16 Women In Tech On Their Experiences With Workplace Sexism
One of the many places sexism is thriving today is in the workplace, and women in tech in particular have recently been speaking out about workplace sexism and changing workplaces around the world for the better. They've also been illuminating the fact that we have a long way to go before achieving equality in the workplace.
"Every day in the workplace, women encounter systematic discrimination. It can show up in highly visible ways, such as unequal pay, promotions, and evaluations, but also in more subtle ways, such as social bias, interruptions in meetings, or lack of inclusion," Romy Newman, co-founder of the women's career site Fairygodboss, tells Bustle. "Between being overworked at home and undervalued at work, it's no wonder that the rate of women who drop out of the workforce is actually growing. We see women often starting their career journeys sanguine about the journey, but then faced with continuous obstacles, friction, and discrimination that wear them down over time."
To get an idea of the obstacles women face in the tech industry, I asked women in tech about their worst experiences with workplace sexism. Here's what they said.
"I would get singled out by my boss and made to look stupid for not knowing how to do things outside of/not required by my job, despite doing my job better than 80 percent of the men there. I was also one of six women out of 100+ people in my department."
"When converting from contractor to employee and asking my boss why a male co-worker was offered more money and a better title (when he knew I did more and better quality work), he said, 'He has a wife and family to support.' More recently, I worked on a content moderation bot project, and a male engineer had only tested his version with pictures of scantily-clad women like Kim Kardashian. It would not even evaluate pictures of men, and I was told by another guy I was blowing it out of proportion when I brought this up."
"Having my breasts referred to as 'maracas.'"
"I got hugged when I did something right. Felt like a child."
"I was told I was only promoted for my position because my office needed a woman. This information was shared by the HR liaison. I'm fully aware that I was underpaid for three years and the promotion was actually to get me to the pay I should have been at in the first place."
"A marketing manager called me one day to play a voicemail from a client who said he was so impressed with an economic presentation I had given at a dinner the evening before that the client wanted to move all of his business back to our company after having left a few years earlier. At the end of the voicemail, the market manager said, 'So all I want to know is... What were you wearing?'"
"While the men would get all-expenses paid trips together with the CEOs, the women would be left behind at the office and expected to continue on working, with no incentive of being able to be promoted or get pay raises, even though we were picking up the slack for them while they went on multiple vacations a year. A few of my former female co-workers sued them for workplace discrimination in the form of underpayment and they won the case, proving that they definitely were in the wrong with their practices. It was heartbreaking to know that even minority men wouldn't have the backs of women and only further themselves and their subordinates they were sleeping with."
"Being told by a co-worker, 'If I weren’t married, I would be on you like white on rice.' I had to work with him on projects."
"I had a female employee who made friends with everyone, including execs, by flirting. At first, she was just the fun girl. She was invited to all the work after parties, had all the guys talking to her. However, pretty soon, every time the CEO was in town, he scheduled several meetings with her, which always concluded with 'let’s do drinks.' I’m a confident, MBA professional with 20 years of experience in my field, but I’ve never been more undermined, disrespected, and made to feel useless and like a piece of ass in my entire career."
"I had a manager, who was a woman, at a tech company that favored men. Not only did she ignore women on the team (if she walked by a man and a woman, she would only say 'hello' to the man), she only promoted men and gave them a clear path to success at the company (she promoted one woman in my three years there, and that woman was her friend from a different company). She repeatedly told women not to ask questions and reprimanded them for things that she wouldn’t reprimand men for. It was the worst experience of my life. Several women on the team ended up in therapy during their time there."
"The CFO of my tech PR firm emailed me a link to porn along with my tax documents."
"I was in the same job position as a man. I was working twice as much and had more experience and I was paid half as much, despite asking for a raise."
"I was working remotely for a publishing technology company as a solutions consultant after leaving an editing job. Even after a lot of training, I was still uncomfortable in this new position and I had major imposter syndrome — but I had been vetted and tested by the owners of the company and was really trying to relax and learn as much as I could. And then my worst fears were realized. After a screen-sharing session with our IT director, he told me, 'Your lack of knowledge on this subject is astounding.' Needless to say, I quit a month later and became a freelance writer."
"I worked at a [...] startup that was mainly male developers. The two people in HR were young males and like a relic from the 70s. One thought it was OK to bully females on Slack. I remember a colleague launched something in the marketing department that wasn’t up to scratch and (even though it wasn’t his remit) he spent the morning sending her the most awful messages on Slack (not even in person!) along the lines of 'you’ve let the whole company down and made us look like fools.' The other one spent a staff night out telling us how he had been trying to shag an 18-year-old from Tinder (he was around 30) on a recent work trip to Romania. I’ve never felt so hopeless or down as when I worked there."
"An executive officer told me that he asked one of the female members of my team to work with a specific man whom he described as 'crochety and old, but has been a lady's man his whole life' in the hopes that he would be more helpful because of her 'feminine charms.' I was too scared of how my own position would be affected to call out such behavior. When I finally told someone what had happened, they told me how to phrase my concerns to the executive officer and didn't make attempts to work with HR or anyone else on the executive officer's sexism."
"I worked as a salesperson in a call center involving broadband, mobile phones, and web design. The boss was out of the room for a call and the guys at the boss' table started joking around. They ended up in a conversation comparing the women on the floor. They discussed how the boss' wife was off limits, obviously, but all the things they would love to do to me. One of the men, in his 40s, mentioned the 18-year-old, while another said she was way too young and she would never touch him. He joked about how he didn't care how young she was and she wouldn't get a say in it. They continued joking around about basically their rape fantasies, occasionally apologizing to my housemate at the table who they thought liked me.
After that shift, my housemate told me all about what they had said and how horrified he was, but how he didn't say anything at the time because he didn't want to rock the boat. I instantly called my boss and explained what had happened. My boss was extremely apologetic and insisted that he would be having serious conversations and would be making sure all staff knew what was and wasn't appropriate to talk about in the workplace. He begged me to stay, but I refused. I just couldn't. I was embarrassed, heartbroken, angry, and depressed. How the hell do I continue working across from men who talk openly at work about how they want to bend their co-workers over desks, about how even if she wasn't legal, he'd still 'give it a go'?!"
Clearly, there's still a lot of work to be done to help women gain equality in the tech industry (and every industry). The first step we can take toward that is being more mindful of how we behavior in our own workplaces.