Lori pointed me at a blog by Alan Shimel about sexual harassment in Open Source that is well written and pretty well documented. I read it with interest, and was kind of surprised that Open Source as a group was implicated. And of course he wasn’t implicating all of Open Source, just pointing out that it happens enough to be a trend.
I have a lot of respect for Alan, but after years in business, I can tell you it isn’t only an Open Source issue. Since this is an IT blog, I’ll stick to IT subjects except to say that I encountered similar things in my years as a Radiographer (X-Ray Tech), so it certainly isn’t bound by our industry. I am particularly incensed when it crops up in our industry though because we are, generally speaking, more motivated by ability than any of the various superficial traits than your average industry. If you can hack together working solutions or fine-tune a server in minutes, we don’t generally care if you’ve got eight tentacles, are a shiny purple color, and have indeterminate sexual characteristics. It’s a strength of IT that I’d like to be proud of – merit does live in our industry for those willing to pursue it. So this blog is a cautionary reminder that the difference between interesting person and creepy guy is sometimes pretty thin.
I’ve mentioned some of these in my blog before, but for completeness’ sake, I’ll list them here. If you’re a long-term reader, my apologies for any repeats.
Lori and I met at work, and anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes in a room with her knows that she is smarter than 95+% of the IT world. If you’re one of those people that discounts such statements because we’re married, I’ll just point out the order of operations – we were geeking out together before we were dating. It is precisely because she could challenge me in tech topics that we started getting to know each other.
In the course of our time in IT, we’ve seen quite a bit of off-hand misogyny and downright incorrect behavior, so to extend Alan’s article I will fill you in on a pattern built over years.
At our first employer, a major tax software house that you’ve never heard of – because we did the under-the-covers bits for names you have – I was project manager and she was technical lead on a major project. We had one gentleman who would get his direction from Lori, and then, inevitably, swing by my desk to ask me what to do. It did not matter how many times I told him that Lori was the technical lead and if that was her architectural decision, that is exactly what he should do, he would not write a line of code on her say-so. Minor, annoying, and something we just dealt with. The other 20 people on the project followed Lori’s lead and even in the case of one consultant were a big help to her keeping a massive project and our problem children in-line.
At another place, I was a consultant and Lori a full time employee. I walked into a meeting one day and a co-worker shouted “I saved you and your beau a seat!” He meant nothing by it, the guy was great in every way and had respect for Lori’s talent, but it wasn’t work-appropriate. Once I talked to him he was pretty much “That’s just a saying…” Yeah, not one we want shouted across meeting rooms at work.
And then there’s the GIS shop where we worked. I was the VP of Software Development, Lori the lead on a massive project. You had to go through her office to get to mine, but standing in her office you could see me in my office. One of the other VPs walked into her office and said “Is Don in?” She said “Do I look like his secretary or something?” He said “Yes, go get me some coffee.” This was not his only instance, he carried his disdain for women in the workforce on his shoulder. Yes, he was very good at what he did, but that’s no excuse for kicking at good employees. Doesn’t help that he said it without a hint of jocularity in his voice… I wanted to climb under my desk, because I knew the firestorm was rolling in. It did, I later told him it was uncool, he replied “she asked”.
If it seems to be getting worse, that’s because it is…
At that same place the general manager was incapable of talking to women without touching them. Seriously. Hand on arm, hand on leg, whatever. But never touched a man while talking to them. When I broached the topic and told him that it was making the ladies – all the ladies, those working for me and those not – uncomfortable, he acted like I was some kind of crazy for bringing it up. To his credit he did back off a bit, though when I left he was still not free of his need to squeeze an arm or throw his arm over the shoulders of women he was talking to.
At one consultancy, after I had moved on but Lori was still working there, her boss turned up with terabytes of porn – some of it pretty far out stuff - on his desktop. Lori worked off hours with just the two of them in the office at times, so she went to the CEO and expressed discomfort at working alone with him after hours. The CEO – a former software developer himself – blew off her concerns with an array of excuses that said “we’re not going to do anything about it and expect you to work with him” she moved on within a few weeks.
While working for Network Computing (CMP Media), there were no instances that I am aware of with staff members – that really was a top-notch organization in nearly every way – but vendors? Yeah, on occasion. One instance when Lori was in the lab with coworker Steve Schuchart (since gone to Cisco, alas) and a vendor’s employee – now remember that Lori was reviewing said vendor’s product – the vendor’s employee put his hand on her leg “suggestively”. Steve offered to bounce the guy out of the lab for her, and if you’ve met Steve, he can be… Intimidating… When he chooses, but she chose the professional route and just avoided close contact then let the Editor know what happened. I’m glad it was Steve there and not me, it might have gone… Poorly.
Also while working for NWC, Lori received an email from a… Gentleman (and I use that term loosely) who was displeased with one of her opinion pieces. That email started with “you are the reason women shouldn’t be allowed in technology” and went downhill from there. After lengthy discussion on the NWC Editors’ list, she chose to merely point out to this genius that he sent his email from work, and his employers’ HR department might love a copy filled with slurs and vulgarities. Definitely the high road, there were a couple of us who wanted her to just forward the email to his employer’s HR department on the grounds that he had no business being an IT manager with the attitude he displayed in his note. If I recall correctly, the Editor at the time offered to publish a redacted version as a “letter to the editor” but leave his full name attached, as is normally done unless the author requests otherwise. I thought that a charming idea, personally.
And then, toward the end of our tenure at CMP, we were at Interop on business, out with the representatives of this great little company you might have heard of called F5, at a place in Vegas called The Ghost Bar when some stranger grabbed Lori’s arm as the group walked by and pulled her to him muttering something about her writing (it was a bar, it was loud, that’s why we were leaving, so I don’t know exactly what he said). I was about five steps behind her, but in all of these cases I’m slow to get involved. For one, if you know Lori, you know she can generally take care of herself, for another, unless she actually needed assistance, any offered would just be “a man coming to the little lady’s rescue” in the eyes of the miscreants involved. So I didn’t pop up there right away, she managed to get her arm free, and we were off. Had she been alone, it might have been a different story, but when a group of seven to twelve stops to wait for this guy to let go of her arm, well he seems to have gotten the hint.
Alan’s article was good, but this is a pattern of misbehavior that has nothing to do with Open Source and everything to do with IT. Pay attention. I can name several ladies that could code you (or I) under the table, improve your network, and shame you with their knowledge of everything from the 256th digit of pi to IP packet structures. You’re good at IT for the brains, not any other attributes. Learn from those you can learn from, teach those that can learn from you, and check your prejudices at the door. Because you’re not doing your employer any favors if you’re scaring off a good employee just because you can’t keep your bias or hormones in check. And looking the other way when others behave poorly is contributing to the problem. After all, the above list represents 15 years in the field, and contains far less than 1% of the people we’ve dealt with, and some of the early ones were not misbehavior, just failure to think things through… So the industry as a whole is something to be very proud of, but those who are a stain upon geekdom need to be reminded of their manners. One bad apple and all.
A huge hat-tip to those who have had to put up with such behavior and acknowledge it is only a few wrong-thinking individuals, and another huge hat-tip to Alan for broaching such a tough topic head-on.
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