Debug 34: Sexism in tech

Debug 34: Sexism in tech
By Rene Ritchie on 24 Apr 2014 09:47 am EDT

Debug is Mobile Nations developer podcast. This week, however, we're doing something different. We're bringing together a panel of developers and designers, CEOs and senior editors, of women in the tech industry to talk about how women are treated and mistreated in the tech industry. Join Serenity Caldwell of Macworld/TechHive, Jessie Char of Pacific Helm, Georgia Dow of ZEN & TECH, and Brianna Wu of Giant Spacekat as share their experiences and insight on sexism in the tech industry, from coworkers to clients to conventions to culture and beyond.

Show notes



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Kevin Michaluk

I'm going to listen to this one!

Tater Tots

Wish it was legible on the CB10 app.

Posted via CB10



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Agree. Don't know what happened there but the post is illegible because the font is so small. :-<

Q10, SQN100-2,

Jimberry Storm

No video....damn wanted to check out the


...and that's why this needs to be discussed... (but good one!!)

Posted via CB10 from my Z30.


It's not like the chick's don't also check out the dudes.


I hope you will be representing the male point of view Rene, otherwise this all-female panel is sexism! ;)

Posted via CB10 on my Z30


Don't say dongle

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Don't say 3.5 inch floppy.

Posted via CB10 on Z30 STA100-2 / on O2 UK - Activated on BES10.2.1


This should be a good one! (not that the others haven't been) Glad you brought this topic to your podcast


Nobody wants to talk racism as sexism is seen as a softer subject.

Especially with the growth of markets in countries outside of North America.

This subject matter has been around for alot longer.

No amount of legislation is going to change people's mindset.

This still has to be tackled. I hope

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David Tyler

Sexism in the technology workforce will "be tackled" as more and more women make an impact -- and not as executives, but as engineers.

It's been a male-dominated field, but not because women are being kept out -- it's a male-dominated field because there are relatively few women getting the requisite degrees.

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"I'm a woman and there's sexism in tech! I'm doing my part by getting a Women's Studies degree with a minor in 12th century French lesbian literature!"

Motorola V3xx -> Nokia E63 -> Nokia N900 -> Nokia N9 -> BlackBerry Z10

Peter Johnson4

Is there anyway of getting this captioned or a transcript? I'm deaf and videos do not often offer captions (if they do they are usually iffy voice to text programs that offer poor translation).

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This can be a problem in any field that is technical in nature that is typically male dominated. Some of the problem is due to social conditioning by members of both genders, but some of the problem is due to hiring the incorrect person (under-qualified) for the position that they are filling.

IME, women tend to be the most likely to say something thoughtless and sexist. A commonly heard phrase in my line of work is, "I'll wait for one of the guys." This is almost always spoken by a woman. OTOH, men tend to be condescending or appear to be trying to hit on the women in a subtle way. (This is all from the perspective of a retail customer.)

I also think that there is a tendency to over react and to think that something is sexist when it is not intended that way. Being in business for a while, I've learned to ask for certain people - regardless of gender or race - because they get the job done. As an example, my favorite Toyota counter person is a woman named Stephanie. I've never seen her or interacted with her beyond ordering parts over the phone - strictly business - but I've followed her through a couple of job changes as she moved to different dealerships. She doesn't lie, is familiar with the product, and follows through on what she says she will do. However, when I ask for Stephanie, I don't think guys are thinking that it is sexist, or something similar. Neither would I think that Stephanie would think that it would be sexist if a customer asked to talk to another counter person that they felt more comfortable dealing with. It is about making the customer comfortable. Sales is the goal - ignore the voices in your head.

I would also say that women are hurt when a company hires someone that really is not qualified, as a nod to having a diverse staff. Too many times I've dealt with women in the parts business that really didn't know the product and really had no business trying to look up parts - they simply had too little experience. These situations feed into the feeling that women are not qualified to work in tech fields.

