as it does in the Silicon Valley of the tableflip folks, but I have my suspicions. 

 The Tableflip manifesto gives a major hat tip to a blogger (new to me, but this isn’t surprising) named Amelia Greenhall who is fierce and articulate in her articles about how women are treated in the boardroom and the media and in her advocacy of how women can advance in the world on their own (not leaning in) terms. I’m now busily flipping through her blog and wishing I could follow every link. One of several neat things her writing provides is insight into the tech world from both developer and human standpoints. A long entry on twitter DM etiquette doesn’t just say, ‘don’t be a creep,’ but tells why DMs from new male followers creep out female twitter users. And next to that, she’ll post about how to get ahead (fairly!) in publishing and pop in some satire as well. (It took me a couple reads to get her piece on Uber investor Jason Calicanis.)

I’m sure the links from Ms Greenhall’s entries can keep me busy for an awfully long time, but the timesink involved will be a good diversion from the trio of Kos, AmericaBlog, and Crooks & Liars which generally keep me distracted. 

 And here’s to learning more, including
10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn
by Soraya L. Chemaly which also requires dissemination. I’d like to believe I’m slightly more aware of the male things I do that Chernaly finds so bloody frustrating, but I’m still far from excising them.