Thursday, April 30, 2009

Being One of the Only

I get it. I'm a girl in a field that's dominated by men and I have been for a long time. I do think that software development is even behind the physics community which is saying something. I'm still on some Fermilab mailing lists and the other day I saw an e-mail about a "Women Scientists and parenting" meeting/users group or something to that effect. My question was immediately why isn't there is a group for men scientists and parenting. It always feels like the science community looks at women who have children and they wonder how they can do both, and yet they don't give that regard to men. But I'm not in physics anymore and that's one of the reasons that I decided to leave.

In software development so far it seems that the Woman to Men ratio is even smaller than in physics. I don't actually have a problem with this 95% of the time because I've always been a tom boy, gotten along better with men (Did you know Jason and I were good friends for about a year and a half before we started dating). I can totally hang as "one of the dudes". It's been joked about at my company, Obtiva, that I'm more of one of the dudes than the dudes themselves given my love for any kind of sporting event. Many times, I've been all, "Did you see that great catch Reed Johnson made last night" and I get the "What's a Reed Johnson" look. I laugh and they laugh and we move on. The guys at Obtiva are a great bunch of dudes and I've never felt uncomfortable around them and we can do the give and take thing and everyone is fine and nothing is over the line. So, right, 95% of the time, I'm totally fine.

Then there is the other 5% of the time. The times when a client will say something to me that would never be said to man or similarly say a "funny comment about some hot chick" and everyone will laugh and I'll be like, "wait, I don't get it" or, more to the point, I totally get it but I realize that I don't get to be part of the joke or, at that point, part of the group.

Recently there was a talk given by Matt Aimonetti at GoGaRuco which had images of scantily clad women. Read: a few soft core porn scenes. The first slide has the title of the talk, with a woman's butt in a G-string next to it. Don't believe me? Go here and you can see that slide plus a few others....a full on porn scenes etc etc. (Probably NSFW as I discovered when I started looking through the talk). There has been, as you can imagine, a lot of internet buzz going around about it. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find all that, because I don't want to get into the back and forth about who said what and rather I just wanted to discuss how this made me feel.

I didn't know about this when we sat down for our weekly studio meeting at Obtiva and when it was brought up I was very very upset. It's not that I'm a prudish kind of person, but Jeezus could you be more unprofessional? The conference organizer said that if anyone at Google, Apple of Microsoft did anything like that they would be fired immediately. What's the most disappointing, I think, is the fact that higher members of the Rails community are all for it. Hell yes, let's use the power of sex to get people to pay attention. Or about just sharing knowledge without it being gimmicky? Be funny and clever because you are...not because you are going to one tried and true thing that might work because you know 95% of your audience will respond the way you want and that's really what you care about...getting to the majority of the crowd.

This post is getting too long and I even waited 12 hours before writing it so it wouldn't be ranty and long and all WOMEN POWERY. In the end, it's like those awkward moments. It's part of that 5% of the time that I don't get to be a part of it. Put naked women on slides at a talk, have it approved by the conference, make jokes about it and I can laugh because I get what the joke is, but it's another time that I'm not actually a part of it. I have to stand on the outside of the inner circle and realize that not yet are women really invited to be a part of this community. I'm not ok with that.

As I said earlier the employees of Obtiva have an attitude that is 180 degrees from that behavior. I am happy that Todd Webb brought it up at our meeting because even though that behavior is not present at Obtiva, I think it's still good to say, "Oh hey by the way, we should be aware that this happened and we aren't ok with that". Thank you to Tom Kersten, Jake Scruggs and Dave Hoover for their blog posts in response (apoloiges to any other Obtivians who have posted and I haven't seen it yet).


Sailor Sue said...

Leah, well written, well thought out and totally on the mark! Probably waiting 12 hours to write was helpful.

Laura said...

Great post! Now tell Matt Aimonetti to go watch the break-up scene from 'Forgetting Sarah Marshal' over and over in a room full of women. ;)

Wyatt said...

"I'm not ok with that."

Me neither. And DHH's lack of empathy really bothers me.