The overt stuff, treating women as sexual objects, is simply a goof ball that really has not learned how to behave. That is why almost everyone gets upset with them for their low brow comments.

David Tyler

Well and truly written.

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Well rounded comment, I'm glad you wrote it and said something before I got off on my rant about sexist and racism.


In a team I work with at work (software development) half of developers are women and top devs are women too. When I need things done correctly and surely, I choose to rely on them. Disclaimer: I am not a woman and neither are their leads.

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As a female EE i'm gonna disagree. I graduated with a class that was 30 percent female - and now none of them work as EE decade later. When we get together to reminisce - everyone has a reason (teachers college, MBA, happier working in other mediums) but we all have the same stories - being second guessed at work where others at our level are not, being voluntold for social and outreach tasks that negatively affect our perceived productivity, and daily comments and digs - stuff that you can't respond to without being called a humorless bitch.

This is an anecdote for sure. But there were 80 women in my graduating class. Most of them are still working, just not in engineering and that's a huge waste.

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I'm in the field as well, but male (not white), and I have to say that what you write is extremely surprising. I've been in the trade for over 10 years, and maybe being it has to do with being a guy, but I've never worked in more varied workplaces than as an engineer. In my office of 4 people now, every single continent is represented. I speak 4 languages on average each day, not because work requires it but because people come from all over and I can thus get my points across more easily. I've worked in places which were majority female. I've even worked with two ladies that used to be dudes. What I've found is that nobody cares who you are, or even what you are, as long as you've got a good head on your shoulders.

And this is contrary to my work experience from before becoming an engineer. There, being coloured, how old you are, what you wore, how you speak the language, or who you're with always mattered. No arguments or logic ever mattered, only how good your "image" was.

There may be a reason for why female engineers tend to stick less in the profession. I'm not female, so I don't really know. But given the enormous diversity in every engineering workplace I've been in, in 3 different countries and 5 different languages, I find it extremely hard to believe that the reason is that "they just hate women". It is in fact the only workplace outside (of professional sports) where people of all races and creeds can excel.

BTW, being second-guessed is part of the game. It took me several years experience before I wasn't second guessed on a regular basis anymore.


Where as I've found that gender matters regardless of how well you have performed in the past, and there is good research that supports my personal observations (i.e. Ernesto Reuben, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales PNAS 2014 111 (12) 4403-4408).

Double checking is important for any technical job. However, the woman in the podcast does a good job of describing the significant difference in behaviour. At issue is not that we are sometimes seconded guessed, as mentioned in the first comment. What is disturbing is being second guessed more frequently than our male peers and juniors and in situations where they would not have been.

And the kicker, most of the women I trained with didn't see any of this as gender discrimination until they gained the perspective of years on their experiences. At the time we just figured we were bad at our jobs, not improving with experience and so moved on - a perfectly rational response.

I am in no way saying that "they just hate women", most engineers and managers don't (although mathematically speaking the few that do will likely have a disproportionately negative affect on the women in the profession)

If you find this surprising, perform your own data analysis or start systematically recording the numbers. While it's easy to dismiss anecdotal experience with individual interpretations (see your comment) it's harder to argue with statistically significant data.

There is something systemically wrong, and if it isn't fixed we will continue to loose nearly half of the qualified talent pool in the field.

David Tyler

OK, I'll concede I've been told by women colleagues about second-guessing and assumptions regarding note-taking during meetings and social event planning.

I've been in similar situations -- being an enlisted person in the military is a by design a second-class status, complete with assumptions about one's intelligence, capabilities, and work ethic.

Based on my experience in and out of the military, academia, and industry, I feel strongly the answer is to let your chops do your talking. The group-think "diversity" nonsense so prevalent in industry now just annoys people.

I've flown with women pilots. I've had women scientists and engineers work for me. All I ask is that everyone -- regardless of gender -- know what the hell they're doing.

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I have worked in IT for almost three decades. Never have I witnessed nor heard any complaints from female colleagues about abuse or mistreatment.