Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

An Open Letter to the First Years

Today, an upper year told me that he overheard something that members of your class were discussing in the big lab. He said that you’d been discussing JobMine, and who had gotten which interviews. And when someone mentioned that one of your female classmates had gotten a particular interview, one of you said, “Well, she got it because she’s a girl.”

To the people who have said this — and trust me, I know quite well that there were more than a few of you — you know who you are. To the people who have thought it but not said it out loud: this post is for you too.

I am disappointed in you.

I don’t consider myself a particularly outstanding software engineer by any means. But I’m very good at what I do, foster an intuition that helps me adapt to situations quickly, and have a personality that makes me easy to collaborate and work with. With hard work, panicked late night interview practice, hours spent on resumes and projects to fill them, and throwing myself into every co-op that I’ve had, I’ve been very successful in this field. I’ve worked with a startup, done a co-op in SF, and spent the last three co-ops of my school career with big tech companies (Facebook and Google) working on high-impact user-facing projects.

And every single co-op cycle so far, I’ve been accused of getting a job or interview because of my gender.

I’m sure you meant no harm. In your mind, it all measures up: there’s no way she could’ve gotten the interview over you, since you clearly had the experience. Or at least, someone else more qualified should’ve gotten it. You didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings — you’re just stating facts.

But the fact of the matter is, there is no magic quota that companies have to meet. No company would be stupid enough to hire engineers that wouldn’t be an asset to their company, or interview people they wouldn’t consider. They truly aren’t that stupid. If there was a quota, I wouldn’t be the only girl on orientation day in a room full of 30 engineering men. If there was a trend towards hiring women, I wouldn’t have had to wait 5 internships to work with another female engineer. I wouldn’t have to write posts like this.

If you’re trying to justify why someone else got the interview over you, you will supply positive reasons for guys and negative reasons for girls. Just think about it. When was the last time you said that Jim must’ve got the interview because he’s a guy, or good looking, or pads his resume? You search for a technical reason (he had experience, he did a lot of extracurriculars, etc) and supplement that. But when you’re talking about your female peers, the easiest reason to find is that she’s a girl. You trivialize what she’s done. You don’t give merit to her skills, or her work. You pick what makes you feel best about yourself — justified in your own abilities, because her gender gave her a leg up.

But what you think gives girls a leg up actually just throws us down a fucking staircase. Let me explain.

For a workshop I plan to run, I wrote scenarios for attendees to act out. These are meant to help women practice what to say when they’re uncomfortable, or when they feel like they are being told that they don’t belong. And the worst thing is that when I was writing scenarios, all I had to do was write what had happened to me in my 4 years in this industry. Every single scenario, which I’ve listed with fake names at the end of this post, has happened to me personally. Each is small on their own, and many of you will actually read them and think that they aren’t a big deal. But each one happens more than once, and they all add up quickly.

Can you imagine what it’s like to be told at every possible opportunity that you don’t deserve to be here? To have your hard work undercut by disgruntled peers? You’ve all been getting interviews, and I know that feeling when you open JobMine and see that you’ve gotten one — you’re on top of the moon. What if I told you right when you got that interview, that you shouldn’t have gotten it? That you didn’t deserve it? That it was a mistake?

That is every day for a girl in our program. And you know what? Many of you will disagree, but maybe she does deserve that interview. Because after all that bullshit you say to her face, plus the shit-talking you do behind her back, she’s still here.

Don’t become the first in a long list of someone’s scenarios. Respect your peers. Grow up. Be the men you think you are. Because the sooner you stop thinking you’re better than everyone else, you can finally become the people you aspire to be.

— — — — — — 

  • First years Ben and Hannah are both going for the same iOS job. Even though Ben has iOS experience and Hannah doesn’t (she has other experience), she gets the interview. Ben angrily tells her that the only reason she got the interview is because she’s a girl, and he deserves the interview much more than Hannah.
  • Emma is ecstatic that she got a <BigTechCompany> offer! She excitedly tells her friend Alex, who congratulates her, saying, “That’s amazing! Good for you! <BigTechCompany> is great at diversity hires!”
  • Fiona is walking with her friends. Nick is talking about how he just attended a research conference, and was talking to a girl who was “way too attractive to be in CS”.
  • Claire is out for drinks with a group of acquaintances, who all happen to be male. One says that “all women are 10’s with the lights off,” and starts a round of jokes including “Don’t worry about dating tall women, because they’re all short lying down”
  • Lisa is the only girl on her team at work, and her 30-year-old single male coworker is very nice to her. She considers them good friends, but later on in the term, he starts to make excuses to touch her hand or shoulder during team lunches or when hanging out in the microkitchens. She’s a bit uncomfortable, but doesn’t know if it’s a big enough deal to bring to HR and she doesn’t want him to get in trouble.
  • Sadie is working on a Scribbler Robot group project, and is excited to learn Python. However, her all-male groupmates seem to have divided the coding up amongst themselves and left her with the report.
  • Riley (who has a gender-neutral name) is going into an interview with <BigTechCompany>, She’s very proud of her resume, which she spent a lot of time on and used to improve her design skills. When she walks in, the interviewer shakes her hand and compliments her on her resume. She says, “Thanks, I had a lot of fun making it!” The interviewer replies, “I can tell! It’s quite pretty, that’s how I could tell you were a girl.”
  • Amanda is the female lead in EngPlay, with a romantic subplot. Throughout the last performance, the audience is yelling more sexual obscenities and suggestions than for any of her fellow cast members, but she doesn’t want to stop the performance just because she’s uncomfortable.
  • Lara is dressed up in a onesie for a themed class party, with a zipper up the front. Throughout the party, the guys at the party keep pulling down the zipper to her belly button. Thankfully she wore a tank top, but is getting really uncomfortable with the behaviour.
  • Rachel is discussing how she thinks a TA marked her assignment unfairly. An upper-year tries to suggest helpfully, “You could always go and talk to him about it. If you batt your eyelashes and say please he’ll probably change it.”
  • Sara is working on front-end at <BigTechCompany>, and is killing it in her first week. She mentions to the other interns (all male, by coincidence) that she’s submitted 12 changelists in her first week, and the other interns seem surprised and impressed. As she wants to not appear to be bragging, she says “Oh, they were all UI changes though! Smaller changes.” The other interns seem less surprised now, saying, “Oh yea, that makes sense. Front end is so easy!”
  • Jessica has noticed in over the past month that none of her male co-workers in their 20’s will meet her eye when talking to her, and avoid talking to her at all if they can help it. She’s quite lonely at work, and there seems to be nobody else in the 50 person office who wants talk to her other than the lady at the front desk.
  • Heather has already explained to 5 people in her first week at work that she’s not in Marketing or design, she’s a software engineer. She really wants to come up with a one-liner that will end the questions once and for all.
  • Rebecca is being sent by plane on an all-expense-paid trip to the corporate office in California for a Women Techmakers conference, and is really excited! One of her teammates is obviously disgruntled saying, “I don’t see how this is relevant to your job.”
  • etc.