Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

How Can Men Help Women In Tech?

Gender Equality by Rupam Das on Flickr, Creative Commons.

With the recent news on harassment at Uber & VCs, you may have noticed it’s often women doing the hardest work… It’s often on women to risk their reputation to call out men in a position of power; a position to retaliate.

Women face the prospect of not being believed, being shamed, labelled “difficult”, trolled or doxxed.

If they ARE believed, and they use their real name, harassment might forever define them in peoples’ minds, Google results, etc.

I’ve seen calls for men to do more; also well-meaning men asking HOW to do more.

I’m by no means an expert, but I can share what women in my life have told me. If you have ideas, please share! I’d love to learn more.

Here are 10 concrete things men can do to support women against sexism and harassment. (This is about women, but the concept should apply to POC & other under-represented groups you’re not a part of. Though someone rightly pointed out it doesn’t get into intersectionality).

Let’s start with some easy ones:

  1. Watch this 4 minute video. What do people mean when they say ‘privilege’ anyway? What are some privileges you had that others didn’t? What are some you don’t have?

Note that privilege doesn’t negate your hard work. For example, here’s part of a thread by the CEO of Slack, the fastest growing business app of all time. Do you respect him less for talking about it? More? Why?

2. Read this primer and challenge yourself to think in terms of systems. What systems can you identify at your own work?

3. Read Susan Fowler’s thread on how little even qualifies as harassment; how the kinds of accidents, misunderstandings, and “PC” one-offs some people worry about, aren’t actually the issue.

Ok, that was mostly internal. Now let’s talk about taking action! Here’s an easy one.

4. Follow more women on Twitter. As a concrete example, here’s me asking my friends for suggestions. The responses were great:

5. Retweet more women. Anil Dash once retweeted only women for a year:

The Year I Didn’t Retweet Men

6. Co-sign Reid Hoffman’s #DecencyPledge. Not an investor? Commit to a version of the pledge in your own work and life:

7. Develop deep respectful relationships with women (duh, right?). You’ll start hearing a “backchannel”. Note that this takes time.

“Be friends with women” may sound obvious, but there’s something more subtle as well: relationships influence with whom we spend time. That, in turn, influences who we most empathize with, understand, and trust. Who we trust influences who we take advice from, who we promote at work, etc.

8. Explicitly ask women friends about these things. Then be prepared to listen. Careful about being defensive. Some example questions, depending on your relationship:

I’d like to avoid investors you’ve heard harassment stories about. Anything you feel comfortable sharing?

I’d like to avoid buying from or working for founders you’ve heard harassment stories about. Anything you feel comfortable sharing?

I’d like to know more about women’s experience in tech. Anything you feel comfortable sharing?

I’d like to do more to be an ally to women in tech, but I’m not sure how. What else do you think I could be doing?

(For VERY close relationships where there’s enough trust to honestly answer):
Have I ever done anything that made you or others uncomfortable?

9. Write. Even small acknowledgements matter.

Even if it’s never public, writing w/sensitive subjects helps you clarify your thoughts and feel more comfortable speaking about it in the future. Not sure what to say? Here’s inspiration from Ellen K. Pao’s thread of male VCs speaking out:

10. Send drafts privately to women you’re close with, and ask for feedback with an open mind. (Again, be prepared to listen. Careful about being defensive).

If you’re worried you might accidentally say the wrong thing, take it from someone who has: you will. It’s ok. Learn. Re-write. Repeat.

Everyone makes mistakes, but civil discourse is possible. Even with extremely sensitive subjects.

The important thing is that you try.

Published in blog form by request — originally this twitter thread. Please reach out with thoughts/additions! I’d love to hear your POV.

Grateful to Sandi MacPherson, May Alba, Niniane Wang, Anil Dash, Stewart Butterfield, Susan Fowler, and many more for shaping my thoughts on this. Work in progress.